Much is expected of prospective attorneys: apply and attend law school, earn a degree, study, take and pass the bar exam. In addition to all of these requirements, there is another critical component of becoming an attorney: successfully navigating the character and fitness process.
For some bar admission applicants, this process can be uneventful. However, “character and fitness” bar admission application questions can sometimes trigger the need to disclose extremely personal and highly sensitive matters. For any law student with something difficult that must be disclosed, this in and of itself can be a source of understandable anxiety. Given the cost of a law school education and the potential employment consequences of a delayed bar admission, the stakes can be extremely high.
Fortunately, many character and fitness obstacles can be overcome with candor, thoughtful consideration, and careful diligence. Everyone makes mistakes, but how you handle the situation can make all the difference.
One specific dilemma actually happens more often than one might think: the discovery of a discrepancy between a disclosure on a bar admission application and a law school application.
This situation comes up for a variety of reasons: unintentional omissions, mistakes or lack of due care when submitting the original law school application. When left unchecked, this can present an obvious red flag during bar admission process.
Fortunately, there is an established and well-recognized process for taking appropriate remedial measures: requesting to amend the original law school application.
How to amend your law school application will depend on a number of factors. While every case is different and there is no substitute for getting individual guidance based on the specific requirements in your jurisdiction, the following should be considered when navigating an amendment to a law school application.
Don’t assume this does not apply to you
Checking your law school application now to make certain it is entirely truthful will avoid a painful surprise down the road. All bar admission candidates want to be absolutely certain that their law school application answers are correct, complete and consistent with the truthful disclosures that will be made in any subsequent application for admission to the bar.
Every potential bar admission candidate should double (and triple) check their previous answers on their law school applications to be absolutely certain that they are complete and truthful. If a discrepancy is found, best to know as soon as possible to allow for prompt corrective measures.
Make sure to review the exact language of the specific character and fitness questions asked on your law school application. Different law schools ask different questions. Not all character and fitness questions are the same for every law school application. It is entirely possible that certain past conduct could be required to be disclosed on one law school’s application, but not be required to be disclosed on another.
Once it is clear that corrective measures must be taken, always remember that how you handle this process can make a world of difference.
While it can be a difficult step to have to take, remember that amending your law school application can help you obtain the peace of mind that comes from submitting a bar application that gives you the best opportunity for a favorable outcome.
While discovering a mistake can be stressful and bring about meaningful anxiety, do not ignore the situation with the hope that it will go away. The best path to success, eventual relief from anxiety and peace of mind is to promptly and properly deal with the situation.
How you deal with this difficult situation could reveal quite a bit about your true “character and fitness.” Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that despite any mistake or omission, you do in fact have the requisite character and fitness to practice law.
Consider what documents you have to help you in this process and what materials might otherwise exist elsewhere that you do not yet have. A law school may ask to see documentation that relates to a difficult character and fitness disclosure depending on the specific disclosure. This is not a time to rely on best recollection and memory, unless you have no other choice.
Information is power. It is much more difficult to credibly address a specific issue if you do not remember all of the details. Taking the time to obtain relevant records and refresh your memory can afford you the best opportunity to address any difficult issues.
In the event that you simply cannot obtain records because they could not be found or were destroyed long ago, document your good faith and diligent efforts to obtain the records. In the event you are called upon to produce these records, you can provide credible evidence of the fact that you attempted to obtain the material in good faith.
Making a request to amend
Navigating your law school’s amendment process should not be taken lightly. This is not the time for a handwritten note or shorthand. It is essential that a law student treat this amendment process as an extension of their eventual application for admission to the bar. Law students should use the same degree of formality that will be relied upon during the upcoming bar admission process.
Learn your law school’s specific process and procedure for making amendments to law school application materials prior to your submission.
Promptly become familiar with the specific process and procedure at your law school for seeking to amend law school application materials. What office handles these matters? Is there a specific law school Dean that has been designated to supervise the process? Every school handles the process differently. Follow the instructions to the letter.
There is no substitute for carefully following the process and procedure at your individual law school. However, many law schools will require that the substance of your formal request to amend a law school application include some form of the following:
- Set forth the original question and answer from your law school application that you wish to amend.
- Set forth the amended answer to the question.
- Explain the circumstances related to the need for the amendment.
To the extent possible, responses to these questions should be treated as an opportunity to bolster and support your bar application and demonstrate that you have the requisite character and fitness to practice law.
If you made a mistake, take responsibility and explain what you have learned. Be concise, but do not be afraid to offer details. There is a difference between offering excuses and providing relevant context to demonstrate your credibility. Credibility is your most powerful asset during the bar admissions process.
Everyone makes mistakes. It is easy enough for any bar admission candidate to say they have the requisite character and fitness to become an attorney. While understandably stressful, how you go about seeking to amend a law school application can also be viewed as an opportunity to prove it.