Character and Fitness
Click on the questions below for more information.
- The ability to be honest and candid with clients, lawyers, courts, the Board, and others;
- The ability to reason, recall complex factual information, and integrate that information with complex legal theories;
- The ability to communicate with clients, attorneys, courts, and others with a high degree of organization and clarity;
- The ability to use good judgment on behalf of clients and in conducting one’s professional business;
- The ability to conduct oneself with respect for and in accordance with the law;
- The ability to avoid acts which exhibit disregard for the rights or welfare of others;
- The ability to comply with the requirements of the Rules of Professional Conduct, applicable state, local, and federal laws, regulations, statutes, and any applicable order of a court or tribunal;
- The ability to act diligently and reliably in fulfilling one’s obligations to clients, attorneys, courts, and others;
- The ability to use honesty and good judgment in financial dealings on behalf of oneself, clients, and others; and
- The ability to comply with deadlines and time constraints.
- unlawful conduct;
- academic misconduct;
- making of false statements, including omissions;
- misconduct in employment;
- acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
- acts which demonstrate disregard for the rights or welfare of others;
- abuse of legal process;
- neglect of financial responsibilities;
- neglect of professional obligations;
- violation of an order of a court, including an order for child support;
- conduct evidencing current mental or emotional instability that may impair the ability to practice law;
- conduct evidencing current drug or alcohol abuse or dependency that may impair the ability to practice law;
- denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on character and fitness grounds; or
- disciplinary action by a lawyer disciplinary agency or other professional disciplinary agency of any jurisdiction.
The Minnesota bar application form includes questions inquiring about each of the above.
- the applicant’s age at the time of the conduct;
- the recency of the conduct;
- the reliability of the information concerning the conduct;
- the seriousness of the conduct;
- the factors underlying the conduct;
- the cumulative effect of the conduct or information;
- the evidence of rehabilitation;
- the applicant’s positive social contributions since the conduct;
- the applicant’s candor in the admissions process; and
- the materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.
If an applicant has conduct issues in the file that suggest that an applicant has a current chemical dependency issue, the Board may request a chemical dependency evaluation at the Board’s expense. The Board will factor the recommendations of the evaluator in making a determination on the file. This may delay the Board’s determination.
Bar examiners recognize that the stresses of law school and other life factors may result in the need to seek assistance. Applicants are encouraged to seek psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment if they feel the need for such treatment. The Board strongly encourages applicants to obtain such counseling or treatment whenever the applicant believes he or she might benefit from it. An applicant should not allow concern about a future bar application to dissuade them from obtaining needed treatment. The Board views the decision to seek treatment as a positive factor in evaluating applications. Recent or severe conditions may result in additional inquiry. The Board seeks to obtain the information in the least invasive way possible while balancing the need to protect the public. If a prospective applicant has any concerns, the applicant may call the Board office for information on how the Board has handled similar situations in the past.
Recent or serious past conduct may result in additional inquiry. The Board seeks to obtain the information in the least invasive way possible while balancing the need to protect the public. If a prospective applicant has any concerns, the applicant may call the Board office for information on how the Board has handled similar situations in the past.
Applicants are also encouraged to contact Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Information provided to LCL is completely confidential and is not shared with the Board.
The Board is concerned about the admission of persons with a pattern of financial irresponsibility because mishandling of client funds is a frequent cause for professional discipline. The issue is not whether an applicant carries debt. The forthright and responsible handling of financial matters, however, is an essential element to becoming a lawyer.
While credit reports should generally include student loans, sometimes the reported information can be incomplete or confusing, particularly if federal student loans have been transferred between servicers or placed in collections. The Department of Education maintains a central database of all federal student loans called the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which is available at https://nslds.ed.gov. The Board encourages any applicant who has any doubts about the status of their federal student loans, or their obligations with respect to them, to utilize this database and (if necessary) contact the Department of Education and/or the listed loan servicer for clarification.
If an applicant is unable to make the standard payments required by the loan servicer and terms, the Board would expect a diligent and financially responsible individual to exhaustively explore these avenues, contact the servicer or Department of Education as needed, complete and timely submit any necessary paperwork, and otherwise be proactive in utilizing available federal loan programs to avoid delinquency or default. While private borrowers are not entitled to utilize programs for federal loans, an applicant who is delinquent but has documentation showing that they proactively contacted the lender prior to becoming delinquent, submitted requests pursuant to any available deferment or financial hardship options, and/or proposed to pay a reduced amount reasonably based upon their financial ability, should submit this mitigating evidence. The Board’s process is designed to assess whether an applicant has exercised diligence and responsibility to maintain ongoing compliance with their financial obligations—not the amount of one’s student debt or how many years it will take to pay off.
When reviewing student loan delinquencies or defaults, examples of conduct that the Board may find indicative of financial irresponsibility and/or a lack of diligence include:
- Not being aware of the current status of loans or to whom they are owed;
- Failing to note that a deferment or forbearance period had ended;
- Having incorrectly assumed that a deferment or forbearance request was granted without verifying;
- Failing to research or inquire about federal programs or other payment options that could have kept the loans in a compliant status;
- Failing to timely complete and submit the paperwork or other documents needed to utilize such programs or payment options;
- Ignoring the debt, taking no action, and simply allowing the accounts to become delinquent or defaulted; and
- Expressing an intent to determine the status, explore options, and/or rectify issues at some point in the future, rather than currently taking action to address the matter.
State tax processes vary by state and applicants may have to contact the relevant state’s taxing authority or visit its website to determine what information is available and how to obtain it. In Minnesota, the Department of Revenue does not have an online system to look up individual income tax information, and taxpayers can call customer service to discuss their income taxes at (651) 296-3781 or request copies of their prior returns here: https://www.revenue.state.mn.us/requesting-copies-previous-returns.
Each year, roughly 1-2% of applicants to the bar are invited to meet with the Character and Fitness Committee. The attorney for character and fitness and members of the Board will ask the applicant questions related to the application. The applicant may be represented by counsel during the interview, but is not required to be. The interview is conducted under oath and a court reporter is present. The applicant will have the opportunity to provide additional information and may supplement responses following the interview if the applicant wishes to do so. Following the interview, the committee will make a recommendation to the Board at the next meeting. The Board may recommend the applicant for admission without delay, recommend the applicant with conditions, request additional information, or, in rare circumstances, deny the application.
The Board recommends that applicants who are invited to interview before the Board carefully review all documentation that the applicant has provided to the Board, review the questions asked by the bar application and the Board, and be prepared to address any discrepancies in the information provided. For example, if an applicant has stated that the applicant was cooperative during an arrest for driving while after intoxicated, but other collateral information shows that the applicant was belligerent, the Board may inquire further during the interview.
Additional information about the character and fitness interview process is available in a guide on the Board’s website.
Additional information about the conditional admission process is available in Rule 16 and in a guide on the Board’s website.
Following the hearing, the Board will issue findings and a final determination of the application. The Board’s decision is generally provided within 45-90 days of the hearing. An applicant may appeal the Board’s determination to the Supreme Court.
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