Character and Fitness
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Each applicant must complete the Board’s online Registration Form and Application for Admission to the Bar, obtain two affidavits attesting to the applicant’s good character and fitness to practice law, provide a certified driving record, and execute an authorization and release consenting to investigation by the Board. A fee in the amount prescribed by the Rules must be included along with the application. An applicant must complete any required supplemental forms and attach requested documentation. Incomplete applications may be rejected and will otherwise delay the application process.
In addition to possessing good character and fitness, an applicant must meet the following prerequisites for admission to the bar:
- 18 years of age;
- graduation from an ABA approved law school with a J.D. or LL.B. degree*
- a scaled score of 85 or higher on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE);
- a score of 260 or higher on a Minnesota Bar Examination; or
- eligibility for admission without examination by years of practice; or
- admission by transferring a qualifying MBE or UBE score achieved in another jurisdiction.
*An Applicant may also qualify to sit for the Minnesota Bar Examination if the Applicant has 1) a bachelor’s degree from an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Dept. of Education; 2) a J.D. from a law school located within any state or territory of the United States or the District of Columbia; and 3) that the applicant has been actively licensed and engaged in the practice of law as a principal occupation for 60 of the last 84 months.
The Board will certify an applicant’s good character and fitness for admission if the Board finds that the applicant has a current record of conduct which demonstrates that the applicant meets the essential eligibility requirements for the practice of law and justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts, and the public. Honesty is the single most important characteristic. Full and complete disclosure is important. In addition, serious misconduct in an applicant’s past will require an applicant to provide evidence of rehabilitation. The burden is on the applicant to prove a current ability to meet the essential eligibility requirements to practice law in Minnesota.
- 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 Board may make inquiries of the applicant’s references, employers, former employers, colleges, law schools and others. The Board may also make inquiries of courts, police agencies, credit agencies, and other sources. During the background investigation, the applicant may be asked to provide additional facts, documents, and/or explanations concerning any response.
- 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 him or her 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.
Admission to the bar does not require a perfect credit record and the Board recognizes that law students may carry substantial student loan debt. The Board’s inquiry into financial issues is to determine if an applicant has dealt honestly and responsibly with all creditors. Responsible dealings generally include taking actions such as, but not limited to, keeping in contact with the creditors, making good faith payment arrangements, making partial payments, reaffirming the underlying obligation, and/or working with a consumer credit counseling organization to address debt issues. Timely filing and payment of taxes and prompt payment of judgments is also important.
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.
Consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three national credit bureaus, and a link to the provider of that service can be found at www.consumer.ftc.gov. The Board encourages prospective applicants to check their credit report well in advance of applying so they are aware of all debts, can correct any errors, remedy any delinquencies, and make full and proper disclosures. Prospective applicants may wish to time their requests to save one of their free reports until they are ready to apply, since they will be required to attach a current credit report with their bar application. The Board requires a report issued by one of the three bureaus, but not any specific bureau, and the free report meets the requirement.
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.
The Board’s process seeks to verify that an applicant has acted honestly, diligently, reliably, responsibly, and has shown good judgment in managing their financial obligations, including student loans. The review of student loan matters is generally focused on whether the applicant has maintained all student loan accounts in a compliant status. Federal student loans, unlike many financial obligations, have numerous and flexible ways by which an individual may maintain a compliant status. Borrowers can pursue alternatives such as a forbearance or deferment to postpone repayment, reduced monthly payments pursuant to an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, and may even be approved to make IDR “payments” of $0 per month following their application and verified lack of discretionary income.
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% 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.
Rule 16 provides additional information on the conditional admission process.
Following the hearing, the Board will issue findings and a final determination of the application. The Board’s decision is generally provided within 30-60 days of the hearing. An applicant may appeal the Board’s determination to the Supreme Court.
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