In this section we will discuss the significance of your law school application with respect to your application to the Florida Bar. Again, we will emphasize candor.
After you submit you Florida Bar Application (FBA) and the required documents and releases, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners (FBBE) will obtain a copy of your law school file and law school application (LSA). An FBBE staff member who is an analyst/investigator will be assigned your application file. They will perform many tasks in investigating you and your file. One of the issues that the FBBE is most concerned with is candor. Simply put – are you a truthful person? A finding of a lack of candor is a very serious disqualifying factor in your effort to seek admission to the Florida Bar.
One of the first things that the analyst does with your file is look for inconsistencies in your disclosures. They look for inconsistencies within a document and between documents. For example, if you wrote an essay that accompanied your LSA did you state in the essay something that is inconsistent with a statement in your Bar Application. In your LSA essay did you write some story that now appears to be alot of Bullcrap? Also, did you give a different explanation of an event such as an arrest in your LSA than your explanation in your Bar Application? Or more frequent, did you fail to disclose something in your LSA that you properly disclosed in your Bar Application? These are potentially serious problems that can cause the FBBE to take the position that they have found that you lack candor.
Before we continue about your bar application let me discuss an important point about character and fitness. The FBBE, based on the Florida Supreme Court’s Rules, takes the position that you must possess present good moral character. The important word here is “present.” What this means is that past conduct is not necessarily key to the FBBE’s judgment about you. Rather, their judgment is based on an inquiry into your current or present character. The Florida Supreme Court Rule 3-12 is quite specific.
3-12 Determination of Present Character. The board
must determine whether the applicant or registrant has provided
satisfactory evidence of good moral character. The following factors, among others, will be considered in assigning weight and significance to prior conduct:
(a) age at the time of the conduct;
(b) recency of the conduct;
(c) reliability of the information concerning the conduct;
(d) seriousness of the conduct;
(e) factors underlying the conduct;
(f) cumulative effect of the conduct or information;
(g) evidence of rehabilitation;
(h) positive social contributions since the conduct;
(i) candor in the admissions process; and,
(j) materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.
Now the key point here is that if you lie in your Bar Application then it is obvious that you do not presently possess good moral character because you have lied under oath in the past few months. The LSA is older and therefore a closer call. If you were untruthful in your LSA which you filled out 3 years ago does that constitute a lack of present good moral character? From our experience with these matters the answer is still likely to be that a material failure to disclose or a material untruthful disclosure in your LSA will at least be an issue that will trigger a hearing before the FBBE. And of course, unless you are from Mars you dont want a hearing. Trust us – FBBE hearing are scary, and they are not a fun or gratifying experience. (More about hearings in a later section.)
Now back to your LSA application. All of you should have attended an orientation in your law school where they discussed the importance of candor on your law school application and the bar application. Many of our Florida law schools explain during the orientation, that if there is anything you failed to disclose or that was untruthful on your law school application come into the dean of student’s office to discuss it and amend. This is very good advice. Do it. Do it now if you haven’t already.
We understand that you are afraid your law school might take disciplinary action when you notify them of your lack of candor onyour original LSA by amending. Do not be too afraid of your law school – particularly in comparison with the FBBE anyway. Much more likely than not the FBBE will discover the problem on your LSA and direct you to amend it – after asking you for explanation and why you didn’t amend in the first place. And then if it is a material misrepresentation or failure to disclose you will be called for a hearing. As we mentioned above not only is the hearing unpleasnt – it will likely delay you admission for months.
Amending your LSA. Believe it or not students frequently mess up there amendment. Because – they either hedge giving a full disclosure in the amendment or they give some untruthful reason for failing to disclose inthe first place! If you are not completely truthful in your amendment then their is later evidence of lack of present good moral character. The FBBE might say something like – “well, you lied in your law school application, and then you lied again in your amendment 8 months later! So you really do possess a problem with candor, dont you?” Kind of a hard question to answer.
So, when you file your amendment, dont say you forgot to include an arrest if the real reason is that you wanted to look good on youir application and get admitted to law school. The law school will understand if the truth is that you were afraid that if you told them this “horrible” thing about yourself that you would not be admitted. This is human nature.
Be truthful on your amendment and make sure that you accurately include everything that the LSA called for in each question. You do not want to amend twice, or three times. More than one amendment looks bad, although sometimes they are necesary.
If you have questions please feel free to contact me, Steven Pinkert, or my law partner, Calrie Marsh at 305-670-9000. We are located in Coral Gables, Florida.
In our next segment we will discuss social networking and the FBBE background investigation.