As part of my practice, I take great pride in the representation of those who are seeking admission to a professional board. As an attorney, who as applied to two different bars, Florida and Louisiana, I’m personally aware of the feeling of uneasiness that many face when they apply to become doctors, nurses, cpa’s, or attorneys. My clients in this area of my practice are all smart people who fear that an incident in their past will jeopardize their future practice. However, after a brief consultation with my clients, many are relieved to find out that things aren’t as bad as they think.
I write this at the end of the first week of classes for many students’ Spring semester for a reason. Those of you who are students reading this blog have finished your first party week, now its time to buckle down and start planning for the next phase of your life–your career. It is my experience that during the next few weeks that many students are beginning frantically working to complete their applications to the bar, the board, the evil admissions committee, and this is around the time I start receiving phone calls. Here’s some information to think about when completing your character and fitness applications for your background checks.
1. Candor. For those of you who are not familiar with the word it means honesty. Every admissions committee out there is looking for you to be honest throughout the application process. In addition to your initial honesty, admissions board are looking for you to keep honest after you’ve applied.
2. Timeliness. Most boards have rolling deadlines and ever-increasing fees based on when you apply therefore its crucial to apply as early as possible. Some attorney licensing boards ask law students to apply for the bar during their first year so that the background check will be completed by the time they sit for the bar exam (for non-attorney readers that is 3 years before you take the exam!). Timeliness and Candor work together as well. Often, you are required to keep the admissions board informed of “any changes” to your application within 30 days of the change. Basically, this means you have to check in with the board every 30 days. And you thought curfew was bad?
3. Questions on the application. It is no secret that admissions applications are written in a way to confuse people. They’re written by attorneys (we purposefully confuse people for a living) who are paid to write questions in a way that is as open-ended as possible in order to cover any possible answer to the question. You often see this with the traffic violations question which read something like, “Have you ever received a major traffic violation?” You don’t know what a major traffic violation is? Neither do I? But this is probably the time where it’s best to pay the $10 to get your Louisiana Driving Record from that ticket you during Mardi Gras in high school and send it with your bar application.
4. Questions with answers you feel need explanation. Many applicants come across questions where they know they have know when they answer the question, a simple yes or no won’t suffice. This is where the going gets tough and the tough get going. So, you come to a question that read, “Have you ever been arrested?” You were arrested when you were 15 (a juvenile) for performing a prank against a rival sports team. You were put in hand cuffs, but you never went to jail. The cops let you go when your parents came and vowed to punish you at home. You missed prom that year. Here’s what I advise my clients. The answer to that question is YES. Then, on a separate sheet of paper we write an addendum explaining the circumstances of the arrest and providing any documentation we can find regarding the police report.
5. Writing Clear and Concise Responses. It is important that all letters, responses, requests for information, amendments, and addendums be as clear and concise as possible. Many applicants feel the need to be too honest. There is a difference between being honest and telling a story or providing an explanation. Generally, I advise clients to only answer the question they are asked and not explain why or how the circumstance came to be.
6. Hire someone. It is important hire an attorney as soon as you realize you’re in over your head. This is a subjective standard. My advice is as soon as you come to the conclusion that you don’t know how to answer the question asked, its time to seek legal representation. As mentioned above, the question is meant to confuse you and trip you up later. A trained professional should be able to understand the questions and we will help you develop an appropriate answer.
I hope this information is helpful. If you’re reading this and would like help with your application, please do not hesitate to contact me or an attorney in your jurisdiction.