What does it mean that a bar applicant must possess "good moral character?"
In the case of Florida Board of Bar Examiners re G.W.L., 364 So. 2d 454 (Fla. 1978), the Supreme Court of Florida concluded that good moral character should not be restricted to acts involving moral turpitude. Such a restricted definition "would not sufficiently protect the public interest." After observing that "the unscrupulous attorney... [has] frequent opportunities to defraud the client or obstruct the judicial process," the Supreme Court of Florida held that the appropriate standard of inquiry into good moral character should emphasize "honesty, fairness, and respect for the rights of others." The Court also recognized "that the standard of conduct required of an applicant for admission to the bar must have a rational connection to the applicant's fitness to practice law."
To further assist bar applicants and to provide guidance to the current and future members of the board, the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar contain provisions addressing the following subjects:
- Rule 3-10 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar: Standards of an Attorney and Essential Eligibility Requirements
- Rule 3-11 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar: Disqualifying Conduct
- Rule 3-12 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar: Determination of Present Character
What is disqualifying conduct?
Pursuant to Rule 3-11 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, a record manifesting a lack of honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, or reliability may constitute a basis for denial of admission. Any of the following may be considered by the board to be a basis for further inquiry before recommending admission:
- Unlawful conduct
- Academic misconduct
- Making or procuring any false or misleading statement or omission of relevant information, including any false or misleading statement or omission on the Bar Application, or any amendment, or in any testimony or sworn statement submitted to the Board
- Misconduct in employment
- Acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation
- Abuse of legal process
- Financial irresponsibility
- Neglect of professional obligations
- Violation of an order of a court
- Evidence of mental or emotional instability
- Evidence of drug or alcohol dependency
- Denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on character and fitness grounds
- Disciplinary action by a lawyer disciplinary agency or other professional disciplinary agency of any jurisdiction
- Any other conduct which reflects adversely upon the character and fitness of the applicant
How does the board determine the appropriate weight and significance to be given the prior conduct?
As required by Rule 3-12 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, the Board will use the following factors in assigning weight and significance to prior conduct:
- Applicant’s age at the time of the conduct
- Recency of the conduct
- Reliability of the information concerning the conduct
- Seriousness of the conduct
- Factors underlying the conduct
- Cumulative effect of conduct or information
- Evidence of rehabilitation (Rule 3-13 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar)
- Applicant’s positive social contributions since the conduct
- Applicant’s candor in the admissions process
- Materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations
What rights does a bar applicant have when appearing before the board for a formal hearing?
After completing its background investigation of a bar applicant, which may include the applicant's appearance at an investigative hearing, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners can do one of the following:
- Recommend the applicant's admission to the Supreme Court of Florida
- Enter into a consent agreement with the applicant providing for the applicant's conditional admission
- Conduct further investigation into the applicant’s character and fitness
- File Specifications (a document that contains formal allegations of misconduct that, if proven, could result in an unfavorable recommendation by the board)
The filing of Specifications triggers certain procedural rights designed to provide the applicant with due process and to ensure the fairness of the process. Applicants are entitled to the following:
- A formal hearing (adversary proceeding) before a panel of the board consisting of no less than five members
- The hearing panel cannot include any member who previously participated in an investigative hearing for such applicant, except with the applicant’s consent
- Representation by legal counsel
- Timely release of witness and exhibit lists by the parties
- Access to the board's subpoena powers
- Cross-examination of witnesses who are called to testify against the applicant
- Presentation of witnesses and exhibits on the applicant's behalf (technical Rules of evidence are not applicable during a formal hearing)
Following the formal hearing, the panel renders its decision based solely on the evidence introduced into the record at the formal hearing. If the panel recommends that the applicant not be admitted, then written Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are prepared and filed.
A bar applicant who has received an unfavorable recommendation from the board may seek review of such recommendation before the Florida Supreme Court. See Rules 3-23 through 3-40.1 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar.
If you want to become a practicing lawyer again, speak with a competent and qualified Florida Bar admissions attorney like Richard B. Marx, Esq., and get the legal advice and representation you need to make that possible.
May I apply now if I have been disbarred from Florida?
Persons who have been disbarred from the practice of law or who have resigned pending disciplinary proceedings will not be eligible to apply in Florida until a period of 5 years from the date of disbarment or 3 years from the date of resignation or such other time as is set forth by any Florida Rules of discipline and except on proof of payment of any restitution (by a court in its order of disbarment, resignation, or suspension; by a criminal court related to any underlying conduct that resulted in the disbarment, resignation, or suspension; and/or owed for the payment of any claims by the Clients' Security Fund) and disciplinary costs imposed. See Rule 2-13.1 and Rule 2-13.25 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar. However, exceptional circumstances may be established by showing that the applicant has made diligent, good-faith efforts to satisfy the restitution and costs obligation and has demonstrated a consistent commitment to fully satisfy the obligation; the applicant has entered a payment plan which insures satisfaction in full as soon as practicable; and the payment plan is necessary to protect the interests of any person or entity entitled to payment. Rule 2-13.25
May I apply now if I have been disbarred in another jurisdiction?
May I apply now if I am suspended for disciplinary reasons in another jurisdiction?
Persons who have been suspended for disciplinary reasons from the practice of law in a foreign jurisdiction will not be eligible to apply in Florida until reinstated to the practice of law in the person's home state and except on proof of payment of any restitution (by a court in its order of disbarment, resignation, or suspension; by a criminal court related to any underlying conduct that resulted in the disbarment, resignation, or suspension; and/or owed for the payment of any claims by the Clients' Security Fund) and disciplinary costs imposed. See Rule 2-13.2 and Rule 2-13.25 OF the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar
May I apply now if I am a convicted felon or serving felony probation?