Fit Financial Character

Financial Aid

Despite all rumors to the effect that the economy has recovered, I'm finding that several of my clients whom I worked very hard to get into law school may not be able to attend because they don't have their finances in order.

Check your credit rating to make sure you can get loans. Save, or take out of your 401K, or beg family members, for a budget of $2,000 to $6,000, to pay for apps, prep courses, seat deposits, visits, etc.

You don't have that kind of money? Yeah, I know; that's one of the reasons the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. But I just posted an anti-homophobia diatribe two days ago; I'll save the socioeconomic diatribe for the 4th of July, when we can ponder the greatness of America.

As I mentioned in my June 14, 2011 post-NAPLA report, the issue of character and fitness is figuring into several different aspects of law school admission and bar passage. The first is in the use of social media and keeping your image professional, as we addressed in "the Big Picture." The second has featured in the news a lot lately -- financial fitness. People are being denied Bar Admission (i.e., licenses) because they have been found to be financially irresponsible.

Our lunch lecture on the first day of the conference was, "Does Money Really Equal Character?" by Dennis Rendleman, Senior Counsel for Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association. Mr. Rendleman suggested that we look at the National Conference of Bar Examiner's " Request for Preparation of a Character Report," which I found on the NCBE web page.

The first thing I noticed is that the form is 32 pages long.

I didn't know there were that many bad things you could do and still get into law school in the first place!

By eliminating redundancies, paraphrasing and shortening questions (which would be a violation of the character and fitness test were I to do this in a form that would be used), and collapsing several lines (e.g. NAME: First, Middle Last) into one, I was able to reduce the form to a mere nine pages.

You have to report all sorts of amazing things:

  • Traffic tickets
  • Mental health issues
  • Law suits of any sort
  • Bonding and licensing issues

But they're not what I came to talk about. (Why do I feel like Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant? "Alice's Restaurant" was an anti-war song of the 1960s. In the linked 16 minute version, Guthrie is halfway through before he says, "But that's not what I came to tell you about.")

I came to tell you about the financial issues on the character and fitness form.

Here is a vastly simplified version of the reporting requirements:

7. List your employment and unemployment information, beginning with the most recent for the last ten years or since age 18, whichever period of time is shorter. Include any law-related employment that occurred prior to the time period for which you are reporting.

Employment encompasses all part-time and full-time employment, including self-employment, externships, internships (paid and unpaid), clerkships, military service, volunteer work, and temporary employment.

  • If you were employed by a temporary agency, provide the name, mailing address, and telephone number of the temporary agency and also note the name of the firm/company to which you were assigned.
  • Account for any unemployment period of more than three months (i.e., attending law school, studying for the bar examination, seeking employment, etc.). For these periods of time, check the box for Unemployment Period and describe your activities while you were unemployed in the field labeled Employment Position/Description of Unemployment.

If you are self-employed or employed by a relative, provide a reference (preferably someone associated with the business) to whom you are not related by blood or marriage who can verify the nature and length of your employment or practice. DO NOT furnish your own name or your own contact information for verifying employment.

8. Have you ever been terminated, suspended, disciplined, laid-off, or permitted to resign in lieu of termination from any job? (If the employment was not previously listed, please go back and add it to Question 7.)  If yes, provide the following information about each occurrence:

Employer or Firm
Dates of Employment: From Mo/Yr To Mo/Yr
Disposition: . Terminated . Suspended .
Disciplined .
Laid-Off . Permitted to resign
Date of disposition (Mo/Yr)
Explanation of circumstances

19. Have you ever been a named party to any civil action?
NOTE: Family law matters (including continuing orders for child support) should be included here.

20. Have you ever had a complaint or action (including, but not limited to, allegations of fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, forgery, or malpractice) initiated against you in any administrative forum?

23. Have you ever filed a petition for bankruptcy? If yes, complete a separate FORM 4 for each bankruptcy petition filed.

24. A. Have you ever had a credit card or charge account revoked?
B. Have you ever defaulted on any student loans?
C. Have you ever defaulted on any other debt?
D. Have you had any debts of $500 or more (including credit cards, charge accounts, and student loans) that have been more than 90 days past due within the past three years?

E. If your answer to Question 23 is yes, are there any additional debts not reported in Questions 24(A-D) that were not discharged in bankruptcy?

28. Provide complete information for at least six references, preferably persons who have known you for a minimum of five years.

  • You are encouraged to include one reference from every locality where you have lived during the last ten years.
  • Do not list yourself, anyone who is related to you by blood or marriage, or anyone who resides at your current residential address.
  • Do not use names listed in response to Question 7 (employment).

It is your responsibility to provide accurate and complete information. If necessary, you need to consult with applicable courts, agencies, or other entities to obtain dates, locations, or other required information.

I'm having a lot of trouble imagining how anyone who is poor or self-employed will make it through the current economic crisis without some explaining to do. And if you ever worked for a bank, I'd just give up now! They want to know if WE defaulted on loans or filed for bankruptcy; imagine if you worked for a mortgage company that went belly-up. You can only hope the "I was just following orders" line is in fashion.

The moral of the story? I don't know. I hope it's not being used to discriminate against the already marginalized, but I can't imagine, "Oh, your trust fund paid the bills for you" making you as unfit as a person who didn't have a rich relative to fall back on.


Take me back to the
"Recent News" Page

Take me back to
the Home Page