If you are in the process of becoming an attorney in Michigan, you must meet the standard for character and fitness to practice law.
What is the character and fitness requirement?
Lawyers hold a special position of trust within the community. As a result, applicants must possess the requisite character and fitness to practice law, meaning the applicant has the “good moral character” needed to obtain a law license. All applicants have their credentials reviewed by the Character & Fitness Committee to ensure they meet the character and fitness requirements. This process begins when an applicant submits an Affidavit of Personal History (APH).
The APH is a comprehensive questionnaire comprised of 58 questions pertaining to an applicant’s identification, background, education, employment history, school discipline, business involvement, participation in civil litigation, financial history, general fitness, history of mental health and substance dependency, and criminal history. If you have blemishes in your personal or academic history, it is critical you seek the advice of a skillful and experienced attorney who can review your application before you submit your APH to the State Bar of Michigan.
While an applicant’s candor is absolutely necessary, particular disclosures may call into question an applicant’s character and fitness to practice law.
District Committee Hearing
Once the APH has been submitted, the State Bar of Michigan will conduct its own investigation. If an applicant passes the bar exam but the State Bar has questions relating to the applicant’s APH, an applicant will receive an unofficial score, which generally requires the applicant to participate in a district committee hearing. The applicant will receive a letter of issues the State Bar wants the applicant to address.
The district committee hearing is comprised of three attorneys from the applicant’s county of residence. The applicant has the burden of proving by and clear and convincing evidence they possess the requisite character and fitness to practice law. An applicant should be prepared to candidly address the issues highlighted in their letter.
The district committee hearing is recorded. After the conclusion of the hearing, the applicant will then receive a written recommendation issued by the district committee. The recommendation can be either a positive recommendation or a negative recommendation.
Standing Committee Hearing
If the district committee determines the applicant has not shown by clear and convincing evidence that they possess the requisite good character and fitness to be recommended for admission to the bar, the applicant can appeal to the standing committee.
If a hearing is necessary, the applicant will receive a letter informing them of same. The standing committee hearing is more formal than the district committee hearing and is comprised of generally six attorneys. This hearing is adversarial in nature.
The applicant will undergo direct examination by their attorney if they have one. An applicant can present evidence, character witnesses, character letters, and fact witnesses in support. It is in the applicant’s best interests to have representation at the standing committee hearing.
After direct examination, the State Bar of Michigan’s attorney will cross-examine the applicant, the applicant’s witnesses, and other members on the panel will ask questions of the applicant and their respective witnesses. The lengthiest questioning will come from the applicant as they will need to testify to their good moral character. Depending on the complexity of the issues presented, a hearing can span over several days. However, hearings that require more than one day are rarely scheduled consecutively.
Similar to trial, closing statements are then made. The standing committee members will then go into a private session to discuss the testimony and proofs that were presented and determine whether an initial decision can be made. If so, the standing committee will tell the applicant orally that there is a finding that they possess the requisite character and fitness to practice law and the Board of Law Examiners should support the decision. After the conclusion of the hearing, the panel will then issue a written recommendation.
“Who makes the final decision on whether I have the good moral character and fitness to practice law?”
The Michigan Board of Law Examiners makes the final decision on whether an applicant should be admitted to practice law. This decision can take several months because the Board only meets once every four to six weeks. If there are no objections, the Board of Law Examiners will accept the standing committee’s recommendation and the applicant will receive their notification of good moral character and fitness. Once received, the applicant can seek to be sworn into the State Bar if they initially passed the bar exam. If the applicant did not pass the bar exam, they can proceed with scheduling to retake it. The certification of character and fitness clearance is valid for three years.
Michigan Character & Fitness Attorneys
The Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has decades of experience representing clients in all types of criminal, administrative, and adversarial forums. If you need assistance completing an APH or are facing a character and fitness hearing, do not hesitate to contact us for the highest caliber of representation available. We will do whatever it takes to help you become a practicing attorney in Michigan.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.