Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners Matters

What you should know if you have been denied a certificate of admission by the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners.
Applicants for admission to the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are sometimes horrified or shocked to learn, after passing the bar examination, that the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners (hereafter referred to as “The Board”) is denying them a Certificate of Admission to the Bar because of “character and fitness” issues. This is usually quite a stunning blow to the applicant after successfully graduating from law school and then passing the bar examination.  The proper handling of character and fitness issues by the applicant can often times stave off the denial of a Certificate of Admission.  Even if The Board initially denies the applicant a Certificate of Admission, such a denial can often be overcome through a hearing before The Board.
Frequently Asked Questions:

What kinds of matters could result in the denial of a Certificate of Admission?
Anything that could legitimately raise a question concerning your “character and fitness” is fair game for The Board to consider.  In fact, The Board is charged with the duty to consider any such issues.  This includes any kind of chemical dependency or abuse, gambling problems, criminal charges (even if you were not convicted, and even if the record of the charges against you has been expunged), fiscal misfeasance, termination from employment for cause, plagiarism, disciplinary actions against the applicant while in college or law school, and virtually any act of dishonesty.  Failure to disclose incidents that reflect on character and fitness on either the law school application or the bar application can also result in a denial.  This list is not exclusive, but is representative of the kinds of things that have caused some of my clients to initially be denied admission to the practice of law or which at least raised a character and fitness issue.

How and when would The Board notify me if I am being denied admission to the Bar based upon a character and fitness issue?
You will generally be notified of such a denial when you are notified that you have passed the bar examination or soon thereafter. If you do not pass the bar examination, The Board will not send you a notice of a denial of a Certificate of Admission, since it would be a moot point.  Sometimes, when an applicant is notified that he or she has passed the bar exam, the applicant will simply be notified that the character and fitness determination is ongoing.  The Board is very diligent about conducting character and fitness determinations, so any delay is usually (but not always) attributable to some laxity on the part of the applicant in providing requested information.

Is it possible to have a character and fitness issue resolved without having a hearing?
Yes, in many cases.  If handled properly, many character and fitness issues can be favorably resolved via the application process and follow-up communications with the Board staff.  One of the keys to properly handling a character and fitness issue is candor to the Board in explaining any potential character and fitness issues when filling out the application for the bar examination.  Another key is the applicant’s diligence and cooperation in providing requested information to the Board staff.  There are other considerations to take into account when preparing your application in order to optimize your chances for a favorable outcome.

Is it possible to know of such a favorable outcome prior to taking the bar examination?
Unfortunately, this appears to no longer be possible.  In the past, the Board staff has let me know when it is satisfied with the explanation(s) provided by one of my client/applicants and has determined that it will not deny the applicant his or her Certificate of Admission.  The staff now waits at least until the bar results are released before letting the applicant know whether he or she has “passed” the character and fitness determination and will not require a hearing.  In cases involving serious character and fitness issues, however, it is not likely that the applicant will avoid a denial of the Certificate of Admission.  Issues involving alcoholism or other chemical dependency will also usually result in an initial denial of a Certificate of Admission.  In such cases, the applicant will then have to request a hearing.  However, if the applicant can demonstrate that he or she has been in recovery for a substantial length of time, it may be possible to avoid the initial denial of a Certificate of Admission.

What if I fail to disclose something on my bar application that will or might raise a character and fitness issue?
Failure to disclose anything that should be disclosed on your bar application is simply wrong, and is also the wrong way to start off a legal career.  Beyond that, a knowing “failure to disclose” is almost always worse than the conduct that is being concealed.  Discovery of a failure to disclose something that should have been disclosed will almost surely result in denial of admission to the bar.  If you have a character and fitness issue, the Board now requires, inter alia, the applicant to submit a “Personal Statement.”  The staff of the Board closely compares the applicant’s law school application, the bar application, the Personal Statement, and any other writings submitted by the applicant, to determine whether the applicant has been consistent in his or her explanations, and to ensure that there have been no “failures to disclose.”
If you fail to disclose an incident that should have been disclosed and you are then admitted to the practice of law, and your failure to disclose is subsequently discovered, you will then face disciplinary proceedings before the Disciplinary Board.  One of the possible sanctions for failure to disclose on the bar application at that point is a revocation of your license.  Unlike a suspension or even a disbarment, one cannot petition The Disciplinary Board for reinstatement to the practice of law from a license revocation.  It is as if you were never admitted to the practice of law.

If I receive a denial of my Certificate for Admission, is it time for me to look for another career?
No.  Following receipt of a denial of a Certificate of Admission, you may request a hearing before the Board of Law Examiners.  The hearing is then scheduled and handled in an expedited fashion.  Of course, as in any legal proceeding, there are various “do’s and don’t’s” of which the applicant should be aware in proceeding to a hearing.  You have already invested several years of your life, not to mention considerable expense, in pursuing a legal career.  In addition, you stand to earn millions of dollars over the course of your legal career.  Therefore, you should thoroughly and properly prepare for the hearing before The Board of Law Examiners, and should be ready to corroborate your position with witnesses and appropriate documentary evidence.  Applicants are often granted admission to the bar following a well-prepared-for hearing before the Board of Law Examiners.

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If you have been contacted by the Disciplinary Board, the Client Security Fund, the Board of Law Examiners, the Judicial Conduct Board, or if you have any other ethical concerns or questions, contact Attorney Craig Simpson at 412-731-3100 to arrange an appointment at our convenient and confidential office. All inquiries are strictly confidential.