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For law students in Florida, the most sobering part of law school – bar none – is when they explain the process of applying to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners (FBBE), specifically, the Board’s investigations into each applicant’s “character and fitness” to be a lawyer. Many law students have the barest inkling regarding the extent to which the FBBE will investigate and inquire into their character and fitness to practice law. For some law students it may be cold comfort to know that the Board will only concern itself with two areas of your life: your conduct before law school and your conduct during (and even after) law school. In other words, your whole life.
Each law student - and every person who applies for admission to The Florida Bar - is encouraged to read and become familiar with the requirements for admission to the Florida Bar, and the Florida Supreme Court's Rules relating to Bar admission.
We provide assistance at any stage of the Bar application process, even including pre-application; that is, how to correctly apply to the Florida Bar. Our clients include students, graduates, and lawyers admitted in other states. So-called “foreign attorneys” are often surprised at how rigorous and thorough Florida’s bar admission process actually is.
Most typically, our clients retain us after receiving a Notice to Appear for Investigative Hearing, an official document that identifies issues that concern the Board. In most cases, it is much wiser and more prudent to hire counsel whenever the application process appears to become problematic for any reason -- and most applicants will gain that impression before receiving an official Notice to Appear. We can step in to represent Bar applicants at any stage of the application process, including Formal Hearings on specifications; and we have been successful at the appeal stage before the Supreme Court of Florida.
Generally speaking, your interests as a Bar applicant are best served by disclosing and explaining any and all difficulties or indiscretions in your past. That is not to say, however, that genuine disputes, debatable questions, or grey areas do not arise in this context. Read each application question very carefully. If a mistake is to be made, it is usually better to err on the side of disclosure. Contact us if you are uncertain as to the meaning or intent of a particular question on your Bar application based on your circumstances, or if you should find yourself in what seems to be a quandary or dilemma in disclosing past events.
It is perilous and ill-advised to hope or believe that some unflattering conduct in your past will not be discovered if intentionally omitted. No matter what shadows may lie in your past, intentionally failing to disclose them can disqualify you as a Bar applicant. The Application for Admission to the Florida Bar includes detailed questions regarding past residences, employment history, financial obligations, litigation, criminal arrests, and traffic violations; questions are also directed to issues involving substance abuse or dependency and mental health treatment. It is usually far better to disclose and explain the circumstances to FBBE. Of course, the nature and extent of the disclosure and explanation – what to say and how to say it – is a matter of importance and serious consideration.
First year law students should review their law school application and amend it to include any information that may have been omitted. The FBBE will read and compare your Bar admission application with your law school application for consistency. The Board may require an explanation as to any inconsistencies. Omissions, incomplete explanations, and misleading information on the FBBE application are the leading causes of difficulty in the Florida Bar application process. These can prompt further investigation by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. If your Bar application encounters such difficulties, we are here to help.
For more information on the process of becoming admitted to practice law in Florida, including frequently asked questions, exam schedules, forms, filing deadlines, etc., visit The Florida Board of Bar Examiners.
At any stage of the Florida Bar admission process, the FBBE may require you to provide additional information or clarification. Any correspondence or notice you receive from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners should be regarded very seriously, and should prompt you to consult a qualified attorney for advice on how to properly respond. Once FBBE has completed its “C & F” investigation, it will either approve your Florida Bar application, or notify you of a problem that is potentially disqualifying. FBBE does this by issuing a Notice to Appear before an investigative hearing panel. The Notice will set forth in fair detail the issues for which you must appear and provide testimony. A panel of three (sometimes four) Board members will conduct the Q & A and present the Board's concerns. To appear at such a hearing on your own, unrepresented, is unwise. A good attorney can fully develop your testimony and case, can advise you on the most effective way to respond, or be prepared to respond. If necessary or advisable, the applicant’s mitigating evidence or proof of subsequent rehabilitation or present good character should be assembled and effectively presented.
After the hearing the Board will notify the applicant of its panel decision. If the Board is determined to deny an applicant admission to The Florida Bar, the Board will produce and serve a formal statement of charges specifying the allegedly disqualifying conduct ("Specifications"). A formal, adversary proceeding ensues, which fairly demands representation by experienced counsel. If the Bar applicant’s prior conduct cannot be denied or defended (e.g., an arrest or conviction), it may be explained, justified, or mitigated, or, the applicant may prove rehabilitation. Depending on the issue, it is possible for an applicant to be conditionally admitted to the Florida Bar.
Below is a review from a former client who was admitted to the Florida Bar:
"Brett assisted me in defending my application to the Florida Bar. These matters can often drag on, but Brett did a wonderful job in moving my file forward and bringing it to a successful resolution. There are not many lawyers who handle this type of defense, but Brett has handled many of these matters in the past, and has a working relationship with the members of the Board. I'm certain that I would not have been able to become a member of the Florida Bar without Brett's assistance. I'm extremely grateful for his help." Avvo Review Page
END NOTE: If your Bar application has already been noticed for a formal hearing, you should retain experienced legal counsel without delay. At this stage the case can be resolved in any number of ways. Each such case is unique unto itself. Please contact us for a free consultation regarding yours.