The practice of law is a privilege, not a right. All Washington applicants are subject to a character and fitness review prior to being allowed to sit for the Washington State Bar Examination. Washington applicants have the burden to prove that he or she is a person of honest demeanor and good moral character, and possesses the requisite fitness to perform the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing attorney at law.
Character and fitness disclosures may vary by state. In Washington, you should be prepared to list specifics of every place you have lived in the last 5 years, every job you have held (with contacts to confirm employment) in the last 5 years, every moving traffic violation in the past 10 years, any disciplinary action in school, and any arrest or criminal charge along with full details of the incident. Applicants should start assembling the documents in advance because this process can be time consuming.
Permission to sit for the bar examination may be withheld pending a hearing before the Character and Fitness Board and final determination regarding whether applicants have met their burden of proving that they are of good moral character, are fit to practice law and have met the Essential Eligibility Requirements. Washington requires resolution of all character and fitness issues at least 60 days prior to sitting for the bar exam. Applicants with unresolved character and fitness issues will not be permitted to sit for the exam.
While each state's bar screening process varies, the current Washington Admission to Practice Rules are linked here as an example of what you may be required to disclose and what you may be required to prove. While these rules are applicable only to Washington State, the vast majority of states have similar disclosure requirements, and some are even more expansive. Please check with the jurisdiction in which you plan to practice regarding their disclosure requirements. Although the disclosures requested by bar associations may include financial difficulties (such as bankruptcy), drug or alcohol abuse issues, arrests (even if they did not result in a conviction), criminal convictions of any type and school disciplinary matters, ultimately your eligibility to take a bar examination and become a member of any given state bar will depend on your particular circumstances.
A significant issue for applicants for admission to the bar is candor in their bar application forms, including providing a full explanation of all circumstances that may be required to be disclosed on the bar application. Insufficient disclosure and/or failure to disclose itself can be a basis for rejecting a candidate for admission. In other words, in some instances the underlying conduct might not itself be sufficient to prompt a character and fitness inquiry, but rather the failure to disclose even a relatively minor problem can become the basis for a character and fitness investigation.
The Washington State Bar will consider students’ application to Seattle University School of Law as part of its investigation of students’ background. If information is revealed to the bar or discovered by the bar association's investigation which was not disclosed in an answer to a question on the Law School application, that can be viewed as evidence of a lack of candor. Seattle University School of Law is glad to assist students in clarifying any questions that they may have about what needs to be disclosed to SU now in order to avoid any subsequent claim by a state bar association that students should have disclosed something in the Law School application that they did not.
In addition to disclosing personal background information when applying to the bar exam, students’ conduct while enrolled in law school will also be open to inquiry. As part of the character and fitness investigation, Seattle University School of Law will be asked to provide responses to questions regarding students’ character based on our records. We are required to report failure to meet material obligations, including financial obligations, any record of academic or conduct discipline, and whether the record reveals any conduct which would suggest that the student lacks the mental or emotional stability to practice law, or any abuse or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
We believe that everyone accepted to Seattle University School of Law has the potential to meet the standards for character and fitness to practice law required by the state bar associations. Seattle University School of Law has faculty and staff who are available to review the particular circumstances of students, and assist them in laying out a plan to meet their burden of establishing good character and fitness upon graduation. We strongly encourage students to set up that plan to address any issues in their personal life, past or present, in order to meet the burden of proof that they are of good moral character and that they are fit to practice law.
Whether students meet the standards at the time they wish to sit for a bar examination is a decision that will be made outside of the Seattle University School of Law, but we are here to provide you with assistance now so that you are prepared to address any concerns about your moral character and fitness.
Please visit the Washington State Bar Association for more information.
Bar Success Program
901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA 98122-1090
Isabel Freitas Peres
Director of Bar Success and Adjunct Professor of Law
Associate Director of Academic Excellence and Bar Success and Adjunct Professor of Law
Faculty Legal Administrative Assistant