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Character and Fitness Updates

Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential to the success of an attorney, and are required by the Rules of Professional Conduct that govern attorney ethics. Therefore, law schools and boards of bar examiners want to ensure that all law school graduates and bar applicants have the requisite character and fitness to practice law. This requires honesty in the form of accurate representations and candor, which means that all relevant information must be disclosed.

Law School Application

The application to Widener Law Commonwealth requests information that bears on character and fitness and asks the applicant questions regarding if he or she has ever

  1. received an academic warning, been placed on probation, disciplined, suspended, or dismissed from any learning institution for any reason;
  2. been court-martialed; or
  3. arrested, given a written warning, taken into custody, or accused formally or informally of the violation of a law for any offense other than a minor traffic violation.

Students must include any instance of driving under the influence and offenses that have been expunged or occurred while a juvenile, including disorderly person offenses. For disclosure purposes, a “minor traffic violation” is one that does not require a court appearance. If a court appearance was required, the matter should be disclosed and documented.

These categories are extremely broad and include many offenses some would deem “minor,” such as alcohol-related offenses in college, citations for public alcohol consumption, and accusations of dishonesty by employers, even if no formal charges were filed. Also, even if an arrest, charge, or conviction has been expunged, it must be disclosed. There are no exceptions based on the perceived insignificance of the incident, the student’s age when it occurred, or contrary advise the student may have received from an attorney.

Amending a Student Application

If a student failed to disclose relevant information during the application process, the student may amend the application by submitting a letter to the Office of Student Affairs fully describing the incident(s), with relevant documentation. The documentation should include summonses, court orders, docket entries, driving records, student records, and the like. If documentation is not available, the student must identify and contact the relevant authority and provide the date of contact, name, and position of the person with whom the student spoke, and that person’s phone number. A letter from an attorney who represented the student might be appropriate in some cases, if the incident is serious enough and documentation is not available. Letters from educational institutions can also be appropriate.

Instructions and Character and Fitness Acknowledgment forms are available in the Office of Student Affairs. If you have questions about the amendment process, contact us.

Continuing Obligation to Disclose

If incidents subject to disclosure occur after the student’s application was submitted, or during law school, the student must disclose them immediately. Do not wait until the matter is resolved, because by then you might be near graduation. Make sure you obtain all relevant documents and submit them along with your disclosure.

Consequences for Failure to Disclose

Some consequences are explained on the application.

Note: Any false or misleading statement, incomplete or inaccurate information, omission of required information, or failure to update changes in information in this application may cause the student to be denied admission; or, if admitted, to be dismissed from the Law School or cause your degree to be revoked by the dean, and may jeopardize your licensure with boards of bar examiners.

Consequences are real and in extreme cases students’ admissions have been rescinded.

The more likely consequence, if the failure to disclose is serious enough, is that the Law School will not certify the student’s character and fitness for bar eligibility.

Failure to disclose required information to the Law School can hinder or preclude admission to the bar. Boards of bar examiners conduct character and fitness inquiries after an applicant has passed the bar, and they easily detect discrepancies between disclosures on law school applications and disclosures in an application for bar eligibility. When discrepancies are detected, those applicants are subject to further inquiry and, in extreme cases, admission to the bar is delayed or denied – even though they have passed the bar exam.