The Importance of Being Earnest

A play of which I am not terribly fond.

The real subject of this post is bar requirements. For those unfamiliar with our American system of regulating the legal profession, all persons purporting to offer legal advice, or purporting to represent clients in court, must be licensed by the Supreme Court of the state wherein they are practicing. Like doctors, masotherapists, fortune-tellers, and taxidermists, state governments license lawyers, and no one without a license may practice law. In order to gain a license, or in lawyer esoterica, "be admitted to the bar," a prospective attorney must meet some requirements. These requirements vary from state to state, but nearly always include passage of some qualifying examination (the "bar exam,") and passing a character and fitness examination. The former is the type of exam you are all familiar with from school: you sit and write for two and a half days. Some bubbles. Mostly writing. Then they grade you. The latter, however, is an examination like what you get from the doctor: they look at you really closely to make sure you are the sort of person they want practicing law in the state.

In order that they might carry out the character and fitness examination, they make prospective attorneys fill out some lengthy forms divulging everything. If you can think of it, and if it's not a legally impermissible consideration, they make you divulge it. Traffic tickets. Expunged court proceedings. Medical history. Every address and every job you've ever had since you were 18 (or in the past ten years, whichever is longer). Then they use all this information to judge your character and fitness to practice law. Moral turpitude, if you will. In practice, your truthfulness and thoroughness in divulging naughty things from your past will be of more importance in most situations than the nature or character of those naughty things. Hence the importance of being earnest.

But alas, woe and regret! The forms require six character references: three who have known the applicant well for at least 5 years. Weep and repent! I know (maybe) one qualifying person! Who knew having no friends might actually derail my career plans. I guess I'm just unfit to practice law in Key Midwestern Swing State.

Tom G Varik