LAW SCHOOL APPLICATIONS AND THE COMMITTEE ON CHARACTER
Candidates for admission to the New Jersey Bar find that their lives are an open book to the Supreme Court of New Jersey Committee on Character. They can tell that from the Character and Fitness Questionnaire (“CFQ”) that all candidates must complete. The CFQ asks for detailed information about everything from addresses to education to employment to driving history, and much, much more.
The CFQ has a question about law school applications that reads as follows: “Have you EVER
made a late disclosure, been accused of or been the subject of an inquiry for alteration, falsification, omission and/or misrepresentation of any document or copy thereof referring to your professional qualification to be a lawyer before or after law school, including but not limited to, online or late disclosures on your law school applications or applications to other bar jurisdictions, bar examination results letter, recommendation letter, report, etc.?” That question obviously covers a candidate who (a) made a late disclosure on a law school application, or (b) was the subject of an inquiry about issues with his or her applications.
But what the CFQ does not expressly state is that the Committee on Character obtains a copy of every candidate’s law school application. And if there are inconsistencies, errors or (heaven forbid) falsehoods in the application, they will be a subject of inquiry by the Committee. Thus, even if a candidate’s law school did not perceive an issue with an application and open an inquiry, and even if a candidate did not make a late disclosure, but opted simply to let any inaccuracy or inconsistency remain without action, the issue will arise before the Committee on Character and may affect Bar admission.
As a result, it is most prudent for candidates to review their law school applications before the Committee on Character process even begins, and to amend anything that is not complete and accurate. Thus, Rutgers and Seton Hall Law Schools each have, as part of their orientation week for first-year students, a session with representatives of the Committee on Character, who urge students to review and, if necessary, correct their applications at that time, so as to avoid having the issue come up years later when the student applies for Bar admission. Some other law schools do that as well.
But persons who are even more proactive can and should amend applications as early as during the law school admission process, as one of my own clients recently did after recognizing the need to do so. That candidate had been accepted at a law school, but realized belatedly that her application did not fully disclose certain information that the application called for. She contacted the school and amended her application before the date by which she would have to have accepted the school’s offer of admission. The school accepted the amendment and it did not affect the offer of admission.
Prospective law students doubtless recognize the importance of law school applications for purposes of admission to law school. But until a law student completes law school and applies for Bar admission, he or she may not realize that law school applications are also important in the context of Committee on Character review of a Bar application. The wise student will look back at his or her law school application carefully well before the Committee on Character process begins, and will amend anything in the application that requires amendment, in order to avoid or minimize issues down the road.