Rethinking the Character and Fitness Inquiry

Vol. 22 No. 3

By

Leslie C. Levin is a Professor of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law. This article would not have been possible without the work of Christine Zozula and Peter Siegelman, who collaborated on the Connecticut study that is described in this article. The author is deeply grateful to the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, and the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Commission for making the study possible. The study was funded by a grant from the Law School Admissions Council.

The bar’s character and fitness inquiry has no shortage of critics.1 The critiques are not aimed at its goal—public protection—but at the way in which it is conducted and its underlying assumptions. Bar authorities look at past conduct (e.g., crimes, academic misconduct, credit history), evidence of rehabilitation, and current conduct to assess the applicant’s character.2 The assumption is that it is possible to tell from this information whether the applicant possesses the requisite character and fitness to practice law. While this assumption is intuitively appealing, it has not been rigorously tested. A recent study of Connecticut bar applicants and their subsequent discipline history indicates that the factors that bar authorities consider when making admission decisions do not strongly predict who will later be disciplined.

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