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What is a Character and Fitness Addendum?

If you are applying to law schools, you may notice there is a character and fitness addendum. In this post, we cover what it is, and how you should approach it!

What is a Character and Fitness Addendum?

First of all, make no mistake that “character and fitness” have nothing to do with how much you can bench press or how fast you can run a mile (if at all). This is a different sort of “fitness” test focusing on whether you possess the good moral character to enter the legal field and eventually practice law.

All law school applications have a section in their e-app asking questions about “character and fitness.” These questions will ask candidates to disclose any past misconduct that falls into two general categories: academic and criminal.

Why is it important?

The legal field is often referred to as a “self-regulated profession.” While the legal field has a certain amount of autonomy, attorneys must meet high ethical and professional standards to preserve the profession’s integrity and trust to faithfully carry out the rule of law.

Even though you’re only just now thinking about becoming an attorney, you’re held to similar standards starting with filling out your law school application.

Know that when you eventually graduate from law school and apply to become a member of your state’s bar, an in-depth character and fitness background check will take place. Investigators will look to see that what you included in your law school application addendums and whether that matches what they find in your bar application and independent review.

Don’t be nervous. Just be honest. 

DOS AND DON’TS FOR YOUR CHARACTER AND FITNESS ADDENDUM

– DO be truthful, upfront and honest.

Don’t try to sugarcoat what happened. Tell the truth about the details going on in your life at the time of an incident, even if it’s not necessarily a reflection of the person you are today. Use it as an opportunity to show the committee how you handle failure, and how you’ve grown and learned from your experiences.

✗- DON’T think that you’ll “get away” with leaving things out.

As mentioned above, a formal and thorough background check will be conducted before you’re admitted to the state bar. If there are discrepancies between what they find and what you disclosed on your law school application, you will have delays and possibly a failure of the Character and Fitness portion of the licensing process. If you cannot pass character and fitness, despite having passed the bar exam itself, you will not be able to be licensed to practice law.

– DO disclose everything.

When in doubt – always disclose! Even if you have too many traffic tickets to count, you must disclose them all. This becomes even more important if it led to fines or a suspension of your license. If you need to, do some research to make sure that you’re presenting correct information on your application.

And yes, this also includes violations that were dismissed, wiped from your record, sealed, or expunged!

✗- DON’T make excuses.

There’s a big difference between someone who makes excuses for what happened and those that take responsibility for their actions. You’re only human and people make mistakes. That won’t stop you from being a successful attorney. However, you must demonstrate that you now possess the integrity and maturity to make better decisions. Show that you’ve changed and understand the flaws in your decision-making process that led to a particular event.

– DO provide at 1-2 paragraphs of explanation.

Make sure that you include all the necessary details. This usually works out to be about one or two paragraphs for each incident. Though a routine traffic violation may only need a couple of sentences, if you served time in jail, for example, include all necessary details. This is your chance to explain what happened and for the admissions committee to understand “your side” of a story. The fewer details you provide, the more questions they may have.

However, don’t provide pages of commentary documenting every detail of an incident. Be concise and use your best judgment for what details need to include or leave out. If you need advice on how to approach an addendum, contact us!

✗- DON’T assume it will discount your chances of admission.

Having something to disclose on your character and fitness addendum is not the end of the world and will not ruin your chances of admission. However, it is a critical component of your application. Part of the review process is simply how you handle this.

– DO write an addendum only if necessary.

Not everyone will have to write an addendum. Only submit one if you answer “yes” to the questions asked. The questions are typically asked if you’ve been placed on academic probation or otherwise received academic discipline from your university, or if you’ve been charged with a violation of the law.

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