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CHARACTER AND MORAL FITNESS

In addition to demonstrating competence via the bar exam, applicants to the bar most also demonstrate appropriate character and moral fitness for the practice of law. In this regard, bar examiners seek background information concerning each applicant that is relevant to the appropriateness of granting a professional credential. Because law is a public profession, and because the degree of harm a lawyer, once licensed, can inflict is substantial, decisions about who should be admitted to practice law are made carefully by bar examining boards.

Applicants for admission to the bar must have “good moral character.” But the definition of this standard is weak. Basically, it means that no one who has a serious criminal record can be admitted to the practice of law. In the past, at least, it led to the refusal of a board of examiners to admit someone who has held (or still held) unpopular political views. During the so-called McCarthy Era of the 1950s, which centered on ferreting Communism from American life and politics, the ABA urged that all those who would become lawyers should take a loyalty oath as a condition of practice (Green, 1976). Although the moral standards for legal practice are vague, historically the U.S. Supreme Court often upheld the authority of state courts to refuse admission to individuals whom the state deemed unworthy to practice law.

 
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