Your application for membership in the State Bar of Michigan is lengthy and requires considerable effort to complete. It could take months to gather all the necessary information before you are done. Consider this: If you have lived anywhere for more than two weeks, you must list it on your application. That includes dorm rooms, the three month sublet in Wahington, D.C. and even an overseas address for a summer study.
All of your jobs must be listed: dishwasher, parking attendant, part-time or full-time; jobs you quit, jobs that were seasonsal, jobs you were fired from. There is a lot of disclosure required for your finances. Any contact with law enforcement – must be disclosed. (Check out the form at www.michbar.org)
Maybe there are some things you forgot to disclose on your law school application. Perhaps you were too embarrassed or worried how it would reflect on your appearance to the school or the general public.
Whatever the case is, you must bare all on your Application to the State Bar of Michigan. Full and honest disclosure is needed to avoid unnecessary delays in your clearance. This process is a confidential one, but requires you to be open and frank about all the skeletons in your closet. It is quite explicit in the directions, but becomes even more clear when you go through the process. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
1. You Are Not the Only (Fill in the Blank) to Apply: Your character and fitness is not based on your past but on your current character. How you disclose your past and accept your shortcomings says more about your current character than a whitewash of what may cause you some distress upon reflection. Current lawyers have all been through the same process as you. There are lawyers convicted of crimes, suffering from addictions, fired from jobs, having been through bankruptcies, etc . . . . In short, all the human frailties from which you may suffer are the same ones lawyers have. Where these facts are not usually the things you admit in public or on a job application, a lawyer’s license requires your full disclosure. Full, honest disclosure is the best way to lay out your answers. You do not have to editorialize or comment on the issue being disclosed, just provide the facts as best as you can utilizing all resources available.
2. The Cover-up is Always Worse than the Crime: Martha Stewart, Watergate and the recent mayoral scandals in Detroit are all examples of how an attempted cover-up only served to amplify the crime. The same holds true on your bar application. Failure to disclose or fully disclose a matter will always lead to an investigation by the State Bar. This usually arises when an applicant estimates a number or feels something is not important enough to look into fully. To the State Bar investigators, this looks like a cover-up no matter what your intent was. Go through the trouble to pull the records; call, research or do whatever is called for to make a complete and accurate records. This not an application to join a country club; it is a license to practice law – an application to be an officer of the court. What you represent in the application is taken quite seriously. What you leave out is taken even more seriously.
3. There is No Rule You Have to Do it Alone: Questions may arise when you are filling out the form. Call the State Bar. You will find the investigators to be helpful and not adverse to your application. A good rapport with the investigators will save you a lot of anxiety and hassle. Our office answers application questions all the time. Other lawyers have been through it, too. They know how important it is. The only dumb question is one not asked.
4. Some Things Will Demand Further Investigation: Face it, some things demand further accounting on your part. You cannot escape review because of your disclosures. Don’t let the fear of a District Committee meeting or a Standing Committee Hearing be a reason to misrepresent yourself. A recent arrest or financial problems may require further examination. You know that if you were in the position of having to trust a doctor or other trained professional, you would want someone who had your issues first in mind; someone you can trust. Lawyers, above all, must be trusted. You handle client affairs, client funds and secure their confidences. No one wants to take authorship of admitting a lawyer who was not properly vetted at the time it could have been done. Without a doubt, a delayed application causes personal hardships. The best way to manage it is with a strong, honest application. Don’t leave anything out and do not skimp on the research.
5. Make Sure Your Law School Application is Equally Open and Honest: The law schools certify you to the State Bar and not only for academics. They also report on your character and fitness while attending school. Your law school application becomes part of the investigation package of documents. If items are missing on your law school application that should have been disclosed, then you will be asked why you left those items out by the State Bar investigators. You can certainly amend your application with a letter of explanation but you still could be asked to explain why the disclosures were not made earlier.
So, honesty is the best policy. Trite perhaps, but proven true. No one expects you to be a saint – – What the State Bar of Michigan and your fellow lawyers expect is that you will be open about any past problems, that you have addressed them and nothing from your personal past will interfere with your ethical representation of clients. When in doubt, spell it out.