This post is NOT a replacement for the www.michbar.org directions and forms. No, this is more of a practical article on how to approach the State Bar of Michigan’s application.
1. First Look at the Forms. The application and supporting forms are lengthy and require massive detail. Everywhere you have lived, all of your previous employment, all of your schooling and just about all other aspects of your life are addressed by the forms. You will see that if you need more room to complete the application, you will have to supplement it with the additional forms. It would be a good idea to simply review a printed out copy and make a list of what you will need.
2. Dig Up Your Past. All of your movements, any change of address, change of employment, enrollment or disenrollment from school, lawsuits, firings, arrests, etc . . . . Every instance where your life was in flux involved some paperwork. Before you answer any questions, get all of that paperwork together. Your memory of the incident might not jive with the ‘official’ record and why do you want to create a question of fact. You would be surprised to see what official reports, landlord references, employment files and your credit reports really say about you. I am not sugesting that you parrot their contents, but at least you have to acknowledge their existance in your answers.
3. Start Early. If you lived out of state or out of country, you will have to do some scrambling to chase down all the different criminal clearances, driver’s records, addresses where you lived and worked and anything else that is pertinent. This takes some time (Remember the old saw: an emergency on your part does not necessarily create an emergency on my part). I always recommend 2 1/2 months prior to the day you want to turn in your application.
4. Be Open and Honest. Why people want to hide all of their business is perfectly understandable. After all, we are an image-conscious society that promotes positive images. No matter, you need to be open with your licensing board. You are seeking one of the most powerful and potentially lucrative business licenses available. It gives wide discretion to act on behalf of yourself and your clients. So, the Board of Law Examiners (BLE) and the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) wants to know as much as they can. The basic information you provide in your application is not only taken at face value, but is used to develop its own independant information. So, if you do have any advere information about yourself in the public record, you can be sure it will be discovered. Better you do it and explain it fully rather than have the SBM invetigator find it and flag your file. Failing to disclose known information is a big sin in the eyes of the SBM and The BLE.
5. Anticipate and Address Adverse Information Early and Often. OK, maybe you shop-lifted some stuff when you were a kid or got caught with marijuana (aka marihuana in MI statute) in high school. You may have done something more severe such as a felony or a serious misdemeanor. Cheating, lying or misrepresenting yourself are matters that bring your character into question. There a number of lawyers who have done such things before they were licensed. Today, even something like poorly managed finances will get your file flagged. If you know you have problems (or think you might have problems), you not only need to fully and properly disclose them, you need to have your plan of action/reconciliation/penance/reformation on hand to show the SBM that whatever transgression occurred in the past, it will not occur again because a), b), c) . . . . This is critical. It is indicative of you current character & fitness. If you have not really addressed the issue that may be adverse to a determination of your character & fitness, you can start something today (like the Lawyers & Judges Assistance Program [sponsored by SBM for lawyers and law students alike] for addictive behaviors) and include that in your application or simply delay your application until you got your problem/issue under management and then submit it.
You need to be honest with yourself. If in doubt, check it out. Maybe you are paranoid. maybe you are in denial that a problem exists. Either way, a bit of introspection and some sound legal advice will probably confirm your gut feeling on how your problem is perceived and how it will affect your chances to be admitted.
6. Supplement Your Answers. You need to supplement your application whenever there is a change. Good, bad or otherwise, you must supplement your form until you are cleared by the BLE and sworn into the courts. Michigan law licenses are not conditional. Once issued, you are vested in a valuable property right. That’s one reason why our process is so strict. By doing so, you are upholding your written promise found in the form.
The Take Away for You- A law license is a valuable commodity. Practicing law is a privilege. The SBM guards its monopoly and the BLE will act just as carefully. This means you need to be just as meticulous and careful. If you are thorough and detailed in your preparation, you will not have a problem being licensed. Even if you have adverse information in your application, your open, honest answers (and proposed solutions) will be given more credence compared to someone else’s slapdash application.