Welcome back to Lawyers & Liquor, the website where I genuinely don’t care what you think as I ramble about legal stuff and try to impart a bit of wisdom to the Pampers-wearing pestilence that is the baby lawyer and the law student out there, as well as a healthy dose of spite for the experienced attorney who can find their way in the world. I’m the Boozy Barrister, and it’s Wednesday, October 10, 2018 as we enter the dark and depraved world of the recent bar admissions. To a lot of people out there that sat in a stuffy room during two to three days in July to take an exam, and then agonized through the months after, congratulations. You’re lawyers now. Or at least you will be as soon as someone administers the oath of office and character and fitness clears your baby-smooth bottoms for the practice of law. But don’t worry too much about that last point. If Michael Cohen can get a license to practice, so can you.
Instead, let’s take a moment and recognize that despite the fact you have a license to practice law, none of you really have any clue what you’re going to do next or how you’re going to do it. And you definitely lack the bare minimum of experience that turns the license to practice law into something other than a license to commit malpractice. If you don’t have any real-world experience, how are you going to get your first clients? Who’s going to trust a babyface lawyer who has only ever done exams. Even if you do get clients, do you know how to stay within data compliance and protection laws? Do you know where to go to hire Legal IT Services? Or are you going to get fined thousands for not securing your IT system? At the end of the day, without real experience, you might end up taking your client from a million dollar house on the hill to eating Vienna sausages and saltine crackers in the local trailer park, right? Right. Don’t even try that “getting offended” stuff with me here. You still have concepts like “truth” and “justice” ringing in your ears from all the idealistic law school professors that never once in their lives did a client intake. You, folks, are fresh-eyed and happy people. And I’m here to put an end to that right now.
So why don’t you little pricks settle into your high chairs and straighten the tie on your Baby’s First Real Suit as Boozy tells you some stuff you need to know in the real world of the day-to-day lawyer. Because, brothers and sisters, it’s about time someone did.
Time For An Ethical Colonoscopy: Character and Fitness Continues
I may have given away the lede a bit up above when I talked about the character and fitness investigation and that whole “swearing in” thing, but I feel it may be important to remind you little stains on the face of the legal profession that no matter how much it warms the goddamn cockles of your somehow unblackened hearts that you still aren’t a member of the profession just because you passed a goddamn test. So many people out there pass the exam and then immediately start appending “Esquire” to their names so those of us who have been practicing more than a week can roundly deride them as the new and worthless Brooks Brothers wearing pieces of work that they are. But depending on where you are, and depending on who you are, you need to slow the down and realize that just passing the bar exam doesn’t entitle you to refer to yourself as an attorney, not yet, and not if you have the slightest goddamn thing in your past that may hold you up.
As all of you know, there’s a little thing called “character and fitness” for the practice of law, and generally they start looking into your background well before you even plop your double-wide ass filled with regrets and a breakfast burrito in some chair at the Airport Marriott to take the exam in the first place. But if you have anything more serious to report than a parking ticket, you can bet your sweet ass that they want to look a little deeper into your past when you take the exam and pass, about to be admitted into the practice of the world’s second oldest profession (right after the sex workers, there came an attorney to create the engagement contract for the independent work they were about to perform). Because while, in the past, the practice of law was open to anyone with a little booklearnin’ who was able to speak real purty like, those wild west days of a law license being used as a license to steal went out the window with Howe & Hummel, attorneys at law and blackmail artists.
These days, character and fitness are gonna get all up in your business. They will, when it looks like you’ll pass the exam, start digging through everything in your file and anything that can make you look even remotely questionable for the practice of law, and while in theory this stuff starts before you ever boot up Examsoft in an anxiety-riddled haze, they don’t begin that stuff in earnest until after you pass in most places, or at least until after the exam. And the stuff they ask for? Well, it may be a little intense, and invasive, and feel like they’re about to call that one girl you kissed on the playground back in kindergarten to make sure that she consented to the contact which…I mean…given the current events, might not be the worst idea in the world now. You may feel put upon by this level of scrutiny and in response to that all I can say is:
Suck it up, buttercup. This is how we try to keep the profession free of weasels that are likely to tarnish the reputations of all attorneys and, you know, I don’t need any help from assholes like Donny the Secret Drug Dealing Litigator to make myself look like a totally untrustworthy attorney. People already assume that we’re ravenous, money-grubbing assholes from the mere fact that we’re practicing law, and much like your health after a questionable back alley rendezvous during Mardi Gras, the best way to keep that stuff getting worse is to use the legal equivalent of a Firestone-grade rubber condom that heels bounce right off of, never gaining entry into the inner sanctum of the legal ovary and fertilizing the eggs of justice!
That one got away from me a little, didn’t it?
Anyhow, what I’m saying is you’ll need to cooperate with the character and fitness investigators even after you pass the bar exam, because those people are going to have the final say on whether your passing score is an entryway into the profession or merely some stuff you get to brag about as you fry-o-late the orders of the real lawyers at your local McDonald’s near the courthouse (as if your local McDonald’s would ever hire someone with a J.D.). That means if they ask you to get some stuff, you get it to them toot-sweet. They want a video of you dancing naked on leg to “Despacito” with a local homeless person? Well you better scream “Tengo que bailar contigo hoy” and head your ass down to the local soup kitchen, because they ain’t going to let your ass practice without it. Them’s be the breaks, kiddo. And you better not let them find out you’re presenting yourself as an attorney until you actually can, because they will toss your ass right out on the street with a Screw Thee Well and a bottle of rum, you unethical little ass squirt.
I Know The Things Of Which I Speak.
“But Boozy,” I hear you say, “my jurisdiction doesn’t do that! Our investigations were completed months before the exams and I never heard anything from them!”
Well la-di-dah Mr. or Ms. Clean. Congratulations on living in a cellar chokin’ the metaphorical to ethics opinions since, I assume, you stopped actually ******* your pants and started using the Big Boy chemical toilet your parents installed in your playroom. For the rest of us, though, character and fitness investigations rightfully delve into your past and the determination of what is needed to be suggested by the board for admission to the bar is going to vary from person to person. While I may only be able to relay anecdotes to prove this point, pull up you Osh-Kosh-B-Gosh suit pants, grab the Playskool Little Litigator Bag, and head down to talk to an actual practicing attorney you know, and they’ll have similar tales, if not of their own post-bar exam character and fitness troubles than those of others around them…and surprise, it isn’t always because of bad activities.
For instance, after taking the bar exam, but well before the release of results, I had to go and have a drug and alcohol assessment done at the request of the character and fitness board because of a youthful indiscretion in college regarding the overimbibing of booze. Despite my name, that incident is what made me really cut the hell back on my drinking and realize that while I may enjoy liquor, liquor in quantities greater than a couple glasses with friends doesn’t enjoy me. It had been literally years since I had even been inebriated to any significant degree, and the offense was a decade old…but the character and fitness board (rightfully) recognized the issues of substance abuse in the profession and wanted to make sure they weren’t about to suggest Gary Busey with a law license for admission to the bar. So I went, I consulted, and when the results came out I was ready to be admitted to the bar.
A friend of mine, however, had an ongoing mental health issue. They had been in treatment for a good chunk of the time we were in law school, were compliant with the medications and therapies, and were no danger to themselves. They had even graduated towards the top of the class and been representing the underprivileged in clinics on a limited license. A more qualified person for the practice of law I could not imagine…but character and fitness once again recognized that attorneys with untreated mental health issues were a risk to the profession and to the people they represent (note the word “untreated” there. Don’t come at me about how this is ableist. It isn’t. I know many fine attorneys with mental health issues that manage very well specifically because they recognize the issues and maintain their treatments. My father’s one of them). What did character and fitness want from my friend? They wanted to see a history of compliance with their treatments stretching back years, with notes from therapists and friends about it (which were happily provided), and wouldn’t suggest their admission to the bar until they reviewed all of them. My friend, consequently, wasn’t suggested for admission until four months after the bar exam results were released – all because of character and fitness.
Though they were admitted.
Act Fast, Numbnuts.
And when you’re a freshly minted attorney, or someone who has passed the bar exam and on your way to becoming one, four months is a lifetime. Everyone who isn’t under the microscope-like eye of character and fitness is already out there tearing up the legal hiring world, applying to those sweet, sweet jobs. By the time you have the ability to append whatever food designation to your name that you choose to indicate you exist in a realm above the mere mortals and muggles of the general populace, all the plum positions have been plucked since the market is freshly flooded. That stuff sticks you at a real disadvantage, and the only way to fix that stuff is to be prepared. From the moment you receive the first contact with character and fitness, be ready to run – get affidavits, treatment records, statements, bank account information, the whole nine yards together and ready to send off on request. When they ask you to jump, you say how high and then endeavor to exceed the expectation. Work with character and fitness on that stuff, not against them.
Unless they suggest you not be admitted to the bar or ask some very pointed questions about stuff you totally did and didn’t disclose. Then your ass needs to go out and hire one of those lawyers that specialize in defending attorneys against bar investigations. Because that may be the only way you’ll get competent advice on how to enter the profession.
Finally, Despite All The Stress, It’s Necessary.
You aren’t applying for a goddamn job at the Arby’s down the street. You’re seeking admission into a profession that daily handles large amounts of money and where people rely on you being competent, diligent, and, above all, fit and trustworthy to handle problems and situations they are unable to handle themselves. The practice of law is, to some degree, the same as raising a goddamn kid: you’re expected to not only fix the situation the client is in, but to look out for their best interests in doing so and your clients have this bad habit of trusting that you will fulfill that duty. As such, much like an abused kid who has never known anything else, the expectation that an attorney is a diligent and competent, and ethical, representative can override a client’s common sense – to the extent that a bad person in that position of trust can find it really easy to destroy a person and take advantage of the situation.
And that’s what character and fitness, both pre- and post-bar exam does. It gatekeeps the hell out of the legal profession, to the extent that it’s harder to be admitted to the bar than it is to stay admitted to the bar. Offenses that would definitely result in you not being admitted, or having your admission greatly delayed, will sometimes, after admission to the bar, warrant a suspension or – in some cases – merely a slap on the wrist. Since that’s the case, character and fitness has to weed out the asshats early.
And if you want to step up from being the goddamn bat boy and start mudwrestling in the courtroom with the big boys, it’s a role you have to not only respect but fully cooperate with. Because whether you’ve passed the bar or not, you ain’t anything more than a dickweed with a degree until character and fitness says otherwise.
That’s all the time I have for today. Take it easy, folks, and I’ll see you again next time.