[PHOTO CREDIT: iStock/XtockImages]
(The Florida Bar Board of Examiners searches out discrepancies and omissions.)
Being candid when responding to the Florida Bar and law school application questions is crucial because no third-party oversees and regulates the officers of the court in this state. A self-regulating system can only survive if Bar admission is limited to those whose moral compasses function with integrity.
Magnetic compasses react naturally and independently of any outside power source, and remain so reliable that they’re still used in modern sea vessels. Similarly, a sound moral compass inherently reacts in a positive manner, independent of any negative outside influence. It’s a pretty reliable measure of an applicant’s tendencies. People who find a wallet on the street and return it to its owner completely intact, for example, exemplify the essential quality of candor that can help preserve and maintain the Bar’s system of self-regulation.
A recent “living” example of candor occurred when an applicant received an “A” that significantly increased his GPA in law school. However, he’d originally registered to take the class “pass/fail”. Rather than hoping that nobody would notice, he promptly reported the error to the registrar. His GPA fell as a result, but the payoff for his honesty was tremendous. The Board commended him at length during his investigative hearing and he was admitted to the Bar shortly thereafter.
The Board of Bar Examiners wants to see that an applicant is naturally truthful without being prompted. Giving a detailed, balanced accounting of an event in response to an application question showcases invaluable attributes of candor and integrity, especially when the applicant ultimately disagrees with or disputes another’s version of the facts.
Note that the term “application” as used by the Board literally means any application—law school, Bar, credit, mortgage, and job, to name a few. The Board can obtain, review and compare them all, much to the surprise of most applicants. If there are any discrepancies between any applications, or omissions when comparing one application against any other, the Board will inquire as to why. Discrepancies and omissions call the applicant’s candor into question and could become a serious roadblock to admission.
In a perfect world, a Bar applicant would carefully read law school and Bar application questions before gathering all available documentation related to any affirmative answer, then use the documentation in drafting honest and comprehensive responses. Due diligence in securing documents has an exceptional pay-off: it can help avoid inadvertently creating a candor issue where none exists.
But it’s not a perfect world and due diligence is seldom taken by applicants. The Board knows this, so they tirelessly reiterate that it’s never too late to amend a response, even after an application has already been filed.
I’ve often heard applicants asked in hearings about that familiar oath, “Do you understand what it means to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Testifying that it’s the very definition of candor is a good start.
Compare any application/amendment responses to that oath with an impartial eye. If there is any doubt about whether a response is truthful, amend it to present a balanced and full accounting, preferably based on documented information. Doing so will help maximize the chances of admission to the Florida Bar.
Attorney Elizabeth Conan was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1994 and worked as Bar staff counsel from 1999 to 2006. She has been representing applicants before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners statewide since 2008. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]