Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Character and Fitness FAQs

What is meant by possessing the necessary character and fitness?

Attorney Admissions will certify to the Supreme Court applicants who are found to have the character and fitness necessary to practice law in Colorado. See Rule 208.3(4). The purpose of the character and fitness investigation is to protect the public and safeguard the system of justice. See Rule 208.1(1). An applicant will be certified if Attorney Admissions finds that the applicant has a record of conduct which demonstrates that they meet the essential eligibility requirements and justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts and the public.

What are the Essential Eligibility Requirements for the practice of law?

Under Rule 208.1(5), applicants must meet ALL of the following:

  1. Honesty and candor with clients, lawyers, courts, regulatory authorities and others;
  2. The ability to reason logically, recall complex factual information, and accurately analyze legal problems;
  3. The ability to use a high degree of organization and clarity in communicating with clients, lawyers, judicial officers, and others;
  4. The ability to use good judgment on behalf of clients and in conducting one's professional business;
  5. The ability to conduct oneself with respect for and in accordance with the law;
  6. The ability to exhibit regard for the rights and welfare of others;
  7. The ability to comply with the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct; state, local, and federal laws, regulations, statutes, and rules; and orders of a court or tribunal;
  8. The ability to act diligently and reliably in fulfilling obligations to clients, lawyers, courts, and others;
  9. The ability to be honest and use good judgment in financial dealings on behalf of oneself, clients, and others; and
  10. The ability to comply with deadlines and time constraints.

How important is candor in the application process?

The Colorado application is a sworn statement filed with Attorney Admissions, an agency of the Colorado Supreme Court. Lack of candor in the application, or in the subsequent character and fitness investigation, including failure to fully and candidly disclose required or requested information, is considered a serious matter. Dishonesty in the bar application process will result in serious consequences for the applicant including delay in admission and/or possible denial of admission.

What questions are asked on the application?

The application elicits information regarding the applicant's educational background, residence history, employment history, admission in other jurisdictions, names and addresses of references, and a host of information regarding past conduct. A sample of the Colorado bar application is available on the website at: www.coloradosupremecourt.com/PDF/BLE/AppwithForms.pdf

What is meant by a “detailed explanation”?

This is a written statement that relates the following information:

  1. A description of the factual events and the actions that led to the charges being filed or action taken against you. (i.e. discipline, employment termination, financial, etc.).
  2. An explanation, from your perspective, of the circumstances, reasons or situations that contributed to the charges or action begin filed against you. This includes any information or explanation that you believe mitigates or lessens the severity of your actions or the charges.
  3. A description of any changes, events or accomplishments that illustrate rehabilitation and that you are truthful, honest and a person of good moral character. This could include having met the court’s terms of sentence such as: having made restitution, completing probation or completing community service. Your statement should also include a description of any of the following: voluntary involvement in community, public or privately sponsored programs or activities of benefit to the community, new and different social and business relationships, involvement in training or counseling for the purpose of self-improvement or advancement, substance abstinence and/or abuse programs, intervention programs, therapy, self-realization, awareness and personal growth and/or any other information you believe is illustrative of changes in attitude, circumstances and environment that may have contributed to having the charges or actions filed against you. This is your opportunity to illustrate to Attorney Admissions that you have been rehabilitated and that you are truthful, honest, and a person of good moral character.

What is the most common reason for denial of a bar application?

The initial reasons Attorney Admissions disapproves of or conducts an additional Character and Fitness Investigation of an applicant might relate to any number of issues regarding the applicant's background. These could include, for example, a criminal record, a record of financial irresponsibility, or an untreated alcohol and/or substance abuse problem. However, the most common reason an applicant is denied on character and fitness grounds is related to the applicant's behavior during the character and fitness review process. The vast majority of disapprovals are based upon an applicant's failure to disclose relevant information, either on application(s) or during the character and fitness investigation; giving false information or misrepresenting the facts; or other dishonesty or lack of candor during the background investigation. It is essential that all applicants be completely honest and forthright during the bar admissions process.

A pattern of dishonesty in dealing with employers, schools and Attorney Admissions is the most frequent reason for denial of a bar application. Giving false information on the bar application or failing to be entirely candid in the application process are serious errors that will have negative consequences for an applicant. The failure to be fully responsive to application questions, or any other lack of candor in an application, involves sworn statements made to an agency of the Colorado Supreme Court itself. Since such dishonesty is both current and ongoing, the applicant who fails to be honest on the application will have a difficult time showing that rehabilitation - which requires more than mere contrition and the passage of time - has occurred and will be sustained.

A pattern of substance abuse and/or substance dependency, if allowed to continue, can lead to conduct that is likely to result in injury to clients and a violation of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The Character and Fitness Committee and Attorney Admissions is charged with the responsibility of excluding from the profession, those individuals who exhibit the character traits or lack of fitness that would likely prevent the person from proper discharge of duties.

Will any incident in my past automatically disqualify me from admission to the Bar?

There is no type of misconduct that will automatically render an applicant ineligible for admission to the Colorado Bar. Attorney Admissions makes a current assessment of the character and fitness of each applicant. If an applicant has a history of serious misconduct, an applicant may still be eligible for admission. The applicant must show evidence of rehabilitation. See Rule 208.1(8). The applicant bears the burden of proving that he or she currently possesses the good character and fitness necessary to practice law in Colorado. See Rule 208.1(2). The burden of proving current good character is more difficult where the pattern of misconduct is recent.

How does Attorney Admissions conduct further inquiry?

Attorney Admissions has a separate Character and Fitness division with staff and investigators who conduct the background investigations. In order to verify the accuracy of the information provided, or to obtain additional information, Attorney Admissions makes inquiries of the applicant's references, employers, former employers, colleges and law schools. Attorney Admissions also makes inquiries of courts, police agencies, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, credit agencies and other sources. During the background investigation, the applicant may be asked to provide additional facts, explanations and/or materials concerning any response.

How does Attorney Admissions determine the appropriate weight and significance to give prior conduct?

Attorney Admissions considers many factors in assigning weight and significance to an applicant's prior conduct. See Rule 208.1(7) for a list of those considerations.

What can an applicant do if the applicant believes his or her record may cause further inquiry?

Each applicant is obligated to cooperate fully with Attorney Admissions' character and fitness investigation, providing prompt and complete responses to all requests for additional records or explanations. If the applicant has a past problem or history of problems that reflect on character, the applicant may wish to submit additional written evidence of rehabilitation. An applicant may affirmatively assert rehabilitation from past conduct and provide evidence of such as provided by Rule 208.1(8).

Applicants with concerns or issues they perceive as serious should consider seeking the advice of counsel prior to beginning the admissions process. Applicants with alcohol, substance abuse or mental health issues should also consider seeking the advice of counsel as well as contacting the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP). COLAP is a confidential resource available to recent law school students, graduates and licensed attorneys which may be able to assist an applicant in determining what steps can be taken now to assess the current status of a condition or impairment, and if needed, to seek treatment and/or testing. See www.coloradolap.org.

Why is evidence of rehabilitation so important?

Evidence of rehabilitation is critical to Attorney Admissions' determination of whether past problems are likely to lead to future professional misconduct. If a pattern of misconduct exists and appears likely to continue, denial of admission may result. Attorney Admissions must assess the applicant's behavioral record to determine whether the problems of the past continue. If they do not, Attorney Admissions must determine whether the applicant's behavioral record indicates that the applicant's life has changed in ways to suggest misconduct is unlikely to recur.

What kind of inquiry will be conducted if an applicant has abused drugs or alcohol, or has been treated for chemical abuse or dependency?

Evidence of drug or alcohol dependence or abuse is one of the relevant conduct factors about which Attorney Admissions must inquire. If an applicant had been arrested, has had employment terminations, or other conduct that arises out of chemical abuse or dependency, the applicant may wish to provide evidence of treatment and a sustained period of sobriety/rehabilitation.

The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP) is a confidential resource available to recent law school students, graduates and licensed attorneys. COLAP may be able to assist an applicant in determining what steps can be taken now to assess the current status of a condition or impairment, and if needed, to seek treatment and/or testing. See www.coloradolap.org.

If an applicant received alcohol or drug treatment during law school, will this lead to a delay in admission?

Applicants with drug or alcohol problems are strongly encouraged to get the counseling and treatment they need as soon as possible. The applicant's recognition of the problem and success in addressing the problem will be strong evidence of rehabilitation.

The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP) is a confidential resource available to recent law school students, graduates and licensed attorneys. COLAP may be able to assist an applicant in determining what steps can be taken now to assess the current status of a condition or impairment, and if needed, to seek treatment and/or testing. See www.coloradolap.org.

Why are mental or emotional conditions relevant to a bar application?

Severe forms of mental or emotional conditions that are not currently or adequately treated or that impair an applicant's ability to practice law are among the issues that bar examiners must pursue in the character and fitness investigation.

Bar examiners recognize that the stresses of law school and other life factors may result in an applicant seeking psychological counseling. Applicants are encouraged to seek such counseling or treatment if they feel they might benefit from it. Attorney Admissions strongly encourages applicants to obtain such counseling or treatment whenever the applicant believes he or she might benefit from it. An applicant should not allow concerns about a future bar application to dissuade him or her from obtaining needed treatment.

The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP) is a confidential resource available to recent law school students, graduates and licensed attorneys. COLAP may be able to assist an applicant in determining what steps can be taken now to assess the current status of a condition or impairment, and if needed, to seek treatment and/or testing. See www.coloradolap.org.

If the applicant states that they have a mental or emotional condition that will impair the applicant's ability to practice law, Attorney Admissions will inquire further and may request that an applicant provide medical or treatment records. This is done for the sole purpose of determining whether or not an applicant is compliant with any treatment plan recommended by the treatment provider.

Once an applicant discloses confidential medical, psychological or chemical dependency treatment records, will Attorney Admissions keep those records confidential?

Attorney Admissions must hold all information and records received in the admission process in the strictest confidence. Rule 203.1(2) of the Colorado Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law in Colorado specifically addresses this issue. With the exception of release to certain limited entities under Rule 211.1(1), only the applicant can authorize, in writing, the release of character and fitness records held by Attorney Admissions. Additionally, character and fitness information generally becomes public information for those few applicants whose admission is appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court for a final character and fitness determination after a formal hearing is conducted.

Why does Attorney Admissions inquire about arrests not resulting in convictions?

There are many reasons why arrests do not result in convictions, and many of them have no bearing on guilt or innocence. Attorney Admissions inquires into all areas of possible relevant applicant misconduct. The applicant must report all criminal incidents and provide evidence of current good character, including a detailed narrative for all criminal and alcohol related offenses. The applicant must also submit the arresting officers' report(s) and certified court documents. An acquittal or dismissal of charges is relevant but not dispositive of the issue. This is not to suggest that Attorney Admissions will assume that any arrest was due to guilty conduct on the part of the applicant. The applicant's obligation, and the applicant's best choice, is to be completely forthright and honest regarding all matters about which Attorney Admissions inquires.

What types of court documents are required for criminal matters?

In order to conduct a thorough character and fitness investigation, the following information concerning the criminal incident(s) disclosed in your questionnaire must be submitted for review by the Office of Attorney Admissions so that they may make the determinations required by Rule 208.1. Additional documents or statements may be required subsequent to review.

1. Court Documents: Computer printouts are not acceptable. Please obtain actual court documents with signatures. In most criminal cases, the county in which the violation occurred will also be the location of the court that you will need to contact. These records are public and are contained in a central file of cases. You will need to ask the court clerk how you can arrange to have copies made of your case file. It is your responsibility to contact the appropriate court, police department, probation office or other agency to obtain the required letters, statements or other documents. If the court or police inform you that the documents are no longer available, you will need to obtain a written statement of confirmation to that effect from the appropriate party. The court documents include but may not be limited to:
  1. Original Charging Document: This document sets forth the specific violations (often referred to as “counts”) under which you were charges. Depending on the jurisdiction, this document may be captioned as a Complaint, Information, Complaint and Information, Criminal Complaint, Summons and Complaint, Indictment or other designation.
  2. Police Officer’s Report: If a police report or arrest affidavit remains part of the Court’s criminal case file, please include a copy of that report with your application materials. Otherwise, the arresting, ticketing or charging agency will have a report on the incidences and factual matters related to filing of charges. This report will usually be found at the office of the arresting or ticketing law enforcement agency (police department, sheriff’s office, etc.) If the police report is not part of your court records, you must contact the appropriate agency to obtain a copy.
  3. Amended Charges: If the original charge or charges were thereafter amended, also provide a copy of the amending document.
  4. Judgment or Sentence Order: This document shows the specific charges to which you pled or were otherwise adjudged guilty, as well as the Court’s terms of sentencing.
  5. Terms and Conditions of Probation: In some cases, if probation is included as part of the Court’s Sentence Order, the Court will issue a separate document setting forth the specified terms and conditions of probation.
  1. Successful Completion of Probation: If a Court-ordered term of probation has been successfully completed, provide a copy of the Court’s order of termination or probation or, in the alternative, a letter of verification from the respective probation department.
  2. Probation in Progress: If the Court-ordered term of probation remains in progress, the Character and Fitness investigation will not proceed on this matter until you have successfully completed all of the terms and conditions of the sentence imposed and provided proof of such. This could result in a delay of your admission to practice law in Colorado.
  3. Probation Revocation Documents: If the Court-ordered term of probation was ever revoked, provide a copy of the underlying Complaint for Revocation of Probation, as well as the Court’s revised Sentence Order.
2. Deferred Judgment: If the Court’s original Sentence Order provided for a Deferred Judgment/Sentence/Prosecution, and such has been successfully completed, provide a copy of the Court’s order to withdraw the original guilty plea. If you are currently the subject of a deferred judgment, sentence or prosecution, the Character and Fitness investigation will not proceed on this matter until you have successfully completed the period of deferral and provided proof of such. This could result in a delay of your admission to practice law in Colorado.

Will a felony conviction prohibit my admission?

Although the Colorado Rules Governing Admission do not expressly prohibit one charged or convicted of criminal offenses from being admitted to the practice of law in Colorado, the burden of proof is on the applicant to show that, at the time of application, he or she possesses good moral character and should be allowed to enter the legal profession. Included in the Rules is the requirement that an applicant has the ability to conduct themselves with respect for and in accordance with the law. See Rule 208.1(5)(e). Attorney Admissions investigates applicants thoroughly, especially when there is evidence of unlawful conduct, including felony convictions, substance abuse, and other examples of unlawful or unethical behavior.

The Character and Fitness Committee requires an applicant who is a convicted felon to show that he or she has been rehabilitated and is now worthy of public trust. The more serious the criminal charges, the greater the burden an applicant will have to show true rehabilitation. Such a showing requires absolute candor with Attorney Admissions, acknowledgement of wrongdoing, appropriate remorse, and exemplary behavior for a substantial period of time since the arrest and conviction. The more time that has elapsed since the occurrence of the undesirable behavior, the greater opportunity the applicant has of demonstrating the requisite good character and fitness.

The above information is, necessarily, general in nature. Attorney Admissions does not render advisory opinions; thus, a decision cannot be made regarding an applicant's chances of receiving a positive certification of good character and fitness prior to the receipt and review of an application. The Character and Fitness Committee has, in the past, approved some individuals with serious criminal convictions because they were able to satisfy the requirements for admission. Conversely, applicants have been denied admission, and in some cases, admission was delayed to those with criminal histories. A lack of candor in dealings with Attorney Admissions, superficial or insincere expressions of remorse, and failure to demonstrate a current exemplary life are some of the reasons approval has been withheld. Each case is decided on its own merits.

Why are financial problems, such as past due debts, relevant to admission?

Attorney Admissions recognizes that law students sometimes have financial problems associated with the expense of law school or with on-going financial obligations. Attorney Admissions also recognizes that mishandling of client funds is a frequent cause for professional discipline. Attorney Admissions is concerned about the admission of persons with a pattern of financial irresponsibility.

Admission to the bar does not require a perfect credit record. Attorney Admissions is primarily interested in determining that applicants have dealt honestly and responsibly with their creditors. Responsible dealings generally include taking actions such as, but not limited to: keeping in contact with the creditors; making good faith payment arrangements; making partial payments; reaffirming the underlying obligation; and/or working with a consumer credit counseling organization to address debt issues.

What if I am currently the subject of a criminal sentence of probation or a deferred sentence/judgment/prosecution?

If at the time of your application, you are the subject of a court-ordered criminal sentence of probation or have pled to a deferred sentence/judgment/prosecution, the character and fitness investigation of this matter will not continue until you have successfully completed all the terms of the court-ordered sentence or have been released from the deferred agreement. Proof of successful completion of the criminal sentence and/or withdrawal of the original guilty plea must be received by the Office of Attorney Admissions before the matter will be reviewed and a final character and fitness determination made. Being under a sentence of probation or the subject of a deferred sentence/judgment/prosecution could result in a delay of your admission to practice law in Colorado.

What should I do if I have questions about my past conduct and how to disclose it on my application?

If there is a concern whether a particular situation falls within the scope of a specific question, it is best to assume that it does and make the necessary disclosures. Applicants or potential applicants who have questions about how past conduct might impact their application for admission should feel free to inquire with Attorney Admissions. However, Attorney Admissions cannot provide legal advice nor specifically instruct applicant's how to fill out their application. Applicants should also consider seeking the advice of independent counsel, specifically attorneys who have a background in admissions and/or attorney discipline matters.

When providing details to the application questions, can I print and submit details from lenders, courts, police departments, etc. in lieu of filling out the form associated with that question?

No. Each question on all applications must be completed by the applicant. It is not Attorney Admissions' responsibility to extract the information from any statements or reports. You may not answer questions by incorporation (e.g. "... see attached document.").

When will my Character and Fitness Investigation be finished?

A thoughtful and complete Character and Fitness Investigation takes a significant amount of time and involves a multi-step process. It can take anywhere from several weeks to more than a year depending on the nature of the investigation, the issues involved, the applicant's response to requests for additional information, cooperation from outside sources (i.e. references, other government agencies, law schools), etc.

Applicants must answer all questions completely, and must provide all required documentation. Attorney Admissions may, in its discretion, reject an incomplete application or place an incomplete application on hold until all required information is produced. See Rule 203.1(1). Further, applicant's are under a duty to supplement their application by immediately updating the application with respect to all matter inquired of. This duty to supplement continues in effect up to the time an applicant takes the oath of admission. See Rule 203.1(3)(a).

The applicant bears the burden of producing all required information in a timely manner. It is to an applicant's advantage to submit all of the required supplemental documentation and materials as soon as possible. This ensures that the investigation will continue to progress in a timely fashion. Additionally, promptly responding to a request for additional information, documentation and/or materials is imperative to keeping the investigation moving forward. An applicant can view outstanding documentation from the Required Documents list in their Applicant Portal. The character and fitness investigation will not proceed until all required information has been received. See C.R.C.P. 208.2(2).

Once the Character and Fitness Investigation review is complete, an applicant will receive a system notification and the status will be reflected on their Application Status page in their Applicant Account.

Do I have a duty to supplement or update my application?

Yes. An applicant must immediately update their application with respect to all matters inquired of on the application. This duty to supplement continues in effect up to the time an applicant takes the oath of admission. Failure to timely supplement a pending application may result in the denial of the application, a review of such failure as a character and fitness issue, or if the person has already been admitted to the practice of law in Colorado, discipline or revocation of the person’s license to practice law. See Rule 203.1(3)(a) and (b). Additionally, Rule 208.2(3) provides that the applicant has a continuing obligation to timely update the application which continues during the pendency of the application and until the applicant is sworn in as an attorney. To amend your application, you should use the button located on the Candidate Home page under Application Status.

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