Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Moral Requirements Clarified for Bar Applicants
The Character & Fitness Admission Guidelines give insight into how an application will be judged for moral and ethical qualifications.
By MELISSA PETRUCELLI
Becoming a licensed attorney requires years of difficult studies and completion of a grueling bar examination. The Colorado Supreme Court has established high ethical standards for attorneys which involve more than measuring mere competence. In addition to passing the written examination, applicants must prove to the Bar Committee that they possess the moral and ethical qualifications required to practice law. That is achieved through the Character & Fitness investigation, the purpose of which is to protect the public and safeguard the system of justice.
Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 201.6 requires that all applicants to the bar “demonstrate that they are mentally stable and morally and ethically qualified for admission.” But how does the Office of Attorney Admissions make that determination? The rule gives no further details.
In response, the Bar Committee established the Character & Fitness Admission Guidelines in December 2012. The Guidelines delineate:
· A lawyer’s responsibilities
· The standard of character and fitness
· The essential eligibility requirements to meet that standard
· The relevant conduct that will be reviewed
· The factors considered when assigning weight to prior conduct
· The ability to affirmatively assets rehabilitation from past conduct
The Guidelines are just one change to the state’s admissions structure. Recently, the Board of Law Examiners was reorganized and given a new name: the Office of Attorney Admissions. Part of the reorganization was to bring the Office of Attorney Admissions under the authority of the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel and to create several new positions.
One of the newly established positions is the Director of Character & Fitness. The Director, along with two staff assistants, one full-time investigator, and one part-time investigator, are responsible for conducting a thorough background investigation of approximately 1,500 exam applicants each year. They additionally review several hundred on-motion and Unified Bar Examination transfer applications for character and fitness related issues.
The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel now regulates all Colorado attorneys from their entrance into the profession through the day they leave the profession. One of the primary objectives of the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel is to develop and encourage that “lifelong” relationship. With the reorganization of the Office of Attorney Admissions and adoption of the Character and Fitness Admission Guidelines, the Office is working toward making the first step in that relationship a transparent and understandable one.
Melissa Petrucelli is the Director of Character & Fitness within the Office of Attorney Admissions.