How do I get certified to take the bar exam in Georgia?

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances

Shortly after graduation from law school—and sometimes before—it will become apparent to you as a prospective attorney that in order to begin practicing law and paying your student loans, you are going to have to take the Bar Exam. But before you can even register to take the exam, your “fitness” of “character” must be certified, and you must be given approval to sit for the Bar Exam by the Georgia Office of Bar Admission’s Board to Determine Fitness. The Board is composed of ten members: seven lawyers (some of who may also be senior or former judges), and three members of the public, all appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court.

The fitness certification process begins with the completion of an application. The questions on the application cover several basic areas of your life, and the Board is basically looking for evidence of (1) unlawful conduct; (2) academic misconduct; (3) any act involving dishonesty, but especially criminal fraud or deceit; (4) abuse of the legal process; (5) neglect of financial or other legal obligations; (6) violation of a court order; (7) evidence of drug or alcohol dependency; (8) disciplinary action in another jurisdiction regarding any professional license; and (9) denial of admission to another jurisdiction on “character” or “fitness” grounds. For answers to questions where an explanation is required, you may also have to submit documents to explain, support, or clarify your answer. This can be very time consuming, but it is necessary to complete your application and become certified “fit” to apply to take the Bar Exam.

In our practice, we are typically contacted by applicants or their families who want to know about “how much” of their past does the applicant “need” to disclose in response to the questions on the application. Our answer is always the same: full disclosure is the only way to Certification of Fitness. In fact, the Office of Bar Admissions reports that “[a] pattern of dishonesty in dealings with employers, schools, and authorities, including the Office of Bar Admissions, is the most frequent reason for denial of bar applicants.” (emphasis added.) Therefore, for those who do not retain counsel for representation during the application process, and try to hide something, it should come as no surprise when their application is denied.

Of course, we have seen it many times with our clients. Failing to give full disclosure can be fatal to an applicant’s dreams of sitting for the Bar Exam and being admitted to practice law. At a minimum, it puts you at a serious disadvantage over an applicant who may have more problematic issues but who fully discloses those issues. Sometimes people think, “well, they’ll never find out about X,” but giving false information or failing to be entirely forthcoming and completely candid is a serious mistake which will have negative consequences. And rest assured: they have ways to find out. Your responses to the questions on the application should be viewed as giving sworn statements made to the administrative agency of the Georgia Supreme Court. Dishonesty in the application is viewed as both ongoing and active misrepresentation. Such bad conduct is detrimental to an attempted showing of rehabilitation from past mistakes, and will be highly scrutinized by the Board to Determine Fitness.

Chandler Law has represented applicants successfully before the Office of Bar Admissions. In 2014, Mr. Chandler helped a lawyer disbarred in the late 1990s become certified fit to apply to take the Bar Exam. See In Re Charles Nathaniel Hawk, III, No. S15Z0412; December 11, 2014. In 2015, Chandler Law successfully represented an applicant who had been denied fitness in previous years.

If you need help in the admissions or readmissions process, call Chandler Law before submitting your application. It’s much easier, and better, to discuss problems in the past on the front end, before you face a denial. Beware! A denial of fitness will cost you another 3 years before you can reapply for fitness to take the Bar Exam. And for many people, that’s not only lost time, but a serious loss of money.

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