Prior to being admitted to the Texas Bar, applicants must first demonstrate present good moral character. The agency in charge of making this determination, as well as ensuring applicants meet all other eligibility criteria, is the Texas Board of Law Examiners. The Board of Law Examiners, also referred to as the “BLE,” consists of nine attorneys appointed by the Texas Supreme Court. The ultimate decision on whether to admit an applicant to the Texas Bar rests with the Supreme Court, however, the Court places great reliance on whether an applicant has been certified by the BLE.
In determining whether an applicant possesses present good moral character, the Board of Law Examiners will review the individual’s application as a whole. Past criminal offenses or disciplinary actions while an undergraduate or a law student will commonly raise character issues which result in further investigation by the BLE. Questions of moral character can also be raised by a failure to pay child support, taxes, or court judgments. Essentially, any failure to abide by the law or satisfy legal responsibilities can be viewed by the Board of Law Examiners as relevant to an applicant’s moral character.
All of the above will be considered by the BLE as events bearing on an applicant’s good moral character in and of themselves. Just as important, however, is whether the applicant is truthful and forthright in disclosing and describing these occurrences in their application and other communications with the Texas Board of Law Examiners. In fact, in my experience representing clients before the BLE, it is more often the applicant is in trouble not primarily based on their criminal history or other events from their past, but from a failure to disclose these issues or provide a forthright description.
In my experience, the BLE typically does not deny an applicant due to one or more misdemeanors while they were an undergraduate. The BLE may deny an applicant, or issue a public disciplinary order, if the same applicant fails to disclose their criminal history or provides a misleading description of the circumstances. If the same applicant had fully disclosed their criminal history and provided an accurate explanation of the arrests, it is very possible the Board of Law Examiners would have certified them for admission without even holding a fitness hearing.
The BLE’s policy reflects the value the legal profession places on honesty, truthfulness, and candor to the court. The Board of Law Examiners does not want to admit an applicant they believe would be untruthful or less than forthright with their clients, a court, or opposing counsel. Most lawyers will encounter situations in their practice where the easy thing to do (for themselves or for their client) would be to bend the truth or stretch, if not break, the ethical rules and responsibilities every attorney has as an officer of the court and member of the Bar. Because of this, the Texas Board of Law Examiners can be hesitant to certify someone they feel has been dishonest or misleading during the application process.
I would urge any applicant who needs to disclose past history, or who is unsure whether something needs to be revealed, to consult with an attorney prior to submitting anything to the Texas Board of Law Examiners. Many problems can be avoided by obtaining legal consultation or representation at the start of the application process rather than waiting until a preliminary moral character determination has been made. Once made, a negative preliminary moral character determination will almost always lead to a character and fitness hearing before the Board where the applicant could be facing denial of their application or licensure but with conditions and findings they were dishonest to the BLE.