Character & Fitness Requirements

  1. No person shall be licensed to practice law in Virginia by the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners unless such person first produces evidence satisfactory to the Board that the applicant is a person of honest demeanor and good moral character and possesses the requisite fitness to perform the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing attorney. The applicant has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he or she possesses these qualifications. If an applicant fails to answer any question on the Character and Fitness Questionnaire or which is otherwise propounded by the Board, or to supply any requested documentary material, the Board may find that the applicant has not met the burden of proving his or her good moral character.
  2. The primary purposes of character and fitness screening before admission to the Virginia Bar are to assure the protection of the public and safeguard the system of justice. An attorney should be one whose record of conduct justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts, and others with respect to the professional duties owed to them. A record manifesting a significant deficiency in the honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, or reliability of an applicant may constitute a basis for denial of admission. The revelation or discovery of any of the following may be treated as cause for further inquiry before the Board decides whether the applicant possesses the character and fitness to practice law:
    1. commission or conviction of a crime;
    2. violation of the honor code of the applicant's college or university, law school, or other academic misconduct;
    3. making of false statements or omissions, including failing to provide complete and accurate information concerning the applicant's past;
    4. misconduct in employment;
    5. other than an honorable discharge from any branch of the armed services;
    6. acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
    7. abuse of legal process;
    8. neglect of financial responsibilities;
    9. neglect of professional obligations;
    10. violation of an order of a court;
    11. denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on character and fitness grounds;
    12. disciplinary action by a lawyer disciplinary agency or other professional disciplinary agency of any jurisdiction, including pending, unresolved disciplinary complaints against the applicant;
    13. commission of an act constituting the unauthorized practice of law, or unresolved complaints involving allegations of the unauthorized practice of law;
    14. failure to respond promptly to requests from the Board or the Character and Fitness Committee, or any other failure to cooperate with the Board or the Committee;
    15. any other conduct which reflects adversely upon the character or fitness of an applicant.
  3. The Board shall determine whether the present character and fitness of an applicant qualifies the applicant for admission to the practice of law. In making this determination, the following factors will be considered in assigning weight and significance to the applicant's prior conduct:
    1. age of the applicant at the time of the conduct;
    2. recency of the conduct;
    3. reliability of the information concerning the conduct;
    4. seriousness of the conduct;
    5. factors underlying the conduct;
    6. cumulative effect of the conduct or information;
    7. evidence of rehabilitation;
    8. positive social contributions of the applicant since the conduct;
    9. candor of the applicant in the admissions process; and
    10. materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.
  4. In addition to demonstrating adequate knowledge of the fundamental principles of law and their application, an applicant must produce clear and convincing evidence to the satisfaction of the Board of Bar Examiners, in its sole discretion, that the applicant has the requisite character and fitness to: (a) comply with deadlines; (b) communicate honestly, candidly and civilly with clients, attorneys, courts and others; (c) conduct financial dealings in a responsible, honest and trustworthy manner; (d) avoid acts that are illegal, dishonest, fraudulent or deceitful; and (e) conduct himself or herself in accordance with the requirements of applicable state, local and federal laws and regulations, any applicable order of a court or other tribunal, and the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
  5. Any applicant who affirmatively asserts rehabilitation from prior conduct which bears adversely upon such applicant's character and fitness for admission to the Bar shall be required to produce clear and convincing evidence to the satisfaction of the Board of such rehabilitation. That evidence shall include, at a minimum:
    1. the applicant's strict compliance with specific conditions imposed by the Board or the Committee on Character and Fitness, as well as any disciplinary, judicial, administrative or other order, where applicable;
    2. the applicant's unimpeachable character and moral standing in the community, including affirmative recommendations from people aware of the applicant's misconduct who specifically consider the individual's fitness in light of that behavior;
    3. the applicant's good reputation for professional ability, where applicable;
    4. the applicant's lack of malice and ill feeling toward those who by duty were compelled to bring about the disciplinary, judicial, administrative or other proceeding, and to any victim thereof;
    5. the applicant's personal assurance, supported by corroborating evidence, of an intention to engage in exemplary behavior in the future;
    6. the applicant's restitution of funds or property, where applicable;
    7. the applicant's sustained and substantial behavior in the applicant's occupation, religion, or community or civic service demonstrating rehabilitation to the satisfaction of the Board. Merely showing that the applicant is currently living as and doing those things he or she should have done throughout life, although necessary to prove rehabilitation, does not prove that the applicant has been rehabilitated and has undertaken a useful and constructive place in society.
  6. The Board's obligation to the public requires the Board to address recent mental health and chemical or psychological dependency matters, which may affect an applicant's ability to perform any of the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing lawyer in a competent, ethical, and professional manner. Accordingly, the Board will inquire:
    • Within the past five (5) years, have you exhibited any conduct or behavior that could call into question your ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner?
    • Within the past five (5) years, have you sought or been directed to seek treatment for your conduct or behavior?
    • Do you currently have any condition or impairment, including, but not limited to, (1) any related to substance or alcohol abuse, or (2) a mental, emotional, or nervous disorder or condition, which in any way affects your ability to perform any of the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing lawyer in a competent, ethical and professional manner? "Currently" means recently enough so that the condition could reasonably have an impact on your ability to function as a practicing lawyer.
    The mere fact of treatment for mental health problems or chemical or psychological dependency is not, in itself, a basis on which an applicant is ordinarily denied admission in Virginia, and the Board of Bar Examiners regularly licenses individuals who have demonstrated personal responsibility and maturity in dealing with mental health and chemical or psychological dependency issues. The Board encourages applicants who may benefit from treatment or counseling to seek it. A license may be denied or deferred when an applicant's ability to function is impaired in a manner relevant to the practice of law at the time the licensing decision is made, or when an applicant demonstrates a lack of candor by his or her responses.
  7. Each applicant must file with the Board a completed Character and Fitness Questionnaire and pay the required character investigation fee. Any applicant who believes he or she may have a character or fitness problem should file early so that such potential problem may be resolved as soon as practicable. The investigation fee shall be set out from time to time by the Board. The current fee schedule is available from the Office of the Secretary of the Board.