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After the rigor of law school and the anxiety of the bar exam, there is a final test of “character and fitness” that all applicants in New York State must pass before they can get sworn in as attorneys and begin to practice. The application paperwork involved, though it is “less burdensome” than it has been in the past, still requires “some time and effort,” according to Anthony J. D’Auria, chair of the New York 2nd Department Committee of Character and Fitness. An official application includes a questionnaire, affidavits of good moral character, affirmations of legal or business employment, and college, graduate and law school certificates, along with, when appropriate, copies of military records, naturalization and immigration papers, name change orders, certificates of good standing from other state jurisdictions, arrest disposition slips and divorce, separation or annulment judgments. Applicants must send their completed applications to the Committee on Character and Fitness of the New York Appellate Division to which they are applying for admission. Submission guidelines, application review, interview and swear-in procedures vary by committee. In order to speed the admissions process, the 4th Department requires that applications be filed even before applicants learn whether or not they have passed the bar. Similarly, in New York’s 3rd Department, those who take the July bar exam must complete their paperwork by a specified deadline date in order to be considered for a January interview session. INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS The 1st Department Committee on Character and Fitness reviews applications on a rolling schedule. Interview sessions are generally held every three or four weeks. Since there are a limited number of spaces for each session, however, applicants may have to wait a few months until their interviews. The 1st Department Committee’s busiest time, according to chairman Peter J. Johnson Jr., is from January to April. Since applications are completed in advance, usually applicants do not have to bring any additional paperwork to the interviews, Johnson said. Sometimes, though, he added, if an applicant has defaulted on student loans or has outstanding parking tickets, he or she must bring evidence of payment. While groups of applicants in the 1st and 3rd Departments and the 5th and 8th Judicial Districts are invited to interview sessions with their committee members on a given day at a given court, applicants in the 2nd Department and the 7th Judicial District are interviewed on different days at the offices of individual committee members. D’Auria said that committee members use the interviews not only to assess the character of applicants, but also as an opportunity to talk about professional ethics and the importance of commitment to pro bono work. In the 1st Department, applicants are advised about these issues at a mandatory two-hour orientation program that occurs after the interview session but before the swearing-in ceremony. The orientation program is essentially a first “bridge the gap” continuing legal education class welcoming and introducing applicants to the profession. Usually one or two judges address a group of between 200 and 300 new lawyers about attorney discipline, pro bono work, bar association activities and health and substance abuse issues in the profession. Speakers also advise the group of their new responsibilities and commitments and provide some practical tips, Johnson said. Most applicants in all departments are sworn in at formal courtroom ceremonies after their interviews, although the timeline differs by department. In the 3rd Department, for example, the formal ceremony takes place at noon on the same day as the morning interview session and lasts about an hour. In the 1st Department, the formal ceremony usually takes place about a week after the interview. (For an attorney heading abroad or to another state who cannot wait, an informal swear-in can be performed by a 1st Department clerk a day or two after the interview. But, Johnson said, even those in a rush to get sworn in must attend the orientation program. ) Applicants who are not approved for admission are sent notice of a hearing before their Commitee. At the hearing, the applicant is given an opportunity to call and cross-examine witnesses and to challenge and examine evidence. After the hearing, the Committee submits its decision to the Appellate Division. An applicant can appeal an adverse ruling by petition to the New York Appellate Division.

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