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The successful completion of character and fitness requirements prior to bar admission dates back to at least the 18th century, when Massachusetts required that applicants provide references from their ministers. Other states soon instituted similar requirements aimed at improving the reputation of the legal profession. After all, the earliest lawyer jokes predate William Shakespeare, and the organized bar has long been concerned about its public perception. Following Massachusetts, both New York and North Carolina instituted requirements that mandated lawyers be of virtuous character and possess honesty and good integrity. Every jurisdiction in the nation has since adopted some form of character and fitness controls.

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