There has been a shift over the past several years over what is expected from applicants who appear before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. Many Florida Bar Defense Lawyers have failed to keep up with the times and think that just their presence and giving their client an overview of the process is enough to get them through the process. I can speak from experience, and tell you that it is not. Many members of the Board have approached me after the hearings and confided in me that they greatly appreciate what I will call the documentary evidence approach. This is an approach where you rely upon exhibits rather than declaratory statements, where you can actually "show" the Board members you possess the requisite character and fitness to be admitted to the Florida Bar rather than just hope and pray that they can see what a great person you are. The burden of proof is on you and it is getting increasingly difficult to meet that burden.
The tricky thing about representing applicants before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners is that the hearings are closed off to the public. It is a little bit like working in a vacuum, and you never really know if you are doing a better job than your peers that also represent applicants. I have been a big advocate of the documentary approach and have found that to work for my clients. When I first started representing applicants I wanted to make sure that I was adding value to the hearings by dramatically increasing my clients chances of getting admitted on the first pass. So I broke out the rule book and came up with my own interpretation of what should be done in an investigative hearing, which I feel it is critical to share with you because not every applicant can afford an attorney and no one should go into this hearing totally blind without having the first clue of how to approach it. The relevant rules all applicants should read before attending are 3-12 and 3-13. I have bolded for you what I think are the elements that easily generate a document of which you can submit to the Board of Bar Examiners for their review. Under each bolded item I have provided what I think could be potential exhibits that the Board would want to see in italics depending on the facts and circumstances of why you are there in the first place.
3-12 Determination of Present Character. The board must determine whether the applicant or registrant has provided satisfactory evidence of good moral character. The following factors, among others, will be considered in assigning weight and significance to prior conduct:
(a) age at the time of the conduct;
(b) recency of the conduct;
(c) reliability of the information concerning the conduct;
Affidavits, letters from witnesses, and if possible a live witness.
(d) seriousness of the conduct;
(e) factors underlying the conduct;
A brief submitted 30 days in advance explaining all the surrounding circumstances, Affidavits, letters from witnesses.
(f) cumulative effect of the conduct or information;
(g) evidence of rehabilitation;
Apology letters, character reference letters, and a brief that shows you are familiar of what is required of you as a Florida lawyer and the rules that apply.
(h) positive social contributions since the conduct;
Community service, thank you letters from where you did your service and time logs. See Rule 3-13(g) positive action showing rehabilitation by occupation, religion, or community or civic service. Merely showing that an individual is now living as and doing those things he or she should have done throughout life, although necessary to prove rehabilitation, does not prove that the individual has undertaken a useful and constructive place in society. The requirement of positive action is appropriate for applicants for admission to The Florida Bar because service to one's community is an implied obligation of members of The Florida Bar.
(i) candor in the admissions process; and,
Amendments to both the bar application and law school application if necessary.
(j) materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.
If you aren't doing anything other than showing up to the hearing, then don't expect a great result. If you do get advanced to a formal hearing and the Board has filed specifications against you then chances are you will break out the rule book and start this process anyway. Having a formal hearing and specifications filed against you after the investigative hearing can add up to a year to your application process and result in further significant costs. Prepare for the investigative hearing as if it is a formal hearing. Many of these items you can do on your own but the challenge is to artfully admit them into evidence at the investigative hearing in such a way that you get the most amount of leverage for your hard work to prepare. There are many other factual scenarios that you may be appearing before the Board for which could result in a vast array of exhibits you might want to consider. For example: Past DUI's, volunteer at Mother's Against Drunk Driving; past substance abuse problems, consider voluntarily joining Florida Lawyers Assistance or "FLA";, past financial problems, consider taking a financial consulting class such as Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University which will help you establish the rehabilitation you need before the Board. The nice thing about the investigative hearing is that it is an investigation and there are no evidentiary rules, which frees you up to consider multiple exhibits of which you might not be able to use in a formal hearing setting if they are incomplete. Most Florida Bar Defense Lawyers offer a free consultation. When consulting with various lawyers consider what I have written in this article to determine if you are actually getting something in return for your hard earned (usually student loan borrowed) dollars. The focus on this hearing is solely on you so there is no "out lawyering" this hearing. Your lawyers should just make sure that they are mitigating the damage that is already done and putting you in the most favorable light before the Board. If any Applicants have any questions they can always contact me directly at (888) 760-6552 of visit http://www.FloridaBarHearing.com. I travel to all hearing locations of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners so there are no geographical constraints. I wish all of you the best of luck before the Board and in your future careers as successful Florida attorneys.
Lars Soreide, Esq.
Soreide Law Group, PLLC.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.