Moral Character: Making Sense of the Experiences of Bar Applicants with Criminal Records

Manitoba Law Review, Forthcoming

24 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019 Last revised: 23 Oct 2019

See all articles by Hadar Aviram

Hadar Aviram

University of California, Hastings College of the Law

Date Written: August 21, 2019

Abstract

Most literature on reentry and rehabilitation experiences addresses the basic needs of people with criminal records: finding shelter and employment. This Article shines a light on a gap in this literature - the unique situation of justice-involved individuals seeking admission to elite professions. The article focuses on applicants to the California Bar, who, in addition to passing the Bar Exam must also submit a moral character application. I begin with a legal analysis of the Bar rules concerning moral character and the malleability of terms such as "insight" and "remorse" as defined and analyzed in case law. I then provide an empirical lens on the moral character process through in-depth interviews with bar applicants who went through the process.

The empirical study reveals deep-seated shame among applicants, which the moral character exacerbates and distorts. The "informal hearing" process is revealed to be a deeply distressing experience, invoking issues from the individuals' pasts and placing them under an exacting lens. Moreover, as I argue, the Bar's policy toward moral character flies in the face of robust empirical findings about desistance from crime, exhibits considerable conceit about the committee's ability to detect insight and remorse, and seriously harms the quest for more diversity in the legal profession.

The article ends with an analysis of the implications of this process and with practical recommendations to law schools and to the Bar regarding moral character applications.

Keywords: moral character, bar, legal profession, legal education, criminal records, rehabilitation, reentry

JEL Classification: K

Suggested Citation

Aviram, Hadar, Moral Character: Making Sense of the Experiences of Bar Applicants with Criminal Records (August 21, 2019). Manitoba Law Review, Forthcoming , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3440387 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3440387

Hadar Aviram (Contact Author)

University of California, Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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