Welcome to a new column in which we address questions pertaining to the bar exam and admissions process, including the services NCBE provides to candidates. In this inaugural column, NCBE’s Investigations Department answers questions about NCBE character and fitness investigations and how to expedite the application process.
Each jurisdiction has a different character and fitness application process, but many work with NCBE to perform background investigations on their applicants. Even when NCBE completes the background investigation, the character and fitness determination for each applicant rests with the jurisdiction to which they apply.
Applicants frequently ask whether it’s possible to pay a fee to have their character and fitness applications expedited. While there’s not an additional fee you can pay, there are steps you can take to keep the investigation from taking longer than necessary.
What are my responsibilities for demonstrating character and fitness?
Demonstration of character and fitness, sometimes referred to as moral character, is among the essential elements required for bar admission. The burden of proving character and fitness typically rests with the applicant, not with the jurisdiction.
Active participation on your part during this process is key: follow instructions and respond to requests from your jurisdiction and NCBE in a timely fashion.
If your answers to the application questions require specific dates, locations, or other required information, please consult the necessary employers, courts, agencies, or other entities beforehand.
Completing the online application does not automatically begin a background investigation. Additional steps are required, and you will be directed to these steps after finalizing the application.
How should I fill out my application for the quickest results?
Ideally, you should prepare and upload documentation when you first submit your application. Submitting supporting documentation after you complete your application will cause delays.
In addition, when providing answers to your character application, try to avoid incomplete responses such as “see answer attached” or “will provide later,” which will slow the investigation process.
To avoid missing crucial jurisdiction deadlines for bar admission, it is in your best interest to take steps to expedite the processing of your character and fitness application as much as possible. The NCBE Character and Fitness Application is time sensitive, as jurisdictions may consider the dates that authorization and payment are received by NCBE when determining whether certain bar admission deadlines have been met.
Do not finalize your online application until you are ready to submit both payment and an executed authorization and release form.
Keep in mind that you are not required to complete the online application in one session. Your data will be saved as you work, and you may log back in at any time to answer remaining questions and upload additional documents as you have them available.
What documents should I prepare before beginning my application?
As you start your application, you should review the instructions and questions and gather copies of both necessary and helpful documents, such as previous character and fitness applications filed in other jurisdictions, college and law school admission applications, documents from creditors, documentation of legal proceedings that include final disposition and/or expunction, and driving records. (To view a sample application, please visit the NCBE website here: .) If you no longer have these records and believe they contain relevant information, then you should obtain new copies to guide your application answers.
How can I expedite my character and fitness application?
Provide an email address that you will not lose access to in the future. We recommend that you not use your school or .edu email address as your primary email address with NCBE; however, you may enter it as an alternate email.
Monitor your NCBE Account and email for updates or instructions from NCBE. Respond promptly to any requests from NCBE.
Provide accurate and complete contact information (email address, mailing address, telephone number) for all requested parties. Inaccurate or incomplete contact information will cause processing delays. If you learn that contact information has changed, you should amend your application to update those details.
Inform your references, current and former employers, and creditors that NCBE may be contacting them regarding your character and fitness investigation. Correspondence is time sensitive, so ask that they monitor their email inboxes, as email communication is frequently used in attempts to verify information. It may also be helpful to let them know that the process of providing a response is quick and easy.
If you are completing the NCBE online character application and you are prompted for payment, selecting the online payment option is recommended. NCBE will only begin processing your application once payment and a properly executed release form have been received. Submitting payment via check or money order will delay your application.
Where will updates or additional requests on my application be sent?
Correspondence or requests from NCBE regarding your application will be posted primarily to your NCBE Account File Cabinet; some may be sent to your email. To avoid delays on your application, monitor your NCBE Account and email for updates and respond promptly to any NCBE requests.
You may also sign up to receive text notifications in the account settings of your NCBE Account.
What information should I update, and how do I amend my application?
You are required to update all parts of your application as needed during the pendency of your investigation at NCBE.
Our investigations team will need your up-to-date contact information (email address, mailing address, and telephone number), as well as the current contact information for all other requested parties. You should amend your application if you need to provide updated contact information for yourself or others. You should also update your contact information by editing your profile in your NCBE Account.
Detailed instructions for amending are included under the Character and Fitness section at Help & Support on the NCBE website (www.ncbex.org).
How will I know that the investigation is complete?
The status of your application will indicate “Complete” in your NCBE Account. At that point, we will transfer our investigation results to your jurisdiction. Keep in mind that a completed background check is not the same thing as a completed character and fitness evaluation. Your jurisdiction will take the next steps in reviewing your investigation and may contact you seeking more information, an interview, or a hearing.
Which jurisdictions use NCBE’s character and fitness services?
NCBE conducts investigations and hosts applications for many jurisdictions, but not all jurisdictions use both or either of these NCBE services.
To check if your jurisdiction uses NCBE’s character and fitness services, visit the NCBE website at www.ncbex.org/jurisdictions.
Remember that this information should be used only as a general guide. Contact the jurisdiction to which you are applying to verify application instructions and deadlines.
NCBE is happy to provide more information. Get in touch at www.ncbex.org/contact or via our online Help & Support function.
This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Fall 2023 (Vol. 92, No. 3), pp. 29–31.
Contact us to request a pdf file of the original article as it appeared in the print edition.