“Character” and law licenses

Ontario’s Law Society has rejected a would-be lawyer despite strong academic credentials because of concerns about his character, specifically episodes in which he harassed fellow apartment owners during a condo leadership fight and forged a letter supposedly from an owner. “Character” screening was once a common prerequisite for admission to the American bar, but fell largely into disuse following complaints that it could be subjective and applied unevenly. [Toronto Star]


  • Yes, it really discriminates against dumbass schmucks.


  • “Subjective and applied unevenly” could mean, for some, a political reason for denying someone admission. A person who’s been an active in politically unpopular circles (a communist in the 50’s, a white advocate in the 2000’s) might run afoul of this. The academy lately has been asking the question, “is a racist fit to practice law”? A “racist” being anyone from a Nazi-saluting skinhead to a mild-mannered college student who attended the American Renaissance conference. The powers that be are engineering it so that white advocates cannot become attorneys on “character and fitness” grounds. Watch for it.

  • Of course it would be subjective and applied unevenly. But that just begs the question of whether it is a good idea from a cost/benefit/social utility perspective.

  • My mother, rest her soul, was a member of the 1st graduating class of St. John’s Law School in 1928, and initially failed to pass the NY 2nd Judicial Department Character Committee’s Inquisition when the attorney conducting the interview asked her to name the opposing generals in the Civil War Battle of Antietam. When she confessed she did not know the answer, he replied, “Young lady, how do you expect to be able to practice law when you don’t know American history?”
    The delay occasioned by this bigot making this absurdity a character issue kept her from admission until 1930.
    The lady in question was Gladys Bishop Hoey.
    Can Character Committees screw up? QED.

  • Would the lawyers in favor of this feel the same if an arms-length third party were running the character committees? Maybe the doctors would volunteer?

  • Chris, I missed something here — How is not knowing the answer to a question on American History (which I concede leaves me puzzled on how it relates to law practice) “bigotry”? That sounds too much like what we hear if we disagree with, say, Obamacare or the federal spending problem.

  • The bigotry exists in the mysogynist asking a female a question totally unrelated to the practice of law and denying her admission to the Bar under his authority as a character fitness examiner because she could not answer his irrelevant question.
    I did not set the rules in the 2nd Department, NY, but, as I said, this “Character” examiner was able to wield such authority until it was overturned in the courts.
    As a side bar, the lady in question was assisted in her quest for admission in the courts, and married the lawyer who was successful. He, of course, was my father, Christopher W. Hoey. It took over two years, but it enabled a romance to blossom.

  • Chris, I suspect your answer would be different if a white male today were asked, “Which black leader gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech”, and did not know. You’d call him “unfit to practice law”, wouldn’t you? Different times, different bigotries.

  • You so misunderstand my point that I feel for you. My point is that the purpose of a character and fitness interview was one to probe one’s moral character and integrity, and knowledge of arcane historical facts has precious little to do with it.