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Formal vs. Informal Hearings before the Florida Bar

You’ve made it through law school and are getting ready to take the bar exam. Congratulations! You’ve done most of the work to become a lawyer in the state of Florida. Now, you just need to pass the bar exam—but before you can do that, you have to prove to the bar that you’re of good moral character.

This can be tricky if you have any of the following on your record:

  • Loans in arrears

  • Credit cards in arrears

  • Misdemeanor convictions

  • Numerous traffic violations

  • Suspended driver’s license

Your bar application will ask questions about all of the above, and you must answer them truthfully and openly. Lying on your application could mean the end of your legal career.

The good news is that there’s a process for bar applicants who have less-than-perfect records. During hearings, you’ll have a chance to prove to the bar that you are of good moral character and are fit to practice the profession of law.

There are two types of hearings: formal and informal. Here’s what you need to know so you can prepare for each one.

Informal (Investigative) Hearings before the Florida Bar

Informal hearings are also called investigative hearings, and they’re just what they sound like: an investigation. During an investigative hearing before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, three examiners will ask you questions while you’re under oath. They’ll create a transcript of the meeting, which can make the hearing feel pretty formal.

Investigative hearings have very few rules of evidence, and limited objections can be made during them. But you should prepare for them as if you’re preparing for a trial. After all, the bar can decide not to recommend you for admission after the investigative hearing. You should consult with an attorney before your hearing and, if you can, have counsel present during the hearing.

There are a few different outcomes that can result from the informal hearing. The board can determine that:

  1. You have effectively established your qualifications as a fit and moral character.

  2. You’ll have to enter into a consent Agreement instead of filing Specifications that pertain to alcohol or drug problems, or psychological issues. The Board can recommend your admission to the Court in the Consent Agreement.

  3. The Board needs to further investigate your fitness and character.

  4. Specifications need to be filed that charge you with matters. If proven, those matters would deter the Board from recommending your admission.

Based on the hearing, you could also be tasked with community service hours and/or required to write a brief. You may want to perform community service and write the brief before your hearing to demonstrate your commitment to righting your past wrongs.

Formal Hearings before the Florida Bar

As the name implies, a formal hearing is more structured than an investigative hearing. During a formal hearing, you’ll present your case in front of a panel of at least five members of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. Your goal in a formal hearing is to prove that you are of good moral character and fitness.

You want to have counsel representing you during a formal hearing to make sure your case is presented in the best way possible. A formal hearing has the feel of a trial. The panel hears arguments from both sides, including opening arguments, witnesses, rebuttal witnesses, and closing arguments. There are more evidentiary and speaking objections in a formal hearing than in an investigative hearing.

If you’ve been invited to an investigative or formal hearing before the Florida Bar, give PZ Law Firm a call at 407-500-EZPZ (3979) today. You will need the best representation to ensure that you can continue pursuing your legal career.


Disclaimer: This column does not create a client-attorney relationship and is not intended as legal advice. Should you need any legal advice, speak to an attorney who is skilled in the area and jurisdiction you require.


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