Character & Fitness — the case of Stephen Glass

In Books, Crooks & Counselors, I wrote about the “Character and Fitness” review required of every applicant for admission to the state bar. NPR reports on the case of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass — the subject of the movie “Shattered Glass,” he admits fabricating all or part of more than 40 articles for The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Harpers, and other magazines. Glass is now seeking admission to the California bar. (New York turned him down several years ago.)

“The question is not whether he was a liar 15 years ago. We know he was. The question is, is he a liar today? And the record demonstrates as well as any record could ever demonstrate that he is not a liar today,” NPR quotes Glass’s lawyer, Jon Eisenberg, telling the California Supreme Court.

Rehabbed, repentant, or unreformed reprobate? I expect that the California Supreme Court — the final decision-maker on all issues involving admission to the bar, and on lawyer discipline — will conclude that its obligation to protect the public outweighs the evidence of rehabilitation, and turn Glass down. It’s hard enough to police the profession; why let someone in with this history, someone you know you’ll have to watch?

Fiction writers, how can you use with a character like that?

Character Opportunity: a lawyer who didn’t attend law school

spokane county courthouseA sidebar in Books, Crooks & Counselors asks if it’s still possible to “read” for the bar exam like Lincoln did. Short answer: no — modern law schools did not become the norm until late in the 19th century. But several states, including Washington, allow those who pass rigorous apprenticeship programs to sit for the bar. This blog post from a graduate of Washington’s Law Clerk program explains the process in more detail.

It’s a different path — and as readers and writers, we like characters who choose different paths.What would prompt a person to follow this route instead of traditional law school? What career choices might he or she make later? How will those character and personality traits help — or hinder — him or her in practice — and on the pages of your stories?

Shown: Spokane County (Washington) courthouse. Photo from Spokane County website.