Leslie C. Levin

Document Type



Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal Profession


Almost 40 years ago, Deborah Rhode chronicled numerous problems with the legal profession’s character and fitness inquiry in her seminal article, Moral Character as a Professional Credential. This essay, which is dedicated to her memory, assesses the current state of that inquiry. The essay notes a few areas of improvement in some jurisdictions, but finds the character and fitness inquiry remains problematic. Some jurisdictions continue to operate without published standards and most character and fitness committees—and even the courts— do not publish information about their decisions. It is still the case, as Rhode noted, that there is little evidence that the information sought during the character and fitness application predicts who will become a problematic lawyer. It is also unclear whether the decisionmakers in most jurisdictions are guided in their assessments by mental health professionals or the scientific literature. At the same time, the continued use of certain questions has significant deterrent effects. The essay describes some of the reasons why there has been so little progress in addressing the problems with the character and fitness inquiry. It concludes by making some suggestions for improvement.