LBN recently reported on Cesar Vargas and his efforts to be admitted to practice law in New York. Vargas, an undocumented immigrant, is seeking to become a lawyer in New York State. His path to admission is presently blocked by a misdemeanor conviction in Iowa resulting at his activities at an Iowa event that brought about a trespassing conviction. In this update, New York lawyer Sarah Jo Hamilton explains how New York’s bar admission process works.
Hamilton says that New York’s statutory requirements for admission to practice are relatively few. Persons who graduate from an ABA-accredited law school and pass the state bar examination may apply for admission to the New York Bar. The certification that one has passed the bar exam permits a person to apply for admission in one of New York’s four appellate divisions. Hamilton says that Vargas was certified to petition to for admission in the second division, based on his residency.
At that point, the process of admission is taken over by the appellate divisions themselves. They examine the candidates. Hamilton explains that the standard is that applicant must demonstrate, ultimately to the court, that he or she possesses the requisite character and fitness to be admitted to practice. That is a fairly broad standard.
As a practical matter, Hamilton says, the courts do not like the idea of admitting new lawyers who are probation for a criminal offense. The court will wait until Vargas’s probation ends to swear him in. However, once he is sworn in, there are no conditions on his employment. “I don’t think there are too many states who don’t consider it at all.” It is likely that this would be a state-by-state issue.
A different question arises, says Hamilton, should Vargas desire to move to another state and seek to practice law there. He is not a legally admitted immigrant, and that would probably be an issue in a number of states. However, because of the various things that have legitimized his stay here, including receiving a Social Security number, Vargas might be acceptable to other states in spite of the fact that he is not a legally admitted immigrant. He might have to go through a process similar to the one in New York State if he were to seek bar admission in another state.
Sarah Jo Hamilton is a partner in Scalise Hamilton & Sheridan LLP, Scarsdale, NY. Before entering private practice in 2007, Ms. Hamilton was the Secretary to the Committee on Character and Fitness for the First Judicial Department, where she supervised applications and litigated hearings for lawyers seeking admission to the bar. Prior to that, for thirteen years Ms. Hamilton was employed at the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.