New York trims rule for aspiring attorneys to disclose police run-ins

New York State will no longer require aspiring lawyers to reveal all encounters they have had with law enforcement as part of their application to practice law, in a change that court officials hope will improve diversity in the profession.

Question 26 of the application’s character and fitness bar admission review previously required applicants to disclose nearly all criminal records, which could have a “chilling effect” on racial minorities subject to disproportionate policing, the state court system’s appellate division said in announcing the change.

Prospective lawyers will now be able to omit all juvenile delinquency proceedings in family court, citations, tickets, arrests and other law enforcement interactions that did not end in formal charges or convictions, according to the announcement.

The change takes effect on April 3, 2023, a court system spokesperson said.

The appellate division’s presiding justices said in a statement that they followed “a lengthy deliberative process” that considered “the need to ensure the integrity of the legal profession and to protect the public from attorney misconduct.”

The New York State Bar Association, which has advocated for the question to be removed entirely, welcomed the change but pushed the courts to go further.

“Unfortunately, Question 26 in its revised form will still have a chilling effect on potential applicants for the New York Bar, particularly when we consider the over-policing of communities of color,” Bar President Sherry Levin Wallach said in a statement.

The State Bar Association said in a report last year that the question impedes efforts to improve diversity in the legal profession and conflicts with the state Human Rights Law and the Family Court Act.

It has stated that despite the changes, the overall question is still problematic because it asks for all juvenile proceedings that went to criminal court.

The state’s administrative board previously amended the character and fitness review process in 2020, removing a question about mental health that critics said dissuaded law students from seeking help.

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