How do I write a good moral character reference for my friend?
November 15, 2012 4:56 PM   Subscribe

My about-to-be-a-lawyer friend has asked me to complete an affidavit as to her "good moral character." She is a great person and I'm sure she will be a great lawyer, but I'm not sure what exactly to write or how to phrase it.

This is the phrasing on the affidavit:

In answer to this question, affiants should provide the following: (1) the length and nature of affiant’s acquaintance with applicant; (2) affiant’s opinion as to applicant’s good moral character and general fitness to practice law; (3) the basis for affiant’s opinion; (4) any other information or facts which affiant believes would be helpful in evaluating applicant’s character and fitness to practice law; and (5) whether affiant recommends applicant for admission to the New York State Bar.

(1) is easy and I'll obviously recommend her for (5), but I'm slightly stumped about (2), (3), and (4).

a) How is "good moral character" defined? What kinds of examples/evidence should I provide?

b) How much do they want me to write? How specific should I be?

I would really appreciate any advice or examples you can provide. Thank you!
posted by JuliaJellicoe to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
2. is just what you said - "she's a great person and will be a great lawyer." Expand by describing responsible actions she's taken, leadership, good judgment, setting good examples, civic engagement, whatever. Even if it's something like great judgment and follow through as demonstrated in planning trips, whatever. All the things that make her a reliable and trustworthy person.

3. How well you know her and what your relationship is. You went to school with her for 5 years, spent many hours in her home, socialize with her and her family regulatory, whatever.

4. anything extra like "she volunteers at the pet shelter" or "she never once missed a day of work that summer we worked together" or "I've seen her take keys from drunks at parties" or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:03 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I have always known her to be a dependable and reliable person. She is honest in her dealings with others and she carries out the commitments that she undertakes."

Really, they're not asking for anything more than that, except maybe an anecdote.
posted by Mr. Justice at 5:06 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is pretty much pro-forma. This serves as much as a test of rudimentary social skills and connectedness as much as it does anyone else. If an applicant can't come up with three people who aren't relatives or classmates who can be bothered to say that the person isn't an axe murderer, one wonders if said applicant mightn't actually be one.

All they're looking for is someone to testify, under oath, that the applicant to the bar doesn't have any skeletons in the closet that are too terrible. If you know where this person buried the body that one time, or this person is your drug dealer, or you know for a fact that their bookie in Reno is into them for a couple ten grand, or you are their bookie in Reno, then you're going to have a problem.

But barring something like that, something along the lines of "I know of no reason why this person should not be admitted to the bar. She is honest and reliable as far as I know," will do just fine.
posted by valkyryn at 5:08 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I did this within the last 12 months for NY State as well - for one of my best friends. On recommendation of a family member who is a lawyer elsewhere, this is what I wrote. It's a bit Mad Libs, but echoing the others who say this does not need to be long.

I have known (NAME) for over (NUMBER) years, as we (in our case, met in school) and have remained in contact since then.

(name) is of upstanding moral character and completely fit to practice law. (pronoun) is one of the most (adjective) and (adjective) people I have known, and (general statement of 'encourages friends to also do the right thing'.)

This is where you could put details if you have them. You really don't need them. I tried working in a detail and it felt awkward so I just left it out.

Unambiguous Boilerplate Declarative Statement:
I recommend (name) for admission to the NY State Bar without reservation.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:13 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

You could also throw in any details you know about volunteer or charitable work they've done, things that make them seem morally sound.
posted by Pomo at 5:22 PM on November 15, 2012

Yeah, examples are good. I was interviewed for a friend's security clearance (I know, the same, but different), and the guy asked, "Does he have any trouble with money?" and I said, "Uh, no, not that I know of." And the guy kind of looked at me, and I followed up with, "He and his wife are very responsible with their money. The house they bought was a fix-er-upper and they put a lot of sweat equity into it. And they drive an inexpensive, fuel-efficient car." And the guy nodded and wrote it all down.
posted by BrashTech at 5:58 PM on November 15, 2012

Yup. Had to have people do this for me; had two friends do it. I also, at one point, had to get five -- FIVE! -- "character references" for some other stage of the process, and couldn't help noticing that of the five people I chose, two of them told me, "You need a character reference? I'll tell them you're a character!"

I was like, "Boy, I know a certain kind of person, I really do."

Don't overthink it; just write what you'd say to describe your friend if somebody asked you what kind of a person he/she is, but it was an authority figure, so you wouldn't mention excellent sexual ethics or valiantly carrying you out of bars or anything like that.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:02 AM on November 16, 2012

I have done several of these over the years. I called the state bar examiners to ask what they needed, whether just saying:

"Bar People,

I've known Friend for X years. Friend has excellent moral character. Friend has done good things and is not a bastard (spelling out a couple specifics). I recommend Friend for admission to the bar.



would be ok.

They said it would be fine and they get very brief letters every year. Everyone I wrote for has been admitted. I think lengthy letters are appropriate for close cases, where the applicant has had legal issues or academic dishonesty or something. Otherwise they're just ticking boxes on a checklist.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:01 AM on November 17, 2012

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