Have you received a certified letter from the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners with a notice of hearing before a panel of the Board or a formal hearing before the full Board? Have you received a letter from the Law Examiners questioning your qualifications for comity admission or about alleged misconduct during the examination? Are you seeking a special accommodation for the examination? If so, you may be uncertain about what to do next, what the Board’s procedures are and what are the possible results.
You also may be trying to decide whether, as a law school graduate or licensed attorney in another state, you need representation. Our firm routinely defends, represents, and assists applicants like you in panel hearings, formal Board hearings, comity issues, alleged exam misconduct, special accommodations petitions and other issues before the Law Examiners.
Defense and representation at the informal stages is significantly less expensive than waiting until later to see if a formal evidentiary hearing results. Also, formal Board hearings typically mean a significant delay in obtaining a final decision and, hopefully, approval. Assistance or representation at the informal stages typically is the most cost effective way to protect the significant investment you have made in obtaining a law degree or a license in another state. Additionally, our firm’s best opportunity to assist you in obtaining a favorable outcome is in these early, informal stages.
Our firm generally has a three-tiered fee structure for defense, representation, or assistance in Law Examiner matters. First, we begin most all matters with a one hour consultation for a fixed fee based on our hourly rates. As part of the consultation, we review the Board’s notice of hearing or other communication, obtain relevant information from you on the issues in the notice of hearing or other communication, explain the Board process, and provide advice and recommendations, including whether you need further assistance or representation. For many informal hearings and other matters, the consultation is sufficient and much less expensive than full representation.
Second, we also can provide further assistance in preparing for a panel hearing without attending with you. Third, we regularly attend, represent, and defend clients at Board hearings. For panel hearings, we usually can offer a fixed fee so you will know the total cost up front. Our fee structure for Law Examiners matters is designed to provide only the assistance you really need at a price you can afford.
Informal Panel Hearings are conducted before two or three members of the Board of Law Examiners. Each hearing is set in the morning or afternoon session, typically with 5-6 other applicants. Cases are called in the order noted in your notice of hearing. Although the hearings are informal, your testimony will be recorded for potential future reference. The Board generally allots about 30 minutes per hearing on average, but hearing times vary significantly among applicants, depending on the nature and number of issues involved.
The Board members will question you about the items listed in your notice of hearing and possibly other matters. You will have an opportunity to offer additional evidence and information. If you are represented by counsel, he or she will have a chance to ask you follow up questions and make closing remarks. The Board does not have its counsel representing it at panel hearings, unlike in formal hearings. The panel will not announce its decision on that day but generally attempts to do so within two weeks of the hearing date.
The panel has four main options:
Any result other than an approval often results in a significant delay in the Board reaching a final decision on your application and potential admission.
You may be wondering how our firm could help you at the informal hearing. Here are several ways we can assist, represent, or defend you in informal panel hearings based on our experience in these matters:
Formal Hearing before the Full Board of Law Examiners
Hearings before the full Board of Law Examiners are formal evidentiary proceedings. Pre-hearing discovery by the Board through the Attorney General’s office is often conducted. The hearings are held during the Board’s regular quarterly meetings. All Board members are present for the hearing, absent some conflict by a member.
The Board is represented by counsel from the Special Prosecutions Section of the Attorney General’s office. Witnesses are placed under oath, examined, cross-examined, and often questioned by Board members. The applicant is given an opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence. Opening statements and closing arguments are generally presented by the Board’s counsel and counsel for the applicant or the applicant. A court reporter is present to transcribe the hearing.
The Board’s decision on an application is final, although a denial may be appealed to Superior Court under a deferential review standard. If an application is denied, the Board’s rules provide that the applicant cannot reapply again for three years from the denial, although the Board occasionally shortens this time period.
If you have received a notice of hearing for a formal hearing, it is more difficult to represent yourself, although it is possible. Our firm’s lawyers defend applicant clients in formal hearings before the Board of Law Examiners. Our representation includes all aspects involved in defending a formal evidentiary hearing. We work with our clients to agree on a strategy for the hearing, assist with pre-hearing discovery, communicate with the Attorney General’s office, prepare you for the hearing, interview and prepare your witnesses, prepare to cross-examine the Board’s witnesses, and make closing arguments, among other tasks.
Comity Requirements, Exam Conduct and Special Accommodations
Our firm’s attorneys defend and represent applicants in a number of other matters before the Board of Law Examiners, including qualifications for comity admission, alleged misconduct during the bar examination, and special accommodations for the exam.
Comity requirements. If you have applied for comity admission, you will need to establish that you have satisfied all of the requirements to qualify . The Board interprets these comity requirements very strictly. For example, the Board will insist that you actively and substantially engaged in the full time practice of law for a full 4 of the last 6 years before filing your application. We have worked with clients in the past to help document the practice requirement and, in other cases, provided advice about whether there was a realistic probability of meeting this qualification. We have also represented and defended clients in comity hearings before the Board on these issues.
Examination misconduct. The Board also regularly conducts inquiries on alleged violations of its examination rules. You may have received a letter inquiry or a notice of hearing concerning such an issue. If so, you should take it seriously. The Board enforces its examination procedures sternly. Less serious allegations can be handled through an exchange of written submissions, while more serious allegations are typically scheduled for hearing. Even if the alleged violation seems minor to you, you should respond timely and truthfully. We have assisted clients in submitting written responses and collecting documentary evidence and also defended them in hearings before the Board on such examination conduct.
Special Accommodations. The Board will grant petitions for special accommodations during the exam for applicants who can demonstrate a qualified disability. These special accommodation petitions are evaluated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Board scrutinizes these requests closely. We have assisted clients in preparing these petitions, including the required medical evaluation, and also represent clients before the Board in attempting to obtain special accommodations.