The new conditional admission to the State Bar of Wisconsin could give at-risk applicants a chance to practice law while entangling some people who otherwise would have earned full entry.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” said Milwaukee attorney Dan Shneidman, who co-wrote the draft rule.
The Supreme Court rule took effect June 8 and gives the Board of Bar Examiners a third alternative, instead of just yes or no, when evaluating applications. Conditional admission applies to applicants who are found to have problems such as drug dependency, mental health problems, financial problems and criminal behavior.
Because all applicants always have been required to include criminal history and references to the BBE, Shneidman said, some with seemingly insignificant problems could be considered for conditional admission, rather than full admission.
Shneidman said he doesn’t want “namby-pamby” cases, such as a 20-year-old underage drinking ticket or minor parking violation, to adversely influence the decision of the BBE to fully admit an applicant.
The rule isn’t designed to unfairly punish people for minor mistakes made many years ago, said BBE director Jacquelynn Rothstein.
“It’s to ensure that the public is adequately protected,” she said, “and that attorneys are monitored to ensure they are competent to practice.”
According to the rule, only an at-risk applicant who demonstrates “ongoing recovery and an ability to meet the competency and character and fitness requirements” may be considered for conditional admission.
Still, Rothstein said, the classification is new, and it will take some time to solidify the criteria. Until then, she said, applicants will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Based on the number of applicants in prior years who could have been considered for conditional admission, she predicted as many as 10 per year will be recommended under the new rule.
“If someone isn’t interested,” she said, “they are allowed to appeal.”
Applicants who agree to conditional admission must sign an agreement and abide by guidelines such as random drug testing or professional medical, psychological or other treatment.
According to the rule, the initial period of conditional admission can last up to 60 months, after which time the BBE can extend admission for another year. After six years, the BBE decides whether to fully admit or deny the attorney.
During the course of conditional admission, the Office of Lawyer Regulation has the same disciplinary jurisdiction over the conditional lawyers for ethical violations as it does over full-entry lawyers. OLR director Keith Sellen said he is optimistic the new option will work, but he said time will tell if conditionally admitted lawyers are more likely to break the rules.
“At this point we don’t have any concerns,” he said. “But should that prove to be the case, I’m sure we’ll address them with the court.”