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Moral Character Lessons from Stephen Glass

By Brett Snider, Esq. on January 28, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It turns out that Stephen Glass can't shake his scandalous past, not even enough to be up to moral character snuff to practice law.

In an (un)surprising unanimous opinion by California's supreme court on Monday, Glass was denied admission to California's state bar based on his years and years of fabricating articles as a journalist in the 90's.

For those hoping to apply to practice law in California or any other state in the union, keep in mind these lessons:

Don't Fabricate or Plagiarize

During Glass' ethics testimony before the California State Bar Court, he admitted to fabricating quotations in "all but a handful" of the 42 articles which he published in the arts and politics magazine, The New Republic. Apparently the New Republic is still plagued by this kind of problem, as The Huffington Post reports that one of its pieces on Edward Snowden was mostly lifted from other sources.

Even if you're writing for a periodical titled Plagiarism Fancy, resist the urge to either make up quotes or steal them without attribution. This lesson includes law review articles you penned in law school and even articles you worked on for your undergraduate newspaper. This also includes your resume.

Even a whiff of plagiarism can shake any future job opportunities, not to mention skew your moral character application. So like drugs in the 90's, just say no to plagiarism and fabrication.

Be Forthcoming and Cooperate With State Bar

If there does happen to be any skeletons in your closet, you need to come clean when asked. Glass didn't fully disclose his vast history with invention of all types until over a decade after the articles were published.

Glass also left many of these details out when he applied to the New York State Bar. The California Supreme Court noted that Glass was "not forthright" to the California State Bar court about these omissions. And his former employer at the New Republic didn't quite agree that Glass had fully cooperated in identifying where and in what articles the fabrications were made.

Take a hint from Glass' case: be honest and cooperative with the state bar. Even if you pulled the head off some exotic bird, you may be able to slip by if you can show that you owned up and took your medicine. If there wasn't a place for compliance and contrition, there would be no need for State Bar ethics proceedings, so be prepared to genuinely confront your past misdeeds.

Lawyer Up

Since in California, and many other states, the burden to show moral fitness lies with the applicant, it might be wise to consult with an attorney who specializes in state bar ethics proceedings.

While you should strive not to repeat the mistakes Glass made, moral shortcomings are not always insurmountable when applying to practice law.

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