Saturday, March 3, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions: What Do I Need To Know About Completing My Professional License?

Ten Important Guidelines On Completing Board Applications And Renewals

When you are applying for a license (or renewing one) from the California Medical Board, State Bar, Department of Real Estate, Department of Pharmacy, Board of Registered Nursing or any other state agency or any employer that is required to report to state agencies or databanks (such as hospitals), all applicants need to remember the following basic guidelines:

1. Start the licensure process early especially if you believe you may have some background issues that require explanations.  It can take months to become licensed and the Board will not hurry the process just because you have a job waiting. The investigation process can take time and staff cutbacks in government agencies often mean lengthier delays.

If you think you may have difficulty getting licensed, start early (while you are in school even) and hire an experienced administrative lawyer to assist you with drafting the explanations and putting together a package for the Board.  Even hiring a lawyer for a two hour consultation will serve you better than relying on the well-meaning but uninformed advice of friends, students or other professionals.

2. When you sign the application, you are certifying that all the information is accurate. In most of the applications and renewal forms you are declaring under the penalty of perjury that all the information is true and correct. This means it is as if you are under oath and promising to tell the truth. In other words, you must be truthful in completing the application. 

3. If you do not complete the forms or questions accurately, your application can be denied on the sole ground that you falsified the application and/or intended to deceive the agency. We have had many clients who came to us after they failed to disclose information in an application and had their license application denied. If there are background issues that will come up in the LiveScan, you are better served in disclosing those matters in the best way possible.

4. Take the questions literally and do not rely on your own interpretation. Err on the side of being cautious. Be overinclusive and not underinclusive. Do not rely on friends or classmates for advice. Go to a professional especially where you believe you may have problems getting licensed due to a prior criminal conviction or prior alcohol or drug abuse problem.  

5. Some of the questions are vague or ambiguous. It is not unusual for board questionnaires to be somewhat ambiguous or to be subject to some level of subjective interpretation. It is always safer to err on the side of caution and full disclosure. If an applicant is unsure as to the interpretation of a question he or she should answer it both ways. We also suggest having an experienced licensing attorney review your application for language and explanations to ensure that it is accurate but setting forth your position in the best light. The time and expense is well worth the chance of being denied a license for intentionally misleading the licensing board.

For example, let us take a question from the Nursing Board's actual application:

Question: "Have you ever had disciplinary proceedings against any license as a RN or any health-care related license or certificate including revocation, suspension, probation, voluntary surrender, or any other proceeding in any state or country? If yes, please provide a detailed written explanation, including the date and state or country where the discipline occurred."

Ambiguity: The first part of the question asks about any "disciplinary proceedings" while the second half asks "where the discipline occurred." The question might seem to assume that it is only interested in cases where actual discipline was imposed.

Do NOT make this assumption. The safer and better course to follow is to set forth any actual accusations or disciplinary charges and if the case was dismissed or no discipline was imposed to state those facts.

6. Criminal Charges. The question that we see applicants harm themselves the most is the one regarding criminal charges. The disposition of criminal cases is often ambiguous and a review of original records is often necessary to know the proper way to answer these questions. We have had many cases where the applicant's failure to disclose the charge accurately resulted in denial of the license or the granting of a restricted license or probation being imposed and we are hired to handle the appeal or disciplinary charge. If the person had answered the question accurately -- the license would have been issued but the perceived deception created significant problems.

Case Example: Physician finished residency and applies for privileges at Los Angeles Hospital. He had disclosed an old driving under the influence conviction to the Medical Board. however, when he applied for privileges at the hospital, he did not disclose the conviction. The hospital ran a background check and denied his application for privileges on the ground that he was deceptive on his application. Under the law, the hospital was required to report the denial of privileges to the Medical Board of California. By the time we met him, the Medical Board filed an Accusation and this young physician had already entered into a Stipulated Settlement and Decision to be on probation for 3 years.

Here is a sample criminal charge question:

"Have you ever been convicted of any offense other than minor traffic violations? If yes, explain fully as described in the applicant instructions. Convictions must be reported even if they have been adjudicated, dismissed or expunged or if a diversion program has been completed under the Penal Code or Article 5 of the Vehicle Code. Traffic violations involving driving under the influence, injury to persons or providing false information must be reported. The definition of conviction includes a plea of nolo contendere (no contest), as well as pleas or verdicts of guilty."

Thus, if someone had been charged and there was a deferred entry of judgment where the case would be dismissed upon the completion of community service and having no further arrests for one year, it will probably be necessary to disclose that charge. Err on the side of caution.

7. Make sure the application is complete to avoid unnecessary delays. Read and re-read the requirements and have someone else review it for errors or omissions.

8. Rehabilitation. If in your youth or past, you had some criminal charges, discipline from employers or agencies, drug/alcohol issues, mental health issues or other life experiences that contributed to the prior conviction/discipline -- your application should reflect your rehabilitation and why you are not the same person that committed those errors and why it is unlikely that these issues will arise again. We often go above and beyond what is required in the application in order to increase the applicant's chances of having his or her application approved.  

We are often hired to assist a person in drafting the best application possible and creating a package that will help someone get licensed where there are past criminal convictions and disciplinary problems. The wonderful thing about the United States is the people can have second or even third acts in their life. The key is acknowledging the past problems and showing why you have earned the right to a license and there is a minimal likelihood that it will ever occur again.

Applicants must also submit a description of the rehabilitative changes in their life, which would enable them to avoid future occurrences. To make a determination in these cases, the Board considers the nature and severity of the offense, additional subsequent acts, recency of acts or crimes, compliance with court sanctions, and evidence of rehabilitation.

The burden of proof lies with the applicant to demonstrate acceptable documented evidence of rehabilitation. We create a package where we show that the applicant has met his or her burden.

Examples of rehabilitation evidence include, but are not be limited to:

• Detailed letter from applicant attached to the application describing the events at issue (prior criminal or disciplinary charges) and rehabilitative efforts or changes in life to prevent future problems.
• Letters of reference on official letterhead from employers, instructors, professionals in the same field, professional counselors, parole or probation officers, or other individuals in positions of authority who are knowledgeable about your rehabilitation efforts.
• Letters from recognized recovery programs and/or counselors attesting to current sobriety and length of time of sobriety, if there is a history of alcohol or drug abuse.
• Proof of community work, schooling, self-improvement efforts.
• Court-issued certificate of rehabilitation or evidence of expungement, proof of compliance with criminal probation or parole, and orders of the court.
• Support letters from others in the community who are knowledgeable about rehabilitation efforts, current skills and why they are supporting your application even though they know about the prior criminal or disciplinary case.

We help outline, draft and coordinate the letters and entire application package and provide an objective view of what the typical agency or bureau wants in the application. Often the applicant fails to realize that although there are many current licensees with problems and issues, in order to be licensed with some adverse history he or she needs to jump a hurdle and prove that he or she is not a disaster waiting to happen and that instead, will be a credit to the profession.

9. Do not attempt to persuade Board representatives of your position. We have had clients who failed to submit a well drafted application package but decided to telephone Board representatives or members or write letters to the Governor to lobby their case. The best step is to prepare the application package as professionally as possible seeking advice of counsel if needed. Any meetings with Board representatives should be with counsel present. Finally, be careful of trying to lobby and persuade Board members, representatives or other political officials of your position unless you are doing it with the advice of an experienced professional. It can backfire and the Board representatives often take notes that do not aid your case.

10. Maintain a copy of the application you submit. We represent clients who failed to keep copies of their submissions. This makes it difficult to know what went wrong with their application.

Conclusion: Your application and/or renewal application is one of the most important documents you can complete. If there are some areas of your past that are troublesome or cause you concern, it is well worth hiring an experienced attorney (even if only for a few hours) to assist you in handling these issues such as ordering the court records and drafting the explanation in an attachment. Remember the value of your license over the course of your lifetime. It is a very valuable asset often worth millions of dollars.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. 

Any questions or comments  should be directed to Tracy Green, a very experienced administrative law attorney, licensing attorney, and board and bureau hearing attorney.

Please email Ms. Green at or call her at 213-233-2260 to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation.  Ms. Green's office is located in Los Angeles, California.


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