Hey, 3Ls (or, maybe 2Ls if you actually have time): it's definitely not too early to be thinking about your character and fitness application.
While you may be biting your nails about the summer from hell (aka bar-study) that awaits you, don't forget that passing the bar is not all that it takes to be a licensed attorney. It is absolutely required that you be of good moral character and fitness to become licensed. So, here are 5 general things to know about moral character applications:
Vary by state. The exact application procedures will vary by state. Some states, like Connecticut bundle up their moral character application with the application to take the bar exam. While other states, like California, have a separate application to be filled out independently.
It takes time. Even if you have a squeaky clean record with impeccable references and absolutely nothing that raises a speck of concern, it could takes months for the State Bar to get back to you, still. You want to make sure that your application is in at least a few months (preferably more -- in the fall, aka now, is ideal) before bar results come out so that your swearing-in ceremony and the process of getting licensed isn't delayed for you.
References. You will need to find and then give your references a heads up. The State Bar will likely want a list of all your past employers, and personal references (grandma probably doesn't count, either) that includes one member of your respective State's Bar in good standing (hint: a favorite professor or a former 3L who owes you a drink from last year's bar review are usually good choices)
Money, money, money. Ah, yes, much like every other mandatory component of law school (or non-law school, for some of you), the application comes with a hefty fee. In California, it's around $500, and that's for one application. If you aren't deemed of moral character within a certain number of months or years, you may have to reapply and pay, again. Break another piggy for this one, kids.
Red flags. There are many red flags that will raise a concern with the State Bar. This includes, but is not limited to things like a questionable credit score, a record of academic discipline, bad employer references, a criminal record, drug use, etc. This doesn't bar you completely, but you may be asked to submit a follow-up statement, explaining your circumstances and background. It could also prolong your application, which is why it's a good idea to start as soon as you can.
Despite all the awful jokes (and, um, the name of this blog doesn't help, either), lawyers are professionals who are asked to maintain an extremely high level of integrity. You of course are on your way to be one of them -- just fill out that pesky application already, though.