New York State Bar Association President Henry Greenberg recently announced a call to action to consider removing mental health questions from bar applications. Greenberg noted“time in law school is marked by extreme stress, anxiety, overwhelming expectations, and financial uncertainty. Many students admit they are not seeking help because they are concerned that doing so will negatively impact their bar admission.”
On the current New York State application for admission to the Bar, applicants are asked to disclose information about their mental health status and substance abuse history. The questions are part of the character and fitness section of the application and imply that people with mental health issues are not fit to practice law. An applicant bears the burden of proving that they are fit to practice law. The question asks: “Do you currently have any condition or impairment including, but not limited to a mental, emotional, psychiatric, nervous or behavioral disorder or condition, or an alcohol, drug or other substance abuse condition or impairment or gambling addiction, which in any way impairs or limits your ability to practice law?” In contrast, bar applicants are not asked to disclose any physical illnesses.
Removing the Question
Currently, 40 states have similar mental health questions on their bar applications. There is a growing movement nationwide to remove these inquiries from the application process. Many law students forgo treatment for mental health conditions because they are afraid of the adverse effect such treatment could have on their admission. According to an American Bar Association survey, almost half of law students suffering from a mental health condition feared that seeking treatment could pose a threat to their bar admission.
The New York Unified Court System will review the applications to determine if a change needs to be made to the inquiries. The application is continually updated and revised. Inquiries into the character and fitness of bar applicants should focus more on an individual’s conduct and behavior and less on their mental health treatment. Removing the mental health question could lead to an improvement in law student well-being as more people will feel comfortable accessing treatment.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.