Well-Being Mental Health

The New York State Bar removes questions about applicants’ mental health

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The New York bar plans to remove questions about candidates’ mental health from applications. 

In an announcement from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), President Henry M. Greenberg thanked Chief Judge Janet DiFIore and her Committee on Admission to the Bar, as well as the NYSBA’s Working Group on Attorney Mental Health in evaluating the need to omit certain questions. 

Today marks a historic step forward in addressing the ongoing mental health crisis in the legal profession,” Greenberg said. “Future generations of New York lawyers no longer need to live in fear that bravely and smartly seeking treatment for mental health issues could one day derail their careers.”

The issue goes back to February of last year, when the Conference of Chief Justices passed a resolution that advocated for members, state, and territorial bar admission authorities to eliminate questions about bar admission applicants’ “mental health history, diagnosis, or treatment,” and relegate focus to an applicant’s professional conduct, according to the press release. 

After that recommendation, the NYSBA task force reviewed the problematic question beneath a component that asked about a New York Bar applicant’s “character and fitness,” which was intended to “address an applicant’s mental health issues to determine if they comport with the nationally endorsed recommendations found in the Conference of Chief Justices’ resolution.”

The working group concluded in a report that not only are law students under more stress than ever before, but that the presence of questions about an applicant’s mental health may dissuade them from seeking treatment or help. Specifically, the report cited statistics saying that 42 percent of surveyed law students believe they needed help for mental health issues, and only half of that population sought treatment. 

Additionally, the questions may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which “prohibits the screening of candidates on the basis of mental disability.”