“Questions of Discrimination” a new documentary by Disability Rights Washington (DRW) reveals the mental health bias and stigma inherent in the process used to decide who is fit to become a lawyer. In Washington State as in many other states, there are several bar application questions and rules that call into question an individual’s “character and fitness” to practice law if they have a mental health disability.
“Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) asks a question that’s trying to identify whether or not a lawyer is going to be a problem from a character standpoint. They take kind of a wholesale question like, ‘have you ever been treated for mental health’, that has a built-in assumption that anybody who has ever seen a therapist has a character flaw that might be a problem with them being an attorney. And that’s not borne out by science,” says Andy Imparato, Executive Director of the National Association of University Centers on Disabilities.
Emily Cooper, the director of “Questions of Discrimination,” is both an attorney at DRW and a person with a mental health disability. “As an attorney who believes my character and fitness has been enhanced by having the insight to seek mental health treatment, I found these questions to be wholly out of line with WSBA’s commitment to diversity. If my bar association is a true steward of social justice, understanding the value of a diverse bar and the laws that protected individuals with disabilities is a necessity.”
DRW is launching this public awareness campaign so that collective action can be taken to address these questions of discrimination.
“Let Lawyers and judges and all paralegals, others within the legal profession, work to abolish these questions, which are stigmatizing, and then lets create law school classes and include in our law school classes students with all kinds of disabilities so that they can feel safe to be here in law school and then ultimately to practice law. It’s all about numbers,” according to Arlene Kanter, Director, Syracuse College of Law Disability Law and Policy Program.