Today is Law Student Mental Health Day. Time to take a look at the barriers some law students face when they have sought mental health treatment during school. The first barrier is the very front door to the legal profession. Before someone can practice law, they must first graduate from law school and then apply to take a bar exam, take the exam, and pass. Most states have a bar application that ask questions about whether the student sought treatment. These questions fall under the application’s “character and fitness” section suggesting that seeking treatment is somehow wrong or shows a lack of good character. Since each U.S. state and territory’s bar association sets its own rules for bar admissions, the standards and applications are different depending on the location.
Currently, 40 states include questions in their bar exam application asking about the applicant’s mental health history, diagnosis or treatment. If an applicant answers “yes” to these questions, they are required to fill out a form revealing private information and may be forced to turn over confidential treatment records before being allowed to take the bar exam. The video below discusses the impact these questions have on applicants and the diversity of the legal profession. You can also see how your state is doing and how to take action.
- Florida Residents: The United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, is interested in learning about the experiences of law school students or alumni who have applied for admission to the Florida Bar and who have disclosed mental health or substance use history to the Bar as part of the application process. Additionally, the Department is interested in learning about the experiences of mental health care providers whom the Florida Bar has asked to provide documentation on behalf of bar applicants. The Department respects providers’ confidentiality obligations. If either of these categories applies to you and you are interested in confidentially sharing your experience, please contact: Sarah Shor at email@example.com.
How is Your State Doing?
Who is Addressing the Stigma Behind These Questions?
- The Dave Nee Foundation makes an Uncommon Counsel presentations at law schools. After the Foundation makes an Uncommon Counsel presentation, attendees are asked to complete a feedback form about the program. Included on the feedback form is the statement: Most law school students do not seek help when needed because they fear the professional consequences. Attendees are asked to rate their level of agreement with that statement ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). In the 2014-2015 academic year, with feedback from 34 schools, 71% of attendees reported that they agreed or strongly agreed that law students do not seek help because they fear the professional consequences. This fear is both wrong and violates the American with Disabilities Act’s clear mandate that we cannot treat people with disabilities differently based on assumptions or stigma.
- The Department of Justice (the federal entity that enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act) issued guidance suggesting the bar association ask about conduct not treatment.
- For over four decades, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has fought for the rights and dignity of people with mental disabilities. Recently, Bazelon settled a case with the Louisiana Bar Association over their questions.
- The American Bar Association House of Delegates approved a resolution discouraging state bar entities from inquiring into the applicant’s mental health disabilities.