As of March, 2016, 41 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. In this new Rooted in Rights video, the impact of these Questions of Discrimination on applicants and the diversity of the legal profession is explored.
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.
How is your state doing?
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.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provided federal funding for the cost of producing this video (Award #16SMP05397). The contents are the sole responsibility of Disability Rights Washington, the parent organization of Rooted in Rights, and do not necessarily represent the official views of SAMHSA.