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State bar wants to stop mental health questions

Questions on bar application are “ineffective and unnecessary”

The New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) House of Delegates has adopted a report recommending the elimination of all mental health questions in the application for admission to the bar in New York state.

The report was prepared by NYSBA’s Working Group on Attorney Mental Health and adopted at the House of Delegates meeting on Nov. 2 in Albany.

The recommendations have received overwhelming support from the legal community, according to Bar Association officials.

“The hard truth is that stigma around mental illness remains a significant barrier to treatment within the legal profession, and society at large. There is compelling evidence that mental health questions on bar applications are ineffective and unnecessary, and several states have already done away with them,” NYSBA President Hank Greenberg said in a news release.

Greenberg created the Working Group on Attorney Mental Health in June after recent studies showed that law school students are experiencing mental health issues at alarming rates and are not seeking the help they need because they are concerned that doing so will negatively impact their bar admission, bar officials said.

Law students today experience more stress and mental health issues than ever before due to student debt and an uncertain job market, in addition to the demands of law school. The presence of mental health inquiries on the application may lead to many students failing to seek help for these problems.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the screening of candidates based on mental disability. All questions related to mental disability are unnecessary and should be eliminated from the bar application, Bar officials said.

Numerous outside organizations have submitted letters of support for the proposal including the New York state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health Association of New York, New York City Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY), New York Association on Independent Living, Erie County Bar Association, Nassau County Bar Association, and Capital District Lawyers Helping Lawyers.