Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent decision by New York to eliminate the current mental health question regarding current mental, emotional, psychiatric, nervous or behavioral disorder or condition, or alcohol, drug or other substance abuse or gambling addiction conditions or impairments which impairs or limits the applicant’s ability to practice law on Bar applications.
New York State’s Chief Judge recently announced that the question regarding mental health conditions and impairment history will be removed from the state’s Bar admission application. The New York State Bar Association studied the issue and urged that such questions be removed, particularly Question 34 of the application and the character and fitness review. In New York, four (4) appellate departments conduct character and fitness reviews.
Question 34 states: “Do you currently have any condition or impairment including but not limited to a mental, emotional, psychiatric, nervous or behavioral disorder or condition, or an alcohol, drug or other substance abuse condition or impairment or gambling addiction, which in any way impairs or limits your ability to practice law?” Applicants who answered yes were required to supply additional information.
The NYSBA working group that studied the issue found that Question 34 and other questions related to mental conditions or disability were “unnecessary” and should be eliminated from the Bar application. The working group’s report found that law students experience increased stress and mental health issues as a result of law school demands, rising student debt, and an uncertain job market; however, they may fail to seek assistance for these problems because of the presence of mental health questions on the application.
The following question will replace Question 34: “Within the past seven years, have you asserted any condition or impairment as a defense, in mitigation or as an explanation for your conduct in the course of any inquiry, any investigation, or any administrative or judicial proceeding by an educational institution, government agency, professional organization, or licensing authority; or in connection with an employment disciplinary or termination procedure?”
The ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution in August 2015 urging lawyer admission and licensing entities to focus on behavior rather than diagnoses when asking about mental health. The U.S. Conference of Chief Justices also recently passed a resolution calling on its members, and state and territorial bar admission authorities, to eliminate questions about mental health history from bar admission applications. New York will join California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington in eliminating or revising the questions.
Bottom line: It may be debatable whether removing this question will enhance the quality of Bar admission applicants; however, the stated reason for removing the question is stop Bar admission applicants from failing to “seek assistance for these problems because of the presence of mental health questions on the application.”
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
Please note: My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683. All other contact information remains the same.