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N.Y. Bar Association to Study Mental Health Application Question

June 10, 2019, 8:54 PM

The New York State Bar Association launched a task force June 10 to review the state’s bar application, making sure mental health treatment does not negatively affect admission.

The panel, consisting of attorneys from different legal disciplines, will look to make recommendations on whether questions asking about mental health history, diagnosis, or treatment need to be reworded or removed from the application.

The association hopes to have the recommendations in prior to the November meeting of its policymaking body, and would then submit them to the state court system, association President Henry M. Greenberg said.

The New York Unified Court System also will be reviewing the mental health question, Lucian Chalfen, the system’s director of public information said in an email.

The task force’s review comes after the Conference of Chief Justices in February passed a resolution calling on its members, state and territorial bar admission authorities to eliminate questions about mental health history from bar admission applications. Several states have since changed or removed questions from their applications, Greenberg said.

The New York State Bar Association has more than 70,000 members and is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country

A 2014 American Bar Association study found that 42 percent of law students surveyed said they needed help for emotional or mental health issues in the past year. Only half of those respondents sought help, and 45 percent of the respondents feared it could pose a threat to their admission to the bar, according to the study.

“We are aware that some concerns have arisen regarding the wording of the question addressing mental health and substance abuse on the application for admission to practice as an attorney in the state of New York,” Chalfen said. “The application is continually updated and revised, thus we anticipate that we will be reviewing this issue in the coming months.”

The state bar association’s task force will be looking at one of the questions that is part of the character and fitness review, which is done by the four appellate departments.

It asks if the applicant has “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?”

The review of the application’s questionnaire is an important first step in the association’s efforts to help law students become healthy lawyers, Greenberg said. “The idea that bravely and smartly addressing one’s personal challenges early on could have a negative impact on admission to the bar is not consistent with our profession’s core values.”

Members of the task force will be appointed by the association’s Young Lawyers Section, Committee on Disability Rights, Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Law Practice Management’s Attorney Wellness Sub-Committee, and Lawyer Assistance Committee.

Retired Third Department Presiding Justice Karen K. Peters and retired Family Court Judge Sarah “Sallie” L. Krauss will serve as pro bono advisers to the task force and will help the association with its well-being and wellness programs for attorneys and judges.

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com