June 10, 2019: New York State Bar Association Creates Blue-Ribbon Wellness Task Force

Initiative Will Examine Bar Application to Ensure Mental Health Treatment Does Not Negatively Impact Admission

New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) President Henry M. Greenberg has announced the establishment of a blue-ribbon multidisciplinary task force that will review the state’s bar application questionnaire to ensure mental health treatment will not be a deterrence to gaining admission.

“NYSBA is committed to fostering the next generation of healthy, competent, and dedicated lawyers,” said NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg.  “Seeking help for anxiety, stress, or other mental health issues should be encouraged, supported and rewarded.  

“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,” continued Greenberg.  “The review of the bar application’s questionnaire is an important first step in our efforts to help law students become healthy lawyers.”

Recent studies have shown that law school students are experiencing these 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.  

In fact, a recent American Bar Association study discovered that 42 percent of surveyed law students believed they needed help for emotional or mental health issues in the past year, but only half sought assistance. That is because 45 percent of the respondents feared that seeking help could pose a threat to their bar admission.

In February 2019, the Conference of Chief Justices passed a resolution urging its members and state and territorial bar admission authorities to eliminate from bar admission applications any questions that ask about “mental health history, diagnosis, or treatment” and to instead use questions that only focus on an applicant’s conduct.  

NYSBA’s task force will review questions on the New York bar application’s character and fitness questionnaire that address an applicant’s mental health issues to determine if they comport with the nationally endorsed recommendations found in the Conference of Chief Justices’ resolution.  

Greenberg has asked NYSBA’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, to appoint representatives to serve on the task force and issue recommendations for comment and possible adoption at NYSBA’s November 2019 House of Delegates meeting.

Greenberg also announced today that retired Third Department Presiding Justice Karen K. Peters and retired Family Court Judge Sarah (Sallie) L. Krauss will work with NYSBA in the coming months to review and improve the association’s well-being and wellness programs for attorneys and judges.

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About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

Contact:Christian Nolan
cnolan@nysba.org
518/487-5536