NYSBA CALLS FOR STATE CONSTITUTION TO RECOGNIZE MENTAL HEALTH AS A MATTER OF PUBLIC CONCERN
The New York State Bar
Association’s (NYSBA) House of Delegates has adopted a report that recommends
the elimination of all mental health inquiries from the application for
admission to the New York state bar.
The report was prepared by NYSBA’s Working Group on
Attorney Mental Health and adopted at the House of Delegates meeting Nov. 2 in Albany.
To date, the report’s recommendations have received overwhelming support from
the legal community.
“The hard truth is that
stigma around mental illness remains a significant barrier to treatment within
the legal profession, and society at large,” said NYSBA President Hank
Greenberg. “There is compelling evidence that mental health questions on bar
applications are ineffective and unnecessary, and several states have already
done away with them.
“I am proud to say that
NYSBA is fighting to remove the stigma that many New York bar applicants fear
could haunt them during their careers, for simply seeking out needed counseling
or other assistance,” Greenberg continued.
mental health parity in the State Constitution
On Nov. 1, NYSBA’s
Executive Committee also approved a proposal calling for an amendment to the State
Constitution to establish mental health as a matter of public concern. The
Constitution already recognizes physical health in this way.
“Our society still has so
much to learn about mental health issues and how they can impact our daily
lives,” Greenberg said. “Establishing in the State Constitution that mental health
is a matter of public concern will benefit all New Yorkers by recognizing that
it is as important as physical health to our well-being.”
Working Group on Mental Health
Greenberg created the
blue-ribbon multidisciplinary working group 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.
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
NYSBA reviewed 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. Their report is entitled The Impact, Legality, Use and
Utility of Mental Disability Questions on the New York State Bar Application.
The working group
- 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
- All questions related to
mental disability, including Question 34, the mental health-related question,
are unnecessary and should be eliminated from the bar application.
The working group consists
of members from 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.
Support from Other Organizations
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.
“We do not see a
meaningful distinction between this question and a pre-employment inquiry as to
an applicant’s disability, which the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits,”
New York City Bar Association President Roger Juan Maldonado and other
leadership wrote in its letter of support. “We believe that the question is
anachronistic in that it presumes that a disability, and particularly a mental
health condition, is a defect of character rather than a medical condition that
does not necessarily impair an individual’s performance of work-related duties.”
“The Working Group’s
conclusion and recommendation that ‘mental health inquiries should be
eliminated from the application for admission to the bar of New York state’ is
fully supported by the Women’s Bar Association,” wrote WBASNY President Deirdre
L. Hay. “Attorneys should be evaluated on their competence and conduct, not on
their seeking mental health treatment, or any diagnosis or treatment, which the
applicant has received.”
“The inclusion of the
current question on mental health issues in the bar application is an active
impediment to getting help to those who may need it,” wrote David H. Keehn and
Professor Joseph M. Connors on behalf of Capital District Lawyers Helping
Lawyers. “Its elimination from the application will be a positive step and will
help reduce stigma around seeking mental health treatment when needed. Law
students, the entire profession and by extension our society will benefit from
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