Henry M. Greenberg, who was officially sworn in as president of NYSBA by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore at a ceremony at the Bar Center in Albany last week, announced the establishment of a blue-ribbon multidisciplinary task force to review the state's bar application questionnaire to ensure mental health treatment will not be a deterrence to gaining admission.
The initiative has already garnered great interest from the legal community, including legal media, as the New York Law Journal, Law360, Bloomberg Law and Above the Law all had coverage within hours of the announcement.
"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 has also announced 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.