Wednesday, August 7, 2013
This will be a short post today; I just want to alert readers to an New York Times article about the difficulties facing law students with mental health issues and the bar exam. I think the article brings up a lot of issues we need to think about in ASP and as a profession.
I don't know if I completely agree with the author. I have worked with many, many students with mental health issues and disabilities over my nine years in legal academia. I do believe most law students with mental health issues should be allowed to practice (if they meet all the other qualifications for the bar). I think the question posed on many character and fitness evaluations discourages law students from receiving the mental health assistance they need, and I think the question should be removed. I am troubled by the tiny, tiny minority of students (I can count them on one hand) who do not have their issues under control, and then threaten to sue under the ADA when their "deeds" (to use the same term as the author) lead to their removal from law school. Their "deeds" are a function of their mental illness, and they argue they should be allowed to continue because they are being persecuted based on the label, not the deed. The threat to sue stops law schools from acting in the best interest of the student and their peers. The threat stops some law schools from notifying the bar that the student may need assistance before they are fit to practice. This tiny minority of students use their diagnosis as a defense and a weapon. It is unfair that a fraction of law students with mental health issues cause disproportionate harm, but the bar needs to consider the threat lawyers can pose to the public.
I know that I will receive a number of angry comments because of this post. However, I am not discussing the students who have their issues under control, and I do think that the vast majority of students have their issues under control; I think we need a better way to help and support students with mental illness. I am questioning a blanket ban on inquiries stemming from mental health issues.