Thursday, March 23, 2023
The Rise and Fall of the Mental Health Inquiry for Bar Admission
Colin M. Black (Suffolk University), The Rise and Fall of the Mental Health Inquiry for Bar Admission, 50 Capital U. L. Rev. (2022):
For millennia, legal advocates have been expected to have good moral character. There can be no doubt that effective lawyering requires honesty and integrity. Over the years, how character is defined for practitioners has changed. In the 1970’s, the American Bar Association began evaluating bar applicant mental health as part of the good character evaluation. Ostensibly, this was done to protect the public and the administration of justice. In 2017, the American Bar Association recommended the elimination of the mental health questions on the character and fitness portion of the application to the bar. Notwithstanding, many jurisdictions continue to inquire into an applicant’s mental health status as a prerequisite to admission. Recently, however, the growing concern for lawyer well-being has highlighted the criticisms of this prophylactic inquiry. There is little evidence of a causal connection between mental health issues and unethical lawyering. Additionally, meritorious disability discrimination claims have warranted a reexamination of the practice of inquiring about the mental health of bar applicants. To be sure, the American Bar Association, bar authorities, law schools, and local bar organizations have all implemented various programs addressing the symptoms of the profession’s mental health crisis, including changes, and in some cases, the complete elimination of the mental health inquiry of the character and fitness evaluation portion of the bar application. All of these actions lead the author to conclude that the practice of inquiring about a bar applicant’s mental health serves no apt purpose nor predicts the ultimate elimination of the inquiry completely.