February 26, 2020: New York State Bar Association Succeeds in Getting Mental Health Question Removed from NY Bar Application

A New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) proposal that would remove mental health-related questions from the state bar application has been approved by the New York State Unified Court System.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore made the announcement today during her State of the Judiciary address. New York becomes just the 11th state to protect the well-being of law school students by removing questions about mental health treatment from the state bar application.

“Today marks a historic step forward in addressing the ongoing mental health crisis in the legal profession,” said NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg. “Future generations of New York lawyers no longer need to live in fear that bravely and smartly seeking treatment for mental health issues could one day derail their careers. 

“I applaud Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and her Committee on Admission to the Bar for their rapid response to this critically important issue,” continued Greenberg. “I’d also like to thank NYSBA’s Working Group on Attorney Mental Health, as they worked with extraordinary speed and skill and their report was a blueprint for change.”

The measure has been a NYSBA priority since Greenberg announced the Working Group on Attorney Mental Health last June. NYSBA’s House of Delegates approved the working group’s report in November. 

The chief judge credited NYSBA for raising the issue and stated in her address that “the amended application will no longer ask intrusive questions about a candidate’s mental health conditions or treatment history.” 

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 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. NYSBA’s report is entitled The Impact, Legality, Use and Utility of Mental Disability Questions on the New York State Bar Application.

The working group concluded that:

  • 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 disability.
  • All questions related to mental disability, including Question 34, the mental health-related question, are unnecessary and should be eliminated from the bar application.

Just two days after NYSBA approved the working group’s report, State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman introduced legislation that would have prohibited the state bar application from asking prospective attorneys about their mental health.

Numerous local bar associations and statewide mental health organizations submitted letters of support for NYSBA’s proposal. Additionally, deans from 14 of New York's 15 law schools submitted a letter to Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks urging the removal of question 34 from the state bar's application.

Separately, a change.org petition created by second-year Columbia Law School student Samantha Braver began circulating on social media and it has now been signed by more than 1,300 people.

Click here for more information, including the specific wording of both the new and old Question 34.

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: Susan DeSantis
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