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Before classes had even begun, a judge stood in front of Justin’s law school class to tell them about the parts of their life that would be examined to determine if they were qualified to become lawyers. Along with questions about speeding tickets, academic history, and violations of law, he told them, prospective lawyers would need to open up about their mental health, including any diagnosed conditions.
Justin, the first person in his family to attend college, had always dreamed of going to law school and becoming a public defender.
So when law school stress ran high and support was low, he remembered the judge’s words and decided that seeking out mental health resources wasn’t worth the risk to his dream.
“I want to do everything I can to limit my exposure,” said Justin, who did not want to use his last name to protect his chance of bar admission.
A wave of support has been building to remove questions about mental health from what’s known as the character and fitness reviews of bar applicants. Several states, including Washington and Louisiana, have already done away with them. And now New York is deciding whether it will, too.
“[Students] should absolutely get the help they need and not worry about being asked a question that they have to answer and then reveal their medical history,” said New York State Bar President Hank Greenberg. “We don’t do that with any other physiological condition, and that we still do that for mental health is no longer acceptable in 2020.”