Image Courtesy of Catholic University of America

By MaggieMae Dethlefsen 

Every year, thousands of applicants go to take the Bar Examination in order to start practicing law. Currently, 39 states ask applicants if they have ever sought advice regarding mental health. Having to disclose this information makes many applicants not want to take the exam, lie about their answers, or are too afraid to seek the help they need because they don’t want it to affect their chances of getting their dream jobs. 

This has led many applicants during this time of high-stress and in rigorous situations not to reach out to sources that could help them with their concerns. A study “found that 45% of respondents believed seeking help would threaten their ability to be admitted to the bar and 63% said threats to the bar exam would deter them from seeking help for substance abuse.” This leaves a lot of students that need treatment not seeking it out due to the fact that they are concerned that it will affect them negatively. In addition, since they feel like they can not seek out third-party support and that they can not turn to peers, they turn to substances that can lead to unhealthy habits. 

Many states believe that the question should be removed because it is intrusive into the applicant’s personal information that they should not be forced to disclose. Many states have already started to petition and successfully get rid of the question from their state’s Bar exam questionnaire. It has become a question not only of being a personal breach but also if it is a question that causes discrimination against those who have sought out treatment for mental health purposes. 

Every year The Columbus School of Law has over a thousand applicants and ends up accepting around 500 students to study there. Monroe Rayburn from the counseling center here at Catholic University of America says they see around “714 student clients, which represents 19% of the student body.” Of these 714 students, 30% are graduate and law students. This 30% means that is around 214 graduate/law students. This number is close to half of the admitted number of students to the law school yearly. 

Talking to Mrs. Katherine Crowley, the Dean of Students at the Columbus School of Law she stated, “For many years, some stigma was associated among law students about seeking mental health treatment and how it might impact admission to practice law.  More recently, however, because of the shift among bar examiners from questions that only ask about diagnoses to questions that ask about disciplinary actions that might have stemmed from untreated mental health challenges, the stigma is slowly lifting.  In short, some jurisdictions want to know whether applicants have a plan in place to help them address mental health diagnoses and whether untreated diagnoses are influencing negative behaviors.  This is important to bar examiners because attorneys are tasked with great responsibility in representing the interests of others.”

It looks like in years to come we are going to see a change in the questions asked with the Bar Exam and their dive into the mental health of the applicants.

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