Fitness to Practice: Law Students, Mental Health, and the Moral Character & Fitness Examination

According to a recent article published by Margaret Hannon, many law students delay or avoid getting mental health treatment out of fear that they’ll have to disclose their diagnosis, treatment, or counseling to the bar examiner; and that doing so could mean that that their fitness to practice will be denied.

Recently, Megan sat down with Margaret Hannon and Katherine Silver Kelly to discuss law students, mental health, and the moral character and fitness examination. You can listen to the entire podcast here. We wanted to share a couple of highlights with law students who may be concerned about this topic.

What Should You Disclose?

Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health issues affect both law students and lawyers. Before you decide what you should disclose in relation to your mental health, any diagnosis of a mental illness, and any past or current treatment, talk with the appropriate staff member of your law school. Both Margaret and Katherine weighed in on this issue in the podcast. The staff can help you interpret the question and help you determine what you should disclose and how you should frame it.

Can They Really Determine Fitness to Practice Based on a History of Mental Illness?

No. As pointed out in the upcoming podcast, some jurisdictions state on their moral character and fitness applications that mental health isn’t a reason that they will deny admission. Some even see disclosure of mental health history, including treatment, as a positive factor.

What is really being sought is your honesty. While it may be tempting to not freely supply this information because your medical provider or therapist can’t reveal it without your permission, that strategy can be detrimental in the future. If, at some point in your career, you make statements about receiving mental health treatment while in law school, the bar examiner can pull a copy of your application. If you did not disclose that information, they can revoke your license to practice or disbar you.

You Don’t Have to Face This Issue Alone

While your fellow law students create a great support system in many ways, remember that you may not get the real answer you need to what you should disclose so that the bar can determine your fitness to practice law in the future. You don’t have to face this issue alone; in fact, you shouldn’t face this issue alone. Find the right staff member at your law school and set an appointment with them to discuss the matter (even if you plan to apply for admittance to the bar in another state). Their expertise and guidance is instrumental in helping you through the process with as little added stress as possible.

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