The American Bar Association adopted Monday an expanded policy that urges state licensing agencies to eliminate questions for prospective lawyers that ask about mental health diagnosis or treatments.
The action of the House of Delegates — made up of approximately 559 members representing state and local bar associations, ABA entities and ABA-affiliated organizations — came on the first day of the House’s two-day policy-making session that culminates the 2015 Annual Meeting. The ABA meeting began in Chicago on July 30.
Advocates for the provision argued that states in admissions to the bar process now ask for mental health information related to a diagnosis rather than conduct of an applicant. This presents a dilemma for law students who might want to seek professional treatment for a mental health issue but are afraid that they would need to self-report that detail to the licensing agency during the admissions process or risk being accused later of lying to the licensing body.
States typically employ a form similar to one provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners that asks about a wide range of mental health history, including out-patient treatment, major depressive disorder or other conditions that significantly impair behavior, judgment or understanding. Rather than a condition, the advocates of the proposal said such questions should address conduct. Licensing agencies, however, would still have the ability to explore past impairment if there was probable cause.
The resolution expands policy set in 1994 that sought to limit but not eliminate mental health questions. Opponents of the change criticized it as being vague, ambiguous and unnecessary. (102)
In other measures, at the request of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilites the House approved a proposal to change the entity’s name to the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. The Board of Governors earlier approved the change, and the section leaders made the recommendation because they thought it would resonate more with younger lawyers than the previous moniker of IR&R. (11-2)
Turning toward internal governance, the House approved changes to the ABA’s constitution and bylaws as part of a decennial review. The changes add 41 additional members of the House to bring membership up to 600. Also, it would add two more members to the committee that nominates prospective officers, and three new members to the Board of Governors that serves as the administrative body of the association. The governance resolutions emphasize the ABA’s continuing focus on more diversity in the legal profession and in its internal matters. (11-6)
In other resolutions the House:
- Adopted a resolution that urges courts, probation officers and law enforcement agencies keep juvenile records in their custody confidential. (103A)
- Approved a resolution that called upon election officials and legislators at various levels to adopt and implement policies aimed to achieve a 30-minute maximum per voter wait time at the polls during elections. (104)
Monday’s action on House resolutions can be found here. Deliberations continue on Tuesday.