What’s mental health got to do with it? Let’s discuss bar admission questions...

Jon Bauer, J.D. & Kathy Flaherty, J.D.

Professor Jon Bauer will talk about the history of the “mental health” questions on the application for admission to the Connecticut Bar - which were finally removed earlier this year, after decades of advocacy. His discussion of the law and theory will be illuminated through the story of Kathy Flaherty’s lived experience as a bar applicant who answered “yes” to those questions.

After decades of sustained advocacy by many individuals, the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee removed the “mental health” questions from its application earlier this year. We will explore the ramifications of this decision and and a law enacted by the California legislature in 2019 to prohibit that state's state bar from seeking prospective lawyers’ mental health records. Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington have similar prohibitions in place, and the New York State Bar Association launched a task force in June 2019 to review the New York bar application to ensure that having had or sought psychiatric treatment will not negatively affect admission to the bar.

In the second half of the 20th Century, bar admission authorities made inquiries into treatment for mental disabilities and substance abuse a routine component of the "character and fitness" screening of bar applicants. Particularly since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, these inquiries (still in place in many jurisdictions), have generated intense controversy, litigation, and pressure for reforms.

Setting the Bar Higher for Inclusion in the Legal Field, Kathleen Flaherty, Rooted in Rights, November 2016

Jon Bauer in Connecticut Law Tribune: Bar Admissions Process Bends Toward Justice—With a Little Help (June 14, 2019)

Question of Fairness, Hartford Courant, Sept. 10, 2000. (references Attorney Flaherty and Prof. Bauer)