Questions about mental health treatment to be removed from Michigan bar exam next year – Lansing State Journal

Posted: March 22, 2020 at 3:45 pm

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The Michigan Hall of Justice, home to the Michigan Supreme Court and Michigan Court of Appeals, is seen in this June 24, 2016 LSJ file photo.(Photo: Dave Wasinger/The Lansing State Journal)

LANSING Prospective lawyers will nothave to answer questions about their mental health before applying for the Michigan bar exam starting next year.

The Michigan Supreme Court announced Wednesday it had directed the Board of Law Examiners to remove questions that ask for details about applicants' mental health histories.

Currently, applicants are asked to describe their history of receiving or refusingmental health treatment including counseling, list mental, emotional and nervous conditions that affect their daily lives and disclose details of their medical providers.

Thosequestions,based on applicants' diagnoses and treatment, stigmatize people with mental health conditions and could deter lawyers from seeking treatment like counseling, said Sarah Eisenberg, a licensed master social worker who practices in Clinton Township.

"People with mental health conditions aren't morally wrong in some way just because those health conditions happen to affect their brains and not a differentorgan of their bodies," she said.

Eisenberg was happy to learn the questions will be scrapped.

Starting February, 2021, the bar exam application will include questions about applicants' behavior within the last five years that could call into question their ability to practice law.

The current questions are unfocused and based on generalizations and misconceptions about mental health, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said in an emailed release about the recent order.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack looks on on as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.(Photo: Nick King/Lansing State Journal)

"Questions about past diagnoses have the unintentional effect of deterring aspiring attorneys from seeking assistance," she said. "Law school is grueling. There is nothing wrong with getting help, and we want to make sure that there are no barriers for our up-and-coming attorneys."

Justice Brian Zahra disagreed, arguing in a dissenting opinion that people are sometimes required to disclose information about their mental health before they can work as health care providers or pilots, or before they foster or adopt children. He describedthe court's decision as "misguided" and said the Board of Law Examiners,which is charged with investigating state bar applicants,states applicants whoseeknecessary treatment are not disqualified.

"Instead of being the gatekeeper that protects the public from those unfit to practice law with regard to the mental health of aspiring lawyers, the [Board of Law Examiners] has now been instructed by this Court to prioritize the needs of the applicant over the need to protect the public," he wrote.

In a release announcing their decision, justices cited an American Bar Association survey of 3,300 students across 15 law schools that found 42% needed professional mental health care and 45% felt discouraged from seeking mental health treatment because it would affect their ability to secure a law license.

Contact Carol Thompson at (517) 377-1018 or ckthompson@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @thompsoncarolk.

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Questions about mental health treatment to be removed from Michigan bar exam next year - Lansing State Journal

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