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Virginia Bar Drops Mental Health Screening

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 11, 2019 11:10 AM

Your mental health could be a problem if you want to take the bar exam in many states.

According to reports, about four in five states screen bar applicants for mental health issues. The Virginia Board Examiners decided that's not a good idea.

It was causing potential examinees to shy away from getting treatment. That, critics said, was crazy.

Mental Health Treatment

Beginning this year, Virginia examiners will no longer ask applicants to disclose mental health treatment on bar applications. Last year, law students demanded it.

They organized letter-writing across the state, saying that students were afraid they would be denied bar admission if they got mental health counseling. Gray O'Dwyer, a graduate of the University of Richmond law school, said it was a barrier to treatment.

"It was reinforcing the stigma that if you seek treatment for any sort of mental health concern, it will come back to haunt you," he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In a student survey, the American Bar Association said nearly 40 percent of the respondents suffered with anxiety or depression. Even more saw their mental health as a potential threat to bar admission.

Remedies Before the Bar

The ABA and some law schools offer programs to help law students with mental health issues. Last year, Penn Law became the first top-ranked laws school to make well-being a mandatory class.

It is part of professional responsibility, and emphasizes the importance of a lawyer's health and wellbeing. The pilot program started with first-year students, and now is part of upper-level instruction.

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