A Happy Victory

By Brandon Vogel

President Greenberg Podium

You triggered a national movement.

This was how President Hank Greenberg kicked off the Working Group on Attorney Mental Health luncheon at the State Bar.

What was initially planned to be a recognition luncheon of the group turned into a “happy victory” luncheon after the Chief Judge announced that the mental health question has been removed from the bar application.

Removing the mental health question means that 42% of law students who experience anxiety, stress or other mental health issues can now receive it.

“If you didn’t do what you did, the question would have remained on the bar application for years. You changed lives! You saved lives,” said President Greenberg.

Origins
In February 2019, the Conference of Chief Justices passed a resolution urging its members and state and territorial bar admission authorities to eliminate from bar admission applications any questions that ask about “mental health history, diagnosis, or treatment” and to instead use questions that only focus on an applicant’s conduct.

President Greenberg assembled the working group last March to examine Question 34 on the bar application. “We knew there was a mountain in front of us to remove the question,” said Greenberg.

Working at a rapid pace, they compiled a report by August. Working Group co-chair Simeon Goldman said it was “just phenomenal” how quickly they worked and met tight deadlines. He credited President Greenberg for his leadership on the group.

“It is the right thing to do,” said Goldman. “I have worked with attorneys who have mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and I have seen what an asset they are. Clients benefit from their insights and experiences.”

NYSBA’s House of Delegates approved the working group’s report in November entitled The Impact, Legality, Use and Utility of Mental Disability Questions on the New York State Bar Application. The report received support from local and specialty bar associations across the state, as well as mental health organizations. Additionally, deans from 14 of New York’s 15 law schools submitted a letter to Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks urging the removal of question 34 from the state bar’s application.

Greenberg told the group, “You changed NYSBA. You created a model for change that will be replicated.  You moved at lightning speed. You did that.”

Within days, State Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman introduced legislation to prohibit the state bar application from asking about a candidate’s mental health.

Announcement
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced the removal of the question during the State of the Judiciary on February 26. New York is now the eleventh state to remove mental health questions.

Goldman was driving back from Brooklyn when he got the news. “It was just thrilling,” he said.

Working Group co-chair Lauren Sharkey, who also chairs the Young Lawyers Section, said she loved seeing all of the emails reacting to the announcement. “There’s a lot of excitement.” The section hopes to leverage this success and show law students how they can help.

Greenberg concluded on a high note, “Know how proud you should be of what you did. You changed the world.”

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