Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

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anonlstudentt
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Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby anonlstudentt » Tue Oct 06, 2009 2:56 pm

So, I didn't realize that the character and fitness part of the Bar can ask for in-depth disclosure of all your mental health medical records until recently, and now I'm worried.

Background: I was diagnosed as depressed and then re-diagnosed as bipolar, in college, and have been on medication for about 5 years. Personally, I think I was just having severe anxiety (due to an abusive relationship at the time), but the medicine seemed to help, so I stayed on it. I haven't had any mental health counseling for about 3 years or any mental health problems or crises for at least 4 years, and the only thing I still do is take the medication.

I am now in law school and have to see a psychiatrist for a re-evaluation as to whether to continue my prescription or go off the medication. I am worried because it seems like all the character and fitness questionnaires put bipolar in the same category as serious stuff like schizophrenia, so I am wondering whether: 1. I should see about getting rediagnosed as something other than bipolar (i.e. just anxiety), and 2. Whether going off the medication would be an important/essential thing to do in order to avoid any problems on the character and fitness section of the bar. Also, do I have to send them my mental health records from all of college, or just from law school? Do the records just need to include the conclusions of psychiatrists, or also all the notes of counseling sessions I had with regular counselors on campus? It seems totally invasive, stigmatizing and unfair that they ask for mental health records, and I wish I could have the freedom to get general counseling for the stress of law school without worrying about it, but I guess that's how things are..

I want to practice in the Northeast, probably NY, Massachusetts or New Hampshire (or maybe DC). I would appreciate any suggestions. Sorry for the long post, but I don't know who to ask and the places I called still haven't returned my messages. I would appreciate any suggestions.
Last edited by anonlstudentt on Thu Oct 08, 2009 11:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

270910
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby 270910 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:46 pm

I doubt many here can help, but this is a major issue and you will need to start doing research into the bars you are interested in. Check their websites for detailed info on who gets denied and for what cause, and find any contact info you can for lawyers who specialize in C&F work in the specific bars you are interested in and get in touch with them ASAP.

The bar is notoriously discriminatory against those with mental health issues of any kind, and I'm afraid that despite how unfair that is there isn't much you can do short of dot your is, cross your ts, and get as much information about the hurdles you will face during C&F in advance.

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annapavlova
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby annapavlova » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:52 pm

There are tons of bi-polar lawyers.

270910
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby 270910 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:54 pm

annapavlova wrote:There are tons of bi-polar lawyers.


People use this logic all the time on TLS when this question comes up and it bugs the hell out of me. The fact that lawyers are known for having mental health issues IS THE REASON why bar examiners are reluctant to admit those with pre-existing mental health issues!

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lawlover829
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby lawlover829 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:58 pm

You have to disclose it. If your not imparied by bipolar disorder (according to your doc) you should be fine.

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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby 270910 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:02 pm

lawlover829 wrote:If your[sic] not imparied[sic] by bipolar disorder (according to your doc) you should be fine.


This is false. Please do not listen to this advice. Please do your research carefully in advance and good luck. I'm not saying you are going to be denied, but for the love of God don't hesitate to pursue the issue in advance because people on the internet think it shouldn't be a problem.

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Other25BeforeYou
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby Other25BeforeYou » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:18 pm

According to a pamphlet I was given about the New York State bar character and fitness, it is only necessary to disclose mental health issues that "impairs the applicant's current ability to practice law." Disclosure of prior treatment is not required. I know that's pretty non-specific, but that's what it says.

The pamphlet then goes on to urge people to get treatment. As long as you have been treated and have your issues under control (which I'm aware is a very vague and subjective requirement) you should be fine, at least in New York.

Miracle
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby Miracle » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:37 pm

I think they are more concerned with current issues that you might have. Also, I think when they say your mental health records they are looking for someone that has been diagnosed with schizophrenia or something of that nature. If you were diagnosed with schizophrenia you will continue to be schizophrenic. It’s not going to change, which will create problems when it comes to practicing law.
For example, I doubt having an OCD will hurt you ability to practice law which leads me to think it will not be looked down upon.

ScaredWorkedBored
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby ScaredWorkedBored » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:40 pm

Bipolar is classed with the other serious ones because it can materially impact your ability to represent your client. Mania/deep depression + filing deadline = bad.

If you think you were misdiagnosed in the first place, I don't see why you wouldn't want to see the psychiatrist to get a clean bill of health. Alternatively, if you do need the meds because you are bipolar, well, I have a hard time saying the bar shouldn't care about that.

Miracle
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby Miracle » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:44 pm

ScaredWorkedBored wrote:Bipolar is classed with the other serious ones because it can materially impact your ability to represent your client. Mania/deep depression + filing deadline = bad.

If you think you were misdiagnosed in the first place, I don't see why you wouldn't want to see the psychiatrist to get a clean bill of health. Alternatively, if you do need the meds because you are bipolar, well, I have a hard time saying the bar shouldn't care about that.


I highly doubt he can go back and be re-diagnosed.

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lawlover829
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby lawlover829 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:45 pm

ScaredWorkedBored wrote:Bipolar is classed with the other serious ones because it can materially impact your ability to represent your client. Mania/deep depression + filing deadline = bad.

If you think you were misdiagnosed in the first place, I don't see why you wouldn't want to see the psychiatrist to get a clean bill of health. Alternatively, if you do need the meds because you are bipolar, well, I have a hard time saying the bar shouldn't care about that.


I coul see this.

ScaredWorkedBored
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby ScaredWorkedBored » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:46 pm

Miracle wrote:I highly doubt he can go back and be re-diagnosed.


Read the OP. He's specifically nervous about seeing a psychiatrist again to get his meds renewed.

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teaadntoast
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby teaadntoast » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:53 pm

Miracle wrote: I highly doubt he can go back and be re-diagnosed.


It's relatively common for various mood and personality disorders to be misdiagnosed, particularly if the individual assigning the label isn't a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

OP, if you think you may have been misdiagnosed and/or want to discontinue your medication bring it up with your psychiatrist and discuss. For your own sake, though, don't disregard his or her opinion if it's not what you want to hear.

Keep in mind that the damage you can do to your academic and personal record during an unmanaged episode of mania will do far more to hurt your chances of being admitted to a state bar than the fact that you happen to have been given a particular diagnosis.

Another thing to remember is that attitudes towards mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, have changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Most people are aware that all can be effectively treated and kept under control with medication. Unless you've shown yourself to be incapable of functioning effectively despite receiving treatment or have a history of irresponsible behavior it would be difficult to disqualify you from practicing law based on a page from the DSM.
Last edited by teaadntoast on Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Miracle
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby Miracle » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:58 pm

ScaredWorkedBored wrote:
Miracle wrote:I highly doubt he can go back and be re-diagnosed.


Read the OP. He's specifically nervous about seeing a psychiatrist again to get his meds renewed.


I understand what you’re trying to say however I don't think it’s up to him. What I'm trying to say is that I don't think he can go back and say, well I don't have bi-polar anymore...it's anxiety, just because he's scared of the bar. If he exhibits bi-polar symptoms, I highly doubt the psychiatrist will say, well I’ll just diagnose you with anxiety because being diagnosed with an anxiety will create less of a problem for you at the bar than being diagnosed with a bi-polar would. It just doesn’t work like that!

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teaadntoast
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby teaadntoast » Tue Oct 06, 2009 5:04 pm

anonlstudentt wrote: I am worried because it seems like all the character and fitness questionnaires put bipolar in the same category as serious stuff like schizophrenia, so I am wondering whether: 1. I should see about getting rediagnosed as something other than bipolar (i.e. just anxiety), and 2. Whether going off the medication would be an important/essential thing to do in order to avoid any problems on the character and fitness section of the bar.


Bipolar is regarded as a serious illness because it is. It's not untreatable and plenty of people with the diagnosis are productive, happy, healthy, kind, friendly, etc., but it's not something to be taken lightly and can, for lack of a better term, seriously fuck you up if left undiagnosed.

Again, it's a lot easier to explain that you manage your illness with medication than it is to rationalize an arrest, job loss, nose-diving GPA or decimated credit - all of which tend to show up in conjunction with unmanaged mania.
Last edited by teaadntoast on Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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mikeytwoshoes
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby mikeytwoshoes » Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:38 pm

Mental Health is a disability issue. ABA, you know, the folks who run the C&F, have a commission on mental and physical disabilities. http://www.abanet.org/disability/lawschools/

If your state bar ass'n tries to give you any crap, they'll help you. They even have an email listserv you can join. Also, they'll set you up with a mentor who has your disability.

See also, the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities: --LinkRemoved--

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Other25BeforeYou
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby Other25BeforeYou » Wed Oct 07, 2009 7:46 am

Miracle wrote:
ScaredWorkedBored wrote:
Miracle wrote:I highly doubt he can go back and be re-diagnosed.


Read the OP. He's specifically nervous about seeing a psychiatrist again to get his meds renewed.


I understand what you’re trying to say however I don't think it’s up to him. What I'm trying to say is that I don't think he can go back and say, well I don't have bi-polar anymore...it's anxiety, just because he's scared of the bar. If he exhibits bi-polar symptoms, I highly doubt the psychiatrist will say, well I’ll just diagnose you with anxiety because being diagnosed with an anxiety will create less of a problem for you at the bar than being diagnosed with a bi-polar would. It just doesn’t work like that!

OP thinks he was misdiagnosed in the first place, though. Misdiagnosis is really really common, particularly when patients are in crisis mood and doctor's need something to explain the course of medication they're putting the patient on. Bipolar in particularly is frequently misdiagnosed these days, because it seems like the concepts and defining characteristics of mania are ever-changing.

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reasonable_man
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Oct 07, 2009 8:18 am

OP:

I've gone through the C&F in NY. They scrutinize certain things pretty closely, one of which is mental competancy.

My advice to you is to first speak with someone at the administration of your law school. You are not the first to have this problem and they may be able to offer you some guidance. Next step would be to contact the individual bar examiners for the particular state you are looking at. (In NY, unlike the other jurisdictions you noted, the bar examiners are grouped by geographic locattion. If you're thinking of living around the Albany region, contact the 3rd Dept, in Brooklyn queens staten island or long island, contact the 2nd dept and in westchester, Manhattan or the bronx, contract the 1st dept). Ask to speak with someone that handles C&F. Explain your situation. They will likely refer you to someone worth discussing this with.

The next step (and I think you should probably do this) might be to consult a professional ethics attorney. For this, you can look yourself, or perhaps contact the local bar association of the NYSBA for where you may want to practice. An attorney that practices regularly in this area will likely be best situated to assist you at this juncture.

Don't run to get re-diagnosed without knowing what the best course of action will be. You need to be careful and do this right.

Best of luck to you. I hope all goes well.

RM

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kn6542
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby kn6542 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 9:48 am

Miracle wrote:
I highly doubt he can go back and be re-diagnosed.

Psychiatric diagnoses can and will change rather often. It's not exactly a hard science.

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Matthies
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby Matthies » Wed Oct 07, 2009 9:49 am

I agree with RM’s advice completely. I just went through the C&F for Colorado and had to list generalized anxiety as my diagnosis. At least here they don’t ask for your medical records or antyhting like that. You just list your diagnosis, if you think it will impact you in anyway and then get a letter from your shrink.

I went to the school shrink every 6 months to get my meds checked. She had dealt with other law students and knew what to write in the letter: basically my diagnosis, that I have been taking my meds, that everything seems fine, that I am proactive about addressing my issues and she saw no reason why it would impact my ability to practice law.

So far that’s been enough for them. But don’t go off your meds, bad, bad idea to self diagnose yourself and if you have en espisode becuase you went off your meds that could be much worse for you. Go see someone at your school who has dealt with this stuff before and go from there. My general sense, as with all things CF on the bar is that they don;'t care so much what you did or have, so long as you tell them about it and they can tell your adressing it.

anonlstudentt
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby anonlstudentt » Wed Oct 07, 2009 10:47 am

Hi guys,

Thank you for all your advice (and please keep it coming!). I called and spoke with someone from the Massachusetts clerk's office. She said that the MA Bar Exam no longer asks for mental health or medical records of any kind, except if it was related to a criminal or civil suit or disciplinary matter. She gave me this link to the most recent version of the application: http://www.sjccountyclerk.com/pdf/FEBRU ... CATION.pdf. She also said that simply being on medication or receiving counseling would not be something I would need to disclose or that they would be concerned about unless it was related to some kind of lawsuit or disciplinary problem.

This makes me feel a little more relieved. I also called our ethics person at health services here, and will see if he/she has any advice. I will plan on going to my health services appointment and trying to figure out a solution that minimizes any potential problems on my record, while making sure I don't end up having a ton of anxiety.

Thank you for all the suggestions, and I appreciate any more input!

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reasonable_man
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Oct 07, 2009 11:00 am

anonlstudentt wrote:Hi guys,

Thank you for all your advice (and please keep it coming!). I called and spoke with someone from the Massachusetts clerk's office. She said that the MA Bar Exam no longer asks for mental health or medical records of any kind, except if it was related to a criminal or civil suit or disciplinary matter. She gave me this link to the most recent version of the application: http://www.sjccountyclerk.com/pdf/FEBRU ... CATION.pdf. She also said that simply being on medication or receiving counseling would not be something I would need to disclose or that they would be concerned about unless it was related to some kind of lawsuit or disciplinary problem.

This makes me feel a little more relieved. I also called our ethics person at health services here, and will see if he/she has any advice. I will plan on going to my health services appointment and trying to figure out a solution that minimizes any potential problems on my record, while making sure I don't end up having a ton of anxiety.

Thank you for all the suggestions, and I appreciate any more input!


Fuck the mass bar.. Its too expensive.. Take NY ;)

thegnb
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby thegnb » Sat Oct 09, 2010 8:55 pm

Unfortunately, it's terrible how secretive bar review committees are about the criteria for allowing a mentally ill applicant though the bar admissions process. When I was in law school (I quit and also needed some help after being stalked and winning a restraining order) there seemed to be some room for adjudication, but since the Indiana vs. Edwards decision about the mentally ill representing themsleves, even that seems to be out. (God bless Scalia and Thomas!) I suggest you take the New Mexico bar because it appears to let the applicant self-identify. You could be rediagnosed and wait out the five- or ten-year diagnosis time frame (depending on the jurisdiction) working for a judge or something where you don't have to take the bar. The South tends to have the least accepting attitudes about the mentally ill and the bar follows suit in that cultural context. New England will probably be the most accepting of some one with mental health issues.

It's incredibly unfair. In my case, my stalker that caused me so much anguish and mental illness that even a court decided he did something horrible will probably become a lawyer, and I do not get those opportunities. It just breaks my heart.

There is something to be said about the 14th Amendment's protections, however. I think decades from now when more and more people get mental illness (mental illness is on the rise statistically speaking), the court may find that the limitation to bipolar, schizophrenia, and PTSD that most bar admissions committees questions about are arbitrary and capricious because it does not include applicants who arementally ill and do no have psychiatric labels and also people who are mentally ill but do not have the specific psychiatric labels that the admissions committee selects to be dangerous, anti-social personality disorder for example. People need to be protected from them too.

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kalvano
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby kalvano » Sat Oct 09, 2010 10:18 pm

[quote="anonlstudentt"I haven't had any mental health counseling for about 3 years or any mental health problems or crises for at least 4 years, and the only thing I still do is take the medication. [/quote]


For what it's worth, the people here in Texas were only concerned with ongoing mental health issues that would impair your ability to function as an attorney.

emfall
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Re: Character and Fitness - Mental Health Question

Postby emfall » Mon Jun 13, 2011 4:57 pm

I don't understand why they should need access to you psychiatric files. That violates HIPPA. The ADA prohibits discrimination if a qualified applicant with a disability can perform a job with reasonable accomodations. I am sure this would apply to the bar as well. Obviously if you need a med change or have an episode you go to the hospital or go out on disability just like if you had a heart condition. I can't believe how 1800 some of these laws and policies are, part of one of the reasons I am thinking about law school. I am bipolar as well. If you take your meds and accept the diagnosis most people can't tell you are sick, but its up to you to control your stress.




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