Mental health questions removed from the Michigan Bar Exam application

Mental health questions removed from the Michigan Bar Exam application

February 2021 Michigan bar applicants will not see a question asking about mental health on their Michigan Bar Exam application. This comes from an order issued by the Michigan Supreme Court in March 2020.

In this post, we cover the order and what this means for those submitting a Michigan Bar Exam application.

Mental health questions removed from the Michigan Bar Exam application

This order came about because the Michigan Supreme Court asked for public comment on this issue.

The order outlining the question change is dated March 2020 from the Michigan Supreme Court. It states that the following two questions will be removed from February 2021 Michigan Bar Exam applications:

  • “Have you ever had, been treated or counseled for, or refused treatment or counseling for, a mental, emotional, or nervous condition which permanently, presently or chronically impairs or distorts your judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to cope with ordinary demands of life? If yes, provide the names and addresses of all involved agencies, institutions, physicians or psychologists or other health care providers and describe the underlying circumstances or the diagnosis, treatment or hospitalization.”
  • “Have you ever had, been treated or counseled for, or refused treatment or counseling for, a mental, emotional, or nervous condition which permanently, presently or chronically impairs your ability to exercise such responsibilities as being candid and truthful, handling funds, meeting deadlines, or otherwise representing the interest of others?”

Thus, in place of the above two questions will be the following question:

  • “Within the past five years, have you exhibited any conduct or behavior that could call into question your ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner?”

And, the order says the above question comes from the National Conference of Bar Examiners model questions.

Other opinions in the order

The order includes multiple concurring and dissenting opinions. Thus, the justices’ decision was somewhat divided.

First off, Chief Justice McCormack’s concurring opinion sheds some light on the reasoning behind the decision to change these questions:

  • “By focusing the Board’s inquiry on an applicant’s conduct, rather than using an applicant’s status or diagnosis as a proxy for behavior, we hope aspiring attorneys will recognize that mental health issues are not professional disqualifications. After all, there is broad agreement that applicants (as well as licensed attorneys) should be encouraged to seek treatment and counseling for mental health issues. The change we make today will allow applicants to do so without fear that their decision will subject them to increased scrutiny during the admission process.”

Justice Zahra’s dissent mentions professions (e.g., doctor, pilot, police offer) and responsibilities (e.g., becoming a foster parent, carrying a concealed weapon) requiring mental health disclosure. Justice Zahra comments:

  • “By eliminating pertinent questions that delve into the current state of an applicant’s mental health, it has substantially impaired the ability of the BLE to accomplish its primary goal of protecting the public. . . . [T]he BLE has now been instructed by this Court to prioritize the needs of the applicant over the need to protect the public.”

Finally, Justice Zahra makes other points and concludes that the questions should have been kept as is.

What does this mean for applicants? 

Applicants will no longer have to answer these personal questions about mental health. This should ease some stress for those who would have had to answer “yes” to the previous questions. Those applicants will feel more comfortable filling out their Michigan Bar Exam application.

The new question seems very open-ended, as Justice Zahra points out. Applicants will have to use their best judgment in answering truthfully to this question. Applicants should keep in mind that they will undergo a strict background check. So, there is nothing that you can hide!

Final thoughts

If you are applying to a 2020 bar exam, this post does not affect you. But, if you are applying for the Michigan Bar Exam in February 2021, this is something to look out for!

If you are looking for guidance on the Michigan Bar Exam Application, our How to Pass the Michigan Bar Exam book includes an entire section on the application! And, here are some tips for the day of the Michigan Bar Exam—bookmark this page for exam day!

And, here are our top five FREE Michigan Bar Exam resources.

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