Character and Fitness Needs Data and Analysis
Partners Trisha Rich and David Elkanich spoke in front of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers about the character and fitness examination required before applicants are allowed to sit for the bar examination. In this article, Bloomberg Law summarizes the discussion highlighting Ms. Rich and Mr. Elkanich's point that there is no evidence demonstrating that character and fitness reviews actually keep any “bad apples” out of the practice of law.
Character and fitness reviews don’t “ensure that only ethical lawyers get through,” said Mr. Elkanich, nor that “only lawyers get through that won’t hurt consumers.” After all, he noted, “practicing lawyers,” who have passed those reviews, “are still investigated and disciplined for violations of the rules of professional conduct.” Furthermore, he noted, a recent American Bar Association (ABA) survey of law students indicated that a substantial number of respondents felt they could use some help from mental health or substance abuse services but believed they had a better chance of getting admitted if they hid their problems instead.
Ms. Rich opined that state supreme courts should reconsider including inquiries on bar applications about the existence of a mental health or substance abuse issues. “The mere existence of such an issue should not prevent an otherwise acceptable candidate from becoming a lawyer” and may even violate candidates’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said. “We need rule changes that prohibits denial based exclusively on mental health diagnoses and prior substantive use. A denial of admission should be based on conduct, not the existence of a mental health or substance abuse issue. The rules need to make this clear, and the committees need to enforce these rules consistently and fairly.”
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