Changes aim to focus on conduct rather than medical history, encouraging prospective lawyers to seek treatment for mental health and addiction issues.
Morristown, NJ – In a significant policy shift, the New Jersey Supreme Court has revised the Character and Fitness questionnaire for Bar applicants, focusing the inquiry more on an applicant's conduct and behavior rather than their mental health treatment or diagnosis.
Previously, the questionnaire had asked probing questions about an applicant’s mental health history and treatment. As of October 1, when applications for the next Bar exam open, the questions will shift to evaluating a candidate's past conduct and behavior. The Court has also provided exemptions for applicants being effectively treated for mental health conditions or addictions.
Who is Affected?
The changes apply to all individuals applying for the New Jersey Bar examination, beginning with the applications that open on October 1.
Why Make the Change?
According to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, "These revisions encourage Bar candidates to take positive steps to treat their mental health and addiction issues," thereby enabling them to become better lawyers who can effectively serve the public.
What Needs to Be Disclosed?
While applicants are exempt from disclosing conduct related to treated mental health or addiction issues, they are required to disclose the use of any such condition as a defense or mitigation in any investigation or legal proceedings.
The newly framed question on the Character and Fitness questionnaire is designed to be more explicit about the nature of the inquiry. It encourages candidates to seek treatment if needed, with an additional question asking whether candidates have used any condition as a defense in legal or administrative proceedings.
The revised questions will be effective as of October 1, corresponding with the opening of applications for the next Bar examination.
This move by the New Jersey Supreme Court reflects a growing awareness of the importance of mental health in the legal profession. It also signifies a shift towards creating a more inclusive environment that allows individuals to seek necessary treatment without the fear of professional repercussions.