Midyear Meeting 2008

ABA OKs Conditional Admission to Bar for Would-Be Lawyers with Addiction, Mental Problems

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The ABA has adopted a model rule that would grant conditional admission to the practice of law to applicants who have experienced chemical dependency or mental health conditions that otherwise would have rendered the applicants unfit to practice law. The rule would grant conditional admission to such applicants who demonstrate recent rehabilitation from chemical dependency or successful treatment for mental illness.

The measure was adopted early this afternoon by the 555-member House of Delegates at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles. It carried by a voice vote. The measure is advisory only; bar admission authorities in individual states must adopt it for it to take effect.

Commentary on Resolution 112 was revised over the weekend; this is the unrevised version (DOC). The revised commentary leaves to state bar admission authorities to determine whether the public would be made aware of the conditional nature of the admission.

Nineteen states and Puerto Rico already have adopted various versions of a conditional admission rule, according to a report to the House from the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the primary sponsor of the recommendation.

Robert Childers—chair of the commission and a state circuit court judge in Memphis, Tenn.—noted the growing stress many attorneys face. “In an 18-month period, we in Tennessee have had nine lawyer suicides. In Oklahoma, they have been averaging one lawyer suicide a month,” he said.

The measure is to be used only when bar admission authorities have a “concern about the ability [of an applicant] to sustain their recovery, given the stress of practice,” Childers said. The resolution recommends that conditional nature of the admission would be disclosed only to disciplinary authorities, not the public, he said. Lawyers would not have to tell clients they were admitted conditionally.

James F. Williams, a delegate from the Washington State Bar Association and partner at Seattle’s Perkins Coie, opposed the measure because of the lack of disclosure. “If our citizens knew its bar association withheld information, they wouldn’t be happy at all,” he said. “The practice of law is a privilege. Not everyone should be allowed to practice law.”

Michael S. Greco, a former ABA president and partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick and Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, countered that “when a family member or a friend falls ill, what do we do? We encourage treatment. That’s what anyone would do. So why don’t we do it for law students who are suffering in one way or another? At the moment that law student is on the horns of a dilemma. They are constrained from seeking help because they’ll have to disclose it [when they seek admission]. We could lose a lawyer who could be an outstanding member of our profession.”

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