Questions of Discrimination


Updated video

Original video

The documentary "Questions of Discrimination" portrays national and state disability advocates discussing the impact these questions have on applicants and diversity in the legal profession.

No one should be forced to choose between the ability to practice law and their rights to privacy and to be free from discrimination.

Everyone who wants to be an attorney in Washington State has to answer two "character and fitness" questions that screen for mental health disabilities.

First, the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) currently requires all applicants to disclose if they have "experienced, been diagnosed with, or undergone treatment" for any mental health condition in the past five years, and speculate whether their mental health disability could impact the ability to practice law.

Second, all applicants are required to disclose if their "conduct or behavior" in the past two years would call into question their "fitness to practice law."  The definition of "fitness" includes the "absence of any current mental impairment."

If an applicant answers "yes" to either of these questions, they are required to fill out a form sharing private and protected health information.

WSBA has shown considerable leadership and has submitted a proposal removing these question from the bar application process. The Washington State Supreme Court needs to hear from you that this proposal should be passed! 

Summary of work: 

Milestone: June 10, 2016

The Washington State Supreme Court adopted the Character & Fitness amendments to APR 20-25.6 that we proposed. The amendments will be effective September 1, 2016. That means the Winter 2017 bar exam applicants will be the first in our state who no longer have to affirmatively answer questions about whether they sought treatment and therefore are fit to practice law.

Milestone: April 30, 2016

Comments were submitted to the Washington State Supreme Court by April 30th to ensure the passage of a suggested proposal eliminating the discriminatory questions.

Milestone: April 21, 2016

The American Bar Association (ABA) submitted a letter signed by ABA President Paulette Brown to the Washington State Supreme Court. This letter expresses ABA's support for the WSBA's suggested amendements to eliminate questions related to mental health history from Washington's character and fitness review of bar applicants.

Milestone: April 19, 2016

DRW submitted a letter urging the Washington State Supreme Court to adopt the proposal removing these questions from the bar application process. The letter was signed by Dean Clark of Seattle University School of Law, Dean Korn of Gonzaga University School of Law, fifteen firms or organizations, twenty-seven Washington State Bar Association Members, and forty-seven individual advocates.

Milestone: January 4, 2016

The Washington State Supreme Court is seeking public comment to the suggested amendments that remove questions about mental health treatment from the bar exam and instead focus on essential eligibility requirements. The comment period expires on April 30, 2016. To ensure the success of these amendments, it is critical that your voice is heard by the Court’s deadline. To learn more about submitting your own comments please view the comments already submitted and learn how you can provide your own comments here.

Milestone: January 23, 2015

The WSBA Board of Governors met to consider the workgroup proposal and reviewed public materials. On pages 79-84 of the public materials, a memo summarizes the workgroup’s efforts.  On page 112, is the proposed language regarding essential eligibility requirements in Admission to Practice Rule 20(e). Finally, on page 138, the bar application revises question 24 to focus on essential eligibility requirements and the deletion of question 25. The WSBA Board of Governors agreed to place this on its March 19, 2015, calendar. This means, barring an unforeseen issue, it is likely that the WSBA Board of Governors will agree to the proposal. The final step will be ultimate approval from the Washington State Supreme Court.

Milestone: September 9, 2014

Attorney General Bob Ferguson sends letter to the WSBA [PDF] encouraging the elimination of any requirements that may directly or indirectly discriminate against qualified individuals due to a physical or mental disability.

Milestone: July 30, 2014

WSBA convened a workgroup to begin looking into proposed revisions. After several months of meeting, the group reached consensus. They agreed that WSBA should not be asking questions of applicants who seek treatment. They also agreed that defining an applicant’s character and fitness based on health diagnosis is wrong. Instead, it was agreed that WSBA should consider essential eligibility requirements for all individuals who apply to become attorneys in our state. In early January 2015, the workgroup submitted our proposal to WSBA.

Milestone July 15, 2014

Washington State's law schools joined 89 signatories and asked the WSBA to change its application, on behalf of applicants with mental health disabilities. The ACLU wrote its own letter to the WSBA.

Milestone May 21, 2014

DRW releases video that questions bar discrimination. DRW’s video “Questions of Discrimination” criticizes the WSBA exam questions that single out applicants with mental health disabilities and ask for treatment records.