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Maine Bar changes application questions about mental health after a discrimination complaint

The University of Maine School of Law in Portland
Maine Law photo
The University of Maine School of Law in Portland

Applicants to the Maine Bar will no longer be asked about their history, diagnosis or treatment of mental health or substance use disorders following a disability discrimination complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The Department of Justice has previously ruled that similar questions in other states violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kristin Aiello represented a law student who brought the complaint after he chose to receive counseling and treatment while in law school. Aiello says her client didn't realize that when he applied to take the Maine Bar Exam, he would be required to disclose otherwise confidential medical information and be subject to a panel hearing before being sworn in as a member of the Bar.

"If these questions really kept the public safe and ferreted out those individuals who are not able to practice law, then there'd be an argument to keep them on, but there's just not," Aiello said.

Aiello said a mental health diagnosis does not correlate to inability to practice law. In addition, she said questions like these are a serious deterrent to people who need access to mental health and substance use treatment but are afraid to get that help.

Maine joins at least a dozen states that have taken similar action. As part of the settlement agreement, the Maine Board of Bar Examiners will also exempt cannabis from a question on the bar exam about illegal drug use now that cannabis is legal in Maine.