BIPOLAR LAWYER: Let The Mentally Ill Practice Law

Melody Moezzi lawyer with bipolar disorder Melody Moezzi wrote ‘Haldol and Hyacinths,’ a book about living with bipolar disorder.

If attorney Melody Moezzi applied to be a lawyer this year, she might not have gained admission to the bar.

She has bipolar disorder, and many states ask would-be lawyers if they have that disorder when determining whether they’re morally fit to practice law.

While most people aren’t denied admisson solely because of a mental illness, some people are rejected for that reason, she writes in a New York Times op-ed.

Luckily, Moezzi passed before her full diagnosis. At the time, she only had “major depressive disorder,” which the state of Georgia’s questionnaire didn’t include. (They later added it). But many other qualified applicants don’t have the same luck.

Take Kathleen Flaherty, for instance. The Connecticut bar denied her in the mid-1990s. After a year of hearings about her mental health, Flaherty received conditional admission for nine years but had to provide a doctor’s report every other year.

The American Bar Association’s 2013 guide to admission says that any “emotional or mental instability” can prompt further inquiry. Recognising the potential harm to their careers, some attorney-hopefuls may forgo treatment.

And this is a group of people who have higher rates of mental illness. Lawyers are 1.33 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Well-known entertainment lawyer Terri Cheney spoke about her suicidal thoughts as a result of bipolar disorder on NPR’s Behind Closed Doors.

But mental illness in the legal industry may not always raise eyebrows. In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the governor of Connecticut appointed Flaherty to his advisory commission — specifically because of her experience with bipolar disorder.

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