The Legal Profession’s Mental Health Issue is a Suppressed Epidemic

Lawyers drinking shots with one man looking disturbed
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One of the most time-worn quotes in describing the law school experience, is the law school dean telling incoming fist-year law students, “Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.” For me, it involved treating law school like a full time job, which included spending most Saturday nights in front of my books and a computer listening to Saturday Night with the 70’s on the radio, and knowing that my classmates were doing the same thing. When we did get together, it usually involved turning our minds off and having a couple of beers. After law school, I got a job that had 2,000 billable hours and weekend and night “face time” as an expectation – but, of course, not a requirement.

As a new lawyer, the emphasis is to focus on career development, and the life tenet of “Work Hard, Play Hard” is taken to heart. A balanced life is only considered for later in life, and wellness is not good for advancement to partner. Twenty years later, balance is not achieved, and anxiety as well as management of that anxiety is a way of life.

I am not alone.

A February 2016 report funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, showed that 61% of lawyers reported anxiety in their careers. Out of the approximately 13,000 lawyers across the United States surveyman with head on bar with cigarette and whiskey glassed, lawyers reported having anxiety in their career 61.1%, followed by depression (45.7%), social anxiety (16.1%), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (12.5%), panic disorder (8.0%), and bipolar disorder (2.4%). In addition, 11.5% of the participants reported suicidal thoughts at some point during their career, 2.9% reported self-injurious behaviors, and 0.7% reported at least 1 prior suicide attempt.

However, in Florida, and elsewhere in the country, mental health issues affect young lawyers disproportionately. In 2014, the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of Florida did a membership survey that revealed 63% of respondents have difficulty with balancing work and family, and 39% endure high stress. Following the suicide of a Tampa lawyer who drove to the top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and jumped off the bridge, the YLD bar began a “Health and Wellness Month” in May 2015 to start a conversation on health and wellness. In doing so, the YLD stated:

Most importantly, this conversation must endure beyond the month of May. We, as a profession, must continue to pursue wellness for ourselves so that we can be strong advocates for our clients, and work to support our colleagues who may be struggling. Our clients are depending on it.

However, the solution by the YLD was to begin a conversation and a hashtag to the problem, which does not prevent alcoholism, anxiety, depression and drug abuse. For young lawyers, a balanced life is for later consideration, and wellness is not good for advancement to partner.

According to an April 2015 Article in the ABA Student Lawyer, Shedding the Stigma of Mental Illness, depression rates for persons entering law school are at 8-9%, and then the depression rate skyrockets to 27% after the first semester, 34% after two semesters, and 40% after three years.

The February 2016 ABA study demonstrated that lawyers have a rate of problem drinking that was more than three times higher than the general population, depression and anxiety rates twice that of the general population, and substance abuse and addiction substantially higher than the general population. Not surprisingly, the rates were significantly higher for those attorneys who are starting their careers:

Attorneys in the first 10 years of their practice now experiencing the highest rates of problematic [alcohol] use (28.9%), followed by attorneys practicing for 11 to 20 years (20.6%), and continuing to decrease slightly from 21 years or more. These percentages correspond with our findings regarding position within a law firm, with junior associates having the highest rates of problematic use, followed by senior associates, junior partners, and senior partners. This trend is further reinforced by the fact that of the respondents who stated that they believe their alcohol use has been a problem (23%), the majority (44%) indicated that the problem began within the first 15 years of practice, as opposed to those who indicated the problem started before law school (26.7%) or after more than 15 years in the profession (14.5%). Taken together, it is reasonable to surmise from these findings that being in the early stages of one’s legal career is strongly correlated with a high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

The results with regards to mental health disorders, the study determined that 61% of the attorney respondents reported concerns with anxiety at some point in their career and 46% reported concerns with depression. These Mental Health concerns often co-occur with alcohol use disorders.

As an Institution, the Legal Profession in Florida Stigmatizes Persons with Mental Health Disabilities.

The conclusion drawn by the February study was as follows:

Greater education aimed at prevention is also indicated, along with public awareness campaigns within the profession designed to overcome the pervasive stigma surrounding substance use disorders and mental health concerns.

Reducing stigma for mental health issues includes encouraging mental health treatment and counseling as well as promoting techniques for wellness for law students and young attorneys. While this is common sense, and would promote a healthier profession and reduce attrition of talented lawyers in the profession, the historical stigma regarding mental health prevents common sense to prevail.

Bottle and gavelMost notably, the mental health questions and evaluation provided to applicants to the Florida Bar exceed the rigor provided to those who wish to obtain an assault rifle in the State of Florida. In fact, disclosure of mental health treatment of diagnosis leads to a detailed and searching investigation into the applicants’ mental health records and evaluations from mental health professionals.

In Florida, to obtain a concealed weapons license, the behavior that would be related to weapon use would be analyzed, this includes conviction of certain crimes, including but not limited to: felony convictions, two DUIs in the last three years, a violent misdemeanor conviction in the last three years, evidence of substance abuse, dishonorable discharge from the armed forces, and evidence of domestic violence. To obtain a law license, the Florida Board of Bar Examiner does not review unlawful or unethical behavior, but attempts to divine likelihood of behavior from a past history of a psychological condition.
According to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners (FBBE) website, it adopted the role of assessing the mental health of each applicant, as follows:

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners must assess effectively the mental health of each applicant. A lawyer’s untreated or uncontrolled mental disorder, if severe, could result in injury to the public. The board assures each applicant that the Supreme Court, on the board’s recommendation, regularly admits applicants with a history of both mental ill-health and treatment by mental health professionals. The board considers satisfactory mental health to include: (1) the current absence of an untreated, uncontrolled mental illness that impairs or limits an applicant’s ability to practice law in a competent and professional manner; and (2) the unlikelihood of a relapse of such a prior mental illness. With respect to either, evidence of treatment by a mental health professional is useful. The board encourages applicants to seek the assistance of mental health professionals, if needed.

Initially, the FBBE asks questions that focus on mental disability status, which deter aspiring attorneys from seeking treatment for mental health conditions. Students that have sought treatment and actively managed their conditions should not be subject to an invasive and humiliating mental health screening solely on the basis of prior diagnosis. Further, even when the FBBE receives mental health records, there is no evidence that a record of a mental health treatment or diagnosis has any effect whatsoever on the person’s success or failure to practice law.

Notwithstanding no evidence of any correlation between a past mental health history, or even current treatment, the FBBE has the authority to request that the Supreme Court of Florida allow a “conditional” admission to the Florida Bar and make the Florida Bar the overseer of the person’s psychological treatment. This includes as follows:

Consent Agreement

In a Consent Agreement, the board is authorized to recommend to the Supreme Court of Florida the admission of the applicant who has agreed to abide by specified terms and conditions on admission to The Florida Bar. The conditions will include:

  • consult with a licensed mental health provider at least quarterly, or more frequently as such mental health provider deems necessary;
  • follow all instructions by the mental health provider;
  • have the mental health provider submit quarterly reports to The Florida Bar during the entire probationary period;
  • have the mental health provider immediately notify The Florida Bar if the applicant misses a scheduled appointment without prior rescheduling; and,
  • have the mental health provider submit quarterly sworn statements to The Florida Bar during the entire probationary period attesting to the applicant’s compliance with the conditions.

Length of Conditional Admission

The board’s policy on the length of conditional admission in mental health cases is from 1 year to an indefinite period, depending on individual circumstances.

For example, many members of the bar with a history of treated mental illness have “conditional” admission and are required to have their mental health provider report to the bar every quarter, and they must pay $75.00 per quarter for that privilege. Those lawyers have difficulty in finding jobs because of their “conditional admission” status. This self-appointed duty to screen for mental illness has a more dramatic effect on law students. I have spoken to many law students that have refused to receive mental health treatment for fear of being required to submit mental health records or of being subjected to “conditional admission” by the bar.

In 2014, I had the opportunity to address the Florida Board of Bar Examiners regarding the relationship between the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the FBBE’s practice of inquiring into the nature and extent of a person’s mental history. In 2014, the Department of Justice entered a settlement with the Supreme Court of Louisiana prohibiting it from requesting information regarding whether an applicant to the bar suffers from a mental illness, except if the information was related to conduct that would otherwise disqualify the applicant from becoming a lawyer. Notwithstanding the Department of Justice’s settlement with Louisiana, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners continued to use mental health questions and evaluations to screen and disqualify potential applicants with disabilities from becoming members of the bar.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are not permitted to make any inquiry of a person’s mental health status prior to employment, and cannot make such inquiries after an offer is made unless the employer has objective evidence that an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition.

While this may seem Orwellian, this is the reality of what bar applicants face in the guise of protecting the public. The FBBE cannot state any correlation between their searching inquiry of the mental health of applicants or conditional admission of applicants, and the future professional behavior of lawyers. In addition, the rational provided by the FBBE for their searching inquiry is that lawyers receive so much sensitive information in their careers, that the FBBE has the right to search a prospective lawyer’s entire background. Doctors, accountants, teachers, and others who receive sensitive information are not subject to such inquiry.

Focusing on actual dangers and conduct rather than stereotypical views relating to persons with treated mental illness is the essence of the mandate of the ADA. The existence of mental health eligibility screening by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and the imposition of differing standards of admission to lawyers with a mental disability is discrimination without evidence of need and is unlawful. If the Florida Bar attempted to screen existing members of the Bar for mental illness or treatment for mental illness, the ranks of the Bar would be decimated. However, the issue that is more of a threat are those persons who do suffer from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction and do not receive assistance.

SOLUTION

Instead of stigmatizing mental illness, we must work to ensure that lawyers and law students have access to mental health treatment as well as wellness programs to find methods in which to control depression and anxiety caused by the stressors that are part and parcel of our profession. Our Supreme Court must respond to the epidemic of mental illness by forming a committee with mental health professionals, lawyers who have mental disabilities, members of the bench, members of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and the Florida Bar Board of Governors to develop appropriate questions to ensure that the public is protected from persons who demonstrate behavior that pose a safety to the public, to end stigma against lawyers and applicants to the bar with a history of mental illness, and to encourage psychological wellness and treatment for mental illness.

 

Can Judges from the Florida Supreme Court get a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability?

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By: Matthew Dietz

Chief Justice Jorge Labraga

Chief Justice Jorge Labraga

On Monday, September 14th, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, 62, underwent successful surgery for kidney cancer at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Doctors had discovered the cancer in its early stages through routine blood tests earlier this year. They advised him to have the kidney removed. Justice Labarga was expected to be hospitalized for seven days. However, after surgery, Justice Labarga began working at his job remotely, with Barbara Pariente, another cancer survivor, serving as acting chief justice during any time he is incapacitated. According to the Court, “Doctors found no signs that the cancer had spread and predict a full and quick recovery for Florida’s 56th Chief Justice and its first of Hispanic descent.”

When Justice Barbara Pariente underwent her battle with breast cancer in 2003, she had a 14-hour double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. After choosing an aggressive treatment and chemotherapy, Justice Pariente continued to sit on the bench while she was undergoing her cancer treatment. She decided to bare her soul and her scalp from the bench when she decided that she was not going to hide the fact that she had cancer:

During Pariente’s liberating courtroom debut, sans wig, there was a Supreme Court ceremony to induct new members to The Florida Bar. In his speech, then Bar President Miles McGrane made references to heroes in the law Atticus Finch and Chesterfield Smith. And then with a nod to Justice Pariente, he said, “I am so honored and pleased that you are doing what you’re doing for your cause. You are a hero to me, and, I think, everyone here.” Clearly touched by his remarks, Pariente’s eyes glistened with tears as the spectators broke into applause.

According to Eleanor Hunter, executive director of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, Pariente never missed an oral argument throughout her cancer treatment. She also participated in all conferences, including one by telephone and one video conference. Hunter said: “The most remarkable thing to me is while she sat at chemotherapy, she took a briefcase of her work, reading over cases and briefs, with an IV dripping in her arm.”

Justice Barbara J. Pariente

Justice Barbara J. Pariente

Work was not even a question for either Justice Labarga or Justice Pariente. It was what each chose to do. Last month, the DIG newsletter contained an article about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new case with DIG client Gregorio Reyes, who was fired from his job while he was recovering from prostate cancer. In all pronouncements by the Supreme Court and the press, the fact that the Justices were returning to work, and that they were able to continue their jobs with a minimal accommodation, appears merely to be an afterthought. While it may be an afterthought for the Florida Supreme Court, it is not for most employers who view cancer and chemotherapy as a reason to question an employee’s ability to work during and after cancer treatment.

Even when the prognosis is excellent, like that of Justice Labarga, some employers expect that a person diagnosed with cancer will take long absences from work or be unable to focus on job duties. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects persons who currently have cancer, or have cancer that is in remission, because they are substantially limited in the major life activity of normal cell growth or would be so limited if cancer currently in remission was to recur. (See 29 C.F.R. §§1630.2(j)(3)(iii) and 1630.2(j) (1)(vii)). However, cancer is not identical for all persons, and the symptoms and side effects depend on many factors, including the primary site of the cancer, stage of the disease, age and health of the individual, and type of treatments. The most common symptoms and side effects of cancer and/or treatment are pain, fatigue, problems related to nutrition and weight management, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, low blood counts, memory and concentration loss, depression, and respiratory problems.

If an employee reveals that he or she has or had cancer, the employer may not ask any questions about the condition, unless: the employer reasonably believes that he or she will require an accommodation to perform the job, the employer observed performance problems, and the employer reasonably believes that the problems are related to a medical condition. In any event, any inquiry or discussions should remain confidential.

For a lawyer or a judge, the accommodations necessary to do the job are relatively simple. The accommodations include working (or even appearing at hearings) from remote locations, allowance of breaks, or a rest area during the day, and time off to go for treatment or to the doctor’s office.

There are other protections that may be available, such as Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, and some law firm or other state laws, which may provide medical leave for larger employers or governmental entities.

So, accommodations for a disability is readily achievable for any lawyer.

For more information, see

Questions & Answers about Cancer in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Cancer

Reasonable Accommodations for Attorneys with Disabilities, by Matthew W. Dietz

All of the history of Justice Pariente’s condition is from Jan Pudlow’s 2004 in the Florida article – Barbara J. Pariente, Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court
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ADA 25th Anniversary – The State of the Florida Bar and Courts

ADA signing ceremony
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By Matthew W. Dietz

And today, America welcomes into the mainstream of life all of our fellow citizens with disabilities. We embrace you for your abilities and for your disabilities, for our similarities and indeed for our differences, for your past courage and your future dreams. Last year, we celebrated a victory of international freedom. Even the strongest person couldn’t scale the Berlin Wall to gain the elusive promise of independence that lay just beyond. And so, together we rejoiced when that barrier fell.
… I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. God bless you all.

Remarks of President George Bush at the Signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990.
Last month, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed a proclamation honoring the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and designated July 2015 as a month of commemoration for the anniversary within Florida’s state courts system.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” Since 1990, many more persons with disabilities have entered into the legal profession, but equally as important, the Florida Bar has attempted to create an inclusive profession where more attorneys who have obtained a disability later in life or chose not to disclose their disability were able to stay in the profession and are able to obtain accommodations so as to focus on doing his or her job, rather than focusing on barriers that prevent such lawyers from doing their jobs.

In 2004, the Florida Bar recognized persons with disabilities as an element of diversity to be included in the definition of diversity and inclusiveness in the Florida Bar at the First Diversity Symposium. Then Bar President Miles McGrane was committed to increasing representation of and services to its members with disabilities in the Bar. From that symposium, the Bar, with the assistance of Disability Independence Group, engaged in a systematic process to survey and develop focus groups of lawyers with disabilities to identify all barriers – architectural, policy and attitudinal barriers – for persons with disabilities in the legal profession in Florida. Every Florida Bar president since President McGrane has renewed the Bar’s continuing dedication to the needs of lawyers with disabilities.
In his June 2006 passing of the gavel address, Chief Justice Lewis vowed to make architectural accessibility of the courts one of his top priorities and drew attention to this issue, declaring, “These artificial barriers must not be in place for Florida’s citizens.” This vow was carried out when each court facility was surveyed and a plan was developed to eliminate architectural barriers in our state courts. Thereafter, in 2010, the Florida Bar proposed, and the Supreme Court amended, Rule 2.540, Rules of Judicial Administration, to ensure that all participants of services of the courts receive accommodations to have an equal opportunity to participate in programs and services of the courts. This rule was precipitated by a lawyer with a hearing impairment who required an accommodation to represent his criminal defendants but could not receive an accommodation unless he paid for it himself. This rule transformed an ad hoc process to obtain accommodations into a specialized and formalized process to ensure that all participants with disabilities have full and equal participation in all programs and services of the court without additional cost or burden. Additionally, each court maintained and trained an ADA coordinator who would be able to address disability-related issues.
Further, the Court kept up with technological advancements. By 2009, electronic filing became the new rule. In 2012, e-fling was required to be ADA compliant, which means that persons who are visually impaired could have the same opportunities to read documents with screen reader programs on their computer as other lawyers. The Florida Supreme Court further found that a litigant with a visual impairment had the due process right to receive documents and information in a format that was accessible to that person.

First, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution grant the Petitioner a clear legal right of access to the courts. See Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 523, 529, 124 S. Ct. 1978, 158 L. Ed. 2d 820 (2004). Second, the Fourth District has an indisputable legal duty to provide accommodations to the Petitioner. …. The substantive merit or lack of merit in the Petitioner’s underlying claim does not determine the ADA analysis. The Fourth District has refused to provide the Petitioner with an accommodation as mandated by the ADA and the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration. Third, the Petitioner has no remedy available other than to petition this Court for relief. Consequently, the Petitioner has satisfied the requirements for mandamus and we grant the mandamus petition as it pertains to Braille formatted documents.

Gabriele v. State, 99 So. 3d 943 (Fla. 2012).
While the mandate of the ADA has been implemented, it still has far to go before its mission has been accomplished. As our Bar both grows and ages, we need to ensure that the tools are available to ensure that the environment is inclusive for lawyers with disabilities and all barriers are eliminated to a successful practice. Twenty five years after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, persons with disabilities still face barriers to the legal profession and the legal system. We still have a long way to go.
1. Mental Illness
In February of 2014, the Department of Justice entered a settlement with the Supreme Court of Louisiana prohibiting it from requesting information regarding whether an applicant to the bar suffers from a mental illness, except if the information was related to conduct that would otherwise disqualify the applicant from becoming a lawyer. Notwithstanding the Department of Justice’s settlement with Louisiana, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners continues to use mental health questions and evaluations to screen and disqualify potential applicants with disabilities from becoming members of the bar.
For example, many members of the bar with a history of treated mental illness have “conditional” admission and are required to have their mental health provider report to the bar every quarter, and they must pay $75.00 per quarter for that privilege. Those lawyers have difficulty in finding jobs because of their “conditional admission” status. This self-appointed duty to screen for mental illness has a more dramatic effect on law students. I have spoken to many law students that have refused to receive mental health treatment for fear of being required to submit seal of florida board of bar examiners mental health records or of being subjected to “conditional admission” by the bar.

While this may seem Orwellian, this is the reality of what bar applicants face in the guise of protecting the public. However, there is no established correlation between merely having a mental illness – without any unlawful conduct, and the ability to practice. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners continues to demand disclosure of mental health history and records and screens all applicants for mental health status that is acceptable to them. According to an April Article in the ABA Student Lawyer, Shedding the Stigma of Mental Illness, depression rates for persons entering law school are at eight to nine percent, and then the depression rate skyrockets to twenty-seven percent after the first semester, thirty-four percent after two semesters, and forty percent after three years. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, depression in lawyers is not often treated. Lawyers rank fifth in incidence of suicide by occupation, and one third of actively practicing lawyers suffer from depression, alcoholism, or both.
Focusing on actual dangers and conduct rather than stereotypical views relating to persons with treated mental illness is the essence of the mandate of the ADA. The existence of mental health eligibility screening by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and the imposition of differing standards of admission to lawyers with a mental disability is discrimination without evidence of need and is unlawful. If the Florida Bar attempted to screen existing members of the Bar for mental illness or treatment for mental illness, the ranks of the Bar would be decimated. However, the issue that is more of a threat are those persons who do suffer from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction and do not receive assistance.

Instead of stigmatizing mental illness, we must work to ensure that lawyers and law students have access to mental health treatment as well as wellness programs to find methods in which to control depression and anxiety caused by the stressors that are part and parcel of our profession. Our Supreme Court must respond to the epidemic of mental illness by forming a committee with mental health professionals, lawyers who have mental disabilities, members of the bench, members of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and the Florida Bar Board of Governors to develop appropriate questions to ensure that the public is protected from persons who demonstrate behavior that pose a safety to the public, to end stigma against lawyers and applicants to the bar with a history of mental illness, and to encourage psychological wellness and treatment for mental illness.

2. Ensuring that court accommodations are strictly administrative
Since the enactment of Rule 2.540, Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, there has been an unwritten exception to this rule, where the ADA coordinator, who is the administrator who provides accommodation, does not have the authority to control courtroom procedure. While the need for a sign language interpreter is not considered an alteration of courtroom procedure, appearing by telephone would be considered a change of courtroom procedure. For example, if a person is required, due to disability, to attend a court proceeding telephonically or videoconferencing, the attorney or party must file a written motion to the presiding judge as part of the case.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an accommodation does not need to be provided if it is a fundamental alteration in the nature of the court’s program or activity. This would include an issue which would deny a criminal defendant the Constitutional right to confront his or her accusers. This should not include appearing by telephone for motion calendar or for an evidentiary hearing, or moving to a more accessible courthouse.

Of course, the danger is that, once the issue of disability is raised in litigation, it becomes subject to argument and evidentiary proof and becomes a corollary and distracting issue in the case. While the bench should work with the ADA coordinator to ensure that the burden to a court is minimized, the nature or extent of a disability and the court accommodation needed should not be subject to the rigors of the adversary process.

3. Ensuring that Courthouses remain accessible for persons with disabilities.

picture of the dade county courthouse with a fence for construction
Crumbling courthouses have a greater effect on persons with disabilities than those who do not have disabilities. The Miami-Dade County Courthouse houses a total of forty-one judges and only twenty-three courtrooms with a total caseload of 192,000 cases, forcing delayed access to the judicial system. Judges have been forced to leave their chambers as mold is discovered growing behind walls causing an unprecedented amount of illness. Water intrusion has ruined court files and has made it necessary for employees to wear boots and masks when working on lower floors. The probate division in Miami moved to a different facility to avoid further carbon dioxide exposure.
While this has an effect on the timeliness of hearings for lawyers and litigants without disabilities, it creates untenable work situations for those with breathing difficulties, mobility disabilities and other disabilities who are not able to use court facilities.

4. Ensuring that all rules do not discriminate against persons with disabilities
When the Court ensured that electronic documents are accessible to persons with disabilities in Rule 2.526, Rules of Judicial Administration, it implemented a rule that required court documents to be in compliance with state and federal accessibility requirements. However, when reviewing all policies and procedures, the Bar and the covisual sign for interpreter in ASLurts should always be aware of the needs of lawyers and litigants with disabilities. For example, in March, the Supreme Court approved the amendments to the Florida Rules for Certification & Regulation of Spoken Language Court Interpreters. However, by limiting the rule to “Spoken Language” court interpreters, it allows courts to obtain sign language interpreters that are not certified.
Lack of qualified interpreters for the deaf community has been a long-standing problem for access to the courts for the deaf. Approximately twenty percent of my current caseload are claims by the deaf who cannot obtain interpreters for medical treatment, employment, or governmental services. Many lawyers also refuse to provide interpreters for prospective deaf clients. The one place where the lack of effective communication access should not be an issue is the courts. While there are currently very few certified interpreters that are qualified to interpret in a legal situation, the failure to require such a certification provides no incentive for interpreters to increase their skills to meet the needs of the deaf community and the courts.
Conclusion
Persons with disabilities should not be “inspiring” or be required to “overcome” their disability to be a member of the Florida Bar. No other population needs to proffer its superstars to become eligible to be a lawyer. The ADA’s intent was to open the door and create a level playing field so anyone who has the intellectual ability and required ethical standards to be able to practice law should be able to do so. As a profession, we need to examine our practice, our rules, and our profession to remove attitudinal barriers and accept each other as equals.

Settlement between the Law School Admission Council and the Department of Justice will set the Benchmark for testing accommodations

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On May 20, 2014, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with the administrators of the LSAT, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), for alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for denying disability accommodations for test-takers.   For the past twenty years, testing agencies, schools, and the Florida Bar have applied different standards prior to allowing or denying testing accommodations. As a result, the person would need to re-establish the fact that they have a disability and produce ever-shifting amounts of proof, sometimes from preschool, to establish a disability. (click here to read more)