California Moral Character Application & Law Student Mental Health

Mar 25, 2019 | Blog

Past arrests aren’t the only concern for law students completing their California moral character application. Many law students delay or avoid necessary mental health treatment because they’re afraid what may happen if they disclose it.

Yet, much like law students with a past who must determine the right amount of information to provide about previous activities, law students who received or are receiving mental health treatment must also make that same determination.

Podcast: Avoiding Mental Illness Out of Fear of the Moral Character Application with Margaret Hannon Katherine Silver Kelly

Can Fitness to Practice Really Be Determined on Mental Health Treatment?

Before we discuss what you should or shouldn’t disclose (and how you can get help completing your California moral character application), we want to answer this important question. Does the State of California really determine if someone is fit to practice law by considering their previous or current mental health treatment?

No. Mental health treatment on its own isn’t a reason California (or most other jurisdictions) will deny admission. What the process is after is your honesty. Your therapist, doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist cannot provide your mental health treatment records to the examiners. It’s your responsibility to know what you should and shouldn’t say about it.

Should You Say Anything at All?

Since the doctor-patient privilege is in place, should you say anything at all during the California moral character application process? Consider the future. What happens if, in the future, you’re comfortable enough to say something about mental health treatment you participated in during law school. On one hand, it’s great that you’re being open and honest. More law students should take the necessary steps to take care of themselves.

Related: 8 Incredibly Useful Attorney Mental Health Tips

However, we must look at the other side of the coin. Bar examiners can pull a copy of your California moral character application at any time to see if you disclosed that information. Remember, they’re after honesty. And if you’re not honest, the California Bar may attempt to revoke your license to practice or seek to disbar you.

Related: Facing Disbarment in California? Tips from

What Should You Disclose about Mental Health Treatment?

Now that you know what could happen in the future, let’s come back to the present. What should you disclose about mental health treatment while you’re a law student? Believe it or not, this isn’t a question you should grapple with on your own. Before you disclose anything about your mental health, including diagnosis, previous treatment, or current treatment, talk to someone at your law school who can help you. Get some help framing the question to learn what you should and shouldn’t disclose.

Do not face the California moral character application alone if you had previous mental health treatment or if you’re currently receiving mental health treatment. Getting assistance from your law school or even from an ethics defense lawyer who understands the process can help take a lot of the stress off of your plate.