The process of becoming an attorney is challenging but very rewarding for those who are able to graduate from law school and pass the Bar exam.  For students who have a learning disability, neurological condition, or mental health condition, that process can be even more daunting and stressful. 

Applicants are able to apply for academic accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The goal of this article is to answer the 9 most common questions applicants have regarding Bar exam accommodations.

1. How does the ADA apply to Bar Accommodations?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals are entitled to reasonable academic accommodations if they have a mental or physical disability.

According to the ADA, an individual with a disability is an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (such as seeing, hearing, learning, reading, concentrating, or thinking) or a major bodily function (such as the neurological, endocrine, or digestive system).

I highlighted “substantially limits” because this point is very important in determining whether an individual qualifies for reasonable accommodations.

“Substantially limits” doesn’t mean that an individual is unable to perform an activity.

The individual can still perform an activity but their performance needs to be compared to other individuals in the general population that don’t have that disorder or disability. Another important thing to consider is how long it takes the person to complete the activity.

A common misconception is that just because an individual has a learning disability, ADHD, neurological condition, or a mental health condition then that means that they are entitled to any accommodation that they request.

The important thing to note here is that individuals are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations are modifications to tasks or the environment so that an individual with a disability has an equal opportunity to fairly compete and participate in an academic program or job.

To put it simply, reasonable accommodations are changes that allow an individual with a disability to play on a level playing field with their peers and perform at their true potential.

2.  What disabilities are covered under the ADA for academic accommodations?

The ADA covers a wide variety of mental and physical disabilities for accommodations on the Bar exam.  The most common conditions include:

The State Bar of California provides instructions on how to request Bar exam accommodations.

They also have specific forms that have to be completed by the qualified professional that conducted your evaluation. They require different forms for various conditions.  There are links to the forms below:

The most common disabilities that we have conducted evaluations are ADHD, Dyslexia, and psychological conditions (e.g. Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, PTSD, etc.…).

3.  Is it difficult to get Bar Exam Accommodations?

Bar exam accommodations are granted because an individual has a disability that is causing them to experience substantial limitations in major life activities.  In the case of the Bar exam, the disability is preventing them from taking the exam in a standardized setting.

It’s up to the applicant to show objective evidence that their disability is substantially limiting a major life activity. In the case of the Bar exam, that activity would be reading, concentrating, thinking, and writing.

Compared to some other licensing tests, the California Bar Exam requires more documentation and evidence of how a disability is causing a substantial limitation.

It’s harder to get academic accommodations on the Bar exam if the evaluation does not thoroughly explain why the applicant has a disability, how that disability is impacting the applicant, and why accommodations would help the applicant.

A common problem that most applicants run into is that they meet with a psychologist that isn’t experienced in conducting evaluations for academic accommodations on licensing examinations such as the Bar exam.

Their report might include a diagnosis but doesn’t provide objective evidence of why an applicant needs accommodations and how accommodations will help level the playing field.

4.  Is it possible that I might not qualify for Bar Exam Accommodations?

I’ve been conducting evaluations for academic accommodations for several years and I haven’t had any applicants get denied for accommodations.  However, it’s possible for an applicant to not qualify for academic accommodations.

An applicant has to have a mental or physical disability in order to qualify for accommodations. In some cases, they might believe they have ADHD or dyslexia but the evaluation will show that they don’t have either condition and that their poor performance is due to test anxiety.  Test-taking anxiety wouldn’t qualify an applicant for academic accommodations.

If an applicant has a documented history of academic accommodations from another psychologist or mental health professional from graduate school, college, high school, or even earlier, then it’s easier to qualify for academic accommodations.

The evaluation process can be very time consuming and expensive.  Prior to scheduling an appointment, I’ll complete a phone consultation to determine if an applicant is a good candidate for qualifying for accommodations.

5.  Why was my request for academic accommodations denied?

I’ve done re-evaluations for several Bar exam applicants whose original applications were denied. There are several reasons why an accommodations request can be denied:

1.  The evaluator didn’t present clear and objective evidence that the applicant has a disability.

2.  The evaluator didn’t administer the appropriate psychological, neuropsychological, or academic tests to assess functional impairment caused by the applicant’s disability.

3.  The evaluator didn’t discuss how that disability substantially limits the applicant’s ability to take the Bar exam.

4.  The evaluator didn’t explain why the applicant needs reasonable accommodations and how reasonable accommodations will give them equal opportunity to fairly compete with their peers.

5.  The evaluator does not have the necessary training and experience to complete an evaluation using psychological tests (e.g. they are a medical doctor or therapist rather than a psychologist).

If your request was denied, you have the option of appealing that decision. It can take up to 60 days for the California State Bar to review your appeal.

It’s important to get your initial evaluation done as soon as possible to give yourself enough time to file an appeal if your original request is denied for any reason.

6. Do I really need an evaluation? My school granted me accommodations with a letter from my doctor.

If you want academic accommodations on the Bar exam, you must have an evaluation completed by a licensed psychologist using objective tests that assess the functional impairments caused by your disability.

The State Bar of California lists the specific requirements on its website for various conditions.

I’ll often meet with applicants who tried to get accommodations by having their medical doctor or therapist submit a letter or note requesting accommodations.  These requests always get denied.

In general, it’s easier to get academic accommodations with a simple letter or note for law school. However, every school has its own requirements and guidelines and most schools will likely require an evaluation.

Applicants often want to know why they need cognitive and academic testing completed if they have a psychological disability (e.g. depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, etc.…).

The purpose of academic and cognitive testing isn’t just to provide a diagnosis.  The goal is to objectively measure the impact of your symptoms on your cognitive and academic abilities in order to demonstrate a functional impairment.

In the case of depression or anxiety, an applicant will likely have difficulties with sustained attention and focus, processing speed, working memory, or reading and writing fluency.

Impairments in these areas can cause a functional disability because they will impact an applicant’s ability to work effectively under time constraints or in a room with distractions/ excess noise.

Testing can help quantify their level of impairment (e.g. mild, moderate, or severe) which can help justify why they need reasonable accommodations (e.g. extra time or a private room) to play on a level playing field as their peers.

7.  What tests do I have to take the day of the evaluation?

The specific tests that have to be administered vary depending on your disability and the accommodations you want on the Bar exam. The tests are designed to measure your strengths and weaknesses in various areas of cognitive and academic functioning. I’ll go over each of the tests and explain them in more detail the day of the evaluation.

Applicants hear the word “test” and immediately have anxiety. These tests aren’t graded or pass/ fail. The tests help identify your performance in various areas of cognitive and academic functioning relative to your peers.

Testing is an objective way to verify the impact of a disability on cognitive and academic performance so I can make recommendations for accommodations.

I’ve included two blog posts that go over the testing process for ADHD and Dyslexia.

 The evaluation process for accommodations on the Bar exam is the same as any other standardized test. I have a detailed blog post that goes over the testing process for accommodations on standardized tests.

Here is what the evaluation process looks like:

  • A comprehensive clinical interview to identify important psychological, medical, educational, and social background information as well as your current cognitive and psychological functioning.
  • Review of medical, psychological, and school records to have a better understanding of your psychological functioning and academic performance.
  • I’ll administer psychological and neuropsychological tests to evaluate the following:
    • General intellectual abilities
    • Educational achievement (Reading, writing, spelling, and math abilities)
    • Higher-level executive skills such as reasoning and problem solving
    • Attention and concentration
    • Language comprehension and communication
    • Visual-spatial skills and perception
    • Memory impairment
    • Motor and sensory skills
    • Mood and personality
    • Psychological diagnoses

After the evaluation, I’ll write a comprehensive 10-15-page report that integrates the test data, and explains your diagnosis, identifies the accommodations you need and explains why you need these accommodations on the California Bar Exam. I’ll also complete and sign any paperwork the State Bar of California requires to review your request for accommodations.

The types of accommodations vary depending on the disability. The State Bar of California lists the most common accommodations on their accommodations request form:

The two most common accommodations are a private/ semi-private room and/or extended time (either 50% or 100%). The types of accommodations that I’d recommend depending on the disability and the results of testing.

8. Do I need to have a history of academic accommodations in law school or college?

The State Bar of California likes to see a history of academic accommodations.  They even have a form you can fill and have your law school sign to show that you had accommodations in law school. There is no requirement that you have to have a history of accommodations in school in order to get accommodation on the Bar exam.

The State Bar of California wants to explain why an applicant with no history of accommodations is now asking for accommodations on the Bar exam.

There are a couple of reasons why an applicant might have no history of accommodations but would still qualify to have accommodations on the Bar exam. Here are the most common reasons why an applicant might not have a history of accommodations.

1.  Most applicants don’t know that they have the legal right to academic accommodations in law school or college.

2.  There is often a stigma associated with academic accommodations so many students are reluctant to apply for accommodations because they’re afraid of other students finding out that they have a disability.

3.  Their parents didn’t know that they might have a learning disability or other condition which would make them eligible for accommodations in elementary, middle, or high school.

4.  They’re very bright and were able to study and work hard throughout college and law school but due to their disability, the demands of the Bar examination are significantly more challenging than tests they’ve taken in the past.

In these situations, I’ll explain to the California State Bar why there is no history of academic accommodations and why the applicant is now seeking accommodations. I’ve had several applicants with no history of academic accommodations receive all of my recommended accommodations on the Bar exam.

9. Is the evaluation covered by insurance?

The most common question applicants ask is if they can use their insurance to pay for the evaluation. Insurance only covers evaluations that are “medically necessary”.

An evaluation to receive academic accommodations on the Bar exam isn’t considered “medically necessary” and insurance generally won’t cover the cost of the evaluation.  It’s important to contact your insurance company to verify coverage.

In some cases, if you have PPO insurance, you can submit a “superbill” to receive reimbursement for a portion of the evaluation. You’d have to pay for the evaluation then submit the “superbill” for reimbursement.  If an applicant would like to try to get reimbursed, I’ll create a “superbill” for them.

Conclusion

The Bar examination is considered to be the most difficult licensing examination in the country.  It’s challenging for applicants without disabilities and it can seem impossible to pass for applicants with disabilities.

Under the ADA, the State Bar of California is legally required to provide academic accommodations to applicants that have a qualifying diagnosis.

The State Bar of California also lists the process and requirements for accommodations on their website.

If you want academic accommodations on the Bar exam, you must have an evaluation completed by a licensed psychologist using objective tests that assess the functional impairments caused by your disability.

You can learn more about how we conduct ADHD and Learning Disability evaluations for academic accommodations here.

Do you have any questions?

Schedule your free 20 minute phone consultation today!

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