I’m frequently contacted by students in law school that have accommodations for ADHD, learning disabilities, or psychological conditions. They are interested in trying to obtain California Bar Exam accommodations or First Year Law Students’ Exam accommodations.
Is it possible? The answer is yes, but it is much more difficult. The accommodations you had in law school will not just be accepted by the Bar; additional documentation and testing is required. This testing requires a specific format. It is key to go to a psychologist familiar with Bar Exam accommodations evaluations.
What Types of Disabilities are Eligible for California Bar Accommodations?
The exact evaluation you need and the form and supporting documentation you need to submit differs depending on what type of disability you are applying under. Here are the different disabilities under which you may apply for California Bar Exam and First Year Law Students’ Exam accommodations:
- Learning Disability
- Psychological Disability (depression, anxiety, PTSD, for example)
- Visual Disabilities
- Physical Disabilities
An overview of how to request accommodations is available at the California State Bar website. This page also gives you a checklist and lets you know that you need to submit to the Bar a verification form specific for your type of disability. You also need to apply well in advance of when you wish to take the exam.
What does the Evaluation I Need Look Like?
If you are applying under ADHD, psychological disability, or learning disability, you are going to need a comprehensive evaluation by a psychologist that is familiar with Bar Exam accommodations evaluations and filling out the necessary form.
What if your therapist or your MD wrote you a note stating your diagnosis and recommending accommodations? That will not qualify as sufficient evidence. The Bar is very specific that you need a detailed evaluation that addresses their criteria. For this reason, a doctor’s note or just submitting your old accommodations from school will not work. This is a much higher level of scrutiny than it was to get accommodations in school.
When I conduct Bar accommodations exams, they typically involve:
- A review of all prior accommodations and medical/ psychological records
- An extensive interview to learn how the disability is affecting you
- May include interviews with a parent or a living partner
- Objective psychological testing to determine symptoms such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and other possible mood issues
- IQ testing
- Academic testing if needed for the specific disability (e.g. reading, writing, math)
- Neuropsychological testing: tests of attention, speed of processing, learning and memory, executive functioning
How is a Determination of Accommodations Made?
The evaluating doctor needs to show:
- A disability is present
- How it functionally impairs you during testing
- In the case of ADHD and learning disabilities, that this disability was longstanding since childhood
The evaluating doctor then must make an argument for each accommodation requested for each section of the test, based on the diagnosis and the functional impairment. If the argument is not logical and cohesive, no accommodation will be granted.
This is all written in a comprehensive report I provide and submit to the Bar, along with the required form. The report is usually 10+ pages, as it needs to explain your history of impairment, current functional impairment, and explain all the testing results and recommendations for you.
You will also have to provide supporting documentation to the Bar, including your past accommodations for your disability and all medical records related to your disability.
What Types of California Bar Accommodations are Available?
The most common types of accommodations are extra time to complete portions of the test and ability to complete the test in a private or semi-private area. These accommodations are designed to help level the playing field for people with certain disabilities.
What if the Bar Denies my Accommodations Request?
This can happen due to having an evaluation by a doctor who was not familiar with Bar Exam accommodations requirements and did not make a sufficient case for the accommodations. This can also happen if you do not provide sufficient documentation on your end. It is very important to have all your ducks in a row, follow the Bar’s checklist, and have a complete submission. If you are denied, you can appeal. You can then make sure you have a complete application your second time around. One reason it is so important to apply well in advance is to allow buffer time for an appeal, should you need it.
The other possibility is that you may not have a qualifying condition for which to do an accommodations request. For example, if you actually have never been comprehensively evaluated for ADHD or a learning disability, your evaluation may show that you do not actually have it. If you do not have a qualifying condition, then your evaluator cannot write you a report with accommodations request. If you have an established history of a diagnosis and accommodations in the past, it is less likely that this may be the case.
What are the Steps to Getting Evaluated?
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment for an evaluation, please get in touch! I will generally email or talk with you briefly on the phone about your type of evaluation. These evaluations are not covered by insurance. They are an investment in your future and your success in your future career path. I’ve helped others obtain California Bar Exam accommodations when they have a qualifying disability, and I would be happy to help you too!