The nation’s largest lawyer group on Monday formally declared that the profession should step up to help attorneys with mental health and substance abuse issues and improve overall well-being.
The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution urging law firms, law schools, bar associations, lawyer regulatory agencies and other legal employers to take concrete action to address the high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues. The House of Delegates met Monday in Vancouver on the last day of the ABA’s midyear meeting.
“I applaud the ABA for passing this,” said Patrick Krill, an attorney and founder of the law-focused substance abuse and mental health consulting firm Krill Strategies. “I’m encouraged that we’re moving in the right direction.”
The resolution calls on entities from every corner of the legal profession to consider the myriad recommendations set forth in a 2017 report by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which is a consortium of groups within and outside of the ABA. The task force grew out of several recent studies identifying serious mental health and substance abuse issues among lawyers and law students.
For example, a 2014 survey of law student well-being found that one quarter suffered from anxiety and 18 percent had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of the law students surveyed said they had gotten drunk at least once during the past 30 days.
A landmark 2016 study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that those problems don’t stop in law school. Fully one in five lawyers are problem drinkers and nearly half have experienced depression at some point during their careers, that study found. The report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being followed up on those studies with a slate of recommendations for different arms of the legal profession. For example, law schools should deemphasize alcohol at social events, have professional counselors on campus, and have attendance policies that help schools detect when students may be in crisis.
Law firms should form lawyer well-being committees and monitor attorneys for signs of work addiction and poor self-care, the task force recommended.
Lawyer regulatory entities should adopt diversion programs and rethink they way they collect information about mental health in the bar admissions process.
The ABA resolution is nonbinding, but it gives the lawyer well-being movement more credibility and legitimacy, said Krill, who co-authored the ABA-Hazelden study. That, in turn, may prompt law firms and other entities to move forward with their own initiatives and programs. “I think it will lead to action, but it’s really up to all the interested parties and leadership to get the word out and keep this on the front burner.”