One of the resolutions expected for the New Year is the American Bar Association’s move to help law firms create policies supporting their lawyers’ mental health and well-being.

Promoting lawyer wellness in law firms is a key project for ABA President Hilarie Bass, who created a well-being working group in the wake of a 2016 study that showed the pervasiveness of substance abuse and mental health struggles in the legal profession, and a 2017 report that suggested how the legal profession must change to address the problem.

Bass requested earlier this year that the ABA board of governors create the Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession. The group—made up of members representing law firm management, professional liability carriers, and lawyer assistance and wellness professionals—will work to develop policies that law firms can use to help their lawyers with substance abuse and mental health problems.

The ABA’s House of Delegates will have the final say in the policy resolutions, which Bass hopes to have ready by the middle of 2018.

Hilarie Bass

“Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being,” said Bass, who is also co-president of Greenberg Traurig, in an email. “Too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress, high rates of depression and substance use. This is not compatible with a sustainable legal profession.”

Among the lawyers in the 11-member group are Dori Foster-Morales at Foster-Morales Sockel-Stone in Miami, Jonathan Beitner at Jenner & Block in Chicago and David Stark at Faegre Baker Daniels in Denver.

Law firm policies must do away with the stigma that lawyers face when they seek help, allowing them to come forward confidentially and without repercussions, Bass said.

“Law firms need to emphasize that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence and work to educate lawyers on well-being issues,” she said.

Perhaps there should be mandatory law school courses, followed by training for young associates, about the importance of well-being, she said. Mentoring programs should teach young lawyers how to address stress and try to stop struggling attorneys from feelings of isolation. Law firms also should discuss eliminating alcohol from their marketing events, according to Bass.

“No law firm wants lawyers with mental health or substance abuse issues. It not only hurts productivity but also destroys public trust, both essential factors in the success of a law firm,” Bass said. “I am confident that the working group, which includes law firm members, will develop common sense and useful recommendations that law firms will be happy to institute.”

 

Angela Morris is a freelance reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @AMorrisReports