A quarter of law students suffer from anxiety.
One in five lawyers are problematic drinkers.
Nearly half of all lawyers have experienced depression at some point during their careers.
Recent research presents a dire picture of mental health and substance abuse issues in every corner of the legal profession, and a proposal under consideration by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates makes the case that it’s time for all the industry’s stakeholders to take action.
That resolution, which is scheduled to be voted on by delegates on Monday at the ABA’s midyear meeting in Vancouver, calls on law firms, law schools, federal, state and local jurisdictions, as well as bar associations, lawyer regulatory entities and other legal employers to consider a myriad recommendations made last year by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.
Among those recommendations:
- Lawyer regulatory entities should communicate that lawyer well-being is a priority, adopt diversion programs, re-evaluate inquiries about mental health in the bar admissions process.
- Law firms and legal employers should form lawyer well-being committees and monitor attorneys for signs of work addiction and poor self-care.
- Law schools should discourage alcohol-centered social events, bring professional counselors to campus, adopt a uniform attendance policy to detect early signs of students in crisis, provide well-being programming during the first year.
- Bar associations should sponsor continuing legal education programs centered on well-being, launch well-being committees and train staff to be aware of lawyer assistance programs.
“The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being has identified the solutions. It is time for the full range of stakeholders to step up and to consider the recommendations,” reads the report submitted with the resolution, which is being jointly sponsored by the ABA’s Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the Standing Committee on Professionalism and the National Organization of Bar Counsel.
“We respectfully ask that the American Bar Association provide its leadership to further advance the path to well-being and assure a system that deserves full and complete confidence.
The task force’s report, released in October, was the next step following a landmark 2016 study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation that identified high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues among the nation’s lawyers. A similar study of law student well-being conducted by a coalition of ABA and other groups identified high rates of drinking and anxiety among law students. More than one in six of the 18 percent of respondents with depression reported being diagnosed while in law school.
Representatives from various groups then formed the task force to develop next steps. “These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence,” reads its report. “This research suggests that the current state of lawyers’ health cannot support a profession dedicated to client service and dependent on the public trust.”