The Vermont Bar Association’s 61st Midyear Meeting is set for this Thursday and Friday. Jennifer and Laura have a fantastic program in place. It includes seminars on:
- ESI and admitting electronically stored info into evidence; (TECH COMPETENCE!!)
- legal ethics;
- free speech in the workplace;
- DACA and other hot topics in immigration law;
- a primer on the new tax law;
- legal issues related to sexual harassment & the #metoo movement; and
- issues related to post-adoption contracts (PACA).
The meeting will also include several seminars on lawyer well-being, with Friday’s plenary session scheduled as the public introduction of the Vermont Commission on Well-Being in the Legal Profession. For more info on the VBA meeting, please click here.
Given the meeting’s focus on well-being and mindfulness, I thought I’d re-post some prior blogs on the topic. Here’s one that originally ran on Friday, March 2, as the introduction to the 108th #fiveforfriday legal ethics quiz.
Warning: today’s post isn’t as light-hearted as some of the #fiveforfriday intros.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. In 2015, SAMHSA conducted a national survey on drug use and health. The survey found that approximately 4% of Vermonters had experienced serious thoughts of suicide over the previous year. The Vermont results are here.
There are approximately 2,700 lawyers with active licenses in Vermont. If lawyers suffer at the same rate as other Vermonters, 108 Vermont lawyers have had serious thoughts of suicide over the past year.
Okay, I know the math might not be accurate. However, consider the following:
In 2016, the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic released a study on lawyers’ behavioral health. The ABA announced the study’s results here.
Per the announcement, the study revealed “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.” In addition, the study “determined that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a far higher rate than other professional populations, as well as mental health distress that is more significant.”
So, given that lawyers suffer at higher rates than other professionals, 4% might not be too far off.
Fact: in the past 3.5 years, 5 Vermont attorneys have committed suicide.
Fact: 2 of those 5 took their lives in 2018.
Fact: since September 2016, as many lawyers have had their licenses transferred to disability inactive status due to mental health or substance abuse issues as did in the previous 16 years.
There’s a problem.
Fortunately, the profession has started to address it.
In response to the ABA/Hazelden Study, three groups spurred creation of a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. The groups:
Last summer, the National Task Force published “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.” The report makes a series of recommendations to the legal profession’s various stakeholders and urges state supreme courts to form committees to review the recommendations.
On January 2, 2018, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a charge & designation creating theVermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession. The Commission includes a representative from each of the stakeholder group mentioned in the National Task Force’s Practical Recommendation for Positive Change. Each Commission member has formed a sub-committee to review the recommendations for that particular stakeholder group.
For example, I’m on the Commission as the representative from the “attorney regulators” stakeholder group. My sub-committee includes one representative from each of the following: the Professional Responsibility Board, the Board of Continuing Legal Education, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Character & Fitness Committee, and the Judicial Conduct Board. I also appointed a lawyer who has long represented lawyers and judges in professional conduct investigations and prosecutions. My sub-committee will review and report on recommendations that the Court’s various regulatory bodies ensure that lawyer health & wellness is prioritized throughout the licensing/regulatory scheme.
The Commission’s work will be the subject of the plenary session at the Vermont Bar Association’s upcoming midwinter meeting. For more information, including how to register, please visit this site.
As I’ve blogged, the report from the National Task Force is a call to action. In my view, we have duty to keep this issue on the front burner.
Because 108. That number is far too high.
Other posts on this topic: