“The benefits of increased lawyer well-being are compelling and the costs of lawyer impairment are too great to ignore. There has never been a better or more important time for all sectors of the profession to get serious about the substance use and mental health of ourselves and those around us.”
- National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being, Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, p. 10.
I’ve blogged often on the alarming number of lawyers who struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders. My most recent post on the topic was one month ago today: Lawyers Helping Lawyers: Keep it on the Front Burner.
Monday, the National Task Force On Lawyer Well-Being released its report The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. The report puts the issue of lawyer well-being on the front burner in each of our kitchens.
And it turns up the heat.
Here’s an excerpt from the Task Force’s introductory note:
- “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being. The two studies referenced above reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse. These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.”
Let me re-emphasize: “These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.“
The note goes on:
- “The legal profession is already struggling. Our profession confronts a dwindling market share as the public turns to more accessible, affordable alternative legal service providers. We are at a crossroads. To maintain public confidence in the profession, to meet the need for innovation in how we deliver legal services, to increase access to justice, and to reduce the level of toxicity that has allowed mental health and substance use disorders to fester among our colleagues, we have to act now. Change will require a wide-eyed and candid assessment of our members’ state of being, accompanied by a courageous commitment to re-envisioning what it means to live the life of a lawyer.”
Per the report, there are 3 reasons to improve attorney well-being:
- Good for business
- Good for clients
- The right thing to do
#3 should sound familiar to readers of this blog.
The report is 73 pages long and makes recommendations for judges, legal employers, law schools, bar associations, professional liability carriers, and lawyers assistance programs. Most relevant to this blog, the report makes recommendations for regulators. They begin on page 25 and, per the table of contents, can be summarized as follows:
- Take Actions to Meaningfully Communicate That Lawyer Well-Being is a Priority
- Adopt Regulatory Objectives That Prioritize Well-Being
- Modify the Rules of Professional Responsibility to Endorse Well-Being as Part of a Lawyer’s Basic Duty of Competence
- Expand Continuing Education Requirements to Include Well-Being Topics
- Require Law Schools to Create Well-Being Educations for Students as an Accreditation Requirement
- Adjust the Admissions Process to Support Law Student Well-Being
- Reevaluate Bar Application Inquiries About Mental Health History
- Adopt a Rule for Conditional Admission to Practice Law
- Publish Data Reflecting Low Rate of Denied Admissions Due to Mental Health Disorders and Substance Use
- Adjust Lawyer Regulations to Support Well-Being
- Implement Proactive Management-Based Programs That Include Lawyer Well-Being Components
- Adopt a Centralized Grievance Intake System to Promptly Identify Well-Being Concerns
I will do my part to review each recommendation for regulators with the appropriate body, whether the Professional Responsiblity Board, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Character & Fitness Committee, or the Continuing Legal Eduction Board. But, as I mentioned, the report makes recommendations for many other groups. Nearly each and every one of us fits into it at least one of those groups.
Turn up the heat on your front burner. The time to act is now.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.