Approaching Lawyer Well-Being
The Practice March/April 2020
Mental health in the legal profession has long been a problem—and yet ignored. Systemic change is necessary.
Capitalizing on Healthy Lawyers
The legal profession has known for decades that its members suffer from mental illness and addiction in staggering numbers. Yet firms largely have been unmoved by the moral case for change. As the practice of law has become more of a business, firms can and will make changes to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and improve profit margins. But what can be done to improve the well-being of firm lawyers?
Grappling with COVID-19
Lawyers across the country and world are jointly trying to grapple with the new normal as it is reestablished again and again and again. Encouragingly, many throughout the profession are proactively recognizing and emphasizing the importance of maintaining mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19.
It is Time to Normalize Mental Health Check-Ups
Mental health has become a significant topic of discussion and study for legal professionals as of late, and for good reason. Mental health has a critical impact on the general population—in 2018 alone, 47.6 million adults in the United States experienced symptoms that met criteria for a diagnosable mental illness. This equates to 19.1 percent of the population, or one in five adults.
Mental Health and Well-Being Resources
A set of resources that provide helpful information and instructions on maintaining mental health and wellness in the legal community. These resources are not exhaustive but rather meant to provide easy-to-use reference points.
In 2018, the ABA published a well-being toolkit for lawyers and legal employers that recommends measuring easily quantifiable data like attendance and other tangible forms of engagement but also measures satisfaction with the firm’s well-being initiatives, the extent of learning and skill building, and even behavioral changes resulting from the initiatives. It remains to be seen whether firms will find effective ways to assess their efforts.
Piecing It Together
What does “well-being” and “wellness" really mean? We step back to consider the concept of well-being and its component parts by speaking with Isaac Prilleltensky,Erwin and Barbara Mautner chair in community well-being at the University of Miami, and Ron Goetzel, senior scientist and director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Studies on Well-Being in the Profession
The 2016 ABA–Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study examined alcohol and drug use as well as depression, anxiety, and stress in the legal profession on the basis of a representative sample of 12,825 practicing lawyers. Noting the profession’s reputation for higher-than-average substance use and mental health issues, the authors note that “few studies have been undertaken to validate these beliefs empirically or statistically.”
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