In 2016, the ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation evaluated 12,825 practicing attorneys and revealed some troubling findings about attorney wellbeing. The study found:
- 28% experience symptoms of depression
- 19% experience symptoms of anxiety
- 23% experience symptoms of stress
- 21 to 36% experience problematic drinking
The study also found that lawyers younger than 30 years of age and those working in the field for less than 10 years reported problematic drinking in a significantly higher proportion than that of their older or more experienced colleagues.
The study concluded that lawyers experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations. Lawyers also experience a concerning amount of behavioral health problems.
The Importance of Improving Attorney Wellbeing
Since the study, the ABA issued a Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which asserts that “lawyer well-being issues can no longer be ignored” and calls upon everyone in the industry to reduce the level of toxicity, including the judiciary, regulators, legal employers & law firms, law schools, bar associations, professional liability carriers and more.
The report suggests three primary reasons to promote and change the culture:
- Humanitarian concern—Promoting well-being is simply the right thing to do. Untreated mental health and substance use disorders ruin lives and careers. The legal culture must be sustaining for the profession to survive. The profession can no longer choose to continue to ignore these problems.
- Organizational effectiveness—Organizations with healthy lawyers should experience higher retention rates, higher client satisfaction, more engaged employees and higher productivity.
- Ethical integrity—Impaired lawyers have the same responsibility under the Model Rules. There are no exceptions for those suffering from substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, the lawyer who suffers from an impairment may be unaware of, or in denial of, the fact that the impairment has affected his or her ability to represent clients. Nonetheless, a lawyer who is struggling with their wellbeing may unfortunately find complying with the Model Rules difficult. Moreover, the Model Rule preamble calls upon lawyers “to strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and legal profession and to exemplify the legal profession’s ideals of public service”. An unhealthy lawyer may have a very difficult time just getting through the day, let alone striving to reach these ideals.
Ways to Improve Attorney Wellbeing
The report outlines numerous suggestions for stakeholders to encourage and promote attorney wellbeing, such as demonstrating a personal commitment to wellbeing, de-emphasizing alcohol at social events and encouraging help-seeking behavior.
Further, the Mindfulness in Law Society promotes meditation and other tools to achieve wellbeing. The Society offers free guided meditations offered by the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Resource Center, and encourages present moment awareness to help to achieve mental and emotional wellbeing.
In addition to the many suggestions in the report, it is also important that attorneys have access to the health care they need. Through coverage from Lockton Affinity, attorneys can receive life and health products to help improve their wellbeing. These products were developed specifically with small law firm employees in mind and include Group Health, Group Disability, Dental, Vision and more.