A Clarion Call for Attorney Wellness

by Doug Chartier

Mental health and substance abuse problems continue to burden the legal profession. But according to a new national report, everyone can be part of the solution.

A nationwide task force, with key input from Colorado’s legal community, last week published sweeping recommendations to promote well-ness in the practice of law. The 73-page report, “The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” lays out steps that judges, regulators, legal employers, law schools, bar associations, professional liability insurance carriers and lawyer assistance programs can each take to promote wellness in the practice of law. The report’s authors hope its suggestions will help shift the culture of law toward one that makes well-being a priority among practitioners.

“Although the legal profession has known for years that many of its students and practitioners are languishing, far too little has been done to address it,” according to the report. It cites statistics indicating that lawyers and law students are more likely to suffer from mental health issues and addictive behavior than the general population. The report seeks to address those problems with lists of recommended actions to “reduc(e) the level of toxicity in our profession.”

The report follows — and frequently references — a landmark 2016 study published by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which found that out of the nearly 13,000 practicing lawyers surveyed, up to 36 percent qualify as problem drinkers and approximately 28 percent suffer from depression. The subset of lawyers most vulnerable to having drinking problems and depression were young lawyers with fewer than 10 years of experience and those working in private firms, according to the study.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the August 21, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.