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ABA report provides post-pandemic advice for lawyers

It’s lawyer well-being week, so make sure to take care of yourself

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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It’s not easy being a lawyer. Even though it’s a fulfilling profession, practicing law can be also be stressful. That’s why the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being established Lawyer Well-Being Week, and the goal is to ensure that lawyers focus on wellness and take steps to reduce their stress levels. This year it’s scheduled for May 3rd to the 7th and we happen to be in the midst of it as I write this article.

Unfortunately, according to the results of a recently released report from the ABA, many lawyers rarely take are of themselves as well as they should. The most recent edition of the report, “The ABA Profile of the Profession” was released last year and is full of lots of statistics that show just how stressed out lawyers can be.

The data in this Report is particularly relevant given the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on mental health. The difficulties encountered when working from home combined with the effects of social distancing have amplified the pressures that are unique to lawyering. And the resulting elevated stress levels often have disastrous effects.

For example, according to the Report, lawyers are susceptible to higher rates of depression, addiction, and suicide compared to the general population. The data from the Report shows that 21% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, which is more than three times the rate of the general population and nearly double the rate for other highly educated professionals. Also notable is that 28% of lawyers struggle with depression as well and 19% also have symptoms of anxiety. Given these statistics, it’s not surprising to learn that 11.5% have suicidal thoughts as well.

Lawyers with depression or addiction issues are also more likely to face disciplinary charges. This is because when lawyers suffer from the effects of addiction and/or mental illness, their struggle affects their ability to practice law effectively. That’s why the survey results showed 25% to 30% of lawyers facing disciplinary charges suffer from some type of addiction or mental illness.

Unfortunately, despite the high numbers of stressed-out lawyers, many law firms fail to provide attorneys with sufficient mental health resources and support. In fact, the results of the report indicate that only 16% of lawyers strongly agreed that their firms were very supportive of their mental health needs. Another 6% strongly agreed that their firms didn’t support them at all. And only 26% of lawyers surveyed reported that their firms provided information on 12-step programs or other mental health resources.

However, it’s important to note that legal employers aren’t entirely to blame for the lack of lawyer wellness. The failure of lawyers to prioritize their mental health and work-life balance are also contributing factors to their stress levels. For example, 38% of lawyers surveyed indicated they often work long hours, and 9% admitted that they “never stop working.” A full quarter of lawyers surveyed reported that they failed to take adequate breaks during during their workday, and 32% felt pressure to refrain from taking vacation time.

The bottom line: the legal profession needs to change how it addresses mental health. And what better time to commit to improving wellness than on the tails of Lawyer Well-Being Week? Now is the perfect time for legal employers to resolve to take steps to change cutthroat law firm culture and provide support and resources for attorneys. Similarly, lawyers should proactively prioritize their mental health and work toward a higher level of wellness. 

If you’re not sure where to start, the Monroe County Bar Association offers a number of different wellness resources, including several confidential programs to help attorneys in need. For example, there’s the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee, which provides a safe environment for legal or judicial professionals suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and for family members concerned about their loved ones. There’s also a stress & anxiety virtual support group that meets monthly on the first Tuesday of every month at  5 p.m. Confidential counseling is also available Through the Tree of Hope. Finally, the incoming MCBA president, attorney Bradley Kammholz, will be focusing on relationships and wellness during his tenure, so there will undoubtedly be more wellness opportunities in the year to come.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.