Starting the Conversation About Attorney Well-Being

As chair of the Law Practice Division’s new Attorney Well-Being Committee, I am grateful that Tom Bolt, chair of the LP Division, and the executive committee recognized the import of attorney health and well-being to law practice management.  The committee brought together many talented individuals who agreed to share their passion, knowledge and commitment to improve attorney well-being with and through the Law Practice Division. My co-vice-chairs, Anne Brafford and Kate Mangan, are perfect examples of the new faces and energy stepping forward to bring new ideas about how leadership encompasses the well-being of individuals working in our industry

The importance of making the health and well-being of attorneys a part of the discussion engaged by leaders is highlighted by the evidence.  For those working with law students and with young attorneys, it was evident that many individuals were not thriving.  Most of us sensed that the rates of stress, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse were high in our profession.  We now have confirmation that the rates of mental health and substance abuse issues are far higher than the general population.  Recently, a collaborative study between Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs confirmed our anecdotal observations.  This large-scale study demonstrates that problematic drinking behaviors are shown by 21 % of attorneys.  Almost 44 % of those attorneys reported that the behavior started in law school.  Twenty-eight % of attorneys reported symptoms of depression, 19 % suffered from anxiety, and 23 % suffered from high levels of stress.  The most common reasons not to seek help were stigma and concerns about privacy and confidentiality.

The American Bar Association has been on the leading edge of efforts to help attorneys.  The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs was started to help educate the legal profession and support state-based lawyer assistance programs.  The ABA Young Lawyers Division has started the #FIT2PRACTICE initiative to help its members with health and wellness.  However, the Law Practice Division has a unique opportunity to help broaden the discussion of attorney well-being as a law practice management issue.  The health and well-being of law-students and attorneys should be discussed in the management committees of law firms of all sizes because it impacts not only the bottom line of the firm, but the quality of the legal services provided, and the longevity of lawyers within the firm.  The LP Attorney Well-Being Committee is starting that conversation.

The Well-Being Committee has made immediate contributions to the discussion.  First, the committee has opened the discussion through its column in Law Practice Today.  Second, given the chance to have a full Law Practice Today issue focused on attorney health and well-being, the committee quickly rose to the occasion and found authors writing on many topics meant to improve our lives.  In this issue, our contributors discuss nutrition and exercise, wellness in law schools, positive responses to the high rates of substance abuse and depression, how to become resilient, and developing grit.  Third, we have provided mindfulness, meditation and physical activities at the division’s fall and spring meetings.  Fourth, we are seeking opportunities to bring the knowledge of the committee directly to law schools and attorneys through programs such as the powerful presentation made by our co-chair Anne Brafford on using positive psychology as a change agent for better leadership at law firms.  Ultimately, we are seeking to change the profession by improving attorney well-being on many fronts, but primarily by making attorney well-being an issue of firm management.  We invite you to be part of this change.

About the Author

Rodney Dowell has been the director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (MassLOMAP) since its inception in 2007, is the executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and is the chair of the Law Practice Division Attorney Well-Being Committee.

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