New “Mailbag” Column to Address Attorney Mental Health and Substance Use

Patrick Krill – strategic advisor to law firms on addiction and mental health problems, and former director of a treatment program for attorneys, judges and law students at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation – is taking your questions.

In, “Let’s Address the Elephant in the Law Firm,” Krill introduces a new bi-weekly “mailbag” column and invites readers to email him their questions to which Krill will respond (with pseudonyms, of course) in subsequent columns. In initiating this “candid” discussion, Krill hopes to “educate, motivate, demystify, and destigmatize”

Krill co-authored the 2016 ABA/Hazelden study which revealed (or for many, confirmed) that the legal profession is struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders at rates far higher than the general population and other professions.

Access the LAW.COM Column here.



Looking Forward to a Happy & Healthy 2017

The end of 2016 is upon us and another new year awaits. This year, it was reported through an ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford study that the legal profession is experiencing alcohol use disorders and mental health issues at rates higher than those among the general population and other professions. Another study this year revealed high rates of binge drinking or misuse of drugs, and/or reported mental health challenges among law students, who are, at the same time, reluctant to seek help. As we look towards 2017, it’s important to reflect on the realities of our profession, and take positive steps towards maintaining and treating our physical and mental health.

Jeena Cho – lawyer, co-author of The Anxious Lawyer, co-founder of Shape the Law and all-around contributor to the discussion of wellness, mindfulness and resilience in the legal profession – is helping to set the new year off right with a recap of useful articles in the the Above the Law post, “10 Tips For An Inspiring 2017.” For more resources, including a directory of state and local lawyer assistance programs, visit the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs  website.

A Look at the WisLAP / UW Law School Health Ambassador Partnership

A recent article in The Badger Herald highlights a valuable partnership between the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) and the University of Wisconsin Law School (UW Law). In an effort to bring more resources to law students, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use disorders, health ambassadors (currently eight total) serve as liaisons between WisLAP and the UW Law student body. In their role, liaisons develop programming to expand health and wellness support, promote healthier social events, and are there to listen to a fellow student’s concerns and personally follow-up.

Read what Mary Spranger, WisLAP manager, and Jen Bizzotto, one of the UW Law health ambassadors, have to say about the partnership in the article, “UW Law School looks to de-stigmatize mental illness among graduate students.”

State Bar of New Mexico Offers “Tip of the Month”

Back in July, the New Mexico Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program launched a “Tip of the Month” series in the State Bar of New Mexico Bar Bulletin that aims to “explore tools for healthy living.” In introducing the series, State Bar President J. Brent Moore states, “While recent research confirms that legal professionals experience significantly high rates of alcohol and other drug abuse, depression and anxiety, research also shows we can reduce our individual risk and build fulfilling careers and personal lives by practicing self-care and improving our emotional resilience.”  Access the “Tips” provided thus far below:

July: Stress Reduction for Busy Lawyers

August: Strategies to Improve Health and Increase Satisfaction

September: Resilience: A Stepping Stone to Success and Satisfaction

October: Gratitude

This is a great example of how a bar association can encourage the profession to live well.

ABA Immediate Past-President Paulette Brown calls on the profession to help LAPs reduce stigma

Paulette Brown, Immediate Past President of the ABA, was the keynote speaker at the recent ABA National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs in Vancouver. She also participated in a panel discussion and talked informally with conference attendees. She remarked on the outstanding work that Lawyer Assistance Programs are doing in this area, and that LAP resources and innovative approaches have helped many to find success in a profession that they love. Ms. Brown discussed the ABA Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission, with its focus on the concept of implicit biases, those unconscious influences on our decisions and actions. She noted that implicit bias can be and is manifested toward those who suffer from mental health issues, depression, anxiety and substance problems in our profession.

Here are some highlights of her remarks.

While there has been some progress on expanding opportunities for lawyers of all races and ethnicities, women and members of the LGBTQ community, the same cannot be said for those with mental illness or substance use disorders. As all of us here know, mental health and substance use disorders are by far the most pervasive and ignored disability issues in our profession. It is similar to issues faced by people in the LGBTQ community – you can’t tell by looking. It must be acceptable for people to ‘come out’ with mental health issues just as it is becoming acceptable to do so in the LGBTQ community.

Implicit bias and stigma force our colleagues into the shadows. It is important to address these conditions before they become issues. We cannot avoid them and hope they will go away. Our colleagues do not feel safe revealing a mental health or substance issue. Many will not seek the assistance they need unless and until the stigma is removed. This can only begin to happen if we recognize and acknowledge our implicit biases in this area. Like other areas of diversity and inclusion, the legal profession is far behind many other professions in the manner in which it treats those who struggle with mental health and substance use issues.

Implicit bias permeates everything we do. Lawyer Assistance Programs see it in the work they do every day where someone is treated differently (or perceives they are treated differently) because they asked for help. When we think about disability issues in our profession, mental health is by far the most common area of disability. It should be recognized in discussions, trainings and other efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion in our profession. Perhaps then people needing help can seek the attention they need with less trepidation about reaching out. It is the only way to remove stigma.

A discussion about open and equal treatment is necessary. These issues need to be part of conversations on diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. It is not enough to be contained in this room or at this conference. We should not be reticent about talking about it anywhere, any place. All must work together to reduce stigma about mental health and substance issues in our profession. If we could convey this message over and over on a broad based stage, how many more could we serve?

And as LAPs we would add, how many more could we save?

This post was written by Joan Bibelhausen, Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in Minnesota and ABA CoLAP Advisory Committee Member. 



SPRC Releases Two New Resources on Suicide Prevention for Middle-Aged Men

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has recently released two new resources on suicide prevention among middle-aged men.

The first is a video titled, Men in the Middle Years, part of the SPRC’s SPARK Talks series—Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable videos of leaders in suicide prevention.

The second is a report titled, Preventing Suicide among Men in the Middle Years: Recommendations for Suicide Prevention Programs, which includes research on suicide among men ages 35–64, recommendations and guidance for suicide prevention programs and a list of programs and resources.


Resilience Webinar: Don’t Forget to Register…

ABA Free CLE Series Webinar
December 19, 2016 | 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET

As lawyers, many people depend on us to be at our best. This includes our clients, who depend on us to guide, help, and protect them. It also includes our families and friends, for whom we want to be our best selves. Developing resilience is critical for lawyers to maintain fitness to practice and to avoid running afoul of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct or applicable state rules. We need to be able to bounce back quickly from setbacks, face challenges with a positive perspective, and feel energized rather than depleted. Fortunately, resilience is a collection of competencies that can be developed. This webinar will provide a general overview of how to build resilience, including strategies taught by the U.S. Army to soldiers in combat. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of our paneled experts.

Sponsored by the following American Bar Association groups:
ABA Legal Career Central
Center for Professional Development
Center for Professional Responsibility
Commission On Disability Rights
Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs
Criminal Justice Section
Health Law Section
Law Practice Division Attorney Well-being Committee
Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants
Section of Family Law
Section of Litigation Minority Trial Lawyers Committee
Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division
Tort, Trial and Insurance Practice Committee
Young Lawyers Division Fit2Practice Wellness Initiative

Other Co-Sponsors:
Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL)
National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC)