The recently released 3rd issue of the 68th volume of the AALS Journal of Legal Education features the highly-anticipated “Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being? Report on the ABA CoLAP’s Law Student Assistance Committee Law School Wellness Survey.” The report, authored by Jordana Alter Confino, explores responses to the aforementioned survey and the recommendations of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and surveys the current landscape of well-being initiatives underway at law schools across the country.
Dear CoLAP Community:
The purpose of the legal profession is to ensure harmonious interaction between society (any organization) and individuals.” That requires the Rule of Law, equal justice, and equal protection, at a minimum. Indeed, there can be no other profession for which the words “equal justice,” “racial equality,” and “equal protection” should be more precious than in the practice of law. Those ideals are the heartbeat of the American judiciary. And yet, the injustices surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor, and others, serve to magnify the truth – that as Americans, we have a 400-year history of racial oppression, inequality, and most devastatingly to those of us in the legal profession – injustice for our Black citizens. This is unacceptable.
Centuries of racial injustice have resulted in cultural and systematic bias against people of color that is evidenced across every segment of American society: in our laws, our data sets, our workforce, our services, and our health outcomes. It is proven that our Black community is disproportionately vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic for a myriad of economic, societal, and social justice reasons.
The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) has fought for many years to minimize the stigma and bias affiliated with the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues for those in the legal profession with mental health disorders and diseases including addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, and others. We have also participated in the research and written the reports on the positive impact of inclusion and diversity on lawyer well-being. “Research reflects that organizational diversity and inclusion initiatives are associated with employee well-being, including, for example, general mental and physical health, perceived stress level, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, trust, work engagement perceptions of organizational fairness, and intentions to remain on the job.”
Despite the progress made, we have failed to minimize the bias affiliated with racial inequality and unequal representation in many of our own programs. We acknowledge that on our own leadership boards, and in our volunteer ranks, many states remain devoid of adequate representation of our under-served populations including Black and brown law students, lawyers, and judges.
We acknowledge that inclusion must guide our behavior and that we must be intentional in our effort to create sustainable structural change at a systemic level. Inclusion requires valuing collaboration and diversity of thought, experiences, and perspective. There is no room for division, hatred, or racist views in a culture that values inclusion.
It is CoLAP’s intention to promote good mental health and well-being for all members of the legal community regardless of race, cultural background, age, class, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, transgender status, faith, language, or health status. To do so, we will explore our own biases and then act to make changes that are necessary to reflect an inclusive and cohesive group. As lawyers and as individuals committed to helping improve the health and well-being of our legal community, it is our calling to promote peace, harmony, and unity in our profession.
This is a time of challenge and controversy. But we know what is right. “To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.” Confucius. We stand together in our allegiance to promote racial fairness, equity, and equality, thereby promoting lawyer well-being. Let us be brave.
American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs
This statement represents the opinions of the individual members of the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. It has not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates and does not constitute policy or opinion of the American Bar, whose official statement can be found at https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2020/06/aba-president-martinez-decries-violence-against-george-floyd–bl/
 E.g., M. M. Barak & A. Levin, Outside of the Corporate Mainstream and Excluded from the Work Community: A Study of Diversity, Job Satisfaction and Well-Being, 5 COMM., WORK & FAM. 133 (2002); J. Hwang & K. M. Hopkins, A Structural Equation Model of the Effects of Diversity Characteristics and Inclusion on Organizational Outcomes in the Child Welfare Workforce, 50 CHILD. & YOUTH SERVS. REV. 44 (2015); see generally G. R. Ferris, S. R. Daniels, & J. C. Sexton, Race, Stress, and Well-Being in Organizations: An Integrative Conceptualization, in THE ROLE OF DEMOGRAPHICS IN OCCUPATIONAL STRESS AND WELL-BEING 1-39 (P. L. Perrewé, C. C. Rosen, J. B. Halbesleben, P.L. Perrewé eds., 2014).
This post is authored by Jessica Chinnadurai. Jessica is a recently-licensed attorney who graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2018. Her hope is to increase transparency around mental health issues in the legal profession, and to spread light to those fighting battles no one can see. You can connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.
A few years ago, I was the victim of relationship violence and I filed a Title IX complaint during the summer of 2017. For anyone unfamiliar with this law, in part, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in an educational setting. Coincidentally, the “Me Too” movement picked up momentum a few months later, in the fall of 2017.
As I reflect on recent events related to police brutality and racism, my mind and heart feel heavy. But…a glimmer of hope shines through. In comparing the astounding Black Lives Matter revolution to the powerful “Me Too” movement, I am hopeful that the same sort of systemic issues centered around discrimination can finally be addressed, and that we will see profound, lasting change once the dust settles.
In comparing the two movements, I found myself reflecting on what it was that I wanted from my friends and family as I went through my own “Me Too” experience, via the Title IX process. Aside from a desire to express my pain and feel heard, I had what I thought was a simple request: that my loved ones educate themselves. I deeply yearned for my friends and family to gain a basic understanding of patterns in an abusive relationship. I wanted to talk about my confusion and fear, without being judged or criticized. I wanted to hear my closest allies say that they would try to understand my pain, no matter how complex the situation seemed as a third-party observer.
And while not many of my female friends did that, quite a few male friends did. Astonishingly, in what has been a permeating and lasting lesson, I witnessed numerous men step up and show me that their gender can be kind, caring, and compassionate. Their actions were exactly what I needed to believe in the goodness of humanity again.
If your mind and heart are also heavy at this time, perhaps a critical step you can take right now is to educate yourself. Let’s ask ourselves the tough questions and learn from any answers we receive.
At its worst, racism results in the cruel deaths of valuable human lives. But what does it look like in its simplest, most basic form?
After releasing the “Becoming” documentary on Netflix recently, former first lady Michelle Obama said:
“When we share honestly about our own experiences, we invite others to do the same. The connections we build in these moments of vulnerability are so powerful and so healing.”
My own experience involves my parents immigrating to the United States from India and settling in a small town in southeast Missouri, with a population around 16,000 people. Growing up, I was constantly asked “What are you?” I could be at a Walmart or in a classroom and the question always made its way into the conversation. The first time I was asked this, I was more annoyed at the person’s inability to correctly articulate what it was that they wanted to know. As I got older, I would smile and say “are you asking me what my ethnic origin is?” and most people would reply affirmatively, with an embarrassed nod. At the core of that question was a seemingly larger one – “are you American?” Having been born and raised in the heartland, like Jack and Dianne, it was an undeniably subtle form of racism that people’s first assumption was that I wasn’t from “here,” I wasn’t one of them. The juxtaposition of my name alone, Jessica Chinnadurai, leads to quite a few interesting comments. I continue to openly share details about my family’s background with anyone who is curious or confused because it typically helps educate people. What am I? A human, just like you.
In the same vein, a seemingly innocuous question about a Black person’s hair can be racist and discriminatory. My article from February shares insights on this subject from an interview with a Black attorney. I appreciate my colleague’s openness to share her story then and invite others to do the same now, so that we can continue to learn and encourage healing, as a community.
As legal professionals, what is our role in helping to achieve change?
In this framework, the meanings of the various roles are described here. I think many lawyers can primarily be categorized as “guides,” who can “teach, counsel, advise and use [our] gifts of well-earned discernment and wisdom.” We also have the opportunity to be powerful “disruptors,” “visionaries,” and “weavers.” Dependent on our personal strengths, each of us may feel called to take on a different role. Whatever that may be, step into it. . .step up! Become the ally. Diverse communities need us. In a profession where “duty” often carries a very specific meaning, let’s remember that we simply have a duty to care.
What if educating ourselves could help relieve the pain of just one Black individual who is dying to be heard?
I think a common thread that ties all of humanity together is our desire to feel and be heard. We want to know that our voice matters, that our life matters. If you’ve never had to hesitate and wonder if yours does, empathizing with someone who has questioned it their entire existence can make a world of difference. Clint Smith explains just how much of a difference in his 2014 TED Talk titled “How to Raise a Black Son in America:”
“So, when we say that Black lives matter, it’s not because others don’t; it’s simply because we must affirm that we are worthy of existing without fear, when so many things tell us we are not.”
This post is authored by Jessica Chinnadurai. Jessica is a recently-licensed attorney who graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2018. Her hope is to increase transparency around mental health issues in the legal profession, and to spread light to those fighting battles no one can see. If you are a recent graduate who’d like to connect with Jessica, you can find her on LinkedIn.
I’ve heard a common sentiment out there that the universe is forcing us to take a “time-out” during this pandemic. Since a “time-out” is something we usually associate with badly behaved children, it almost seems synonymous to being punished in some way. I remember feeling “punished” after graduating from law school and not being able to find a job until a full year later. I ended up shifting my perspective during that phase and that shift was made possible by resources shared via the Lawyers Assistance Program in my state. Uncertain times no longer carry a negative connation for me; I like to think of them as opportunities to slow down and reflect.
While there are many aspects of life right now that are undeniably frustrating and scary, especially as you face the bar exam, I think there is a beauty to be found in having ample time to reflect. This could mean reflecting on your purpose, your short- and long-term career goals, or your relationship with yourself and others. It could also mean simply looking at how far you’ve come and commending yourself for your achievements. Reflecting allows for alignment, by checking-in with yourself and taking note of your values and goals, of where you are versus where you want to be when it comes to living and achieving them.
Here are a few things I turned my focus to during the downtime after graduation, and even continuing after the bar exam.
Establish a growth mindset, rather than a fixed one.
With the pressures of studying for the bar and looking for a job, and now the added anxiety of a global pandemic, I know it can feel like your current situation will never end. But even “this too, shall pass.” All things in life are temporary—both the good and bad—and even though we are uncertain of when this all will end, we can be certain that it will. You will take the bar exam, get your passing results, and find a job—it may just happen on a different timeline than the one you intended, or the one that’s undoubtedly preferred.
A growth mindset applies to each of us, as individuals, in terms of believing in our ability to grow our knowledge, experience and skill sets. For example, a law student with a fixed mindset is “likely to view setbacks, such as lower-than-expected grades, as a sign that they are incapable.” “On the other hand, students in a growth mindset who understand that abilities can be developed, tend to look at the inevitable setbacks differently. They view law school as a place that can provide them with opportunities to grow and learn. They actively seek feedback and strategies to tweak their approaches so that they achieve greater improvement and outcomes the next time around.”
If we transpose that information to post-law school and the “real world,” the lesson remains: it’s all about our mindsets. Although considerably less “inevitable,” setbacks like the pandemic or a difficult job search are also opportunities for growth and learning. Our ability to grow internally, in mind and spirit, doesn’t have to be affected by our external circumstances. And if you find that it is, consider asking for help.
Learn how to play golf.
The third day of Lawyer Well-Being Week, at the beginning of May, was also National Golf Day. As part of reflecting on my “intellectual well-being” that day, I fondly remembered how my training in golf involved reading a book by Tiger Woods. A well-known quote attributed to Tiger is “No matter how good you get, you can always get better, and that’s the exciting part.” His words echo the importance of having a growth mindset in our careers. . . and lucky for us, Tiger’s job just happens to be a popular sport in the legal profession.
My mom always bugged me to pick up golf after I first expressed an interest in law school. It wasn’t until the summer after graduation that I started learning how to play. I didn’t think I’d use it as a break from studying, but it ended up serving that very useful purpose. Many of us are always looking for ways to decrease stress. With our options limited in a socially-distanced world now, golf still presents us with an opportunity to get outdoors and stay well over six feet away from other people. Golf is also an awesome exercise in mindfulness. The placement of the ball, the position of your feet and distance from the tee, the movements in your swing back and forward—each step of the process must be intentional in order to achieve desirable results (i.e. your ball not going into the water!). There’s almost a science behind understanding the land around each hole, the way it curves and dips in a way that either helps your shot or makes it more difficult. I’m not even close to an expert now and there will always be room for improving my strategies. As recent graduates, golf can be a good way to approach something academically . . . but unlike law school and the bar exam, it can be really fun!
Be intentional with your career choices.
The intentionality you learn while golfing may help you with your job search, too. Some of you went to law school knowing exactly what type of law you wanted to practice after graduating. Others may have been open to whatever piqued your interest in various classes or through internships. Perhaps those educational experiences changed your mind during your law school career, as they did for me. I started law school with an interest in employment law and eventually gravitated toward intellectual property. After graduation, as I reevaluated exactly what field of law I wanted to practice in, I also worked on several contract opportunities. Gaining some experience, rather than none at all, was important to me. One job, with a technology company, was researching towing regulations in states and cities across the country. Towing law is akin to font law—you don’t really realize it exists until suddenly, you do. This research gave me first-hand knowledge of government regulations and FOIA requests, something I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore otherwise. Another job was in document review. E-discovery provides great practical experience for reading through written protocols from clients and carrying out those instructions under enforced timelines. It may not have been the most interesting or challenging work, but it was certainly helpful in obtaining the job I have today.
I’m sure you’ve heard a story from one or two attorneys about landing in their positions by chance and staying in a certain practice area because it was a job that paid the bills. While it may feel like you’re destined for the same path, don’t be too quick to accept just any position. Even in a difficult job market, you still have choices. You can choose to think about the long-term consequences of accepting a job. You can choose to make sure it’s work that carries a significance for you and something you will enjoy doing, for at least a couple of years. Enjoying what we do is directly related to feeling like we have a purpose, which is a key aspect of our spiritual well-being. “Work has ‘significance’ when we judge it as being worthwhile and important within our own value system.” If law school detracted your ability to reflect on your value system, as it did for me, the downtime now can be used to focus on this. In the end, you’ll be in a better position to find a job that truly reflects your values and goals. As an added bonus, you’ll probably find out more about yourself – and your worth – outside of your work and career.
 Day two of Lawyer Well-Being Week focused on spiritual well-being. If you missed any of the week’s events, resources are still available here: https://lawyerwellbeing.net/well-being-week-resources/
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) is here to support you while you study for the bar exam. During this challenging time, we want to encourage you to take care of yourselves and continue to focus on all aspects of your well-being. Your physical and emotional health are critical to your success in life…and on the bar exam.
Student Health Insurance
Recent graduates are encouraged to seek alternative coverage well before the termination of their current plan. You should confirm when your current coverage through your law school (or other source) ends.
The ABA Law Student Division and ABA Insurance Program have organized an important Webinar called Student Guide to Understanding and Navigating Health Insurance to address insurance questions for Thursday, May 21 at 4pm EST. Please click here to read more and register now.
More resources are available at:
–ABA Insurance Program
-You may also want to consult with your University’s current insurance carrier and/or your alumni association for other local referrals.
Lawyer Assistance Programs
Each state has a Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) that is dedicated to confidential counseling for law students, lawyers and judges around issues of substance use and mental health. You can locate the LAP in your area with this directory.
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) offers a list of mental health resources for the legal profession to assist in understanding and prioritizing our mental health, well-being and recovery in these challenging times. View the special dedicated resources related to COVID-19.
The ABA CoLAP has produced a podcast series for law students available on our website or most podcast platforms called Path to Law Student Well-Being. We highly recommend the following relevant podcasts:
–The Practice and Benefits of Mindfulness
–Adopting a Growth Mindset
–Dealing with Stress While Studying for the Bar Exam
–Practice Makes Passing
Enjoy these and other inspirational podcasts to keep you positive and focused on your mission for this summer.
Now more than ever, physical activity is an important step you can take to maintain your health and wellness. We encourage daily socially distanced exercise as an essential part of your bar study routine, whether you run, walk, or participate in online classes for yoga.
There are many helpful apps designed to provide you with tools to cultivate greater emotional well-being and improve academic performance. These include Headspace, 10% Happier, Waking Up, and Calm, which is offering a free two month trial. WellTrack includes relaxation exercises, simulated situations to deal with specific anxieties (including public speaking), and a course on resilience specifically designed to help manage and gain perspective on COVID-related emotions (membership required).
Students are encouraged to have a financial plan through the time that they sit for the bar, including a safe and affordable place to live. Many law schools have shared information about bar study loans and COVID-related emergency loans. AccessLex has provided emergency funds to law schools across the country and also offers many valuable COVID-related resources including webinars and one-on-one coaching for students and graduates.
Check out this excellent blog post from the Texas Bar and the Texas Lawyer Assistance Program. A lawyer living with depression shares his advice and experience.
Bree Buchanan, Chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, recently sat down with 2Civility, the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism, to discuss Lawyer Well-Being Week, all the resources available to attorneys and legal professionals during the week, and everything CoLAP has planned. Bree shared a wealth of information about Lawyer Well-Being Week and the Commission. Click here to read what Bree had say, and join us in highlighting this important week.
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs in partnership with the ABA Law Practice Division Attorney Well-Being Committee (AWBC) and the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being launched the first annual Lawyer Well-Being Week – May 4-8, 2020, to align with Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The aim of Lawyer Well-Being Week (LWBW) is to raise awareness and encourage action across the profession to improve well-being for lawyers and their support teams. The event offers coordinated activities, webinars and well-being resources.
The following update with guides on how to do LWBW remotely is provided by Anne Brafford, LWBW organizer.
- Remote Participation Guide (posted on the Activity Ideas page): For each day of well-being week, this guide includes multiple, remote-friendly recommendations for videos, articles, and activities aligned with each day’s well-being dimension.
- Bar Association Participation Guide (posted on the Activity Ideas page): This guide includes only one recommendation for a video, article, and activity that they can use to support their own activities or simply to recommend to their membership. This is a stripped down version of the Remote Guide given that bar associations often have fewer staff devoted to well-being than law firms, etc. (Thanks to Martha Knudson of the Utah bar for helping with this).
- Pre-Prepared Daily Social Media Posts. At the bottom of the Awareness Messaging page on the website, you’ll find a downloadable social media post for each day of well-being week. Each gives the same recommendations for one video, article, and activity as appears in the Bar Association Guide.
ABA President Judy Perry Martinez published an article in the AccessLex publication Raising the Bar (Spring 2020) in which she called upon state bars to focus on conduct and remove discriminatory mental health and substance use questions:
“[A]sking bar applicants about their mental health history doesn’t improve the quality of individuals who are members of the profession, nor does it improve the quality of legal services delivered to the public.”
“Every state should stop asking discriminatory, ineffective questions of bar applicants. It’s a critical step toward removing the stigma of treatment that plagues our profession and hinders our ability to deliver the highest quality of legal services to those whom we serve.”
The ABA COLAP has worked hard to advocate on reforming the character and fitness process. COLAP advisory board member David Jaffe and COLAP commission member Janet Stearns recently published an article in The Professional Lawyer, the ABA Center for Professional’s Responsibility periodical on Ethics and Professionalism, detailing the process and progress among various states in modifying or eliminating questions that address an applicant’s substance use and mental health disorders on Character and Fitness portions of bar admission applications. Read the article here.
The NY Court of Appeals voted to remove its questions in February, 2020 and the Michigan Supreme Court voted in March, 2020 to remove its questions. The COLAP continues to monitor developments closely and welcomes input from LAPS, law schools and bar regulators who wish to discuss further strategies.
The following post was authored by Laurie J. Besden, Esq., Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, Inc. You can find out more about Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania at http://www.lclpa.org. We thank Laurie for her submission.
We, who are active in recovery, ARE the lucky ones. In many ways, we are best prepared to successfully cope with a pandemic like COVID-19. The myriad of fellowships of recovery has provided us with a platform of preparation, essentially our toolboxes for surviving what may seem to be an overwhelming situation.
One of my board members recently shared with me these wise words by an unknown author:
We have experience with an invisible illness trying to kill us; we live through that every day. We are accustomed to staying in the moment, not projecting and taking things as they come. We are people who have the diseases of isolation as we have survived loneliness without even knowing we were lonely. We are very familiar with quarantine; jails, institutions, detoxes, treatment centers and more. We have grown to rely on a higher power for faith and hope; constantly. We practice “letting go” and “turning over” things we cannot control. It is our code to share with others our experience, strength, and hope to help the next struggling individual and by doing so, we keep hope alive. We all have a disease that we were told the recovery rates were in the single digits at best; yet, here we are beating the odds, ONE DAY AT A TIME. The truth is that we have the best skill set in the world to band together in fellowship, love, service, and kindness and walk each other through this.
When I think of sobriety and my own experience with it, here are some of the first things that come to my mind:
- Replacing the fear of the unknown with faith in my Higher Power;
- Paying it forward and sharing our experience, strength, and hope;
- Taking it one day at a time and staying in the present;
- Maintaining healthy boundaries and relationships;
- Looking for opportunities to be of service to others and doing God’s will;
- Focusing on and doing “the next right thing;”
- Making time each day for prayer and meditation;
- Remembering our code: love, patience, and tolerance of all people and with all things;
- Focusing on my blessings, using a gratitude journal to list the gifts in my life.
I’ll close in the same manner in which many of us close our recovery meetings, with the words of the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Together, we can always do what we cannot do alone.