ABA President Bob Carlson on ABA Efforts to Improve Lawyer Well-Being

ABA President Bob Carlson’s “President’s Message,” in the December 2018 issue of the ABA Journal, highlights efforts the ABA is making to improve well-being in the legal profession. Two such initiatives, organized by the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, are a toolkit that offers practical guidance to legal employers who want to join the lawyer well-being movement by launching organizational initiatives, and a pledge campaign calling upon legal employers to adopt a seven-point framework to improve the substance use and mental health landscape of the legal profession. The Working Group was formed in September 2017 at the request of Immediate Past-President Hilarie Bass, and continues to operate under the leadership of President Carlson.

A 2016 study conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation revealed troubling rates of depression, anxiety and problem drinking among attorneys. President Carlson reminds readers that, “This issue should be important to all of us in the profession.” He writes, “To be an ethical, competent lawyer, you first need to be a healthy lawyer.”

At the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting in February, the House of Delegates passed Resolution 105 making it ABA policy to support the goal of reducing mental health and substance use disorders, and urging stakeholders within the legal profession to consider the recommendations set out in, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.

Access the full article, “It’s time to promote our health: ABA mobilizes on multiple fronts to address well-being in the legal profession.”

Also, watch this Video Message from President Carlson on the ABA’s lawyer well-being initiatives.

Lawyers, Judges Speak Out about Getting Treatment in Illinois Bar Journal

The article “Out on a Limb?” in the December 2018 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal features personal accounts of lawyers and judges who have struggled with mental health and substance use disorders during their careers. It details the many barriers to seeking help, such as the fear of being perceived as “crazy” or “unfit” and extreme stress simply being regarded as a “badge of honor” in the legal profession. Ultimately, though, the article’s message is one of hope and encouragement, focusing on the life-changing decision to get treatment.

For judges, lawyers and law students facing mental health and substance use disorders, asking for help is the first step on the road to recovery. Lawyer assistance programs are available to provide free, confidential assistance, and even proactive stress management and mental health services, free of judgment.

Read the full article here.

Impostor Syndrome in the Legal Profession

Yesterday, the ABA Journal published, “A call to deal with impostor syndrome, a hidden source of attorney distress.” Author Neha Sampat describes the term as, “the feeling you are not cut out for the work you are doing or want to be doing, often in spite of evidence to the contrary, combined with a fear of being discovered as a fraud.” Sampat explains how she is sadly reminded of the open letter by Joanna Litt about her husband Gabe MacConaill’s suicide. In her letter, Litt wrote how MacConaill, a partner at Sidley Austin, “felt like a phony who had everyone fooled about his abilities as a lawyer and thought after this case was over, he was going to be fired—despite having won honors for his work.” While impostor syndrome is not exclusive to lawyers, certain aspects of the legal profession, and characteristics of the types of people who typically pursue it, can exacerbate it. Sampat writes, “Many of the lawyers I know and a number with whom I work describe to me a similar misery stemming not from the substance of the work but from the lifestyle, structure and culture of the profession and the unreasonable standards they nurture.” While Sampat recognizes that some law firms and legal departments have begun to acknowledge impostor syndrome as a problem, she believes there is a long way to go in prioritizing and taking steps to minimize it. Her article provides a great deal of guidance on how firms and legal departments can begin to take a comprehensive approach to addressing impostor syndrome and the distress it commonly causes.


In July 2018, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs produced the webinar, “The Solo/Small Firm Challenge: Conquering Adversity and the Impostor Syndrome. A free recording of that webinar is now available on the CoLAP website here. Please note that CLE credit is not available for those who view or listen to the video.

Open Letter from Sidley Austin Partner’s Widow

Widow’s heartbreaking letter describes how the stress of Big Law contributed to her husband’s suicide.

Yesterday, The American Lawyer ran an “Open Letter” from Joanna Litt, the widow of Sidley Austin partner Gabe MacConaill who took his own life in October. In this heartbreaking piece, Litt describes how MacConaill had been struggling under the pressures of his “Big Law” job. She explains that an existing mental health issue, a deep-seated need to be perfect and a culture where shame attaches if help is sought “created the perfect storm.”

Litt’s letter underscores the importance of reducing the stigma* associated with mental health issues in the legal profession. In her letter, Litt explains how MacConaill viewed getting help as “the end of my career.” She writes, “Simply put, he would rather die than live with the consequences of people thinking he was a failure.”

This tragedy serves as a reminder of the tremendous stresses lawyers often face in the practice of law which can contribute to, and worsen existing mental health issues. Help is available for all members of the legal profession who may be struggling with depression or other mental health issues. Each state has a Lawyer Assistance Program that provides confidential services and support to judges, lawyers and law students who are facing mental health or substance use issues. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, contact the lawyer assistance program in your state.

Read more in this Above the Law article.


*CoLAP is currently engaged in a profession-wide anti-stigma campaign and is raising money to help de-stigmatize mental health and substance use disorders in the legal profession. Donations will go towards producing high-quality videos that highlight personal recovery stories of lawyers, judges and law students who have overcome these issues, serving to raise awareness about the nature of addiction and mental health distress in our profession, and challenging the biases and stigma that surround those problems. Learn more.

 

More on Law School Mental Health Day…

Today is National Mental Health Day for Law Schools. Earlier today, we posted about the new episode in “The Path to Law Student Well-Being” podcast series, and the presentation, “To Hell and Back: One Lawyer’s Path to Recovery,” streamed live from the American University Washington College of Law, now available for replay. All week, law schools and others have been sharing their Mental Health Day activities over Twitter with #LawStudentWellness.

And there’s more!

Tune in tomorrow for the webinar, “Rewiring Your Brain for Stress Resilience – An ABA Mental Health Week Webinar,” sponsored by the ABA Law Student Division, Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Young Lawyers Division.

Check out this great piece written by Alessandra Fritz, a 2L at UCI Law: “Who Asked Ali? Unsolicited, Unrefined Law School Advice from your Law Student Division Mental Health Coordinator.”

Law students: Take this Pledge to Prioritize Law Student Wellness just launched by the ABA Law Student Division.


The ABA Law Student Division has officially moved Law School Mental Health Day to October 10. On and around this day law schools are encouraged to sponsor educational programs and events that teach and foster breaking the stigma associated with severe depression and anxiety among law students and lawyers. Learn more about these ABA initiatives in the ABA Journal article, “For Law Student Mental Health Day, ABA groups focus on ways to promote well-being.”

Alessandra Fritz is an ABA Law Student Division member and its mental health coordinator, and is the Law Student Division’s liaison to the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. 

New Episode in The Path to Law Student Well-Being Podcast Series

“The Path to Law Student Well-Being” is a podcast series sponsored by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The series is a response to the call for action in the 2017 Report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, which sets out action items for the legal community, including specific steps law schools can take, to shift the culture of the legal profession towards one that is focused on well-being.

The inaugural 2-part episode was released in conjuntion with Law School Mental Health Day on March 28, 2018. Since then, the ABA Law Student Division has moved Mental Health Day to October 10 (TODAY!) In recognition, a new epsiode in the series is now available.


Play Button  The Path to Law Student Well-Being – Ep. 2: Character and Fitness and the Evaluation Process

Episode 2 features a short conversation about character and fitness evaluations in the bar admission process as it pertains to mental health issues and substance use disorders. Guests are Janet Stearns, Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law, Robert Albury, Executive Director of the West Virginia Judicial & Lawyer Assistance Program, and host Chase Anderson, Case Manager with Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.


Access the entire “The Path to Law Student Well-Being” podcast series here.

Don’t forget, today is National Law School Mental Health Day! Share what you are doing to improve the well-being of law students over Twitter with #LawStudentWellness!

Voices of Recovery Podcast Series – Episode 10

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) is producing a podcast series about members of the legal profession who have overcome substance use disorders and mental health issues. The guests featured in this series have all agreed to tell their story in the hope that it will reduce the stigma surrounding these issues and encourage others to get the help they need.

Episode 10 features Lynn Garson, an attorney in private practice and author of the memoir, Southern Vapors (published 2012), and the upcoming Sex and the Single Grandma.

Click here to access all available episodes in the series. 

Voices of Recovery Podcast Series – Episode 9

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) is producing a podcast series about members of the legal profession who have overcome substance use disorders and mental health issues. The guests featured in this series have all agreed to tell their story in the hope that it will reduce the stigma surrounding these issues and encourage others to get the help they need.

Episode 9 features Danny, an attorney in private practice. Listen as Danny shares his battle with alcoholism.

Click here to access all available episodes in the series. 

ABA Launches Lawyer Well-Being Pledge Campaign for Legal Employers

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day (globally) and the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week in the US. Today also marks the launch of a new Pledge Campaign from the American Bar Association aimed at improving the substance use and mental health landscape of the legal profession.

The Campaign, organized by the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, calls upon legal employers to recognize that substance use and mental health problems represent a significant challenge for the legal profession, acknowledge that more can and should be done to improve the health and well-being of lawyers, and pledge to support the Campaign and work to adopt and prioritize its seven-point framework for building a better future.

The ABA press release announcing its launch includes a quote from ABA President Bob Carlson in support of the initiative and a list of over a dozen firms that have already pledged their support.

Learn more on the ABA Working Group website.

Pledge Infographic

 

Law School Mental Health Day Moves to Oct. 10

The ABA Law Student Division has officially moved Law School Mental Health Day to October 10.

In recognition of Law School Mental Health Day, the American University Washington College of Law will host a YouTube Live event featuring Laurie Besden, Pennsylvania Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Executive Director, who is in recovery with an incredible story to share.

The session will run live from 2:00-3:00pm Eastern and then be available for replay. The YouTube link is http://auw.cl/tohellandback. A full description:

To Hell and Back: One Lawyer’s Path to Recovery. A YouTube Live Presentation

Laurie had a privileged upbringing.  She graduated college with a 3.97 GPA, and was in the top 15% of her law school class. On paper, Laurie is the definition of success. Laurie is also a drug addict…

Listen as Laurie candidly shares her story of crippling addiction, and ultimately, redemption. Learn how the District Attorney approached the case and her current thoughts about it. Understand what it is like to be approached by a caring individual, with their experience strength and hope, even when you are not ready to accept your state of affairs. It is never too early or late to plant “the seed of hope”.

This session will move you. Please share widely.

LSMHD


 

For those of you participating in or planning events on or around October 10, please share with #LawStudentWellness.

ABA CoLAP has resources for law students and law schools available on its website here, including the “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Toolkit for Law Students and Those Who Care About Them,” and the first two-part episode in the “Path to Law Student Well-Being” podcast series.