In the recent KUAF Public Radio podcast, “Maintaining Mental Health During Law School,” David Jaffe, Associate Dean of Student Affairs at American University’s Washington College of Law, discusses how a variety of factors can contribute to a law student’s stress and anxiety. He explains how important it is for law schools to provide a support system for students, and for students to seek help early on, to prevent new or worsen existing mental health or substance use issues.
Jaffe, who is also the Co-Chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) Law School Assistance Committee, explains how taking time for self-care may seem like lost time for maintaining your competitive edge, but that you will be better for it in the long run. And while stigma and fear of being denied admission to the bar continue to stand in the way of treatment, students should know they are not alone, and that ignoring the issue will only do more harm than good.
Listen to the podcast episode here.
Two bar publications are dedicating their feature articles to health and wellness issues this month.
The January 2019 issue of Law Practice Today from the ABA Law Practice Division is called the “Attorney Well-Being Issue” and includes:
- Crush Your New Year Goals with Psychological Capital, by Martha Knudson
- Managing the Weight of Depression, by Dr. Jeffrey Fortgang and Dr. Shawn Healy
- Reining in Perfectionism, by Jordana Alter Confino
- Well-Being for Attorneys, by Stewart Levine
- Positive Psychology Can Improve Your Relational Well-Being, by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
Access these articles and more in the January 2019 issue of Law Practice Today.
The January-February 2019 issue of the DC Bar’s publication, The Washington Lawyer, includes:
- A message from DC Bar President Esther Lim, titled “Be Well”
- When Judges Need Help, by Anna Stolley Persky
- Fighting the Stigma, Breaking the Silence: The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program, by John Murph
- First Person: Stories of Recovery and Resilience, compiled by Jeffery Leon
- Coping & The Road to Wellness, by Sarah Kellogg
Access these articles and more in the January-February 2019 issue of The Washington Lawyer.
The Connecticut Bar Association (CBA) has launched a new Lawyer Wellbeing Website. The website features a calendar of wellness-related events, on-demand CLE webinars on wellness topics such as mindfulness and emotional intelligence, and articles and toolkits, such as the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers. And of course, it links to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers-Connecticut, Inc, the organization that provides assistance to those in the Connecticut legal community experiencing substance use or mental health health issues.
Also included is a new Wellbeing Video Series. The first episode in the series, “Living with a Mental Health Condition,” featuring Kathleen Flaherty, CBA member, has three parts: Part 1 – Becoming a Lawyer; Part 2 – Law School and Passing the Bar; and Part 3 – Staying Well and Balanced.
Check out the new CBA Lawyer Wellbeing Website here.
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.
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.
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.
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.