New Character and Fitness Resource and Resolution

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has released a 50-State Survey of Bar Exam Character and Fitness Questions, compiling the primary character and fitness questions in bar applications across the country that request information about an applicant’s current or past record of mental illness and/or substance use, involvement with the criminal justice system, school discipline (e.g., suspensions or expulsion), and financial problems (e.g., bankruptcy). The resource was developed in an effort to better prepare law school graduates to complete these applications.

In related news, in February 2019 the Conference of Chief Justices adopted Resolution 5, In Regard to the Determination of Fitness to Practice Law, which urges state bar admissions authorities to eliminate character and fitness questions that ask about mental health history, diagnoses, or treatment, and instead focus on any conduct or behavior that impairs an applicant’s current ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner.

 

Register Now! ABA 2019 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs

Online registration is now open for the ABA 2019 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs taking place September 24-26, 2019 in Austin, Texas. This year’s conference theme is “From Surviving to Thriving: LAPs Lead the Way,” Lawyers Helping Lawyer in Austin.

The conference offers a unique opportunity to learn about issues that directly impact the legal community’s well-being, and the services and resources offered by lawyer assistance programs. There will be sessions of interest for judges, disciplinary staff, bar leaders, lawyer assistance program directors and staff, law school administrators and law firm managers, and abundant opportunities to network with LAP personnel and volunteers from across the United States and Canada.

Register by August 3, 2019 to receive discounted registration rates.

Austin

New: Well-Being Template for Legal Employers

The Policy Committee of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) and the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession developed a Well-Being Template for Legal Employers to provide suggested guidelines to legal employers for responding to an employee who is experiencing impairment due to a substance use disorder, mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. The template is intended to serve as a tool that can be modified as needed to suit the individual employer. Each employer should tailor this document to meet the specific needs of its workplace, taking into consideration size, resources and practice setting, as well as consult with labor and employment counsel.

Access the template here.

Upcoming ABA CLE Webinar

Lawyer Well-Being: What’s It Got To Do With Me?

March 27, 2019 at 1pm EDT

Program Description: Join Bree Buchanan (Chair, ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs and former Director of the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program) and Lindsey Draper (former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Public Protection in the Provision of Legal Services) as they survey the information on alcoholism, substance use disorders, and mental health issues that many in the legal profession face.

The issues of alcoholism, substance use disorders, and mental health issues are ones which affect all lawyers who care about client protection. Indeed, lawyers struggling to keep themselves well may not be physically, emotionally, or mentally capable of serving their clients ethically. Listen as Lindsey and Bree explain why this is such a big issue for the legal profession and learn how some systems and people are changing the way they have always done business to better serve clients and lawyers.

Our expert panel will help you:

  • Develop background knowledge on lawyer wellness
  • Link lawyer wellness to client protection, prevention of discipline, and avoiding legal malpractice
  • Provide examples of changes made to systems, practices, and personal behaviors that help protect lawyer well-being and better serve clients.

Further complimentary resources are available from the website for the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, including a newly published Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers.

Register now!

Save the Date: 2019 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs

Mark your calendars for CoLAP’s 2019 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs, “From Surviving to Thriving: LAPs Lead the Way,” taking place September 24-26, 2019 at the Hilton Austin Hotel, Austin, Texas.

The conference will have sessions of interest to judges, disciplinary staff, bar leaders, risk managers, lawyer assistance program directors and staff, law school administrators and law firm managers, as well as abundant opportunities to network with LAP personnel and volunteers. The conference also features an Exhibit Hall of facilities that address substance use disorders, mental health issues and well-being.

This is a unique opportunity to learn about issues that directly impact the legal community’s well-being, and the services and resources offered by lawyer assistance programs.

Check back on the ABA CoLAP website for more information as it becomes available.

Austin

Virginia Strips Bar Application of Mental Health-Related Questions

As of January 1st, the character and fitness portion of the Virginia bar application no longer requires disclosure of an applicant’s mental health conditions and treatment. The change comes after student organizations of the University of Richmond School of Law requested that the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners make the change, reasoning that such questions stand to discourage law students from seeking help for fear they will be denied admission to the bar. The replacement question instead asks about “…any conduct or behavior that could call into question [the applicant’s] ability to perform any of the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing lawyer in a competent, ethical and professional manner.”

The students’ letter to the Virginia Board references ABA Resolution 105, which urges stakeholders to consider the recommendations in the August 2017 report by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, including the recommendation to “re-evaluate bar application inquiries about mental health history.” Further back in August 2015, the ABA adopted Resolution 102, calling for the elimination of character and fitness questions that ask about mental health history, diagnoses or treatment, and urging licensing entities to instead focus on conduct or behavior.

Learn more in the Richmond Times-Dispatch article, “Virginia panel scraps mental health question after law school student push.”

Connecticut Bar Association Launches New Lawyer Wellbeing Website

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 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.

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!