“Lawyers, judges and law students are faced with an increasingly competitive and stressful profession. Studies show that substance use, addiction and mental disorders, including depression and thoughts of suicide — often unrecognized — are at shockingly high rates. As a consequence, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-being, under the aegis of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance programs (CoLAP) has been formed to promote nationwide awareness, recognition and treatment. This Task Force deserves the strong support of every lawyer and bar association.”
—David R Brink, past president, American Bar Association, Minnesota State Bar Association, Hennepin County Bar Association
By Joan Bibelhausen
Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers
This introduction to “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change” (www.lawyerwellbeing.net) demonstrates the long-standing Minnesota connection to well-being principles and efforts. The report issues a call to action for our profession. It defines well-being as “a continuous process toward thriving across all life dimensions” and identifies business, ethical and humanitarian reasons for the full attention of our profession.
As Minnesota’s Lawyer Assistance Program, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) supports this call and welcomes all of those who join in this crucial effort. In February, the Minnesota Supreme Court hosted a Call to Action conference and has created a webpage (http://www.mncourts.gov/lawyer-well-being.aspx) with links to well-being reports and resources and conference materials.
LCL has encouraged support and attention to well-being issues for over four decades. We’re here in a crisis and we support and encourage efforts that enhance well-being, reduce risk and allow us to recognize potential problems early and act promptly. LCL serves about 400 lawyers, judges, law students and family members every year, as well as numerous legal organizations that call on LCL for guidance and assistance. How can LCL help you?
Our profession faces greater-than-average risk for mental health and substance-use issues. Data from a 2016 national study, a collaboration between CoLAP and The Hazelden Foundation shows:
This will not go away on its own. LCL helps individuals and organizations evaluate a situation when there’s a problem and act proactively to reduce risk.
If you are concerned about yourself or another, these quick assessment tools can serve as a guide. Many others are available through LCL.
Alcohol, drugs, and compulsive behaviors: Is there a problem?
The CAGE questionnaire was developed as an efficient tool to ask about alcohol use. It is helpful in a more informal setting and can be applied to alcohol, other drugs or compulsive behaviors.
Each yes answer receives a point and more than two are considered clinically significant.
Mental health issues: Is there a problem?
These questions address depression and anxiety. In the past two weeks have you:
LCL can coach any lawyer on how to reach out to someone the lawyer may be concerned about (including colleagues, family members, or clients), and LCL can talk to you confidentially and nonjudgmentally about concerns you have for yourself or another.
Lawyers are reluctant to ask for help because they don’t want others to know they may have a problem. We fear that showing any vulnerability will indicate a weakness in our legal matters and a way to attack us. That stigma destroys careers and keeps us from doing our best thinking for our clients and ourselves.
This stigma destroys lives when the lawyer fears being deemed a failure as worse than death and explains why our suicide rate is alarmingly high. A profession that values well-being and is no longer willing to accept the harsh statistics will not accept behavior that takes advantage of a colleague who is or may be struggling. The preamble to the MRPC states, in part, “A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials.” This is as important as any individual rule.
If we receive a diagnosis of a mental health or substance-use issue, it is something we have, not who we are. As advice-givers, we’re reluctant to ask for advice for ourselves. Our profession is one in which we are reactive, not proactive. Someone must have a legal issue for us to have work. That also makes it hard to ask for (or offer) help. We give advice but are reluctant and sometimes even ashamed to ask for what we need to do our best thinking and be the lawyer or judge or law student we always hoped to be. Lawyers in recovery from any issue will often say that their careers and lives are more satisfying, and their relationships are stronger and more rewarding.
The ABA has just released “Fear Not: Speaking Out to End Stigma,” a video that breaks down these barriers in just over three minutes. (A link to the video is available with the article online.) Remember that Minnesota connection? U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank joins other pillars of our profession to issue the anti-stigma challenge. The report’s call to action asks that we change the tone of the profession one step at a time. LCL has been walking with those who struggle and those who want to improve their well-being in our profession one step at a time for 43 years. Our profession is filled with people who have asked for help and have found a better way. Join us.
Joan Bibelhausen is executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. LCL offers training and consulting to organizations generally and for specific situations. LCL provides free and confidential peer and professional support to lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate family members on any issue that causes stress or distress. There is someone to talk to 24 hours a day and counseling is offered throughout Minnesota. You can help us reduce the stigma. To learn more or get involved, go to http://www.mnlcl.org, call 651-646-5590, or email [email protected].