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LCL is your partner on the path to well-being

Minnesota Lawyer//August 30, 2019

LCL is your partner on the path to well-being

Minnesota Lawyer//August 30, 2019

“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” ( 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 ( 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?

  • LCL can work with you to promptly recognize and respond to substance use, mental health, and other well-being issues and opportunities.
  • LCL offers free and confidential peer and professional support throughout Minnesota for alcohol, drug, or compulsive behavior issues; depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses; stress and other life-related problems that cause stress or distress. This includes up to four counseling sessions, a 24/7 hotline, referrals to resources, and several support groups.
  • LCL’s highly rated programs for legal workplaces or organizations address well-being, impairment, bias, stress management and related issues and can be customized for your needs. Elimination of bias or ethics CLE credit is often available.
  • LCL will coach you on how to reach out to a friend or colleague who may be struggling. Supervisory referrals and continued support for the lawyer and organization are available.
  • Critical incident response is available if a tragedy or crisis impacts a firm, organization, or family.
  • LCL helps lawyers get into treatment and, through the generosity of donors, has a fund to help pay for mental health or substance use treatment and services.

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:

  • 20.6% of respondents met criteria for alcohol use disorder.
  • Men reported higher rates of depression and women reported higher rates of anxiety and stress.
  • Overall the rate of depression was 28% and anxiety was 19%.
  • 11.5% reported suicidal thoughts at some time during their careers.
  • The rates of mental health and substance issues were significantly higher in respondents 30 years old and younger or who had worked in the profession for 10 or fewer years.
  • Distress occurs in every type of job. Newer attorneys in law firms reported the highest overall rate.
  • Barriers to seeking help included “not wanting to find out they needed help” and “concerns regarding privacy or confidentiality.”

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.

Assessing for a problem

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.

  • Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a morning Eye opener (a drink first thing in the morning) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

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:

  • Been feeling very tired, sad, blue, irritable or depressed?
  • Lost interest and pleasure in things you usually care about?
  • Had difficulty concentrating, remembering or deciding?
  • Felt unusual panic or worrying?
  • Have you considered suicide at all?

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.


Anti-stigma challenge

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, call 651-646-5590, or email [email protected].

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