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Task force addresses substance use and mental health disorders among lawyers

August 14, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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A task force initiated by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the National Organization of Bar Counsel and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers has released a report that addresses the problem of substance use and mental health disorders among lawyers.

“Our current course, one involving widespread disregard for lawyer well-being and its effects, is not sustainable,” the report states. “Studies cited [in the report] show that our members suffer at alarming rates from conditions that impair our ability to function at levels compatible with high ethical standards and public expectations.”

Well-being is defined within the report as thriving in emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, sense of spirituality or greater purpose, physical health, and social connections. The report, titled “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” explores reasons behind substance use disorders and the effects of impairment on legal professionals. Its recommendations focus on five main themes:

  • Identifying stakeholders and the role each can play in reducing toxicity in the legal profession
  • Eliminating stigma associated with seeking help
  • Emphasizing that well-being is a critical part of a lawyer’s duty of competence
  • Educating lawyers, judges and law students on well-being issues associated with the legal profession
  • Enacting gradual steps to change how law is practices and how lawyers are regulated to improve well-being within the profession

Among its recommendations to facilitate, destigmatize and encourage help-seeking behaviors, the report credits the Real Warriors Campaign for military members, veterans and military families as a potential model for the legal profession to follow.

The full report, which includes action plans and suggested to-do lists for chief justices in each state, is available for download on the American Bar Association website.


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