Our legal culture needs to recognize and respect that there is an issue with lawyer well-being. We cannot pretend that many of our colleagues are not suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression. We must do more to educate our colleagues on the problem and find ways to address it. No one should feel they have to suffer alone.
Over the last few years, there has been forward movement to provide more help to lawyers who are struggling with mental health and alcohol and substance abuse issues. Most, if not all states have lawyer assistance programs. Many task forces addressing well-being have also been formed. These programs are primarily made up of lawyers who have a mental health or social work background. They provide free and confidential services to lawyers, judges, and law students who seek help in the form of counseling, peer support, and education.
What can a firm do to better support their lawyers?
Law firms should take note and implement or provide well-being programs and resources in house. Perhaps most importantly, law firms should be evaluating the pressures they are putting on their attorneys and adjust their practice to support the mental health of their lawyers. Focusing less on “billable hours” and more on quality of work greatly lowers stress levels in not just lawyers at the firm but also the support staff that keeps the day to day of a firm running smoothly.
Establishing mentor programs within a firm helps younger lawyers learn how to handle their case load without sacrificing their mental health. And when mental health does suffer, there’s a trusted source ready and available for support and guidance. Training lawyers to spot red flags in colleagues helps them to both recognize the problem and steps to be taken to start to get help to a colleague in need. Training also teaches lawyers how to approach the problem without embarrassment and risk to ones career.
Lawyers should be encouraged to seek in house and outside resources without worry of judgment or stigma.
The next post in this series will discuss what lawyers can do themselves to improve their well-being, starting with the practice of mindfulness.
Authored by: Karen Munoz, Partner