Lawyer Well-Being Check-In

It’s time to take this seriously


Lawyer Well-Being Check-In

Do you long to escape your work to run away to a far-off location? Do you look forward to going home from work to enjoy a glass of wine to unwind? Do you feel dislocated from your work at times? Do you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep? While these feelings are normal from time-to-time, they may be symptoms of depression, anxiety, chronic stress, mental health disorders, and/or substance use. The reality is that for many of us in this profession, these feelings occur more often than they do in other professions and many of us ignore the warning signs or fail to reach out for help.

We know that if a tire is flat on a vehicle, we need to pull over and change the tire. We as a profession tend not to recognize when our own “tires” are flat. We cannot do our jobs well when we have un-checked feelings of self-doubt, workplace dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, and/or abusing substances because we are not working at our optimum. Our executive functioning, which includes our ability to remember, pay attention, and problem solve, is impaired. These are key components to our work as lawyers. To keep our vehicles in good running order, we need to ensure our vehicles are serviced and take preventative measures; it is the same with our health. It is important to ensure that we are working at our optimal capacity and that we nurture our overall well-being.

The American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation released their study of almost 13,000 practising lawyers in 2016 — they found that approximately 28% of lawyers struggle with depression, 19% with anxiety, 23% with stress, and between 21 and 36% qualify as problem drinkers. Other studies cite lawyer issues with sleep deprivation, social alienation, suicide, ambivalence about their work, work addiction, work-life conflict, a shift in values to focus on profit, incivility, and negative public perception. In 2016, the Survey of Law Student Well-Being also found high levels of depression and anxiety, as well as 25% of students falling into the category of being at risk for alcoholism and recommending further screening.

In August 2017, a group of lawyer entities in the US formed a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and published a report entitled The Path to Lawyer Well-being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. This report identifies the issues, makes a case for why we need to take urgent action, defines lawyer well-being, and provides detailed recommendations for stakeholders, judges, regulators, employers, law schools, bar associations, professional liability carriers, and lawyer assistance programs. The Report defines lawyer well-being with reference to lawyers thriving in each of the following aspects: Intellectual, Spiritual, Physical, Social, Emotional and Occupational. The report clearly states that well-being is not limited to an absence of illness or feeling happy all the time. It recognizes that stress is not necessarily damaging; it can be helpful.

The report addresses the need to reduce the stigma around help-seeking, to reduce the level of toxicity and incivility in our profession, and to encourage connection among our peers. Changing culture takes time and we all have a part to play in the solution. In August 2018, A Well-Being Toolkit For Lawyers & Legal Employers was developed by Anne Brafford and is available here.

We have an active and confidential Lawyer Assistance Program in British Columbia that is available 24/7. If you haven’t done so already, read the report and toolkit, take time to check in with yourself and foster development of the six well-being aspects, reach out for support, and connect with a colleague. Most of all, know that you are not alone.