On 5th February 2018, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates passed in Vancouver the Resolution 105. This resolution was filed by Terry L. Harrel, President of the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession and Executive Director of the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.

Such Resolution is one of the most critical ever-passed resolutions regarding the mental health of legal profession within the United States. According to that document, the ABA supports the aim of decreasing mental health illnesses and drug addiction issues, as well as to improve the well-being of lawyers, judges, and Law Sciences.

Moreover, the delegates of the American Bar Association request to the firms, Bar Associations, lawyer assistance programs, legal departments within companies, Law Schools and legal education centers, as well as Courts of Justice might take into consideration the recommendations set forth in the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s[1] report issued in August 2017 and called “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change”.

¿Why has been created a task force on lawyer well-being?

In 2016, two reports on lawyers and Law students well-being reports were published. The results were extremely worrisome.

Regarding the legal profession, the ABA CoLAP and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published a survey in which 12,825 lawyers participated (sample: Bar Associations from 16 States) about alcohol and drug consumption, mental health issues and help-seeking behaviors. The results were as follows:

  • 21-36% were troublesome drinkers.
  • 28% suffered depression (approximately).
  • 19% suffered anxiety (approximately).
  • 23% suffered stress (approximately).
  • 0.7% did attempt to suicide (if the sample were of the all the American lawyers, 1,300,000, we would conclude that about 9,100 lawyers attempted suicide).

Regarding Law students, the Survey of Law Student Well-Being, in which 3,300 students did participate (sample: 15 Law Schools), showing the following results:

  • 17% suffered some depression.
  • 14% experienced severe anxiety.
  • 23% sustained moderate anxiety.
  • 6% did have suicidal thoughts.
  • 43% did excessively drink alcohol at least once in the last two weeks.
  • 22% did excessively drink alcohol twice or more during the previous two weeks.
  • 25% thought they were in risk of alcoholism.

One between 7 did take prescribed medication without the necessary medical prescription in the previous year. Moreover, the consumption of marihuana and cocaine did increase for the first time since 1991.

Likewise, both groups were reluctant to seek for help.

¿What does the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being say about the surveys’ results?

The report attached to the Resolution 105 refers two sections of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s report:

“The two studies (…) reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance use. These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence. This research suggests that the current state of lawyers’ health cannot support a profession dedicated to client service and dependent on the public trust.”

“The legal profession is already struggling. Our profession confronts a dwindling market share as the public turns to more accessible, affordable alternative legal service providers. We are at a crossroads. To maintain public confidence in the profession, to meet the need for innovation in how we deliver legal services, to increase access to justice, and to reduce the level of toxicity that has allowed mental health and substance use disorders to fester among our colleagues, we have to act now. Change will require a wide-eyed and candid assessment of our members’ state of being, accompanied by a courageous commitment to re-envisioning.”

[1] This task force was created in August 2016 by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (ABA COLAP), the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC) and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL). Later on, the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism, ABA Center for Professional Responsibility; ABA Young Lawyers Division; ABA Law Practice Division Attorney Wellbeing Committee; National Conference of Chief Justices and the National Conference of Bar Examiners did join to that task force.