Mental illness and substance abuse are big problems in our profession today. I call attention to these issues whenever I get the opportunity to speak to lawyers, young and older. I did it at the event for the launch of my new book at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago on February 4th and also two days later at a program for law students in Michigan. I implored them to be careful personally and to be vigilant on behalf of colleagues.
I noted at both events that the American Bar Association (ABA) has identified an initiative to address these issues and that studies show that these problems often start as early as law school. They are issues that all of us in the legal profession need to take very seriously.
Consider these findings from the 2016 National Study of Lawyer Well-Being released by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation:
- 25 percent of law students are at risk for alcoholism;
- 17 percent of law students suffer from depression;
- 37 percent of law students report mild to severe anxiety;
- 6 percent of law students report having suicidal thoughts in the year of the study;
- 28 percent lawyers suffered from depression;
- 19 percent of lawyers had severe anxiety; and
- 11.4 percent of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year.
And this additional remarkable and sad finding: That law students will not ask for help because they are terrified of somebody finding out that they have a problem, which will result in not being admitted to the bar or not being able to get a job.
Recently, on January 26th, representatives from state and local bar associations and law schools joined ABA members in Las Vegas for an interactive program, “Getting on the Path to Lawyer Well-Being,” to discuss risk management and professional responsibility issues for legal employers and bar associations. So, the focus on these problems continues, and efforts to reach as many lawyers and law students are on-going.
Please forward this to all of the lawyers you care about. Protect yourselves and your colleagues. Do not assume that the lawyers you love and admire do not need to see it. Do not be deterred by stigmas.
There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for the help you need. It is an act of bravery.