State Bar Establishes Commission on Lawyer Well-Being

State Bar Establishes Commission on Lawyer Well-Being

02/08/2024

There’s a nationwide push (and need) to improve lawyer well-being.

The American Bar Association leads the charge after collaborating on research in 2016 with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which identified that:

  • 28% of lawyers suffer from depression
  • 19% of lawyers have severe anxiety
  • 4% of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year
  • Between 21% and 36% of lawyers are problem drinkers

But these concerns start for many in law school—the Survey of Law Student Well-Being reflects similar numbers. In law school, the pressure starts to build and students are afraid to ask for help, for fear that it will impact their admission to the bar. And this perceived stigma continues after they are licensed.

All of this has serious implications for the field. First and foremost, these concerns have a significant effect on individual lawyer’s health and safety. Lawyers struggling with their own mental health may also find that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to serve their clients or meet their expectations. In some instances, lawyers may find themselves in criminal or legal trouble. And in a number of instances, these consequences may lead to great lawyers leaving the practice of law altogether.

To address these concerns, the ABA formed the National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being and challenged states and local bar associations to take similar action. Last spring, the Michigan Supreme Court heeded the call and created the Michigan Task Force on Well-Being in the Law. The Task Force make-up includes a wide range of perspectives, including representation from Michigan Supreme Court, State Bar of Michigan, the judiciary, lawyers, law schools/students, and mental health professionals.

After months of hard work, the Task Force released an extensive report with 21 specific recommendations. The first recommendation was to establish a standing Commission on Well-Being in the Law to ensure that the work started by the Task Force continue, and to utilize the forward momentum to promote well-being in the legal profession.

In September 2023, the Michigan Supreme Court formally established the Commission on Well-Being in the Law. It appointed a commissioner group comprised of judges, legal professionals from all practice areas and sizes, allies in the field of mental health, law students, and lawyers—including me. Under the guidance Justice Megan Cavanagh and Molly Ranns, Director of the State Bar of Michigan’s Lawyer and Judges Assistance Program, the Commission will lead Michigan’s holistic efforts to institute change at every level by implementing the Task Force’s remaining recommendations, focused on three distinct groups: the judiciary, attorneys, and law schools/students.

The Task Force provided tailored recommendations for each group. Overall, the recommendations focus on promoting a culture of well-being and reducing the stigma of mental health and substance use problems. They also encourage the utilization of and collaboration between existing resources like the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program.

Read the full Michigan Task Force on Well-Being in the Law report and keep up with Michigan’s Lawyer Well-Being initiatives here: [https://www.courts.michigan.gov/administration/special-initiatives/well-being-in-the-law/]


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