What's New, 18 VTBJ, Winter 2018-#20

AuthorTeri Corsones, Esq.
PositionVol. 44 4 Pg. 20

WHAT’S NEW — Wellness Commission

Vol. 44 No. 4 Pg. 20

Vermont Bar Journal

Winter, 2018

Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession Update

Teri Corsones, Esq.

The Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession was the subject of a plenary session at the March 23, 2018 VBA Mid-Year Meeting. At that session, Chief Justice Paul Reiber described the background for the creation of the Commission, introduced the Commission members, and welcomed keynote speaker Terri Harrington, then-newly installed Executive Director of the New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program (NHLAP). Ms. Harrington spoke eloquently about the need for both proactive and reactive resources for members of the legal profession. Following is a synopsis of the information shared during the plenary session, an update about the Commission’s work since then, and a foretaste of next steps.

In December 2016, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published a study of practicing lawyers that revealed alarming statistics. It found that between 21 and 36 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, approximately 28 percent struggle with some level of depression, 19 percent suffer from severe anxiety and 23 percent live with elevated stress.1

A similar survey of law students, also published in 2016, showed that 25 percent of students were at risk for alcoholism, 17 percent experienced some level of depression, 14 percent suffered from severe anxiety, 23 percent exhibited mild or moderate anxiety, and 6 percent had serious suicidal thoughts in the past year.2

Although like studies have not been undertaken in Vermont, Vermont Bar Counsel Michael Kennedy extrapolated the data from the studies in a March 3, 2016 Ethical Grounds blog post entitled “Lawyers Helping Lawyers.” In the post, he suggested that approximately • 500 active Vermont attorneys are problem drinkers

• 500 active Vermont attorneys exhibit signs of problem anxiety

• 720 active Vermont attorneys struggle with some level of depression3

In response to the studies, a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being was convened and issued “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change” in August 2017.4 The Report included 44 recommendations for judges, regulators, legal employers, law schools, bar associations, lawyer assistance programs, and lawyer professional liability carriers.

The Vermont Supreme Court established the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession on January 2, 2018. In the corresponding Charge and Designation, the Court noted: • Supporting lawyer, judge and law student well-being contributes to success in the delivery of legal and judicial services, and enhances lawyer and judicial ethics.

• The Vermont Supreme Court fully supports the...

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