Lawyer Well-Being, 0620 UTBJ, Vol. 33, No. 3. 16

AuthorBy Kent B. Scott
PositionVol. 33 3 Pg. 16

Lawyer Well-Being

Vol. 33 No. 3 Pg. 16

Utah Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

“To Be or Not to Be?” Your Choice

By Kent B. Scott


Are the legal profession and our legal institutions capable of supporting society’s need to be governed by the rule of law? There has never been a better or more important time for all sectors of the legal profession to get serious about addressing the use of controlled substances and mental health challenges among lawyers and judges. This article is a summary of the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being report on lawyer well-being. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being was a collaborative effort among representatives from the American Bar Association (ABA), Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism, the ABA Well-Being Committee, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, Association of Professional Responsibility For Lawyers, National Conference of Chief Justices, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

This collaborative effort determined that the legal profession is struggling with well-being, specifically finding that younger lawyers in their first ten years of practice and lawyers working in private firms experience the highest rates of problem drinking and depression. See The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change 7 (Aug. 14, 2017), available at images/abanews/ThePathToLawyerWellBeingReportRevFINAL.pdf [hereinafter The National Task Force Report]. In other words, the future generation of lawyers is facing less productive and satisfying careers. To quote a line from The Music Man, “Trouble, oh we got trouble, right here in River City!” THE Music Man (Warner Bros. 1962).

Defining Lawyer Well-Being

Well-being is defined as a continuous process of developing personal skills in each of the following areas: emotional safety, occupational tasks, creative development, and spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social connections with others. Lawyer well-being is part of the lawyer’s ethical duty of competence and involves the lawyer’s ability to make wise, healthy, and positive choices for the lawyer’s clients. See ABA Model R. Prof’l Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, available at publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct (last visited March 23, 2020). It is estimated that 40% to 70% of disciplinary matters in malpractice claims against lawyers involve either substance use or depression, or both substance use and depression. The National Task Force Report, supra, at 7.

The Challenge

Studies on lawyer well-being have provided mounting evidence that the legal profession faces challenges in improving lawyer well-being. The results of a survey of 3,300 law students among fifteen law schools indicated that the risk to well-being begins early on. See Jerome M. Organ, et al., Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Concerns, 66 J. Legal Educ. 1, 116–56 (2006). The survey found that 17% of law students experienced some level of depression; 23% of law students reported experiencing mild or moderate anxiety; 6% of law students reported serious suicidal thoughts in the past year; and 43% of law students reported binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks that the survey was taken. Id. at 128, 136–37, 139. And 22% of the law students surveyed reported binge drinking two or more times during the previous two weeks with one-quarter of these law students screening positive on an assessment suggesting that further screening for alcoholism would be...

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