Lawyer Well-Being, The Utah Lawyer Well-Being Study: Preliminary Results Show Utah Lawyers at Risk, 0420 UTBJ, Vol. 33, No. 2. 29

AuthorBy Matthew S. Thiese, PhD, MSPH
PositionVol. 33 2 Pg. 29

Lawyer Well-Being, The Utah Lawyer Well-Being Study: Preliminary Results Show Utah Lawyers at Risk

Vol. 33 No. 2 Pg. 29

Utah Bar Journal

April, 2020

March, 2020

By Matthew S. Thiese, PhD, MSPH

Lawyers and doctors have much in common. One similarity is the history of both professions largely ignoring mental health in the workplace. Due to the unfortunate stigma associated with mental health concerns, those who had feelings of depression, anxiety, or other negative thoughts have traditionally been forced to face them alone.

Fortunately, the medical field is paying attention and scientifically assessing both why this is happening and how they can best address the issue. As a result, we’re seeing an increased recognition of the meaningful connection between positive mental health and physical health, as well as the positive relationship between elevated well-being and increased productivity, performance, and job satisfaction. These desirable connections have translated to boosting the performance of entire medical industries and companies.

The legal field is similarly seeing highly elevated incidents of mental health and well-being issues. However, unlike the medical field, law is lagging behind in efforts to scientifically understand both the why and the how. This means that there is very scant data on which to base decisions regarding actual risk factors for lawyers and potential interventions that might work.

What we do know is that each of the seven peer-reviewed publications assessing lawyer well-being report some level of serious concern. Lawyers rank fourth in suicides among professionals, behind dentists, pharmacists, and doctors. A 2016 study of 13,000 lawyers across nineteen states showed 11.5% of practicing lawyers experience suicidal thoughts. Patrick R. Krill et al., The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. addiction med. 46, 49–50 (2016). Many recent lawyer suicides are linked to depression. The national lawyer study also showed that lawyers have a high prevalence of depression (~25%), anxiety (~20%), problematic alcohol use (24% to 36%), substance abuse (11%), and burnout (14%). Id. at 48–50.

This data has raised concerns with the Utah Supreme Court about the state of lawyer well-being in Utah. In response, the court organized a task force in 2018, charged with both assessing the state of lawyer well-being in Utah and making recommendations to increase...

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