The Pursuit of Attorney Well-Being, 0421 COBJ, Vol. 50, No. 4 Pg. 18

PositionVol. 50, 4 [Page 18]

50 Colo.Law. 18

The Pursuit of Attorney Well-Being

Vol. 50, No. 4 [Page 18]

Colorado Lawyer

April, 2021


How Organizations Can Ethically Assist Attorneys with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues


Legal employer A wants to establish a lawyer well-being program for its lawyers, encouraging them to approach management for help with their mental health or substance abuse. Lawyer B works for employer A and has a drinking problem. She wants to get help from her employer but fears being reported to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. How can employer A create a way for lawyer B to candidly discuss her issues and get the help she needs without subjecting her to discipline? The answer is: it's complicated—but legal employers and their employees desperately need to figure this out. Fortunately, we are not alone. In recent years, there has been a profession-wide discussion about well-being, and the Colorado

Supreme Court has committed to helping lawyers pursue well-being by convening a task force to study the issue under the leadership of Justice Monica M. Marquez.1

This article identifies challenges to promoting lawyer well-being and offers current resources that can assist with meeting those challenges. Hopefully, it will also stimulate a fruitful discussion that generates lasting solutions.

Framing the Challenges

This pandemic has been hard on lawyers, driving isolation, anxiety, and substance abuse to record levels. Of course, the data show that lawyers—more than other "high stress" professions—generally suffer from heightened incidences of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.2 The pandemic has only made this worse as it interrupts our work life, our social life, and our connections to peers and family.

Experts tell us that "stigma" is a significant inhibiting factor for most lawyers, discouraging them from seeking help for well-being issues.3 Stigma arises from fear that other lawyers or judges will think poorly of the lawyer, that clients will become insecure, or that disciplinary authorities will take action if the issue is reported. For lawyers, this "professional stigma" fear is layered over the typical societal fear that any individual with mental health issues or substance abuse issues may face when contemplating asking for help and revealing a vulnerability.

The Ethics Environment

So how do supervising lawyers4 address stigma and encourage their peers and subordinate lawyers5 to come forward and get help while remaining ethical and discharging their obligations under the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (Colo. RPC)? How can supervising lawyers and subordinate lawyers work together to ensure we are all ethically pursuing and enhancing lawyer well-being, especially in these days of COVID-19? Supervising lawyers have obligations under Colo. RPC 5.1.6 All...

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