Recognizing Lawyer Well-Being Week with CoLAP

Bree BuchananToday, the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being kicks off its first annual Lawyer Well-Being Week. From May 4-8, the Taskforce, the American Bar Association, and other participating organizations will sponsor activities, CLEs, and events around the five dimensions of well-being: physical, spiritual, occupational & intellectual, social, and emotional.

A significant number of lawyers struggle with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Up to 36% of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28% report symptoms of depression, and 23% feel stressed. The anxiety resulting from COVID-19 has the potential to exacerbate these symptoms.

We spoke with Bree Buchanan, JD, a Senior Advisor at Krill Strategies LLC, Co-Chair and Co-Founder of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, and Chair of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), about COVID-19’s impact on attorney well-being and what CoLAP has planned for Lawyer Well-Being Week.

CoLAP has created a great list of COVID-19 mental health resources. What other things is CoLAP doing to support lawyers during the pandemic?

The most important thing CoLAP can do right now is highlight the amazing work that the state lawyers’ assistance programs are doing to provide support to lawyers, judges, and law students across the country. We know that the rate of mental health and substance use disorders – already disproportionately high among legal professionals – is going to skyrocket over the coming months. Every member of the profession has access to their services which are confidential, free, top-notch, and can be accessed anonymously.

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the legal profession looks at mental health?

I firmly believe that the profession will have to change as the mental health fallout of months of isolation, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty will really start to take its toll. When a person’s well-being and resilience are lowered – correspondingly – burnout and disengagement begin to rise. These conditions set the stage for high turnover, increased liability, and poor productivity all of which are conditions that should quickly get the attention of the major legal employers.

What does CoLAP have planned for Lawyer Well-Being Week? How can people get involved?

CoLAP is a co-sponsor of the first annual Lawyer Well-Being Week to be held May 4-8, partnering with the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and the ABA’s Law Practice Division. An amazing array of free programs (all virtual) – webinars, blogs, podcasts, chats, guided meditation sessions – are being held throughout the week and across the country. Those interested in joining can go to the website to find out more and register for individual programs.

As the legal profession adjusts to the “new normal,” will CoLAP change its priorities/focus for the year ahead?

Given the expected increase in behavioral health issues such as substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, and burnout, I believe that CoLAP and the LAPs will be of even greater importance to the legal profession and should see a rise in requests for individual assistance, as well as for systemic collaboration. While CoLAP has promoted well-being as a means to prevent the problems, we may in the near term refocus on making sure that essential support and services are readily available to those in need.

If lawyers, judges, or law students are experiencing mental health and/or substance use issues or know someone who is, what should they do?

They should contact their state lawyers’ assistance program (tip: put your state’s name and “lawyers’ assistance program” into your search engine) and ask to consult with one of their professionals. If the concern is for a colleague, a free and confidential consultation with an expert can help determine the best way to support that colleague.

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Lawyer Well-Being Week is a joint effort of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, the ABA’s Law Practice Division and Attorney Well-Being Committee, and CoLAP’s Well-Being Committee. To learn more, visit lawyerwellbeing.net.

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