We Are Our Colleague’s Keeper

Helping Lawyers Overcome Substance Abuse

We are a self-regulated profession. That means that we have a duty to protect the public, including from impaired lawyers. We also have an obligation to help our colleagues who may be suffering from alcohol or substance abuse.

Too often I instead hear stories of lawyers covering for, or enabling, the dysfunction. That’s why I was gratified to be asked to join the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. The National Task Force was formed in the wake of two studies that came out in 2016.

Professors Jerome M. Organ, David B. Jaffee and Katherine M. Bender published “Suffering in Silence,”a report in the Journal of Legal Education based on a survey of law students’ use of alcohol, drugs and their inclination to seek help. The study involved 3,300 students at 15 different law schools. The findings were shocking: one quarter were at risk for alcoholism, 17 percent suffered from depression, 14 percent had severe anxiety, 23 percent had mild or moderate anxiety, and 6 percent had suicidal thoughts within the prior year. The longer the students attended law school, the more they drank and the more anxious they got.

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association teamed up with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to survey and publish a report on substance abuse and other mental health issues of attorneys. According to the report, 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28 per-cent struggle with some level of depression and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. The study found that younger attorneys in the first 10 years of practice exhibit the highest incidence of these problems.

READ MORE Chicago Daily Law Bulletin Volume 163 No. 174 September 7, 2017

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