"This Report makes a compelling case that the legal profession is at a crossroads. Our current course, one involving widespread disregard for lawyer well-being and its effects, is not sustainable.... Our members suffer at alarming rates from conditions that impair our ability to function at levels compatible with high ethical standards and public expectations. Depression, anxiety, chronic stress, burnout, and substance use disorders exceed those of many other professions. We have ignored this state of affairs long enough....As a profession, we have the capacity to face these challenges and create a better future for our lawyers that is sustainable. We can do so - not in spite of- but in pursuit of the highest professional standards, business paractices and ethical ideals."
The above quotes are taken from a report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being, from a task force established by the American Bar Association, reporting in August of this year. The full report can be found here www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/abanews/ThePathToLawyerWellBeingReportRevFINAL.pdf This is ground breaking work for so many reasons. First it comes with the full weight of the ABA behind it. Second it sets out in very simple, undeniable terms, the absolute certainty of the need for action. Third it seeks to build a concensus for action across every part of the legal community, lawyers, law firms, lawyer assistance programmes, law schools, the judiciary, legal insurers and regulators, highlighting to each their interest in and the role they can play in supporting lawyer wellbeing. Finally, it makes the case on a variety of levels, not least that being well is essential to being able to perform the role of lawyer, that it is part of a lawyer's ethical duty of competence.
The report followed on from research in to mental illness and substance abuse across the legal profession in the US. The profession in the UK has to yet to grasp the nettle, have the courage, to conduct similar research. While that remains the case we either have to guess at the equivalent state of affairs in the UK or we can assume a similar state of affairs as exists in the US and take action now.
State Bars in the US are beginning to act on this report. In Illinois it is now mandatory for every lawyer to have an hour of wellbeing training in every two year CPD reporting period (and a similar amount of diversity and inclusion training). The Californian Bar has similar requirements. The recommendations of the Report go much further than simply biannual training, to make lawyer wellbeing a central focus for the profession and everyone connected with it.
For firms with operations in California and Illinois, the requirement to act is now mandatory in respect of lawyers practising there. It can only be a matter of time before this spreads throughout the US and, most probably, to the UK. One way to prevent such a level of regulation would be for lawyers and their firms to take the initiative and act voluntarily. It must be in our interests to do so. The duty of ethical competence is one basis for action to which the report refers. Another is organisational success - the bottom line. The final basis is a humanitarian one - it is the right thing to do. We should all be able to find a call to action among those three!