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Two 2016 studies set off alarm bells about the mental health of the legal profession. Faced with statistics that signaled “an elevated risk in the legal community for mental health and substance use disorders tightly intertwined with an alcohol-based social culture,” a small group of lawyers decided to form a National Task Force to create a “movement towards improving the health and wellbeing of the legal profession.”
In 2017, that task force issued a report – The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.
Since then, there have been many steps taken, on both the state and national levels to improve lawyer well-being.
Each jurisdiction has an organization dedicated to promoting well-being for law students, lawyers, and judges. Some are referred to as Lawyer Assistance Programs, or LAPs, while others are called Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers or Lawyers Helping Lawyers. The LAPs conduct outreach to law schools, law firms and other organizations to educate about the many services they offer. Many LAPs have licensed clinicians and/or social workers on staff who can evaluate whether formal therapy or treatment is needed and assist in locating treatment providers. LAPs assist with any issue affecting well-being, ranging from anxiety to substance use.
Each and every LAP commits to confidential communication. For more information about a local LAP, click on the applicable state in this chart.
Lawyer well-being is at the heart of lawyers’ ethical obligations to competently serve their clients. Maintaining lawyers’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being is an important aspect of competently serving their clients.
There are two ethics rules at the forefront of any discussion about well-being. First, is ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1, which requires lawyers to provide competent representation.
Second, ABA Model Rule 1.16(a)(2) provides that a lawyer shall withdraw from a representation if the lawyer's “physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer's ability to represent the client.”
A third, related rule is ABA Model Rule 8.3, which requires a lawyer to report to the appropriate authority any lawyer known to have violated an ethics rule that “raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
But Model Rule 8.3 makes clear it doesn't require that any information be disclosed that is protected under ABA Model Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality) or gained while participating in an approved lawyers assistance program.
It is important to always check the rules of professional conduct that apply to you, which may be in more than one jurisdiction. See ABA Model Rule 8.5 (Choice of Law).
For more ethics-related content, go to the ABA/Bloomberg Law Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct. State-specific resources can be found by clicking on any jurisdiction in the map on that page.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1.800.273.8255