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In recent years, a significant number of researchers, academics, and writers (including those of us at FindLaw) have devoted time and word counts to concerns over mental health in the legal profession. However, many new initiatives focus only on attorneys – leaving other professionals out in the cold. Law firm staff endure many of the same pressures and toxic environments as attorneys; yet, they often don’t have the same resources to deal with them.
A Google search for “mental health help for attorneys” turns up about 48 million results, with eight of the top ten being resources catered to helping lawyers who are struggling. However, replace “attorney” with “paralegal” in that search, and you get only 6 million hits, the top results being job postings across the country. Not a single one of the top results was a resource aimed at helping paralegals coping with work stressors.
So, it seems, the first step in addressing the issue is getting people to talk about it.
In 2018, the American Bar Association launched a pledge campaign aimed at addressing mental health and substance abuse issues amongst attorneys. Law firms have been encouraged to form well-being committees (who doesn’t love a good committee?) and create incentives for attorneys to take care of themselves. The best way to ensure everyone in the firm does well is simple: Include everyone in these initiatives. When putting together the well-being committee, nominate a non-attorney staff representative.
Although there are resources available to help someone who is not an attorney, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, they do not offer the industry-specific guidance of Lawyer Assistance Programs. However, this issue can be addressed at the firm level by including all staff in mental health initiatives.