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Will Your Firm Take the ABA Pledge for Lawyer Well-Being?

The American Bar Association Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession has created a pledge for law firms to commit to in order to help ensure lawyers can take care of their mental well-being and are not pressured into making unhealthy decisions.

The pledge was created in response to survey results from last year that showed that mental health and substance abuse problems are more prevalent than previously believed. Over 20 percent of lawyers responding to the survey reported problematic alcohol use, and nearly 30 percent suffered depression. Given these results, if firms aren't careful, they could be bringing up those averages of 1 in 3 lawyers being depressed, and 1 in 5 having a drinking problem. That's where the ABA's Pledge comes in.

Pledge And Describe

The ABA's pledge isn't just some toothless, self-serving, hiring and retention gimmick. For law firms to take the pledge they must answer a series of questions that probe whether the firm is part of the problem, or part of the solution. Well, maybe there aren't teeth, but it actually requires some action beyond signing a letter.

The pledge asks firms to describe the following activities it has engaged in in the following format:

  • We have provided enhanced and robust educational opportunities to our attorneys and staff on topics related to well-being, substance use disorders, and mental health distress. Describe at least one program your organization put on during the past year:
  • We have disrupted the status quo of drinking-based events: Describe at least one way in which your organization has de-emphasized alcohol:
  • We have developed visible partnerships with outside entities committed to reducing problematic substance use disorders and mental health distress in the profession. Describe at least one way in which your organization has partnered with outside entities to promote well-being:
  • We have provided confidential access to addiction and mental health experts and resources to all employees, including free, in-house self-assessment tools. Describe the ways in which your organization has fulfilled this commitment (optional):
  • We have a proactive written protocol and leave policy that covers the assessment and treatment of substance use and mental health problems, including a defined back-to-work policy following treatment. Describe the ways in which your organization has fulfilled this commitment (optional):
  • We have actively and consistently promoted and encouraged help-seeking and self-care as core values of our organizations. Describe at least one way in which your organization has fulfilled this commitment:
  • We have highlighted the adoption of this well-being framework to attract and retain the best lawyers and staff. Describe at least one way in which your organization has fulfilled this commitment:

And if, after reading through that list, you're worried about taking the pledge, don't worry, you don't have to answer those questions for one year. Since you have time to change, pledging now can help make sure your firm follows through on the commitment.

Law Firm Mindfulness

Practicing law for more than a couple weeks can break even the sharpest minds. Okay, maybe that's an overstatement, but the daily grind can impact lawyers differently. Clearly the numbers show that a significant number of lawyers are impacted by the job and the attendant pressures.

Unfortunately, too many lawyers neglect self care and turn to alcohol, or other substances, which is a recipe for a mental health disaster. And while pushing the boundaries on behalf of clients may be part of the job, there's no way you can as effective while you're pushing your liver, brain, or body's boundaries. And with what we now know, firms can actually do something to promote long term employment and a healthy, supportive working environment.

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