SIDEBAR Summer 2019 - 14

MONTGOMERYBAR.ORG

public defender

Doing Good by Staying Well:
Making a Place for Wellness
in the Legal Community.

By Keisha N. Hudson, Esq., Deputy Chief Public Defender, Montgomery County,
and Gabby Unipan, Summer Intern (Bowdoin University)

C

hief of Appeals Lee Awbrey identifies a lack of wellness
in legal professions as a "professional liability across the
board." Awbrey admits that, as public defenders, "we
deal with clients and their families who experience, repeatedly,
personal and institutionalized trauma"; therefore, lawyers are
regularly exposed to secondary trauma themselves. Neglecting
one's own well-being, she says, can lead to emotional burnout,
exhaustion, and even physical ailments.
Awbrey's commentary is indicative of a much larger trend
across the profession: according to a 2016 study conducted
by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer
Assistance, between 21 and 36 percent of practicing lawyers are
problem drinkers; 28 percent suffer from depression; 19 percent
struggle with anxiety; and 23 percent are impaired by stress. Law
students fare little better - 17 percent are depressed; 14 percent
suffer severe anxiety; 6 percent reported suicidal thoughts in the
past year; and 22 percent engaged in binge drinking during the
year.
These statistics shed light on what many lawyers have known
their entire career: lawyers are stressed. As Awbrey discussed,
oftentimes the job requires you to juggle many responsibilities
and operate under deadlines, all while handling the emotional
care that comes with interacting with clients and their families.
These tasks can lead to unhealthy behavior, as the study shows.
Because of these trends, the American Bar Association (ABA)

14 SIDEBAR

has taken steps to set the initiative in addressing and promoting
well-being among legal professionals.
The ABA's National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being was
initiated in 2016 to investigate and make recommendations,
addressing each stakeholder in the profession about how to
better engage in wellness and how to encourage colleagues to do
so as well. Since then, the ABA has developed a number of other
resources for legal organizations to utilize in attempts to increase
the health - and therefore, the performance - of their employees.
The ABA Lawyer Well-Being Toolkit, written by Anne Brafford,
provides guidance on setting up and enhancing lawyer wellbeing programs. Their Anti-Stigma Campaign, meant to separate
stigma from help-getting behaviors, and Law School Mental
Health Day, to spread awareness of mental health issues in law
students, are just a few examples.
The ABA's initiative in addressing wellness issues has
encouraged legal organizations across the country to follow their
lead. "Dry January," an annual phenomenon that started as a
public health campaign in Britain in 2013, is gaining popularity
in the States as a way to counteract substance abuse problems
in legal professions and promote a substance-free life by setting
alcohol aside from firm-related events.
Intervention extends to law school as well; in January of this
year, the University of Pennsylvania Law School launched a pilot
program that incorporates a session on attorney well-being into


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SIDEBAR Summer 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of SIDEBAR Summer 2019

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARFall2018
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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARWinter2017-18
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