The legal profession is in the throes of a mental health crisis. State bars across the country continue to be rocked by the tragic loss of their lawyers to suicide and accidental drug overdose. Recent studies have also shed further light on the severity and scale of lawyers’ long-recognized struggles with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other indicators of psychological distress.
The human cost of the crisis for lawyers and their loved ones cannot be overstated; without question, the premature loss of members of the bar to death and chronic disease is tragic for the affected lawyers and those who care for them. The grim data on the mental wellbeing of lawyers is also concerning given the dual role that the profession entrusts lawyers to play in protecting their clients’ interests and in ensuring and strengthening the rule of law. Lawyers’ degraded mental health fundamentally undermines their ability to deliver on those commitments. The American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being put it simply in its 2017 report: “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. ” But at what point, and in what sense, do preventable tragedies and risks to the quality of legal advocacy translate into a profession-wide crisis? At a high level, there are at least two possible approaches to answering this question.
Krause, C. A., & Chong, J. (2019). Lawyer Wellbeing as a Crisis of the Profession. SCL Rev., 71, 203.