Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism: five ways to improve well-being in the legal profession

Stephanie Villinski, Deputy Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, has released her take on improving lawyer well-being, based on ‘The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference’, which is the Commission on Professionalism’s annual future law event.

Ms. Villinski reflects on the fact that many of the changes that can have the greatest impact are in fact simple and easily implementable. With not all changes requiring a major change.

Her recommendations include:

  • Improving practitioner awareness around legal assistance programmes
  • creating clear KPIs and success measure
  • creating cultural shifts, and
  • encouraging professionals to lead by example

Read more about the conclusions and the conference here. 

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Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys

Abstract

Rates of mental illness and heavy alcohol use are exceedingly high in the legal profession, while attrition among women has also been a longstanding problem. Work overcommitment, work-family conflict, permissiveness toward alcohol in the workplace, and the likelihood of promotion are all implicated but have yet to be systematically investigated. Data were collected from 2,863 lawyers randomly sampled from the California Lawyers Association and D.C. Bar to address this knowledge gap. Findings indicated that the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, stress, and risky/hazardous drinking were significantly higher among women. Further, one-quarter of all women contemplated leaving the profession due to mental health concerns, compared to 17% of men. Logistic models were conducted to identify workplace factors predictive of stress, risky drinking, and contemplating leaving the profession. Overcommitment and permissiveness toward alcohol at work were associated with the highest likelihood of stress and risky drinking (relative to all other predictors) for both men and women. However, women and men differed with respect to predictors of leaving the profession due to stress or mental health. For women, work-family conflict was associated with the highest likelihood of leaving, while overcommitment was the number one predictor of leaving for men. Mental health and gender disparities are significant problems in the legal profession, clearly requiring considerable and sustained attention.

Anker J, Krill PR (2021) Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250563.

Available on PLOS ONE. 

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NSW law society to provide solicitors with session with psychologist

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has launched its new Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) as part of its ongoing efforts to support the mental health and wellbeing of the state’s lawyers. Solicitors in the state will be provided with 3 sessions a year, with a qualified psychologist free of charge, and will also be provided with a 365 day a year psychological support hotline.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Richard Harvey, said the launch of the new SOS comes at a time when many in the legal profession are dealing with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding: “As we well know, the legal profession is far from immune from having its own susceptibility to mental health distress. It’s possible that some members of the legal profession will be at heightened risk due to the unpredictability about the scale, duration and impact of COVID-19, along with other factors such as the challenges of working remotely, lack of regular exercise and restricted social engagement… While many large law firms and organisations provide support through their Employee Assistance Programs, there are solicitors in smaller practices, especially in regional areas, who don’t have access to this support. The Law Society is committed to providing best practice and relevant mental health and support services to all NSW solicitors.”

Read the society’s statement on the new services.

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Law Society of Scotland launches new mental health action plan

On Wednesday the 3rd June, The Law Society of Scotland launched a three-year action plan that aims to tackle the stigma around mental health in the legal sector.

The plan follows the release of a survey in 2019 on the Scottish legal profession and individual views on mental health and the workplace. The full survey findings are broken down in the new report, The status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the Scottish legal profession

The survey was run in partnership with See Me, the Scotland-wide programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

The report, based on analysis of 1242 responses, found that 77% of respondents wanted to better understand mental health problems to be able to provide support. More than half of respondents also said that training for managers (62%) and staff (54%) would be beneficial to improve workplace culture.

The survey also explored if legal professionals felt they could discuss mental health issues at work. It found that:

  • 46% of respondents believed opportunities for staff to have open and honest conversations about mental health would create a more positive attitude
  • 39% of respondents felt the senior leaders in their organisation show their commitment to staff mental health
  • However: 24% thought supervisors/line managers knew how to support staff in relation to their mental health and wellbeing.
  • 24% had observed or were aware of stigmatising attitudes to mental health and 23% also said they had observed or were aware of discrimination within their own organisations.

In response to the survey findings, the Law Society has set out a seven-step framework for change. It includes working with leaders across the sector to create a more open culture, promoting mental health engagement and awareness campaigns and developing its existing Lawscot Wellbeing online portal as a one-stop-shop for all resources. The society has also committed to improving awareness of mental health issues within its own organisation and carrying out a follow-up review in 3 years time.

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland 2020-21 and who is an accredited specialist in both Mental Health Law, and Incapacity and Mental Disability Law, said:

“I’m proud that we have been the first professional body in Scotland to have carried out a sector-wide survey of this kind, and to be publishing our new action plan for change today. However some of the report’s findings are not easy reading and it is clear that there is work to be done to change how we view mental health issues in the profession.

We understand the challenges. Working in law is demanding and can be pressurised at times, with substantial workloads and long hours involved in helping people resolve their legal issues, which can affect both our physical and mental health.

However, we are committed to tackling stigma and discrimination in the legal profession. We will engage with the profession and respond to feedback on how we work towards changing workplace culture by opening up conversations around mental health and, importantly, developing the right support mechanisms over the next three years.”

See the full article on the LawScot site.

Read the action plan (PDF), or see the full report. (PDF).

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