A New York State Bar Association task force on attorney well-being aims to promote a culture of improved mental and physical health among lawyers, and plans to address new challenges stemming from the coronavirus.
The task force includes working groups to study nine subtopics, ranging from emotional well-being, to substance use and addiction, to public trust and ethics. The panel looks to release its report in a year, bar association president President Scott Karson said.
It hopes to build on the work of the American Bar Association and other national lawyer groups that have addressed the issues in recent years. Karson said he hopes the report will serve as a resource among New York lawyers, law students, and legal institutions—and as a model for other states facing similar issues.
“I envisioned doing this a long time ago,” said Karson. “Now, in light of the pandemic, attorney well-being is more important than ever.”
He said the closure of courts and law firm offices, on top of home confinement, are likely bolstering higher-then-average rates of stress, depression, and addiction among attorneys.
“All of these things pile on,” he said.
A 2016 study by an ABA commission and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation of almost 13,000 practicing attorneys found between 21% and 36% qualified as problem drinkers. About 28% struggled with depression, 19% with anxiety, and 23% with stress.
A year later, the ABA and other national lawyer groups issued recommendations on how to address and mitigate these problems.
The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being said those steps prompted changes for the better. Twenty-nine states had established working groups or task forces, and revised regulations related to continuing legal education (CLE) programming and to bar admissions, the group said. States also had commissioned studies, hosted summits, and directed funds to enhance well-being and support services for lawyers.
“The prevalence of mental health issues, stress related ailments, and addiction among lawyers is deeply troubling and necessarily out of alignment with a profession charged with the public trust,” Libby Coreno, general counsel to Bonacio Construction in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and task force co-chair, said in a statement. “In our profession, it is of paramount importance that NYSBA address these fundamentally important issues in a real, meaningful, and holistic way.”
Karen Peters, of counsel with Epstein Becker Green and a former presiding justice of the New York State Supreme Court, appellate division, third department, is the other co-chair.