May 6, 2020 – As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues, the well-being of lawyers will continue to be of concern to the legal profession, a high-stress profession that is susceptible to higher rates of substance abuse and mental health issues.
During this National Lawyer Well-Being Week, State Bar of Wisconsin Legal Writer Joe Forward chatted with Wauwatosa-based attorney Lindsey Draper.
Draper is the former chair of Wisconsin’s Lawyer Fund for Client Protection and a current member of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. The task force is a coalition of entities committed to a movement toward improving lawyer well-being.
The task force was created after landmark studies that indicated many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse, and has since published resources to help legal profession stakeholders such as law firms, regulators, court systems, and bar associations help change the culture.
Draper said dating back to 2016, the major studies indicated that the legal profession had very specific needs and there was a recognition that more should be done to reach lawyers before it’s too late – before they have harmed a client or their own reputation.
“We ask tremendous amounts of individuals who are practicing,” said Draper, a retired Milwaukee County court commissioner. “We have a highly competitive profession that says rigorous hard work is what will make you successful, and we want to make sure that people understand at times that takes a toll on our members.”
Draper noted that the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, in 2017, published a report with more than 40 recommendations on how legal profession stakeholders could help improve lawyer well-being in their own jurisdictions.
For instance, the report encourages bar associations to sponsor high-quality CLE programming on well-being related topics and establish a lawyer well-being committee.
Recently, the State Bar established a Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being Task Force, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Members will study and recommend ways that Wisconsin’s legal community can move forward to promote lawyer well-being.
Draper said the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being will continue to drive discussions and provide resources, such as the Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers. But he also said there’s much more work to be done.
“One of the things that has been really important to communicate across the legal culture is that our members are more than just lawyers. They are fathers and mothers. They are people who have families,” Draper said.
“Many lawyers who spend 60 or more hours per week in the office are now finding themselves at home. One of the recommendations has been to look at the pledge that says we will incorporate consideration of family, and we will incorporate the need to be mindful of personal lives in our expectations of lawyers,” Draper said.
Draper encourages lawyers, legal employers, and organizations to check out the National Lawyer Well-Being Week website for activities and resources.
“We're all dealing with a time that's unlike anything that we've ever seen,” Draper said. “A good lawyer is a healthy lawyer, and one of the things that would be the biggest takeaway I would hope from Lawyer Well-Being week is that lawyers have to take care of themselves. That is how they'll be able to take care of their clients.”
WisLAP is Confidential and Here to Help
Feeling overwhelmed? The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) is a member service of the State Bar of Wisconsin that provides free confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families in coping with substance abuse or dependence, mental health challenges, or other stressors that negatively impact the quality of life and the practice of law. The program is designed to help members and their families build on their strengths and to provide support through services that promote physical, mental, and emotional health. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
WisLAP offers the following services:
- Initial evaluation
- Peer assistance
- Education, including CLE programs
WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
WisLAP Manager: Mary Spranger (800) 444-9404, ext. 6159
WisLAP Coordinator: Jason Magill (800) 444-9404, ext. 6151