Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) Highlights

2020

April

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs offers mental health resources for the legal profession to assist in understanding, coping and prioritizing mental health, well-being and recovery. Learn more

The Commission partnered with the Well-Being Committee of the ABA Law Practice Division and the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, to launch the first annual Lawyer Well-Being Week taking place May 4-8.  The aim of Lawyer Well-Being Week is to raise awareness and encourage action across the profession to improve well-being for lawyers and their support teams. The event offers coordinated activities, webinars and well-being resources, including several guides on how to do LWBW remotely.  Learn more 

The Commission presented a CLE webinar program on April 6, 2020, titled Staying Mentally Safe, Sound and Sober During COVID-19, featuring Chair Bree Buchanan and Commission member Tish Vincent on the panel of speakers. The webinar drew over 450 participants and is now available on-demand. 

The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and its subcommittees continue to meet monthly telephonically to discuss work plans and several ongoing projects.  At its most recent meeting, the Commission met to discuss the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility a draft Resolution circulated by the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and submitted comments to the Chair of the Ethics Committee. The draft Resolution seeks to amend Model Rule 1.8 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to create an exception that would permit lawyers to provide financial assistance to indigent clients.

March

As part of the reorganization, CPR received and embraced responsibility for the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), whose Well-Being Initiative has thrived and grown.  One of its programs is the Well-Being pledge, by which organizations (including the ABA) commit themselves to providing well-being programs for their staff.  On March 24, 2020, the first Pledge Workshop was to be held in Washington D.C.  Due to pandemic protocols, the meeting was converted to a virtual event conducted via Zoom. As of that date, 176 organizations had made the pledge; 193 registrants participated in the meeting, which was free to participants.  The Well-Being initiative has become one of the strongest member programs, as evidenced by its reach and impact. Its continued growth is limited only by its lack of funding in the current budget.  It is a perfect fit with CPR because high-risk behavior by lawyers that impact their practices and lead to ethical violations typically arise from breakdowns in the lawyers’ well-being and self-care.  This continues to be a central activity for CPR.   

As part of the new ABA membership model, the Center for Professional Responsibility produces one, one-hour webinar on a professional responsibility topic monthly that the ABA offers free to all ABA members.  It is therefore a significant member-development tool, as it creates 12 hours per year of MCLE compliance cost-free, whereas members would have to pay $50 or more per CLE hour to meet their MCLE obligations.  Prior to their being offered as a free member benefit, webinars have ha as few as 2-5 participants; they now have typically over 100 per program.  All these webinars begin at 1:00 pm and run until 2:04 pm.

February

Support for the ABA Well-Being Pledge Campaign continues to grow.  In the last month, seven legal employers have been added as pledge signatories, including several law firms, an NFL organization, and a health care insurance company.  To date, 179 legal employers have committed to the ABA Well-Being Pledge.   Also, the Commission Conference Planning Committee is planning the 2020 National Conference on Lawyer Assistance Programs to be held October 20-22 in Springfield, MA.

CoLAP Counsel, Theresa Gronkiewicz was a speaker on a panel at the “Emotional Well-Being in the Legal Profession” Seminar in San Francisco sponsored by The Conference Board to discuss the ABA’s well-being initiatives, the Pledge and CoLAP’s campaign to de-stigmatize mental health and substance use disorders in the legal profession and the importance of asking for help.  CoLAP’s Counsel, Theresa Gronkiewicz was invited to speak at two well-being conferences to discuss the ABA’s role in the legal professions’ well-being movement and CoLAP’s Well-Being initiatives, including a discussion about the ABA Well-Being Pledge and the CoLAP’s Anti-Stigma Campaign.  One conference was titled: Emotional Well-Being in the Legal Profession: Safeguarding Attorneys, Enhancing Law Firm Culture, and Ensuring Excellent Service, and the other:  Employee Wellness Summit for Law Firms & Professional Services

CoLAP conducted a business meeting in conjunction with the ABA 2020 Midyear Meeting in Austin, TX, to discuss its ongoing initiatives and programs, including its work to support the ABA Well-Being Pledge. The Commission’s Well-Being Committee disseminated the annual Pledge Commitment form to Pledge signatories, and is planning an in-person workshop for Pledge members scheduled on March 24, 2020 at the American University Washington College of Law in D.C. There are 125 registrants to date. The Commission continues to develop podcasts for its The Path to Law Student Well-Being Podcast Series, and released its seventh episode, Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being? These podcasts feature law students and legal educators discussing relevant issues regarding law student well-being, character and fitness, mental health, and substance use disorders and are available on CoLAP’s website and the iTunes podcast library.

2019

December

The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and its six subcommittees each continue to meet monthly telephonically to discuss work plans and several ongoing projects, including providing ongoing support for the ABA Well-Being Pledge, and the draft report of its stress and resilience survey of federal and state judges. The Commission’s Well-Being Committee is planning to disseminate the annual commitment form to Pledge members in early January 2020, and is discussing plans for an in-person workshop for Pledge members to be scheduled in Spring 2020.

Commission Member Janet Stearns and Commission Advisory Committee Member David Jaffe authored an article titled, Conduct Yourselves Accordingly: Amending Bar Character and Fitness Questions To Promote Lawyer Well-Being, about the impact of intrusive character and fitness questions that do not specifically address the applicant’s conduct in bar admission applications around mental health and substance use and the importance of removing such questions to help facilitate appropriate help-seeking activities by law students while in law school which, will ultimately lead to a healthier and more competent bar. The article was published in The Professional Lawyer, Vol. 26, No. 2.

October

At the Conference dinner in Austin, TX, the Commission presented Larry Krieger, Clinical Professor and Co-Director of Clinical Externship Programs at Florida State University College of Law with the 2019 Law Student Wellness Award.  This award recognizes a law student, law school, staff or faculty member who has made a significant initiative or contribution toward law student mental and physical wellness through prevention, education, intervention and treatment of substance abuse, addiction, and mental illness with the law student population.  The Commission also presented William John Kane, Director of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program, with the 2019 CoLAP Meritorious Service Award, given in recognition of his dedication and many years of work with lawyers and their families in recovery and tireless advocacy to improve the quality of life for lawyers.

In recognition of National and Law School Mental Health Day which falls annually on October 10, the Commission’s Law School Committee hosted a teleconference program on October 7th, moderated by Janet Stearns, chair of the Law School Committee and Dean of Students at the University of Miami Law School, to discuss well-being initiatives in law schools based on an article authored by Jordana Confino of Fordham Law School, titled Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being?: Report on the ABA CoLAP Law Student Assistance Committee Law School Wellness Survey (currently available thru SSRN). Over 196 law school deans and student service professionals representing 136 different law schools participated in the call. The Commission is encouraging law schools and others participating in Mental Health Day to share related activities over social media with the hashtag #LawStudentWellness. 

This year for Mental Health Day, the Commission partnered with the ABA Law Student Division to promote a mental health awareness t-shirt design contest. The winning design will be featured as the official ABA mental health t-shirt, and all sale proceeds will benefit CoLAP.  The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2019. Visit the Law Student Division webpage for contest rules and the online form.

The ABA Well-Being Pledge Campaign continues to generate strong interest among legal employers with over 150 legal employers to date having signed onto the Pledge. The Pledge calls upon legal employers (including law firms, corporate entities, government agencies and legal aid organizations) to take concrete steps to improve the health and well-being of all members of the legal community and pledge to support the Campaign, and work to adopt and prioritize the Pledge’s seven-point framework for building a better future. The Well-Being Pledge was one of the initiatives of the ABA Presidential Working Group to Advance Lawyer Well-Being in the Legal Profession whose term ended following the ABA 2019 Annual Meeting. The Commission’s newly formed Well-Being Committee will continue working on the Pledge Campaign. 

The Commission continues its campaign to address the stigma surrounding mental health issues and substance use disorders, and raise awareness so that all members of the legal profession can feel supported in getting the help needed to achieve recovery.  One resource available on the Commission’s website is a three-minute video, Fear Not: Speaking Out to End Stigma, featuring a judge, lawyers, and law students who openly speak about the challenges with behavioral health issues, including depression, anxiety, alcoholism and drug addiction, their recovery and the vital importance of asking for help.