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Growing ABA wellness campaign includes anti-stigma efforts

The American Bar Association campaign to advance well-being in the legal profession — aimed at both legal employers and individual lawyers — continues to grow.

Since its launch in September 2018, the ABA has collected about 160 signatories to a well-being pledge by legal employers, which commit to improve lawyer wellness. Those signing include law firms, corporate entities, law schools, government agencies and legal aid organizations. 

The ABA is working with several groups to address the legal profession’s high rates of substance-use disorders and mental health issues.

The ABA is working with several groups to address the legal profession’s high rates of substance-use disorders and mental health issues.

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During a second phase that begins next year, signatories will be asked to describe concrete steps taken toward the objectives set out in the program’s seven-point framework. This request will be made annually.

Separately, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which is spearheading both parts of the initiative, is working to reduce lawyers’ reluctance to step forward to address mental health and substance-use disorders. It is rolling out a campaign that will feature a series of videos highlighting the personal recovery stories of lawyers, judges and law students.

“Seeking help is a sign of strength not weakness. Please, don’t wait,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez says in the first video, titled “Speaking Out to End Stigma.”

The efforts continue the push by the ABA and others to address the legal profession’s troubling rates of alcohol and other substance-use disorders, as well as mental health issues. In 2016, a joint study by the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation documented that lawyers struggle with these problems at levels substantially above those of the general population or other highly educated professionals.

A resolution passed by the ABA House of Delegates in 2017 approved ABA work to reduce mental health and substance-use disorders and improve the well-being of lawyers, judges and law students. The resolution also embraced 44 different recommendations spelled out by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which included several ABA entities.

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