Earlier this week, I took office as President of the 4,000-member Austin Bar Association, an organization whose mission is to enhance the legal profession, the administration of justice, and our community through education, networking, and public service.
Austin Bar presidents often focus on a theme or issue during their terms. My predecessor’s was pro bono legal services. Mine is lawyer well-being.
As a subject, well-being covers a lot of ground. Managing stress, physical health, diet and exercise, and social connectedness are all included. What makes headlines, though, are lawyer deaths resulting from mental-health issues or substance abuse. These stories have been in the news all too often lately.
When you look at the numbers, it’s no wonder. According to the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program website:
- 32% of lawyers 30 years old or younger have a drinking problem
- 28% of lawyers struggle with some level of depression
- 19% of lawyers demonstrate symptoms of anxiety
- 11% of lawyers have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their career
TLAP, an arm of the State Bar of Texas, assists lawyers with substance abuse and mental-health issues on a voluntary and confidential basis. At the national level, the American Bar Association created a Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession and has published the group’s work on its website. No doubt, these are great resources.
In my view, though, lawyer well-being starts locally, and more needs to be done at the local bar level. That’s why, as President, I’ve created the Austin Bar Association Lawyer Well-Being Committee.
Like the Austin Bar, the Lawyer Well-Being Committee has a specific mission: to educate, support, and connect our legal community to achieve more balanced, mindful, and joyful lives and practices. Its first priority is to start conversations within the community to help break the stigma that keeps those in need from reaching out and seeking help before it’s too late. The goal is to positively impact well-being before significant problems develop.
I’ll be talking a lot about the Committee’s work over the next year. In addition to the President’s Column, we’ll have a monthly article in Austin Lawyer addressing lawyer well-being.
Program planning will be kicking off soon, with announcements to follow. I’m excited to be taking this on and look forward to sharing more.