Over the past 2 weeks I’ve shared statistics on lawyer demographics and diversity, and lawyers’ use of technology obtained from a recent survey, The ABA Profile of the Profession. The 2020 edition of this annual survey was released over the summer and is full of lots of interesting statistics and findings about the ways that our profession is changing over time. You can download it here.
In today’s post I’m going to focus on lawyer well-being data from the Report. These statistics are particularly relevant today in light of the impact that COVID-19 has had on employees, both legal and non-legal alike. The stresses of working from home combined with the minimal social contact required by social distancing practices has made lives difficult for everyone, and only added to the typical stressors that are unique to lawyering.
Rates of addiction and mental illness
According to the Report, lawyers have always been susceptible to higher rates of depression, addiction, and suicide compared to the general population. In fact, the data shows that 21% qualify as problem drinkers, which is more than three times the rate for the general population and nearly double the rate for other highly educated professionals. Given the numbers regarding problem drinking and the stresses of day-to-day law practice, it’s no surprise that nearly a third of lawyers (28%) struggle with depression as well. And because depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand, the fact that a good number of lawyers also have symptoms of anxiety (19%) is also to be expected. Notably, 11.5% report having suicidal thoughts as well.
Addiction and mental illness undoubtedly affect the ability of lawyers who suffer from either issue to practice law effectively. This makes sense since both categories can impact critical thinking and the ability to make sound, timely decisions. That’s why the fact that survey results showed 25% to 30% of lawyers facing disciplinary charges suffer from some type of addiction or mental illness is not surprising.
How lawyers and their firms address well-being
Lawyers report that their workplaces are not exactly supportive when it comes to well-being issues. Only 26% of lawyers surveyed reported that their firms provided information on 12-step programs or other mental health resources. And only 16% of lawyers strongly agreed that their firms were very supportive of their mental health needs, while 6% strongly agreed that their firms didn’t support them at all.
Support for working parents was also unimpressive. Only 18% of lawyers surveyed strongly agreed that their jobs allow them sufficient time to spend with their family, while 48% agreed, but not strongly, that they were able to spend sufficient amounts of time with their family. Similarly, less than half of all lawyers (43%) reported that their firms provided “very good” support for working parents. 29% reported the support was “good,” 24% classified it as “acceptable,” 3% said it was “poor,” and 1% said “very poor.”
That being said, when it comes to wellness practices, the data from the Report showed that the pressures lawyers face are both internal and external. In other words, their employers weren’t entirely to blame for the lack of lawyer wellness. For example, one-third of the lawyers surveyed (38%) reported that they often work long hours, while another 9% shared that they “never stop working.” Similarly, a quarter of lawyers surveyed (25%) reported that they failed to take adequate breaks during during their workday. Finally, nearly a third of lawyers surveyed (32%) reported that they felt pressure to refrain from taking vacation time.
Despite all of the above evidence to the contrary, the great majority of lawyers (68%) said they agree with the statement “I make time for myself.” In other words, some lawyers may be operating in a state of denial, and their mental health and well-being needs to become more of a priority.
If you’re one of the lawyers who may not be engaging in sufficient self-care, never fear! There are steps you can take right away to work toward a higher level of wellness, and what better time to do this than during a pandemic when your well-being is all the more important? To get started on a path to better wellness, check out the tips in this blog post, and then watch this FREE webinar recording: From Stress & Anxiety to Mindfulness – How to Increase Happiness in Law Practice.