May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. It is a good time to assess the state of our profession, identify problems and execute solutions. The results of a recent survey of lawyers conducted by law.com and ALM Intelligence were not good. Out of 3,400 global respondents, 67% reported anxiety, 35% reported depression and 44% reported isolation. A shocking 19% reported contemplating suicide during the course of their careers. Although many stated that their firms had resources in place for mental health issues, a staggering 38.5% felt that their firms’ efforts in this regard were not sincere. Chief among the issues identified as triggering mental health issues was the need to always be on call and not being able to disconnect. Some reports indicate that the problem is even more acute for female lawyers.
These issues should not be ignored and cannot be addressed adequately with just more of the status quo. Firms need to make employee assistance programs available, well publicized and easy to access. Firms need to make certain that reasonable boundaries are observed, so that round-the-clock work is limited to circumstances where it is truly required by client needs and not just a routine requirement to increase billings. Firms need to have adequate staffing and allow for family time. Firms need to foster a culture of understanding and collaboration that permits and even encourages lawyers to spend time on professional and pro bono activities that help build a sense of community and purpose. And perhaps most importantly, as a society and as a profession, we need to de-stigmatize mental health challenges so that no one ever hesitates to get the professional assistance they need.