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New nonprofit seeks to improve lawyers’ wellbeing amid covid crisis
27/04/2021
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Wellbeing and covid

The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being has launched a new nonprofit organisation that seeks to prioritise and improve wellbeing among lawyers as covid-19 takes its toll on the legal profession.

The new US-based Institute for Well-Being in Law (IWIL) will advocate for systemic change in the legal sector to address a growing concern about mental health, addiction, and stress affecting lawyers.

A 2016 report commissioned by the American Bar Association found that up to 36% of nearly 13,000 practising lawyers qualified as problem drinkers, while many were also struggling with some level of depression (28%), anxiety (19%), and stress (23%).

It is feared that the events of the past year – the covid-19 pandemic, racial justice reckoning, and environmental disasters – may lead to an epidemic of mental health problems both within the profession and within wider society.

A June 2020 poll from the Association of Corporate Counsel showed that 75% of respondents were experiencing moderate to exceedingly high levels of burnout; half were experiencing sleep problems that bring on chronic fatigue; and almost one-quarter disclosed an increased use of substances, such as alcohol or tobacco.

The burnout is seemingly linked to the “always-on” culture present in many large law firms, especially with the majority of practitioners working from home over the past year.

Only half of the respondents to the survey indicated they were able to switch off completely from work-related matters, while 41% disagreed with the statement that they could easily switch their focus away from work and make time to rest.

“The compounding crises of the past year have acted as an accelerant to the behavioural health problems that were already too prevalent in the legal profession,” said Bree Buchanan, president of IWIL. “The founders of IWIL believe there is no better time to launch this effort, which is focused on creating a culture change in how the profession priorities the wellbeing of its members.”

Crowell & Moring, Katten Muchin Rosenman, Latham & Watkins, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and Reed Smith have been announced as the IWIL’s inaugural founding champions, with representatives from each firm set to serve on the nonprofit’s 22-member advisory board.

In addition, the new organisation is coordinating Well-Being Week In Law for the week commencing 3 May 2021, to raise awareness about mental health and encourage action and innovation across the profession to improve wellbeing.

“The enthusiastic embrace of Well-Being Week in Law in only its second year provides more evidence of the growth of the wellbeing movement, which should make us all optimistic that positive change is possible,” said Anne Brafford, IWIL vice president and founder and chair of Well-Being Week in Law.

To support mental health awareness week in the UK, IEL will be holding its first free webinar offering employers advice on how to safeguard the health and safety of their workforces around the world.