Home > Report and recommendations of the NYSBA task force on attorney well-being. This is us: from striving alone to thriving together.

NYSBA Task Force on Attorney Well-Being. (2021) Report and recommendations of the NYSBA task force on attorney well-being. This is us: from striving alone to thriving together. New York: New York State Bar Association.

PDF (Report and recommendations of the NYSBA task force on attorney well-being.)

While the law is not the only profession where a person can make a difference, it is the only profession dedicated to righting wrongs, ensuring fairness and endeavoring to ensure that all people be treated equally. Lawyers are unique in that our work is essential to a free and fair society. Of that, we justly are proud. Yet, for all the positive aspects of law practice, there is a dark side. Lawyers are more vulnerable to stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse than nearly any other profession. There are myriad reasons why. Some believe that the traits that make for effective lawyering – perfectionism and detail-orientation, when combined with legal training in anticipatory anxiety and a deep sense of responsibility – can cause a perfect storm. And once lawyers are inside the storm, they confront a help-resistant profession which prizes helping others but never seeking help for themselves and an inability to admit vulnerability – a trait universally perceived as a sign of weakness. We resist being the one needing answers and help; preferring to offer advice and provide solutions. 

Our profession has rightly been termed “help-resistant,” a trait deeply embedded in the culture of law. Renowned as much for its fast pace as for its resistance to change, it took the rapid onset of a global pandemic and a resultant “world on pause” for lawyers to slow to a pace necessary to see, feel and grapple with the magnitude of our community’s well-being crisis which was both highlighted and exacerbated by more than a year of COVID-19 and its effects. 

Law schools across the country recognize that their law students and graduates need resources and services to enrich their well-being and help them through the difficulties of life and have initiated wellness programming and initiatives to encourage well-being in law school. Several surveys have been conducted and reports have been issued related to well-being in law school, including studies by the ABA and law school faculty and administrators in 2004, 2014, 2016 and 2017. These studies provide valuable data and information that highlights the following barriers to well-being faced by law students: (1) mental health issues, including depression and anxiety; (2) alcohol; and (3) drug use. 

Our Task Force mission was to address the well-being crisis in our profession. Little did we know we would be called upon to do so in an ongoing global pandemic. Yet, in this time of worldwide suffering, we found more opportunity than we could have ever imagined – to learn about and to make recommendations for real, impactful change in our legal community. All stakeholders now realize attorney well-being is vital – to our own success and to our viability as a profession, one which is built on society’s trust and faith in the rule of law. We, as lawyers and colleagues, must ensure our own health and well-being, and the creation of a culture that supports our colleagues. For ourselves and for those whom we serve, it is a moral and ethical imperative as well as the fiscally prudent thing to do. Change is upon us, and we are optimistic.

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