Susan Smith Blakely

Young Women Lawyers:  Beware of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse are big problems in our profession today.  I call attention to these issues whenever I get the opportunity to speak to lawyers, young and older.  I did it at the event for the launch of my new book at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago on February 4th and also two days later at a program for law students in Michigan.  I implored them to be careful personally and to be vigilant on behalf of colleagues.

I noted at both events that the American Bar Association (ABA) has identified an initiative to address these issues and that studies show that these problems often start as early as law school.  They are issues that all of us in the legal profession need to take very seriously.

Consider these findings from the 2016 National Study of Lawyer Well-Being released by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation:

  • 25 percent of law students are at risk for alcoholism;
  • 17 percent of law students suffer from depression;
  • 37 percent of law students report mild to severe anxiety;
  • 6 percent of law students report having suicidal thoughts in the year of the study;
  • 28 percent lawyers suffered from depression;
  • 19 percent of lawyers had severe anxiety; and
  • 11.4 percent of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year.

And this additional remarkable and sad finding:  That law students will not ask for help because they are terrified of somebody finding out that they have a problem, which will result in not being admitted to the bar or not being able to get a job.

Recently, on January 26th, representatives from state and local bar associations and law schools joined ABA members in Las Vegas for an interactive program, "Getting on the Path to Lawyer Well-Being," to discuss risk management and professional responsibility issues for legal employers and bar associations.   So, the focus on these problems continues, and efforts to reach as many lawyers and law students are on-going.

Please forward this to all of the lawyers you care about.  Protect yourselves and your colleagues.  Do not assume that the lawyers you love and admire do not need to see it.  Do not be deterred by stigmas.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for the help you need.  It is an act of bravery.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016”for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

 

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