Editor's Note: The Michigan Supreme Court issued Administrative Order 2023-1 creating the Commission on Well-Being in the Law on September 20, 2023.
The Task Force on Well-Being in the Law released a comprehensive report with 21 detailed recommendations to address the high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use in the legal profession. A collaboration between the Michigan Supreme Court and State Bar of Michigan, the task force emphasizes in the report that improving well-being is critical to professional performance, client service, and the public’s trust in the legal system itself.
“Our profession must take concrete, substantial steps to address lawyer well-being because well-being is an essential component of competence,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan K. Cavanagh, co-chair of the task force.
“This report helps to move our state forward and put Michigan at the forefront of lawyer well-being efforts nationwide. The task force’s recommendations provide a framework that will improve service to clients and support for lawyers, judges, and law students,” said task force co-chair Molly Ranns, director of the State Bar of Michigan’s Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program.
Each recommendation is accompanied by strategies to alleviate mental health stressors, combat the stigma around seeking help, educate legal professionals about well-being, and enhance overall well-being within the legal community. To facilitate implementation of the recommendations, the task force called for the Michigan Supreme Court to name a permanent Commission on Well-Being in the Law focused on fostering a healthier legal culture.
The recommendations were targeted to key stakeholder groups in the profession.
For judicial officers, the task force recommends:
- communicating that well-being is a priority for the judiciary to reduce the stigma of mental health and substance use problems;
- developing policies focusing on prevention and early intervention to support judicial well-being;
- conducting judicial well-being surveys;
- providing well-being programming for judges and staff; and,
- monitoring struggling judges and establishing a partnership between the Judicial Tenure Commission and the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program
For lawyers, the task force recommends:
- incorporating the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program resources into the Attorney Grievance Commission intake screening process;
- providing ongoing training on lawyer well-being and mental health to the Attorney Discipline Board and Attorney Grievance Commission staff;
- including training on well-being in the State Bar of Michigan’s “Tips and Tools for a Successful Practice” seminars;
- encouraging local and affinity bars and employers to create well-being committees;
- de-emphasizing alcohol at legal functions and social events;
- amending MRPC 1.1 (Competence) to include lawyer well-being as a function of competence;
- recognizing organizations and individuals who demonstrate their commitment to lawyer well-being;
- including a personal testimonial of recovery following the discipline section of the Michigan Bar Journal;
- offering wellness seminars on a regular basis to Michigan attorneys; and,
- creating and using a tool to measure the impact of lawyer well-being initiatives.
For law schools and students, the task force recommends:
- reassuring students that seeking mental health treatment will not create an obstacle to bar admission or their practice of law;
- encouraging and incentivizing law schools to follow American Bar Association standards on curriculum and student learning including use of structured assessments, providing reasonable notice to students when they may be asked to provide responses during lectures, and incorporating cross-cultural competencies;
- offering more robust, long-term, and sustainable mental health resources to students;
- delivering well-being messages to students throughout their studies; and,
- normalizing the ability to make mistakes as part of the learning process.
Formed in May 2022, the 28-member task force drew expertise from the judiciary, law schools, law students, practitioners and law firms, mental health professionals, and regulatory bodies.
The report underscores the essential nature of well-being in achieving professional competence, echoing the call to action set forth in the American Bar Association’s national task force report “Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”
Since 2016, the issue of well-being has been increasingly highlighted within the legal profession. Disturbing studies revealed high rates of mental health and substance use concerns among attorneys, particularly in the first decade of practice. In response, the American Bar Association established a national task force in 2017 and released their report in 2018.
The ABA report highlighted three critical reasons to take action to promote the well-being of legal professionals:
- Well-being contributes to organizational success, meaning that both courts and law firms can run more efficiently and effectively.
- Well-being improves lawyer ethics and professionalism, allowing the profession to better serve the public and build trust in the judiciary.
- Well-being helps the profession to be healthier, happier people and better human beings both at work and at home.
Visit Michigan’s Well-Being in the Law web page at www.courts.michigan.gov/administration/special-initiatives/well-being-in-the-law/ for more information about the task force and the report.