As an attorney, I know that the legal profession can be tough. I can only imagine what the experience must be like for the paralegals and other staff who work in the legal environment.

A stunning 2016 study by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Hazelden/Betty Ford Foundation found that of 13,000 practicing attorneys:

  • 21-36% were problem drinkers
  • 28% had depression
  • 19% struggled with anxiety
  • 23% struggled with stress

In 2017, groups including some ABA  committees convened the National Task Force on Lawyer Wellbeing. In August, the task force released a detailed report on what it called the “toxicity” in the legal profession and how to tackle it. “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer,” the report said.

The report focused on five areas:

  1. Identifying stakeholders and the role each of us can play in reducing the level of toxicity in our profession,
  2. Eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors,
  3. Emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence,
  4. Educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer well-being issues, and
  5. Taking small, incremental steps to change how the law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession.

Advocacy for Your Law Office
The report calls on the legal profession to work with stakeholders on this front. The idea of stakeholders is an interesting concept in this context. The legal environment is full of power dynamics that reinforce the toxicity described in the report.

My passion is to open up self-advocacy options for stakeholders who do not typically hold obvious power. In this case, those stakeholders include paralegals and office staff, who are not “in charge,” but could also feel the effects of this toxicity.

Can you think of ways to use this information to talk to your employer about improving your work environment? We’ll have some suggestions about how legal staff can do that in our next post.

Other Work Environments
Even if you don’t work in a law office or the legal field, you may still have a toxic work environment. I encourage you to keep reading to see if you can apply these ideas to your workspace.