How stressed-out are you feeling today?  A UK study has concluded that 10 AM on Tuesdays is the peak period of stress during a lawyer’s work week, and that 47% of lawyers carry their stress home from work, "leading them to drink (every now and then)."

That may be an understatement.  Data from around the world demonstrates that lawyers are arguably in the most highly stressed profession, unfortunately coupled with some of the weakest coping skills, resulting in dysfunctional self-medicating behaviors such as addictions. 

Hence, Hazelden recently announced that they are opening an initial 50-bed rehabilitation program specifically for legal professionals struggling with addiction, staffed by 3 former attorneys who have overcome their own substance abuse.

"The Legal Professionals Program incorporates the typical month-long inpatient Hazelden program with several added elements specifically for lawyers. Lawyer-patients meet several times individually with the counselor-lawyers, and they also meet each week for group sessions with other patients who are lawyers. They also attend an outside, all-lawyer 12-step meeting in the Twin Cities. Volunteers from the area’s local Lawyers Helping Lawyers program also visit Hazelden to offer counseling. Once attorney-patients leave Hazelden, the program offers career restoration assistance such as writing letters to the bar on behalf of clients and helping them get their practices back in order."

LawCare, a UK health advice line for the legal profession, has reported that the recession has led to record numbers of lawyers suffering from stress and depression.

"LawCare opened 517 new case files in 2010, making it the second busiest year in its 13 years of operation. In addition, there were over 1,000 additional calls relating to carrying matters forward and to ongoing cases from earlier years. Staff also found that many of the calls that they dealt with in 2010 were more lengthy and complex than had historically been the case. They also required more time-consuming follow-up. 74% of calls related to stress. During the latter part of 2008 and much of 2009, a large percentage of calls (up to 28% in some months and 26% in 2009 as a whole) related to the economic downturn."

In response, UK firms Denton Wilde Sapte (now SNR Denton) and Herbert Smith offer stress recognition and management training to all attorneys in an effort to reduce the costs associated with on-the-job mental illness and substance abuse.  While Herbert Smith is still in the implementation phase, extending the program to all employees, SNR Denton says it has seen reductions in those costs for its professionals in the UK as a result of the program.

Here in the US, a number of different approaches help lawyers lead more productive and satisfying personal and professional lives.  One enlightened example is Day Pitney’s arrangement with Dr. Mark S. Braunsdorf, of The Avalon Psychological Group in Hartford, CT, which gives Braunsdorf regular access to the firm’s offices, allowing him to get to know the entire legal staff and therefore provide meaningful confidential individual advice as well as highly targeted group presentations on topics such as stress and civility.

Lawyer distress is an issue that will not go away.  The stress will only increase as clients and firms struggle to find the right balance of cost and performance; the incidental support of colleagues and non-lawyers will be inadvertently whittled away by staffing reductions; and the individual attributes that make lawyers burrow into dysfunction instead of asking for help will remain.  The result is that clients and culture suffer and the firm is put at risk.

Do your clients and your colleagues a favor by taking a serious look at how your firm or department can affirmatively tackle this boulder rolling downhill.  We are here to help you build an effective, informed program.