Only a month after Morgan Lewis announced hiring its “Well-Being Director,” Kirkland & Ellis unveiled a firm-wide Wellbeing Program for its 2,500 attorneys and staff to help address mental health and substance misuse issues that the profession was flagged in the 2016 ABA and Hazelden study as being at high risk for. Among 13,000 licensed lawyers in the study from across the country, 28% suffered from depression, 23% dealt with chronic stress, 21% struggled with alcohol over-use and 19% experienced disabling anxiety. The goal is “to reduce the stigma around talking about and getting help for mental health and substance misuse issues,” including simple anxiety and stress, as well as more serious issues such as bipolar disorder or clinical depression, says the director of the program Robin Belleau, an attorney and a licensed clinical professional counselor who formerly was the executive director of the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program.
She will emphasize three core components — resilience, connection to get help, and fitness and nutrition, and will make available two apps, one focused on activities such as mindfulness meditation and proper sleep hygiene, and another on moderating potentially addictive behaviors.
One of the keys to the likely success of this program is the endorsement and commitment of Jeffrey Hammes, chairman of Kirkland’s global management executive committee, who has asked for “a more open and transparent dialog about mental health within our profession.” In addition to signing, along with dozens of other law firms, the ABA pledge to develop a seven-point plan to address substance abuse and mental health issues, he said, Kirkland & Ellis has gone beyond those guidelines because it wanted to make sure the firm responds to Kirkland lawyers with a customized program.