A recent blog in the American Bar Association highlights a topic that is rarely discussed – mental health for paralegals.
It’s widely accepted that mental health for attorneys is important. It’s often a crude joke about how attorneys will “die at their desk” and widely known that attorneys are more likely to abuse substances than other professionals.
In 2018, the American Bar Association, in conjunction with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, completed a study titled “The Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys.” This study concluded the following:
“Attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations. Mental health distress is also significant. These data underscore the need for greater resources for lawyer assistance programs, and also the expansion of available attorney-specific prevention and treatment interventions.”
This study confirmed what we already knew – being a lawyer is stressful. People don’t hire a lawyer because they want to, they hire a lawyer because they need to, because they’ve run into a problem so complicated that they can’t handle it themselves. This means the “problem” is now the lawyer’s problem. In turn, that attorney turns to her support staff and now the “problem” is also on them. Take this one problem, multiply it by 100 cases, add in the complexity of the court system, the difference in local rules from one jurisdiction to another, and we have a cocktail of reasons why paralegals and support staff suffer from the same mental health crisis as lawyers. The problem is – nobody is paying attention to them.
On August 12, 2019, ALM Media published an article discussing how law firm staffers feel left behind in the legal profession’s mental health movement.
“Despite a plethora of resources available at several large firms today, including on-site mental health professionals and wellness applications, many have not extended their health resources firmwide. A survey of 30 AM Law Firms found that 36% of firms that say they offer mental health programming do not extend those programs to their professional staff…the bifurcated mental health treatment is actually symptomatic of one of the most acute stress factors afflicting law firm professionals — a power hierarchy that devalues professional staff.”
It’s become clear that business owners need to look beyond the numbers and check on their paralegals and support staff to ensure they are doing well and thriving – not just surviving.