February 3, 2023
The California Lawyers Association (CLA) and the District of Columbia Bar (D.C. Bar) shared additional findings today from a groundbreaking research project offering insight into the personal and workplace risk factors for mental health problems, substance use, and attrition among practicing attorneys. In 2020, the two bar associations announced their participation in the project, which has now yielded the second in a series of published papers. Titled “People, Professionals, and Profit Centers: The Connection Between Lawyer Well-Being and Employer Values,” the findings were published June 3 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Behavioral Sciences.
The latest research examined the relationship between what lawyers think their employers value most about them, and the mental and physical health of those lawyers. It found that lawyers who felt most valued for their professional talent/skill or overall human worth had the best mental and physical health. Lawyers who felt most valued for their billable hours, productivity, and responsiveness were a distant second in mental and physical health. Lawyers who did not feel valued by their employers or did not receive enough feedback to know what their employers value about them fared the worst in terms of mental and physical health. In addition, lawyers who felt most valued for their professional talent/skill or overall human worth were much less likely to report they were considering leaving the profession.
Key findings from the study, as shown in this infographic:
- 62.4% of lawyers reported feeling most valued for their personal or professional attributes. This group also had the best mental and physical health.
- 27.5% of lawyers reported feeling most valued for attributes like productivity and responsiveness. This group had poorer mental and physical health than those who felt most valued for their personal or professional attributes.
- The group with the poorest mental and physical health was the 10.1% of lawyers who believed their employers did not value them or did not receive enough feedback.
- Lawyers who work in environments that value professionalism, skill, and humanity over productivity and availability were not only in better health but also experienced lower stress levels and were less likely to say that their time in the profession had been harmful to their mental health.
- Lawyers working in larger firms were less likely to feel valued for their professional or personal worth and more likely to be valued for their financial and productivity contributions.
Key takeaways for legal employers:
- Employers who can make their lawyers feel more valued for their skill or humanity may be able to improve lawyer well-being, reduce healthcare costs, and mitigate unwanted turnover.
- Providing clear and regular feedback may reduce stress and improve mental health.
- By targeting and seeking to improve maladaptive behaviors in their workplace, employers may be able to improve the stress levels and mental health of their lawyers.
The research raises significant questions about whether a drift toward a profit and business-centric approach to law is sustainable for the health and well-being of lawyers and legal professionals.
“This novel and actionable research invites a challenging yet essential conversation for lawyers. We need to step back and ask ourselves whether we are valuing the right things in our profession and, if so, whether we are effectively communicating those values to our colleagues,” Krill said.
California Lawyers Association CEO and Executive Director Oyango A. Snell and District of Columbia Bar CEO Robert Spagnoletti thanked the researchers for continuing to glean new insights from their collaboration on the project.
“This new, definitive research illuminates the important role professional culture plays in lawyer well-being and gives us a roadmap for helping to address one of the root causes of burnout and stress in the legal profession,” Snell said.
“Once again, Patrick Krill and Justin Anker have held a mirror to the legal profession, presenting important data on the impact of an attorney’s working environment and perceived value,” Spagnoletti said. “Knowing and understanding this information will better enable the D.C. Bar to provide meaningful services to its members and those organizations that employ lawyers.”
The project previously yielded a paper titled “Stress, Drink, Leave: An Examination of Gender-Specific Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems and Attrition Among Licensed Attorneys,” published in May 2021 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE. The research found that mental health problems and hazardous drinking are exceedingly high among currently employed attorneys. In addition, female attorneys experience more mental distress, greater levels of overcommitment and work-family conflict, and lower prospects of promotion than their male counterparts.
Another research paper is forthcoming exploring the predictors of suicide among attorneys, Krill said.
About California Lawyers Association:
Established in 2018, CLA is the bar association for all California attorneys. CLA’s mission is to promote excellence, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law.
About the District of Columbia Bar:
Since 1972 the District of Columbia Bar (D.C. Bar) has been enhancing access to justice, improving the legal system, and empowering lawyers to achieve excellence. It is the largest unified bar in the United States, with more than 113,000 members in all 50 states and over 80 countries and territories. To learn more about how the D.C. Bar serves its members and the larger legal community, visit www.dcbar.org.