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Colorado Supreme Court Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being issues final report

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being has issued its final report, culminating three years of work on identifying solutions to physical and mental health problems that can negatively affect the personal and professional lives of law school students, lawyers and judicial officers.

The report includes recommendations for action by the Task Force’s five committees and sets several goals: creating a culture of well-being; fostering competence; improving work-life integration; promoting diversity, equity and inclusivity; assessing alternative or additional ways to compensate lawyers and staff for performance outside the traditional billable-hour model; and making clients part of the conversation about well-being among legal professionals.

The Colorado Task Force was formed in 2018, soon after an American Bar Association national task force set out key recommendations to address well-being and behavioral issues affecting people in the legal profession. Under the leadership of Colorado Supreme Court Justice Monica M. Márquez, the Colorado Task Force brought together nearly 60 lawyers, judicial officers, law school deans, law students and mental health professionals.

“What began for me as an 18-month obligation as Chair of the Task Force has evolved into a three-year, transformative journey,” Justice Márquez said. “It’s no great surprise to anyone that life in the legal profession is stressful, and studies have shown our profession is at an elevated risk for mental health and substance use disorders. It’s my sincere hope this report helps build on the solid work that already has been done in these areas in Colorado, and provides momentum toward lasting and positive cultural change.”

The report says stressed out, anxious and impaired lawyers are not only less productive, but they can exercise poor judgment, harm clients and damage a firm’s bottom line. Diminished lawyer well-being in the government sector can also harm the public, including those in the criminal justice system. And for judges, well-being is critical to performance on the bench.

The Task Force’s recommendations and goals build on the strong foundations set by the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP) which also serves judges; the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program; the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, which offers courses on topics such as professionalism; and the new Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program.

“The work of the Task Force couldn’t have come at a more crucial time,” said COLAP Executive Director Sarah Myers. “While the practice of law was always stressful, the changes and events of the past few years have left many of us in the legal community exhausted and overwhelmed, negatively impacting our ability to stay cognitively, emotionally, and physically healthy. Changing the culture of the practice of law to incorporate well-being policies and practices, adopting the report’s recommendations, and accepting the importance of well-being and behavioral health support will allow judicial officers and lawyers to continue to serve their clients and the public with a high level of professionalism and integrity.” 

The report’s recommendations revolve around five core steps to build a more sustainable culture in the legal profession:

  • Identify stakeholders and the role that everyone in the profession can play to reduce toxicity;
  • End the stigma around seeking help for well-being and behavioral issue;
  • Emphasize that well-being is a critical part of a lawyer’s professional duty of competence;
  • Expand educational outreach and programming for lawyers, judicial officer and law students on recognizing mental health and substance use disorders; and
  • Change the tone of the profession, recognizing that small steps can lead to transformative cultural change in a demanding profession.

The Task Force originally expected to release its report in the spring of 2020, but delayed the release to update its recommendations to incorporate the exacerbating effects that rapidly unfolding national and international events including the COVID-19 pandemic have had on the well-being of members of the legal profession.

Part of the Task Force’s work, the Well-Being Recognition Program for Legal Employers Pilot Project, ran from July 2020 to May 2021. The final report on the pilot project is available at https://coloradolawyerwellbeing.org/final-report/.

The Task Force's final report is available at https://judicialwellbeing.colorado.gov/colorado-task-force-report. More information on the Task Force is available at https://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/Current%20Lawyers/TaskForceWellBeing.asp.

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