Plans Underway to Implement Statewide Lawyer Well-Being Program from Supreme Court

Colorado Supreme Court
The Colorado Supreme Court is moving forward with developing a lawyer well-being program for legal employers by creating a committee to look at implementing the program across Colorado. The program was developed through a pilot program using multiple firms of all sizes, public and private, to explore how to implement well-being initiatives in firms. / Law Week file.

With last week’s release of a report on a pilot program focused on recognizing organizations working on lawyer well-being, the Colorado Supreme Court is taking the next step by creating a group to discuss implementing a permanent program reaching across the state.

Officially known as the Colorado Well-Being Recognition Program for Legal Employers, the pilot program was conducted last year bringing together firms and public offices of all sizes to work on well-being initiatives. The groups worked on possible well-being initiatives, implementing programs and getting attorney buy-in with the intent of improving well-being opportunities in the state.

“There is growing concern within the legal profession over a lack of attorney well-being,” the report states. “Data show attorneys suffer from a higher incidence of mental health and substance use issues, and there is a failure to thrive in the profession as evidenced by significant attorney attrition in leaving legal organizations and the profession generally.”

The pilot program was designed to assess the feasibility of a formal recognition program and to create strategies for incentivizing legal employers to implement organization-wide well-being strategies and recommendations, according to the report.

The report recommends to the state Supreme Court that it should adopt a formal, standing well-being recognition program for legal employers. The authors found that the pilot program provided a viable proof of concept for a sustainable and scalable statewide program that supports and incentivizes legal employers to create or expand well-being initiatives.

“The efforts of the Colorado Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being have made clear that a lack of lawyer well-being in the legal profession is causing mental health issues and substance abuse problems, as well as significant attorney attrition in legal organizations and the profession generally,” the report states.

The pilot program was led by the Colorado Attorney Mentorship Program’s Executive Director J. Ryann Peyton. Peyton previously told Law Week that the pilot program provides a roadmap for implementing and evaluating a well-being recognition program that can be applied across the state.

“The [program] report details how and why Colorado can be a national leader in lawyer well-being by creating a first-of-its-kind program to support, and recognize, by the Colorado Supreme Court, legal employers for implementing well-being strategies and recommendations within their organizations,” the report press release states.

Specifically, the report cites 2016 data showing that between 21-36% of 13,000 lawyers surveyed qualified as problem drinkers and between 19-28% were struggling with “significant” levels of depression, anxiety and stress. Further, attorneys are leaving firms at higher rates than ever before and in 2017, law firms lost an average of 16% of associates annually due to attrition.

In response to these statistics and other challenges, a task force on attorney well-being was created to increase lawyer and legal organization awareness of issues in the profession and inform them of available resources, all under the purview of Colorado Supreme Court Justice Monica Márquez, according to the report.

The proposed program includes combining an annual pledge to well-being by employers, a facilitated peer-to-peer/group mentoring experience offering idea crowdsourcing and recognition by the state Supreme Court of the annual well-being commitments and achievements of state legal employers, according to the release.

“The core function of the recommended program is to provide Colorado legal employers with access to education, resources, support and technical assistance to improve their organizations,” the report states.

The task force for the pilot program looked at what wellbeing pain points might exist in the legal profession and what types of resources, tools or programs could be developed to address those points. One of the ideas created by the task force was whether Colorado should have a recognition program similar to the Pro Bono Recognition Program but for legal employers taking active steps to improve well-being in their organizations, and “whether that kind of program would be beneficial to Colorado lawyers,” Peyton said.

The proposed recognition program would be completely voluntary and similar to the pro bono pledge and based on the honor system. “A major goal of this Recognition Program is to distill what are considered to be the more significant issues and resources in lawyer well-being and provide a clearinghouse of ‘well-being best practices’ in legal organizations based upon these resources,” according to the report.

The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, which provides confidential assistance to the Colorado legal community for personal and professional issues, was very involved with the program — helping with educational presentations, well-being and behavioral health consultations, said Sarah Myers, COLAP executive director.

In addition, the program will also create a Legal Well-Being Leadership Network to encourage dialogue, innovation and accountability in implementing well-being practices in legal workplaces, according to the release.

Later this year, a formal implementation committee will convene to establish the components of the future statewide well-being recognition program for legal employers. The committee will need to design specific program components, define the form of recognition provided to participants, creation of performance indicators and assessment of budgetary needs based on components, responsibility and housing, according to the release.

In a statement, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Monica Márquez said that the “time for systemic solutions to well-being risk factors in legal organizations is now.” She added that the program provides a practical and effective method to support legal employers seeking to implement and improve well-being strategies and initiatives within organizations.

Participants in the pilot project included Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP; Holland & Hart LLP; Davis Graham & Stubbs; Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie; Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, P.C.; Childs McCune; The Harris Law Firm; Michael Best; Lambdin & Chaney; Bradford LTD; Johnson Kush; Symons & Ratner and Bryant & Ritsick; Waltz Reeves; James Garts; Laurie Schmidt; Erika Holmes; Lauren Lester; Boulder County District Attorney’s Office; Office of the Colorado Office of the Public Defender, Glenwood Springs office; Colorado Department of Law; Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel; Colorado Legal Services; Legal Entrepreneurs for Justice; Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center; DaVita; and Air Methods.

For more information on the pilot program and possible statewide program, read Law Week’s prior coverage.

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