Bar News Masthead

By Scott Merrill

The New Hampshire Bar Association has adopted the American Bar Association’s Lawyer Well-Being Pledge in a step that Bar leaders say will help fight stigmas surrounding substance misuse and mental health challenges.

The campaign, organized by the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession in 2018, is designed to address the profession’s troubling rates of alcohol and other substance-use disorders, as well as mental health issues.

The Well-Being Pledge Campaign transitioned leadership from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being to the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs in 2019.

According to a 2016 Journal of Addiction Medicine study examining the prevalence of substance use and mental health among American attorneys 20.6 percent of participants scored at a level consistent with problematic drinking. 25.1 percent of those were men and 15.5 percent were women.

NHBA Executive Director George R. Moore says that while the Bar Association already has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) vendor and program, the new pledge will allow the Bar to enhance their own discussion opportunities and to promote speakers on wellness topics.

“The goal is for all employees to know that we care about their health and there is no stigma attached to openly discussing their very real issues that can occur in the workplace,” Moore said. “I am thrilled the Board of Governors is so supportive of this program. As an employer, we need to do everything possible to combat issues of substance abuse and mental illness and make the health and welfare of our employees a top priority.”

The ABA’s well-being pledge lays out a seven-point framework calling on firms, bar associations, and others in the legal community, to recognize the challenges that high levels of problematic substance use and mental health distress present for the legal profession.

The “Seven Points” include a pledge to providing enhanced education to attorneys and staff on topics related to well-being, mental health, and substance use disorder as well as disrupting the status quo of drinking-based events by challenging the expectation that all events include alcohol.

The New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program provides assistance to New Hampshire lawyers, judges, and law students who are experiencing well-being issues related to substance misuse. NHLAP Interim Director, Cecie Hartigan, says the pledge initiative is coming at a good time because there is a greater overall awareness of lawyer well-being.

“The choice for the Bar Association to take the pledge is a good movement in the right direction especially with the effects of Covid on mental health and substance issues,” she says. “I don’t know the full extent but we have every reason to believe it has been hard on lawyers and one of the things these initiatives do is to educate people and remind them they do not need to be afraid to ask for help.”

When New Hampshire started its LAP program 10 years ago Hartigan, LAP’s first director, says the state had been aiding lawyers informally for years.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court formalized the NHLAP with the passage of Rule 58 in 2007. Chief Justice John Broderick, whose family had experienced the challenge of mental illness, championed a program that would provide confidential support and assistance to New Hampshire lawyers. Under Justice Broderick’s leadership, the Court appointed the governing Commission of the NHLAP, now the Board of Directors.

The New Hampshire Bar Association is one of just several legal organizations in the state that have committed to the well-being pledge. Others include the firms McLane Middleton and Nixon Peabody.

“The Bar’s vote  to take the pledge is a significant step, and an acknowledgement of the struggles some lawyers have with stress, time management and keeping balance in the their personal lives,” Hartigan said.

For more information about NHLAP visit nhlap.org or contact Cecie Hartigan at cecieh@lapnh.org.