September 21, 2017

Something Rotten in Denmark

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”
-Marcellus, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4

Last time, we considered some of the findings of a huge international survey of money, happiness, wealth, and meaning conducted by Gallup and a couple University of Virginia professors. Digging deeper:

One of the most disturbing findings involved suicide rates. Wealthier nations, it turns out, had significantly higher suicide rates than poorer ones. For example, the suicide rate of Japan, where per-capita GDP was $34,000, was more than twice as high as that of Sierra Leone, where per-capita GDP was $400.

The strange relationship between happiness and suicide has been confirmed in other research, too. Happy countries like Denmark and Finland also have high rates of suicide.

[The survey authors revealed] a striking trend: happiness and unhappiness did not predict suicide. The variable that did, they found, was meaning—or, more precisely, the lack of it. The countries with the lowest rates of meaning, like Japan, also had some of the highest suicide rates.”

From The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, Emily Esfahani Smith (2017)

The Power of Meaning cites further data showing that:

Suicide rates are generally higher in wealthier countries than in poorer ones.

According to the World Health Organization, global suicide rates have increased 60% since World War II.

In 2016, worldwide suicide rates were the highest in 30 years.

In the U.S., suicide among 15-24 year-olds tripled from 1950-2000.

Among the middle-aged, suicide rates have increased by over 40% since the turn of the 21st century.

The lack of belief that our lives are meaningful is spiking suicide rates — especially in wealthy First World countries whose citizens say they’re generally happy with their lives. The 2017 World Happiness Report confirmed these findings:  Denmark ranked #2 in the list of happiest countries, and Finland was #5, yet both countries had high rates of suicide.

The World Happiness Report is no lightweight exercise in psychobabble — it is generated on the highest level of worldwide policy making. This is how it describes its origins:

The first World Happiness Report was published in April, 2012, in support of the UN High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. Since then the world has come a long way. Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. In June 2016 the OECD committed itself “to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the center of governments’ efforts.” In February 2017, the United Arab Emirates held a full-day World Happiness meeting, as part of the World Government Summit. Now on World Happiness Day, March 20th, we launch the World Happiness Report 2017, once again back at the United Nations, again published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and now supported by a generous three-year grant from the Ernesto Illy Foundation.

The Report is long and packed with statistical analysis, tables, graphs, and other data-nerd content, but if you’re game for it, it makes for fascinating reading.

Both the UVA/Gallup survey and the World Happiness Report revealed that dissatisfaction with work is a key contributor to the feeling that life lacks meaning, and to the escalating suicide rate.

Imagine how different the legal profession would be if it sought to promote not just the happiness of its members (that would be radical enough!) but also a sense of meaningfulness about working in the law.

We’ll be talking more about that.

 

For a summary of the UVA/Gallup study, see ScienceDaily, 18 December 2013:  “Residents of poorer nations find greater meaning in life.” For the original study, see S. Oishi, E. Diener, “Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents of Wealthy Nations,” Psychological Science, 2013. You can request a reprint here.

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. His past blog posts for the CBA have been collected in two volumes — click the book covers for more information.

Money, Happiness, Wealth, and Meaning

One reason money doesn’t make us happy is the stress of making it. The following is from Plutocrats: The Rise of the new Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, Chrystia Freeland (2012):

Until a few years ago, the reigning theory about money and happiness was the Easterlin paradox, the 1974 finding by Richard Easterlin that, beyond a relatively low threshold more money didn’t make you happier.

But across countries, what millions of immigrants have always known to be true really is: the people of rich countries are generally happier than the people of poor countries.

The latest contrarian finding, however, is that moving to that state of greater wealth and greater happiness is decidedly unpleasant. As Angus Deaton, in a review of the 2006 Gallup World Poll, concluded, “Surprisingly, at any given level of income, economic growth is associated with lower reported levels of life satisfaction.”

Freeland also cites Angus Deaton for showing that “the richer you are, the more covetous you become” — not a likely prescription for happiness.

A 2014 U of Virginia/Gallup study weighed in with similar findings — Emily Esfahani Smith discussed them in The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, (2017):

Though the study was enormous, involving nearly 140,000 people across 132 countries, it was also straightforward. A few years earlier, researchers from Gallup had asked respondents whether they were satisfied with their lives, and whether they felt their lives had an important purpose or meaning. [Prof. Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and Ed Diener of Gallup] analyzed that data by country, correlating the levels of happiness and meaning with variables like wealth, rates of suicides, and other social factors.

Their findings were surprising. People in wealthier regions, like Scandinavia, reported being happier than those in poorer ones, like sub-Saharan Africa. But when it came to meaning, it was a different story. Wealthy places like France and Hong Kong had some of the lowest levels of meaning, while the poor nations of Togo and Niger had among the highest, even though people living there were some of the unhappiest in the study.

I.e., the ultimate wellbeing culprit is neither money nor the pursuit of it, but whether or not you believe your life has meaning and purpose. And according to this vast, worldwide survey, the residents of wealthy countries rate their lives as less meaningful than those in poor countries.

Analogizing from these findings to the legal profession, we would expect that, because the legal profession runs on the higher side of financial wellbeing, lawyers would report higher levels of happiness than less well-paid workers, but would also suffer from meaning malaise. And, since one of the wellbeing factors used in the survey was rates of suicide, we would also expect lawyers to have a correspondingly higher rate of suicide.

The high lawyer suicide rate (third highest among professionals, after doctors and dentists) has been well documented, and as we’ve been seeing, lawyers as a whole aren’t generally happy with their lives either, despite their profession’s higher rate of wealth.

We’ll look more into the meaning part of the equation next time.

Richard Easterlin is a professor of economics at USC. Sir Angus Stewart Deaton, FBA, is a British American economist and professor at Princeton. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.

For a summary of the UVA/Gallup study, see ScienceDaily, 18 December 2013: “Residents of poorer nations find greater meaning in life.” For the original study, see S. Oishi, E. Diener, “Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents of Wealthy Nations,” Psychological Science, 2013.

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. His past blog posts for the CBA have been collected in two volumes — click the book covers for more information.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Let’s ask some more famous people:

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” –Unknown

“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.” -Democritus

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.” –Benjamin Franklin

“It is my opinion that a man’s soul may be buried and perish under a dung-heap, or in a furrow field, just as well as under a pile of money.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old, I know that it is.” -Oscar Wilde

“Wealth is the ability to truly experience life.” –Henry David Thoreau

“He who loses money, loses much; he who loses a friend, loses much more; he who loses faith, loses all.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

“It’s a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money.” –Albert Camus

“I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.” -Mark Twain

“I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money.” -Pablo Picasso

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” –Woody Allen

“There are people who have money, and there are people who are rich.” –Coco Chanel

Thanks to Aol.finance for those quotes. They’re inconclusive, I’d say, although they do tell us that money brings out the inner philosopher and humorist in famous people. Maybe we should have asked Adam Smith:

As I am reminded every year by my students, those who encounter Smith’s writings for the first time are usually quite surprised to learn that he associated happiness with tranquility—a lack of internal discord—and insisted not only that money can’t buy happiness but also that the pursuit of riches generally detracts from one’s happiness. He speaks, for instance, of “all that leisure, all that ease, all that careless security, which are forfeited forever” when one attains great wealth, and of “all that toil, all that anxiety, all those mortifications which must be undergone” in the pursuit of it. Happiness consists largely of tranquility, and there is little tranquility to be found in a life of toiling and striving to keep up with the Joneses.

The Problem With Inequality, According to Adam Smith, The Atlantic, June 6, 2016, Dennis C. Rasmussen, professor of political science at Tufts University.

According to the “invisible hand” man himself, both pursuing and possessing wealth make you unhappy. Maybe, but most of us are with Clare Booth Luce, Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus, Mark Twain, and Woody Allen — or with Tevye in his exchange with Perchik the Bolshevik:

Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.

Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!

I mean, all these famous (and mostly rich) people are entitled to their opinion,  but we’d like to find out for ourselves if money could make us happy — we’re pretty sure we could handle it.

And for purposes of this blog, what we’d really like to know is whether money can buy lawyer happiness.

We’ll talk more about that next time.

 

Kevin Rhodes left a successful long-term law practice to scratch a creative itch and lived to tell about it… barely. Since then, he has been on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. He has also blogged extensively and written several books about his unique journey to wellness, including how he deals with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning.

The Addicted Lawyer: Is Alcoholics Anonymous For You?

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Above the Law on October 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please get help. The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program provides confidential assistance — call (303) 986-3345 or visit coloradolap.org

briancuban-e1473974781722By Brian Cuban, Esq.

April 2007. I walk up to the door of the building where area Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are held. My family is pushing hard for in-patient treatment but I refuse. My psychiatrist feels that a trip here is the first step to long-term sobriety. Lucky for me, the building is right next to his office. If it hadn’t been convenient, I might have just made excuses to not go at all. For an addict, excuses are often more plentiful than reasons for recovery. The present is more important than the future — the present of the high.

After pacing around outside the doorway for a long time, I finally peer down the long hallway into the room where people are gathering. I’m afraid of being recognized. My ego is still paramount in my worries. “I’m a lawyer. There are no lawyers in in AA or treatment. My one client left needs me!”

My mind flashes back to one of my favorite childhood movies, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I suddenly imagine that as soon as I enter the meeting room, I’ll be carried away by a team of chanting Oompa Loompas determined to punish me for my bad habits. I have no desire to meet the Oompa Loompas on the other side of that door.

I finally walk down the hall into the meeting room, and I can smell the fumes of stale cigarette smoke and day-old coffee. My eyes lock onto the 1950s tile floor, ingrained with the dirt of countless feet. There are other people milling around in room. Are these the people with whom I was supposed to share my darkest secrets? Would I be made fun of, teased, or insulted? Who are these people? Skid row bums? That’s my perception of AA. I think of Nick Cage’s character, Ben, living in the sleazy “no-tell motel” as he drinks himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas. Dick Van Dyke’s character, Charlie, drunk, alone on the beach with no future in The Morning After.

Deep breath. Don’t look around. Eyes down at the floor. That fixed point. Watch the feet move forward. One baby step at a time to a waiting chair. It’s the way I’m able to accomplish things in life. It’s how I was able to finish eight marathons. Facing any difficult task, my best self is that part of me that can place one foot in front of the other until a goal is accomplished. Don’t look left. Don’t look right. Don’t think about the finish line. I sit down. I listen. I cry. At the end of the meeting, I take a desire chip. The most important journey in my life begins.

As you have probably figured out, I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. I know I am irritating some who believe we should not talk publicly about being in AA. I believe we should be empowered to share all aspects of our personal journey if we choose to. I find it perplexing that we as attorneys in recovery, who spend our lives engaged in critical thought and using data, will exclude AA from that process as if there is some magical healing power to not discussing both its benefits and flaws when there is no empirical data to support the notion that talking publicly about being in AA, then relapsing publicly, will cause someone to not enter the program.

Certain aspects of AA have worked for me to date. I completely disregard other aspects. The sober connections I found in group were, and are, important to me. The people. The stories that tell me I am not alone. I, however, have never been as keen on the spiritual aspects and certain rituals of the program. That’s just me. You may like that. You may need that. Those issues however, have never been a deterrent to me in my program like they are for some who reject AA as their mode of recovery.

In speaking to law students and other lawyers about recovery, while some embrace the program, some would rather find others ways to long-term sobriety and have. Through their church. Through non-12-step-based programs such as Smart Recovery. Through both 12-step-based and non-12-step-based residential treatment. Through collegiate recovery programs. Through informal local attorney support groups. I know a few lawyers who have gotten sober on their own, although I would never recommend that path to start. There are many paths to recovery available today that were not available in 1935 when AA was founded.  AA has also not been my only mode of therapy. I have been seeing a psychiatrist for over a decade. I take anti-depressant medication daily. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been important in my recovery. Let’s not lose sight of the goal: To be a person in long-term recovery regardless of the path chosen. The most important decision of your life should be one of reflection and critical thought. It’s your journey. If it’s AA, that’s great. If it’s another path, get on it. Recovery awaits.

  1. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance.html
  2. http://collegiaterecovery.org/programs/
  3. http://www.aa.org/
  4. http://www.smartrecovery.org/
  5. http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

 

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

The Addicted Lawyer: Silence is Deadly

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Above the Law on September 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

September is Suicide Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or suicidal thoughts, please get help. The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program provides confidential assistance — call (303) 986-3345 or visit coloradolap.org

briancuban-e1473974781722By Brian Cuban, Esq.

July 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. I’m with a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility in Dallas, Texas. My brothers, Mark and Jeff, are sitting at the table across from me. I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed. My .45 automatic lying on my nightstand.

The residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins. Questions from the attending psychiatrist pierce my fog and anger like tracer rounds. “What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to hurt yourself?”

In the back of my mind, what’s left of the lawyer takes over. I know that my family can’t commit me, but he can. Proceed with caution. I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun.

Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I’m pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brothers showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit and drinking problem from my family.

More questions. Do I think I need help? Will I go to rehab? Sure, whatever will get me out of here? I lash out again. They have no right to do this. I yell across the table. “You have no right to control my life! I am an adult! Mind your own business!” They quietly let me rant.

Blaming them for the darkness is so much easier than seeing the light. The doctor is asking calm, focused questions, to ascertain whether I am a danger to myself. At times I am calm in my answers. At times I am crying, angry at him, then at my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!

An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me, softens my edges. It’s always been there, but I wasn’t present enough to sense it. I was thinking only of myself: My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? The thought terrifies me. My brothers calm me, and I begin to focus on my love for my family. Arms are around me. Holding me. I begin to feel the love penetrating my shell. They are not the enemy. Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but at least for the moment I can listen. Have to grab those moments. They don’t come often.

Sitting in that room during my first of two trips to a psychiatric facility seems so long ago. Today I am closing in on ten years of long-term recovery from addiction. I still deal with clinical depression and take medication daily. I see a psychiatrist weekly. I am also a lawyer. I am part of profession with an alarmingly high suicide rate. An alarmingly high rate of substance use, particularly alcohol. I’ve been there. I get it. I also talk to many in the profession weekly who are currently struggling. Some have contemplated suicide. I ask them what they are afraid of. What’s holding them back from taking that first step forward towards the light. It’s almost always about loss. Loss of license. Loss of job. Loss of family. Interestingly however, the fear of loss is generally attached to disclosure of the problem and not the possible consequences of the problem itself. That is what we know as the “stigma of addiction.” A problem that cuts across demographics but is particularly powerful in the legal profession. We are strong. We are hard chargers. We are “thinkers” who can problem solve our way out of any situation without disclosure. We are not vulnerable.

I am here to tell you that that emotional vulnerability is a good thing in taking that first step to get help. Reaching out is not weakness, it’s courage. Asking questions as a friend or family member is not intrusive, it’s compassionate.

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Be vulnerable. Be compassionate. Ask questions. Provide resources. Learn what your state Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) has to offer. Learn what your local bar association has to offer.  Above all, talk! Talking is healing. Silence can be deadly.

 

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Sobering Statistics — Prevalence of Alcohol Use and Mental Health Issues Among Lawyers

COLAPEditor’s Note: If you are or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, please contact COLAP for confidential assistance at (303) 986-3345 or (855) 208-1168. 

The legal profession is noble indeed. Lawyers are tasked with holding high standards of integrity while zealously advocating for their clients, often during the worst experience of their clients’ lives. Lawyers must maintain competence, diligence, truthfulness, and candor. Biglaw attorneys must be rainmakers as they work grueling hours in a high-stakes environment. Solo and small firm attorneys must also worry about bringing in and keeping clients, but they also have office management duties. In-house counsel must be knowledgeable about many different areas of the law so they can provide competent representation on any issue their business may face. Prosecutors balance heavy caseloads while trying to bring justice to grieving victims. Defense attorneys sometimes face literal life-or-death situations with their clients. The law is not a profession for the faint of heart. And it shows—stories of lawyer suicides are so common it sparked a CNN report, “Why Are Lawyers Killing Themselves?” The South Carolina Bar Association’s South Carolina Lawyer published “The Lawyer’s Epidemic: Depression, Suicide, and Substance Abuse.” Patrick Krill wrote a compelling article for “The Hennepin Lawyer” called “Legally Intoxicated: The Impacts and Implications of Substance Abuse in the Practice of Law,” describing one fictional partner’s descent into substance abuse but also describing situations that are all-too familiar for many lawyers.

A new study from the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation revealed alarming rates of substance abuse and mental health disorders among attorneys. Nearly 13,000 legal professionals responded to an anonymous survey posted by bar associations across the country. Of the respondents, 53.4 percent were men and 46.5 percent were women. Age was measured in 10-year increments beginning with under 30 and ending with 70 and older, and respondents were fairly evenly divided through the age groups, with the fewest responses from the 70+ attorneys and the second fewest from the under-30s. Marital status and race/ethnicity were also considered; the vast majority of participants were white/Caucasian (91.3 percent) and married (70.2 percent). Professional characteristics, including work environment, position in firm, hours per week, and whether litigation was involved, were also examined. Participants self-reported on alcohol and substance use, and 84.1 percent reported using alcohol in the past 12 months.

The study included a 10-item self-report test called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), which is used to screen for hazardous use, harmful use, and potential alcohol dependence. An alarming 20.6 percent of reporting attorneys had positive AUDIT screens, as compared to 11.8 percent for a broad, highly educated workforce and 15 percent for physicians. The youngest attorneys were the most likely to report problem drinking—31.9 percent of the under-30 attorneys and 25.1 percent of attorneys aged 31-40 had positive AUDIT screens, with the percentages tapering off for each age segment. Similarly, attorneys in practice 10 years or less reported the highest rates of problem drinking—28.1 percent of new attorneys had positive AUDIT scores, with percentages diminishing in each age segment. The results were fairly static across all types of firms; private firms and bar administration had the highest rate of positive AUDIT screens but solos, in-house (government), in-house (corporate), and law schools were not far behind. Junior associates were most likely to screen positive for problem drinking, and senior partners were least likely.

The study also found alarmingly high percentages of depression and anxiety among responding attorneys. Of the attorneys surveyed, 28 percent experienced mild or higher levels of depression, 19 percent experienced mild or higher levels of anxiety, and 23 percent experienced mild or higher levels of stress as measured on the DASS-21 scale. Over 60 percent of the attorneys surveyed reported having experienced anxiety at some point in their career, and 45.7 reported having experienced depression. Suicidal thoughts and actions were also described, with 11.5 percent of responding attorneys admitting they had had suicidal thoughts at some point in their careers and 2.9 percent admitting self-injurious behaviors. The study noted significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among those screening positive for problematic alcohol use, and those with stress, anxiety, and depression scores within the normal range endorsed significantly fewer problematic alcohol behaviors. The study also remarked that alcohol can cause mental health issues, and mental health issues can often lead people to self-medicate with alcohol, so the two issues frequently co-exist.

Among all respondents, the same barriers to treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders were raised: not wanting others to find out they needed help and concerns about privacy and confidentiality. However, those who sought treatment in programs designed for legal professionals reported significantly lower AUDIT scores than those who attended programs not tailored to legal professionals.

Colorado has a lawyer assistance program tailored for legal professionals, appropriately named the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program or COLAP. COLAP is completely confidential, and in fact Colorado Supreme Court Rule 254 establishing COLAP provides that none of the information gathered by COLAP can be released without a signed release. COLAP’s mission is to protect the interests of clients, litigants, and the general public by educating the bench, bar, and law schools regarding the causes of and remedies for impairments affecting members of the legal profession, and to provide confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students who suffer from physical or mental health issues, or other impairments that affect their ability to be productive members of the profession. As COLAP’s website informs, “Getting help won’t sabotage your career, but not getting help can!”

If you are among the one out of every five attorneys who struggles with problematic alcohol use, or the one-in-four attorneys who is experiencing depression, please do not struggle in silence. Contact COLAP or your personal physician today.

WINDS OF CHANGE (Part 1): Attorney Wellness Leaders

rhodesGoogle “law school wellness programs” and count the hits. Of course you’ll get U of California at Berkeley (Boalt) and  U of San Francisco, but hey, that’s California, you’d expect that. But how about Duke, Harvard, U of Chicago… and closer to home, DU Sturm College of Law.

Lawyer assistance programs organizations like the Colorado Lawyers Assistance Program (COLAP) have changed their mission statements to adopt a far-reaching wellness orientation. They’re also reaching out to law schools, with the idea of helping new lawyers integrate personal and professional well-being into their careers from the get-go.

Beginning January 1st, the Ohio Bar amended its CLE requirements to require classes in “alcoholism, substance abuse, or mental health issues, which shall include instruction on any of their causes, prevention, detection, and treatment alternatives, as applicable.” Also required are classes in ethics that include consideration of “the Lawyer’s Creed and A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals.”

Why am I telling you all this? Because it would be too depressing to start by telling you that CNN ran a story last month about how lawyers now rank 4th among all professions in suicide rate. The story also cited the all-too-familiar statistics about how lawyers lead the way in substance abuse, depression, and other mental disorders. Just another tiresome “lawyers are unhappy” story that won’t change anything? Let’s hope not – not if the law schools and LAP’s and CLE Boards I’ve mentioned have anything to say about it.

The “Lawyer’s Creed” and “Aspirational Ideals” aren’t about rules and whether somebody is technically over the ethics line. They’re about ideals, about how to make the world of law safer and happier, more productive and rewarding, and ultimately more competently and justly administered for lawyers, clients, judges, and everybody else involved in the legal process.

Aspirational ideals, wellness education, and assistance programs go way beyond the vague notion we picked up in our mandatory pre-graduation ethics class that somehow we’re supposed to let the authorities know when somebody is struggling so much we can’t ignore their behavior anymore. Instead, they’re introducing a major paradigm shift so radical that it’s hard to get your head around if you’ve bought the conventional “aspirational means optional” point of view.

Among other things, that paradigm shift is based on the stunning idea that the law can be a life-enhancing career. No, this isn’t about holding hands in a circle and singing Kumbaya. It’s about enlightened self-interest, about deciding that it’s not okay anymore that we allow our profession to run us down, stress us out, and sometimes even kill us. It’s about embracing radical notions such as the one on COLAP’s webpage that says, “Problems are not a sign of failure but an opportunity for growth.” That’s not a surprising phrase to see on one of those motivational plaques, but as applied to high-achieving, competitive, alpha-controlling lawyers? Truly stunning.

Can you imagine personal wellness resources being part of normal life when you went to law school? I can’t either. Thankfully, the winds of change are blowing.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.