What’s in a name? Turns out, a lot. The New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse is now known as the Special Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.
The Board of Trustees changed the committee’s name and mission last fall to reflect a more positive and expansive view that promotes attorney well-being and to include behavioral issues beyond drug and alcohol addiction.
“We are taking our Drug and Alcohol Abuse Committee to the next level where it can be applied to all attorneys. We’re recognizing that its mission is more than just drug and alcohol abuse—it’s mental health as well as stress management,” said Kimberly A. Yonta, NJSBA president-elect and trustee liaison for the Special Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.
“Lawyers are under extreme pressure and stress,” Yonta said. She noted a 2016 study by the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs and Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation that found lawyers struggle with higher levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and substance use disorders than the general population and other highly educated professionals.
The committee’s new name is part of a movement in the legal community to reduce mental health and substance use disorders and improve the well-being of lawyers. In 2018, 18 states implemented or considered recommendations from the ABA’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.
Yonta said the Special Committee on Lawyer Well-Being wants to reach a wider audience of NJSBA members with events and education that promote positive well-being and mindfulness. She said the name change, with its broader emphasis on well-being, sends a more positive message and does not single out those who may be struggling with a particular issue.
The committee’s mission statement was changed to read: Monitors and promotes the professional well-being of attorneys and proposes programs designed to treat and educate attorneys for positive satisfaction with their lives and careers.
“We recognize that many attorneys are dealing with these issues. They may have a problem that’s not an addiction yet, but if we give them the tools and resources ahead of time, they’ll be able to address these issues before they get out of control,” Yonta said.