ABA Recommends Mandatory Substance Abuse and Mental Health CLE

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates voted on Monday to change the ABA’s Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education to include a recommended one hour of CLE training every three years focused on substance abuse and mental health issues. Currently, only three jurisdictions–California, North Carolina and Nevada–require such courses.  The decision to amend the Model CLE Rule, which has not been revised since 1988, was made this week during the ABA’s mid-year meeting in Miami.

As we discussed in our blog here, lawyers suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues at an alarmingly high rate.  The ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation commissioned a study of 15,000 attorneys across 19 states.  Their research found that between 21% and 36% of lawyers drink at levels consistent with an alcohol use disorder. For comparison, those numbers are roughly 3-5 times higher than the government estimates for alcohol use disorders in the general population.  A report summarizing the research was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in February 2016 (click here). The report stated: “Compared with other populations, we find the significantly higher prevalence of problematic alcohol use among attorneys to be compelling and suggestive of the need for tailored, profession-informed services.”

Those who defend lawyers charged with professional ethics violations would certainly concur that a correlation exists between substance abuse or mental health issues and violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.   As one report, written by two leading ethics lawyers, noted, “the abilities of lawyers to perform their fiduciary duties to their clients—to put the causes and needs of their clients first—often become seriously impaired when lawyers are more concerned with their substance addictions. Deadlines are missed, responses are not filed, and more subtle lapses—some of which the client may not be able to discover—occur with increasing regularity.”

Attorneys at all levels, including those pre-attorneys still working their way through law school, need to be cognizant of the risks of mental health and addiction disorders in the legal profession.  Whether the ABA’s proposal is going to change anything remains to be seen.  At least it is a start.

1 thought on “ABA Recommends Mandatory Substance Abuse and Mental Health CLE”

  1. Karen Patricia Woodbyrne

    Only one hour of training every three years on mental health and substance abuse oriented toward helping the lawyers, not to helping the lawyers help their clients with those problems? The ABA should be ashamed of itself! In the course of being divorced by my husband over the last year I have had three lawyers. The first died during the year, allegedly of alcoholism according to the second lawyer. The first lawyer died insolvent and took my retainer to his grave with him, after failing to file discovery. The second lawyer failed to answer my phone calls, letters, and emails for months at a time, causing the divorce to drag on without a hearing for months. The third lawyer claimed, for four weeks, that he couldn’t reach my husband’s lawyer (whom he said never did call him back) and charged me $250.00.
    I am Bipolar II subset hypomanic. and told all the lawyers this. Each one assured me they had delt with bipolar clients throughout their careers (forty, thirty-five, and forty-two years respectively, and that they had lots of experience doing so. What each of them had, in my experience was about one year of experience (after which they closed their minds) repeated the number of years they claimed. They were so ignorant about the illlness andhow to handle people who had it that the average janitor I’ve met has equal knowledge. They had no clue how ignorant they were. The
    ABA should be ashamed of the ways their lawyers are psychologically mauling their clients through ignorance.

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