Brian S. Quinn, Esquire is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania and the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, Inc. – a Lawyer Assistance Program established in 1988 for the purpose of helping lawyers, judges, and law students recover from alcoholism, substance misuse and mental health disorders. We sat down with Brian to explore legal professionals’ burnout, mental health, and what can help.
How does Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania approach the topic of legal technology advancements in the field, if in any way?
Brian: We focus on the impact of screens and devices on lawyers' mental health. We caution people about the overusage of devices and cite mental health statistics that suggest lawyers and legal professionals are predisposed to mental health disorders and substance abuse issues - and that this is heightened by overexposure to social media, computer screens, phones, and the like.
Technology can be a double-edged sword. While it's been great for efficiency, it can alienate and isolate professionals. However, if used correctly, technology can offer solutions like ours...webinars and outreach regarding human, peer-to-peer services that are confidential and safe.
From your experience, what are the primary challenges lawyers face when integrating technology into their practices or legal departments?
Brian: Lawyers are already at an elevated rate of prevalence for substance abuse, technology abuse, and mental health disorders. There are programs like ours throughout the country. We want to make people aware of the resources available if they become increasingly stressed by the evolution of legal technology. There is HR, but then there is LCL (Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers) and LAP (Lawyer Assistance Program). The difference is that HR has one set of rules with regard to confidentiality and we have another. Just call us a "super-umbrella" - 100 percent confidentiality! We are granted that by the courts. This is on a state-by-state basis so I always caution people to be aware of the rules of professional conduct in their state. However, we don't "turn people in." People can feel safe turning to our program.
To tie this into specific legal technology solutions, legal tech should make lawyers less stressed; that's what we are concerned about. Therefore, any legal technologies that make lawyers' processes easier, more centralized, and straightforward are beneficial. That would address the challenges of increased stress and decreased mental health and stability for the lawyer.
How do you think the shift toward remote work and digital communication tools has affected lawyers' mental health and stress levels? Positive, negative, mixed bag?
Brian: Definitely negative. Isolation is a major problem for a lot of people. The imposed isolation of the pandemic worked itself right into the wheelhouse of the lawyer. They like to isolate and avoid interaction when they have a problem. So, when you tell a lawyer, "You don't have to come into the office," I am getting calls about people going on Zoom with a "cup of coffee" that obviously has something in the cup...the longer they talk in the meeting, the more they start to slur their speech and nod off...the more they switch their camera to a dignified portrait of themselves because they didn't get dressed that day.
We have devoted entire programs to the issue of hyper-connectivity, virtual isolation, and loneliness. Loneliness has been declared a national health crisis by the surgeon general. It stands to reason that lawyers who have elevated stress, isolation, and substance abuse proclivities by default...that that group would struggle even more. The slow return to "in-office" is a huge stress point for lawyers. Why? They got used to it (working from home). They can use all the reasons they want...but some of them want to avoid interactions with people. That is not a healthy situation. The change is scary to lawyers, who like to be in control. That is a stressor and a pushback.
Can you expand on some of the specific ways attorneys and others can leverage Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers when struggling with mental health issues?
Brian: LCL offers a range of services, from confidential counseling to peer support, specifically tailored to legal professionals. We understand the unique pressures of the legal field and provide resources that help attorneys manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges in a supportive, understanding environment.
Could you share your thoughts on AI and machine learning and its potential....as this relates to lawyers' well-being? Is this shift intimidating and alienating for lawyers or is this a convenience and a relief?
Brian: I ask people this...if they have become "techno-lonely." Talking to a program or talking to people two-dimensionally instead of face-to-face...does that hurt people? We as humans are hardwired for human connection. If you remove that connection and human element? What's it doing to our brains?
All we ask is to stop and recognize warning signs. If it is causing increased stress and anxiety, reach out. Communicate. Help. That is why we emphasize the 24/7 helpline. Interestingly enough with regards to AI, one of our biggest pitches is that this 24/7 helpline will always include a human being! It is not automated! People do not have to leave their names and numbers. They can be anonymous even when they speak to someone. We try to make it as non-judgmental, easy, and comforting as we can.
I always tell people...I don't care if it's Christmas Day, 3 AM...it doesn't matter. Someone talks to you...a person. That's a big outreach plus. If you want real human contact, call us!
What measures can be taken to ensure that the adoption of legal tech does not add to the stress lawyers face and are under - measures from both the legal tech providers and the departments or practices themselves?
Brian: What you guys did: offer a substantive program! The entire model appeals to lawyers: Offer ethics credits and wellness credits for CLE. This can draw the lawyers to something that is going to help them. This is education on some really important issues. It's one thing to talk to them about the nuts and bolts of a product or how it is going to help their law practice. But if you hit the wellness arena, you are giving a service to their clients.
Just by offering this (CLE webinar on mental health), you are really making a difference. Organizations should not just do this once in a while, but regularly! Make it all hands on deck! Get your staff, paralegals, administrators, etc.! We should offer similar services to everyone - not just lawyers. We do that...we make referrals and we help anybody. No one knows that unless CobbleStone and other people spread the word! You guys are doing a great service to your clients and others by keeping them up to date on these things.
In closing, would you like to mention anything else about this important topic?
Brian: I think it is important for people to know that business professionals across all industries, their children, their grandchildren, and their loved ones can all benefit from assistance programs like ours. So many of us are struggling with a whole diversity of issues: mental health issues, drug addiction, sex addiction, eating disorders, all types of things. Everyone can benefit from assistance.
It's crucial to recognize that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Lawyers are often accustomed to solving problems on their own, but mental health is an area where professional support can be invaluable. LCL provides a safe, confidential space to get the help they need without fear of judgment.
I give a lot of respect to organizations like yours who offer this information in addition to (software) tools that make things easier for legal professionals. You are doing it! Keep offering this information and these tools to destress lawyers and so many people will benefit.
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