Camille Stell

Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

A new, landmark study conducted by the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation reveals substantial and widespread problems with addiction and mental health issues.

Of the 15,000 U.S. lawyers studied across the country, more than 1 in 3 practicing attorneys are problem drinkers. Lawyers report suffering from depression at a rate of four times the general U.S. population, with 28% suffering from depression, 19% from anxiety and 23% from stress.

I’m sure no one starts their legal career believing they will end up a statistic. So how does it happen?

Each story is different but probably shares many similarities. There were red flags that colleagues could have seen if they were looking. There were choices to make and decisions regretted.

Don’t become a discipline statistic. Here are a few red flags that are often symptoms of an underlying problem.

Relationship issues often show up as a symptom of an underlying problem. 

  • Complaints from clients     
  • Disagreements or inability to work with colleagues
  • Irritable, impatient
  • Angry outbursts, combative
  • Hostile attitude
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Unpredictable, rapid mood swings
  • Non-responsive

Personal issues often show up as a symptom of an underlying problem. 

  • Legal separation or divorce; custody issues
  • No family support
  • Living outside financial means
  • Credit problems, judgments, tax liens, bankruptcy
  • Frequent illnesses or odd accidents
  • Arrests
  • Isolating from friends, family
  • Chaotic personal life/lots of drama

Performance issues often show up as a symptom of an underlying problem. 

  • Missed deadlines
  • Decreased efficiency
  • Inadequate follow through
  • Lack of attention
  • Poor judgment
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Blaming or making excuses for poor performance

Know who your friends are. There are many programs across the state to help lawyers in trouble. If you believe a colleague is in trouble, but you aren’t sure how to help, you can reach out to one of the many organizations in the state designed to meet these needs. They can provide guidance or will help with an intervention by someone who is trained in helping people in distress.

The NC State Bar Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) is a confidential resource for lawyers suffering from anxiety, stress and burnout, depression and suicide, anger management, compassion fatigue, alcohol or drug problems, process addictions, grief and loss and over-functioning. Visit

BarCARES is a confidential, short-term intervention program provided cost-free to members of participating judicial district bars, voluntary bar associations and law schools. BarCARES is a program of the NC Bar Association. Visit

The Transitioning Lawyers Commission (TLC) provides support and resources to lawyers as they wind down their active career in the law. This project originated with the Senior Lawyers Division of the NC Bar Association. Visit

The NC Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism was established in 1998 to enhance professionalism among NC lawyers. Executive Director Mel Wright is a North Carolina treasure. While his efforts are often big picture for maintaining professionalism and excellence among lawyers, he can step in to offer advice and counsel for lawyers who are concerned about a lack of professionalism in a particular situation. Visit

Lawyers Mutual. Our Client Services Department and Claims Department have offered thousands of hours of advice and counsel to lawyers who are struggling with a specific case or with their practice in general. We have specialized programs to help firms in crisis such as our HELP team in case of lawyer death or disability, and claims repair when a case has slipped off the rails. You can reach us at 800.662.8843 or

A mental health hour on this topic will be included in the Lawyers Mutual CLE scheduled for Greensboro at the Grandover on Friday October 21. You can register here (free for insureds) –

Practicing law is a privilege. Following these steps will help you do it for many years to come.

Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at or 800.662.8843.

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