ADHD and Attorney Wellness
Five years ago, the profession was taken by surprise by the startling results of the ABA-Hazelden study on attorney wellness or lack thereof. According to the study, 28% of the lawyers in their sample suffered from depression, 19% were experiencing anxiety and 21% reported drinking levels that were problematic. Since the issuance of the report, the legal profession has devoted a lot of time and attention to attorney wellness creating programs to educate and create awareness of these conditions. However, these efforts often ignore Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is significant because studies show that people with ADHD are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression. In addition, one-half of the people with ADHD suffer from anxiety and about 25% engage in substance abuse. When ADHD is managed, these numbers fall significantly. Could education about ADHD and treatment options provide another path to improve attorney wellness? I think, yes.
The same ABA study reported that 12.5% of the lawyers polled reported having ADHD. This number is higher than the incidence in the US population which is estimated to fall somewhere between 6 and 10%. Law can be a great profession for people with ADHD. It can be interesting and mentally challenging while appealing to people pleasers. In addition, there are opportunities for success for risk-takers who bring their energy and creativity to the Bar. At the same time, the profession rewards behaviors often symptomatic of ADHD, like perfectionism and hyperfocus. Think about the attorney who endlessly researches fine points of law or who works countless hours, days, nights, and holidays to the exclusion of the rest of their lives. Instead of spotting this conduct as a red flag, it’s rewarded. We look at people who are obsessed by a case and glorify them while overlooking their unbalanced lives, unhealthy lifestyles, and social isolation. We have to change the culture of our profession not to glorify overwork because the flip side of that is to look down upon attorneys who work reasonable schedules, have a healthy lifestyle, and take time to enjoy their lives and their families.
In my experience as a coach and as a supervisor, very few attorneys with ADHD report it to their employer which would enable them to seek the accommodations they need to realize their full potential. The ABA confirmed my observations. When the ABA polled law firms about the percentage of lawyers at their firms with ADHD, they reported 2%. Yet, when the ABA polled attorneys directly, 12.5% of lawyers identified themselves as having ADHD. Even this number probably understates the incidence of ADHD in the profession. Many attorneys who exhibit characteristics of ADHD never seek a diagnosis and either suffer secretly wondering what is wrong with them or self-medicate with caffeine, drugs, or alcohol. The leading reason attorneys give for not seeking a diagnosis or identifying themselves to their employers as having ADHD is fear of being stigmatized and of losing their jobs.
It is time to recognize that at least 1 out of 8 lawyers have ADHD. The profession and legal employers should provide education, coaching, and accommodations for attorneys with ADHD. Acceptance and destigmatizing ADHD will encourage attorneys to seek diagnosis and treatment. Most treatment plans include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or coaching, mindfulness, and exercise. Treating ADHD can improve attorney wellness and reduce anxiety, depression, and substance abuse by heading it off in the first place. Finally, studies show that people with unmanaged ADHD have a shorter life expectancy by 13.5 years. It is time to include ADHD in our wellness programs and to recognize it as a disability that should be included in our diversity and inclusion efforts. We must encourage lawyers with ADHD to come into the light where we can work together to create environments of success.
ADHD Tower of Power: Fun + Health + Connection
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I have been taking classes to become certified as an ADHD coach. One of the models that we discuss in class is the ADHD Tower of Power. When you are at the top of the tower, you are functioning at your best. A strong foundation for the tower is essential because, without it, you have nothing to build upon. In the model, the bottom level is health: good nutrition, aerobic exercise and strength training, and adequate sleep. The next level is being in a healthy supportive environment which includes physical and emotional safety, social connection, opportunities for creativity, and a comfortable place to be. This reinforces the connection between ADHD management and attorney wellness. What sets the ADHD Tower of Power apart from what Neuro-Typicals need is the level below the bottom level—the sub-basement, if you will. The sub-basement is fun. Fun, whatever that means to you, is the bedrock upon which the ADHD Tower of Power must be built. Fun is what makes this model unique for the ADHD mind. If you are not having fun or engaging in something interesting and/or challenging, nothing else matters because your mind won’t engage. We all know that Attention Deficit is a misnomer, we can pay attention to a lot of different things, it’s just that we have a problem staying attentive to things that are uninteresting. So, if we want to excel at something, we need to make it interesting and/or fun. That will then allow us to start climbing the tower of power. If we are engaged in something we care about and are physically and emotionally healthy and in a good place, we will be able to function at a higher level than if we were not. In other words, good health and a supportive environment will improve your performance in tasks that are fun, interesting, or challenging.
Strategies To Add an Element of Fun to Daily Tasks
- Buddy Up: Do it with someone else. People with ADHD like to collaborate. Completing a boring task as part of a team or with a buddy makes it easier to engage. People with ADHD are people pleasers and are unlikely to let their buddies down.
- Make it into a game: If you can take your task and turn it into a game that will help to capture your interest. You can gamify things by timing tasks and seeing how much you can accomplish by racing the clock, or by playing music and dancing, or singing while working on the task.
- Set a reward for completion of the task.
Here is a short article on 8 things women with ADHD can do to improve wellness. While this article is written from a female perspective, many of the recommendations apply to all genders.
Partner Up News
I will be delivering a live interactive presentation to the Georgia Public Defenders Council later this month on “ADHD and You”. I will address strategies to deal with clients, colleagues, and judges with ADHD. Public Defenders are likely to encounter people with ADHD in their work. Studies show that approximately 25% of incarcerated adults and 30% of juvenile offenders meet the criteria for ADHD. Criminal defense lawyers aren’t the only professionals who service a high percentage of people with ADHD. Based on the literature, it would appear that lawyers dealing with family law, bankruptcy, employment law, derivatives trading, intellectual property, and start-ups are likely to have clients with ADHD. In addition to clients, there are other lawyers. As previously mentioned, 12.5% of attorneys admit to having ADHD. In my opinion, any area of law that interesting, varied, stimulating, risky, and fast-paced is likely to attract lawyers with ADHD. Finally, in my talk, I discuss how to work with a judge (or decisionmaker) you suspect might have ADHD. If you know of any groups that might be interested in my presentation, let me know.