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 that are often symptomatic of ADHD, like perfectionism and hyper-focus.  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, but they don’t have balanced lives and that’s not healthy. 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 accommodations.  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 de-stigmatizing 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 diversity and inclusion efforts and to encourage lawyers with ADHD to come into the light where we can work together to create environments of success.

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