Bree Buchanan, director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, was honored for her research and outreach on mental health and substance abuse disorders within the legal profession.
Buchanan, who is co-chair of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and co-authored the task force’s report, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” received the Excellence in Community Leadership Award from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Legal Professionals Program.
“I’m honored by this award but want everyone to know this is a team effort by the task force,” she said. “Kudos go to all of them who sacrificed hundreds of hours to bring this report to fruition.”
The report, which came out in 2017, made 44 recommendations for fostering a healthier environment for attorneys. It focused on five general areas: (1) identifying stakeholders and their roles in reducing toxicity in law; (2) ending stigma on seeking help; (3) emphasizing that an attorney’s well-being is vital to his or her work; (4) educating attorneys, judges, and law students on mental health and substance use disorders; and (5) creating a culture that prioritizes self-care and helping others.
Legal Professionals Program Director Kevin Chandler, who presented the award at the annual Legal Professionals Recovery Retreat in Center City, Minnesota, praised Buchanan’s work.
“There is no one more deserving of this award, which recognizes extraordinary service on behalf of lawyers struggling with substance use and mental health disorders, than Bree Buchanan,” Chandler said in a press release. “Her tireless, selfless work is clearly changing the trajectory when it comes to wellness in the legal profession.”
The recommendations made in the task force report are similar to what the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program emphasizes. The State Bar of Texas TLAP program, which is aimed at lawyers of all ages, judges, law students, and legal employers, offers extensive resources on mental health and substance abuse disorders, as well as burnout and cognitive decline. The TLAP website, tlaphelps.org, features articles, podcasts, videos, and TED Talks to bring visibility to and support for those facing these issues.
“The legal profession has for too long been a breeding ground for substance use and mental health disorders as a result of its outdated culture and often indifference to lawyer wellness,” Chandler said. “Buchanan’s work is taking what has for too long been the legal profession’s dirty little secret and is dragging it kicking and screaming into the bright sunlight.”
Buchanan said it’s humbling to see how the legal profession has answered the call but said there is still much left to be done. “The next step is for each state to pick up the task force recommendations and use them as a guideline for how well-being for law students, lawyers, and judges in their own state can be improved.”
For more information about wellness and the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, go to tlaphelps.org.