Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Attorney Leadership Roundtable on Suicide Prevention

On January 21, 2016, a group of over sixty judges and lawyers from the Colorado legal community convened at the Colorado Supreme Court to begin discussions around the topic of suicide within the profession, including Chief Justice Nancy Rice, former Chief Justice Michael Bender, CBA President Loren Brown and Jim Coyle, Attorney Regulation Counsel in addition to numerous judges and lawyers from around the state. Moderated by Barbara Ezyk, Executive Director of the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, these leaders were called to action to break down the walls of stigma and address this very real problem in Colorado.

Planning committee partners from Ireland Stapleton, Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, Colorado Lawyers Helping Lawyers, and the Carson J Spencer Foundation developed this forum with the goal to help attorneys in Colorado elevate the conversation and make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Leaders within legal community are uniquely poised to lead the charge by opening the dialogue, combating stigma with stories of hope and recovery, and implementing sweeping changes to support not only the legal professionals but also the clients they serve.

After hearing personal and professional experiences with mental health conditions and suicide, the group was led by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas through strategies to support comprehensive suicide prevention within the legal community, ranging from "upstream" mental health promotion, "midstream" early and effective intervention, and "downstream" crisis intervention and grief support after a suicide death.

Attendees then broke into smaller groups to discuss in-depth ideas for change and to identify first steps on the journey to turning the tides against suicide within the legal profession in Colorado.

Longer-term recommendations from the groups included:

  • Educational and communication programs that develop awareness about mental health and suicide in law school and provide resources and reassurance to young lawyers
  • Leadership can take an active role to (including Regulation Counsel) send the message about and model self-care and promote use of mental health resources, "here to help, not just discipline"
  • Mentoring program
  • Incentivized mental health wellness practices
  • Develop a bench book on how to identify problems among colleagues and specific intervention skills for lawyers needing professional care.
  • Skill training specifically designed to help lawyers have critical conversations with peers about mental health, substance abuse, and suicide (CLE).
  • Policy development on when and how to report concerns
  • Health and wellness campaigns that include screening for depression
  • Stronger connection between Bar Associations and full spectrum of mental health resources
  • Specific crisis response practices for firms dealing with the aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt
  • Promotion of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Immediate call to action:
  1. To establish a committee to design a statewide comprehensive and sustained strategy for suicide prevention for the attorney profession.
  2. To build capacity through on-going skill development training and consultation for larger firms and bar associations.
  3. To continue to develop statewide communication tactics promoting resources and awareness.
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