News and Information
February 09, 2018

South Dakota Bar Releases Video Series on Mental Health for Lawyers

The State Bar of South Dakota has released a series of videos, “Living Above the Bar,” that explores mental health issues that affect attorneys.

The nine videos feature the advice of Rajesh Singh, MD, a psychiatry and behavioral health specialist at the Sanford Health Psychiatry & Psychology Clinic in Sioux Falls, SD. In conversations with State Bar of South Dakota President Pamela Reiter, the videos cover topics like substance abuse, anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, and approaching another lawyer about his or her mental health.

South Dakota joins the Virginia State Bar and bars across the country in recognizing the role that regulatory agencies can play in providing members with access to mental health resources.

In August 2017, Supreme Court of Virginia Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons was one of 15 authors of a report, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.” And in September, Chief Justice Lemons announced plans to form a committee in Virginia to find ways to enhance lawyer well-being. Supreme Court Justice William C. Mims, who has written on the topic for Virginia Lawyer magazine, chairs the committee.

Also in Virginia, comments are currently being sought on a proposed change to Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding competence. The proposal would add language making the maintenance of mental, emotional, and physical abilities to represent clients an important aspect of maintaining competence.

Virginia State Bar Legal Ethics Opinions 1886 and 1887 were approved by the Court in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and describe the duties of law firms and fellow lawyers in reporting impaired attorneys. They both encourage the use of Lawyers Helping Lawyers, an independent non-profit providing confidential assistance to lawyers struggling with mental health issues.

Lawyers Helping Lawyers (LHL) was formed in 1985 to create a free resource for recovery on a confidential, non-disciplinary basis. It has helped hundreds of lawyers since then, and a new executive director, Tim Carroll, and the LHL board adopted the Lighthouse Plan last year to expand LHL’s reach in the state. LHL is funded by the Virginia State Bar, ALPS insurance, Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, and private donations

At least one report cited in the “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being” states that 40 to 70 percent of disciplinary proceedings involve substance abuse or depresssion, or often both. For a regulatory agency, addressing behavioral health issues can often mean fewer disciplinary problems to investigate – and fewer reprimands, suspensions, and dismissals for lawyers. Deputy Executive Director Renu Brennan wrote about this for the education section's fall newsletter.

The South Dakota video series is a useful tool for informing lawyers on these important topics. Please share them with your colleagues and fellow lawyers.    

Updated: Feb 21, 2018