The Florida Bar said it was creating three new committees “to study and develop recommendations … on supporting attorney mental health and wellness, advancing Florida’s mental health laws, and improving representation for children and families in the courts.”
The Bar announced the moves in a Thursday press release.
“Promoting mental health and wellness for Florida attorneys, improving the court system for parties with mental illness and ensuring children in dependency programs are represented in court are key goals for Florida’s legal community,” said Michael J. Higer, a Miami attorney and president of The Florida Bar.
“The Florida Bar remains steadfastly committed to tackling issues like these that are most impactful to our members, our courts and our justice system.”
Here’s the rest of the release:
— The Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers is working to identify solutions to de-stigmatize mental illness in the legal community, while also working to educate employers, judges and lawyers on how to identify and address and protect the mental health of Florida lawyers.
Additionally, the committee will study best practices to improve Florida Bar rules and programming to support Florida lawyers and help them better balance personal life and career obligations.
Florida Bar data suggests a clear need for this review. In fact, according to a 2015 Florida Bar membership survey, 33 percent of Florida lawyers believed high stress is a significant challenge within the profession and 32 percent said balancing family and work was also a significant challenge. Overall, 79 percent of Florida lawyers in the same survey believed the legal profession was becoming a less desirable career.
“Lawyers are no strangers to conflict and high-pressure situations, but when left unchecked, the effects can be debilitating to one’s physical and mental health,” said Dori Foster-Morales, chair of the Special Committee on Health and Wellness of Florida lawyers. “Our goal with this committee is to create the right environment and provide the right resources to help our attorneys find success without compromising their health or quality of life.”
Members of the Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers, which includes one non-lawyer member, Rahul Mehra, M.D., a Board Certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist in Tampa, are listed here.
Initial actions taken by the committee already include planning a series of town hall meetings to allow attorneys to speak more openly about the stressful challenges they face. The committee is also exploring the creation of continuing legal education (CLE) courses and law firm toolboxes to improve mental health and wellness education in practices statewide. A complete plan of action is expected to be completed in May 2018.
— The 13-member Special Committee on Mental Health is conducting a comprehensive study of Florida’s mental health laws to make recommendations for improvements and will educate lawyers and judges on best practices and ABA Standards when dealing with clients or other parties with mental illness in the court system.
The unfortunate reality is that people who experience a mental health crisis are more likely to enter the criminal court system rather than get the medical help they need, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics also confirms that 64 percent of jailed inmates have a mental health problem, requiring unique approaches to ensuring they have access to representation and/or rehabilitation.
“Those who suffer from mental health problems are far more likely to be placed in correctional facilities and detained longer, in part due to a lack of available resources,” said Judge Steven Leifman, co-chair of The Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Mental Health and a lifetime mental health advocate.
“This committee will take a comprehensive look at how we address mental health in our justice system,” he added. “The result should hopefully be better outcomes for people with mental illnesses and reduced costs to our already overburdened jails and prisons.”
The other co-chair is Judge Melanie G. May of the 4th District Court of Appeal. Members of the Special Committee on Mental Health are listed here.
The Special Committee on Mental Health is scheduled to begin its extensive review this quarter and conclude with a report and proposed set of recommendations to be presented before The Florida Bar Board of Governors by May 2019.
— The Special Committee on Child and Parent Representation is addressing the concurrent need for high quality legal representation for children and parents in dependency proceedings and ensure their safety and well-being.
“Children in dependency programs, no matter their geographic location, deserve high-quality counsel to advocate for their best interest,” said former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, chair of the Special Committee on Child and Parent Representation. “This committee will bring to fruition the Florida Bar’s years of work on dependent child representation.”
The committee was born out of the need for more uniformity across Florida’s jurisdictions so that all children and families can have access to quality counsel and representation.
Currently, justice for children is often determined by geography and foster children who live in counties that fund legal aid programs are far more likely to have lawyers than those who do not. This committee will make recommendations for uniform training, oversight and guidance of attorneys representing dependent children, so that no child is left without a court-appointed advocate.
The 29-member Special Committee on Child and Parent Representation is co-chaired by Florida Bar past presidents Jesse H. Diner of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Fort Lauderdale, Miles A. McGrane III of The McGrane Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale, and Edith G. Osman of Carlton Fields in Miami. Members are listed here.
The committee is scheduled to conclude its work with a report and proposed set of recommendations by May 2018.