The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) recently released the report of the Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being: https://www.mass.gov/doc/supreme-judicial-court-steering-committee-on-lawyer-well-being-report-to-the-justices
The SJC established the Steering Committee in September 2018 to explore and make recommendations regarding the state of lawyer well-being in the Commonwealth, following the publication in August 2017 of the Report of the National Task Force (“National Task Force”) on Lawyer Well-Being, which recommended that each state study these issues and develop an action plan.
Chaired by retired SJC Justice Margot Botsford, the Massachusetts Steering Committee represented various facets of the profession, including law firms, law schools, the public sector, and bar associations, forming 11 subcommittees which focused on well-being challenges and recommendations from the perspective of each of their areas of practice and responsibility. In its report, the Steering Committee makes clear that the legal profession faces serious challenges to the well-being if its practitioners. The Steering Committee also recognizes that attorney well-being is a critical component of attorney competence, which reflects the growing trend to recognize attorney well-being as a predicate for attorney competence within the rules of professional responsibility. For example, the State of California has amended the definition of “competence” in its applicable rule to “mean to apply the (i) learning service shall and skill, and (ii) mental, emotional, and physical ability reasonably necessary” for the performance of legal service.
The Steering Committee proposes in its report a number of specific recommendations to enhance the well-being of lawyers in the Commonwealth. Among them, the Steering Committee recommends that the SJC establish a permanent standing committee on lawyer well-being to continue to further examine these issues and recommendations and monitor progress. The Steering Committee also recommends that the SJC refer to the Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct to add a comment to Rule 1:1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct to note that a lawyer’s well-being and competence are connected. The Steering Committee further notes that a commitment to civility and to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in all practices, and in all parts of the judicial branch, are central to the well-being of the profession in the Commonwealth.
As noted in the Steering Committee’s report, “Lawyers play an essential role in protecting the promises and values of our Constitution.” The well-being of lawyers is therefore vitally important to the clients they serve and the institutions and organizations for whom they work. The leadership and commitment of the SJC and its Steering Committee in producing this report is an important step toward strengthening the profession.