Kirkland & Ellis has become one of the first “Big Law” law firms to start a Wellbeing Program that proactively works with its lawyers on issues related to mental health and substance misuse — two growing areas of concern in the legal community.
The Kirkland Wellbeing Program will offer education and dialogue across three core dimensions: resilience, connection and fitness/nutrition. The program will also identify paths to support for those dealing with substance misuse and other mental health concerns such as anxiety, stress and depression.
“Kirkland is committed to supporting the wellbeing of our attorneys. This initiative is something lawyers, particularly younger lawyers and law students, throughout the legal community are asking of their law firms. We are embracing the call for a more open and transparent dialog about mental health within our profession, and believe this program will become an important part of our culture,” said Jeffrey C. Hammes, Chairman of Kirkland’s Global Management Executive Committee.
Kirkland has hired Robin Belleau as Firmwide Director of Wellbeing to lead this program. Ms. Belleau is an attorney and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She is also the former Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP) in Illinois. LAP is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization affiliated with the American Bar Association (ABA) that provides assistance to judges, lawyers and law students in the areas of mental health and substance misuse. She is an active speaker on mental health and wellbeing topics and a member of the Advisory Commission of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyers’ Assistance Programs.
“Robin has been a leader in advancing wellbeing in the legal profession, including creating the Illinois Taskforce on Lawyer Wellbeing and lobbying the Illinois Supreme Court for additional funding to help a greater number of lawyers,” said Linda Myers, a partner and member of Kirkland’s Global Management Executive Committee. “As more and more conversations about mental health and substance abuse are occurring in the legal industry, and tragic events have highlighted the seriousness of the issue, we must be proactive in addressing these areas. I am excited to see how Robin and our Wellbeing Program can make a positive difference in the lives of Kirkland lawyers and potentially many others throughout the legal community.”
According to a 2016 ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation national study of about 13,000 licensed lawyers, 28 percent said they faced depression, 23 percent dealt with chronic stress, 21 percent faced issues with alcohol and 19 percent handled anxiety. In 2018, the ABA launched a campaign targeting substance-use disorders and mental health issues among lawyers.
“My hope is that the more we talk about these issues in the legal community the less stigma there is attached to getting help,” Ms. Belleau said. “It is important for this program to be created with lawyers in mind because they need a program that is easy for them to maneuver within their busy schedules and something that addresses these topics from the perspective of a lawyer.”
Specifically, the Kirkland Wellbeing Program will include the use of two wellbeing apps that support stress reduction, increase resiliency and support individuals in making different choices regarding substance abuse and other potentially addictive behaviors. Kirkland will also host continuing legal education courses and other seminars on the topic of wellbeing. The Firm will open the lines of communication on such topics as mental health and substance misuse, offering guidance and resources to those in need of help.
Ms. Belleau will also be active within the broader legal community, speaking on mental health and wellbeing topics and collaborating across the profession to drive positive change. For example, she’s presenting on the topic “Resilience: Strength Under Stress” on May 23 on behalf of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Health and Wellness Committee; and on the topic of “Wellness for Attorneys and CLE Regulators” on July 30 at a Continuing Legal Education Regulators Association conference.