Kirkland & Ellis announced this week the creation of a new firmwide wellness program with a new director, part of the ongoing efforts by Big Law to tackle mental health issues that plague the legal profession.
Robin Belleau will be Kirkland & Ellis’ first firmwide director of well-being. A former assistant state’s attorney turned counselor, Belleau officially joined the firm back in March.
She is the former executive director of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program in Illinois and is a member of the advisory commission of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyers’ Assistance Programs.
Kirkland’s new program will proactively work with its attorneys and staff on issues related to mental health and substance misuse and will offer education and enhanced dialogue across three core areas: resilience, connection and fitness and nutrition.
As a part of the program, the firm will host educational courses and seminars on well-being. It will also introduce two well-being apps that aim to support stress reduction, increase resiliency and support individuals in combating substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. The firm will also launch an internal website that will provide its employees with additional resources.
“One of the main goals is to start this conversation and help reduce the stigma around people having mental health issues or substance misuse issues,” Belleau said.
The wellness program will help identify paths to support individuals dealing with substance abuse issues and other mental health concerns rampant in the legal profession like depression, stress or anxiety.
“Kirkland is committed to supporting the well-being of our attorneys. This initiative is something lawyers, particularly younger lawyers and law students, throughout the legal community are asking of their law firms,” said chairman of Kirkland’s global management executive committee Jeffrey C. Hammes in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Kirkland’s new program is just the latest initiative offered by law firms to help their attorneys and staff deal with the pressures within the profession. Earlier this year, Morgan Lewis & Bockius launched a new initiative “ML Well” and added its first-ever director of employee well-being. Reed Smith launched a firmwide program “Wellness Works” to support the health and well-being of its lawyers and staff.
And in addition to its “Be Well” program, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld added an on-site counselor to its Washington office to provide therapy sessions its attorneys one day a week. Hogan Lovells has had on-site psychologists available at some of its offices for several years.
According to a 2016 American Bar Association study of lawyers, 28 percent dealt with depression and 19 percent dealt with anxiety. Between 21 and 36 percent were “problem drinkers.”
“People want to work on their mental health,” Belleau said. “Even though there’s still stigma attached to issues, its moving along the spectrum.”