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The West Virginia Supreme Court has established a task force to address mental health and substance abuse problems among people working in the legal profession.

Chief Justice Margaret Workman on Wednesday issued an order to establish the West Virginia Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, an 18-member group charged with providing guidelines to implement recommendations from a national report to improve support mechanisms for people in the legal profession, according to a news release from the supreme court.

The task force was created in response to a report released in August 2017 called “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker with be the chairperson of the task force.

“The demands of modern life, together with the demands of being a lawyer striving to help clients who often are at the lowest points in their lives when they go to court, can be overwhelming at times,” Walker said in the news release. “It is the duty of the leaders of our profession to do everything we can to ensure clients and the public are well-served.”

The task force will have to make its first report to the state supreme court by Dec. 31, 2018.

The 2017 report came from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.

The task force was organized by members of the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistant Programs, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

The report was based on a 2016 study from the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

That study found that between 21 and 36 percent of practicing lawyers qualified as problem drinkers, and that 28 percent of lawyers suffered from depression. It also found that 23 percent of lawyers suffer from stress, and 19 percent of lawyers suffered from anxiety.

For law students, the Survey of Law Student Well-Being found similar results in 2016 as well.

The survey showed 17 percent of the 3,300 students surveyed experience some level of depression, and 14 percent experienced some level of severe anxiety.

When it came to drinking, 22 percent of the law students reported binge drinking two or more times in the prior two weeks.

West Virginia’s task force will base its recommendations on those from the national report, which include identifying roles employees can play in decreasing toxicity and eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors.

The members of the task force include lawyers, judges and other legal officials from throughout the state. They are:

  • Robert E. Albury, Jr., executive director of the West Virginia Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program.
  • Honorable Michael J. Aloi, United States Magistrate Court judge.
  • Charles F. Bagley, III, Campbell Woods, PLLC.
  • Gregory W. Bowman, William J. Maier, Jr. Dean of the West Virginia University College of Law.
  • Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti, chief lawyer disciplinary counsel, Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
  • Honorable Bridget F. Cohee, judge, 23rd Judicial Circuit, based in Berkley County.
  • Dana F. Eddy, executive director, West Virginia Public Defender Services.
  • Mark Gaydos, McNeer, Highland, McMunn & Varner, LC.
  • Brian A. Glasser, Bailey & Glasser LLP.
  • Michele Grinberg, Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC.
  • P. Bradley Hall, MD, medical director, West Virginia Medical Professionals Health Program.
  • Karen E. Kahle, Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC.
  • John R. McGhee, Jr., Kay Casto & Chaney, PLLC.
  • Christopher L. Newbold, executive vice president, ALPS Corporation, ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Company, member of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.
  • Madeleine J. Jaeck, bar admissions administrator, West Virginia Board of Law Examiners.
  • Meshea L. Poore, The Law Office of Meshea L. Poore.
  • Debra H. Scudiere, Kay Casto & Chaney, PLLC.
  • Teresa A. Tarr, chief disciplinary counsel, Judicial Investigation Commission.

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.