07:32 AM

National survey finds impact of decisions, heavy dockets are top stressors for judges

The 2020 Journal of the Professional Lawyer recently released its Stress and Resiliency in the U.S. Judiciary report which was created to identify issues unique to the judiciary, how those issues affect judges as individuals, and what strategies judges are utilizing to mitigate those issues. The American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs initiated the study with its partners, the National Judicial College and the College of St. Scholastica in 2019. 

The report identified key sources of stress for judges, with two primary reasons being the impact and importance of the decisions they were required to make and heavy dockets. Overall, judges identified 37 different areas of stress. 

Once the stressors were identified, the survey recorded 34 separate effects of stress on individuals. The top item was fatigue/low energy after hearing multiple cases, followed by sleep disturbances such as awakenings or insufficient sleep. While some of the recorded effects were relatively benign, respondents also identified suicide, panic, marital difficulties, and alcohol use as results of their stress. 

To control their stress, judges most often turned to better nutrition, as reported by nearly nine in 10 respondents, while 82% identified exercise as their preferred method of stress reduction. Other important coping mechanisms included reading educational materials, social support, and hobbies as methods of stress management. 

The study presented five primary recommendations:  

  1. Leaders of courts and administrative agencies should demonstrate that judicial well-being is a priority  
  2. Convene a statewide task force on well-being in the legal profession to include the judiciary 
  3. Ensure access to well-being resources and programming  
  4. Ensure adequate insurance, leave policies and retirement benefits so that judges get the professional help and treatment needed 
  5. Authorize caseload and staffing studies 

The report’s authors included a statement recognizing how difficult the work of the judiciary is at present. The report noted the workload for judges is overwhelming, citing the pandemic and the impact of natural disasters in recent months to the role of the courts in the national election. The report said this highlights the continual need for awareness and assistance programs. 

More than 1,000 judges participated in the survey across nearly all levels and jurisdictions. Respondents varied from new to the bench to more than 50 years of service, with an average of 11.4 years on the bench. Nine in 10 respondents were active, full-time judges. 

For more information, please contact the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 or click here for MOLAP resources.