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CHARLESTON - The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia established Wednesday a task force to research how to address mental health and substance abuse in the legal field.

The West Virginia Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being includes nearly 20 attorneys, judges, college professors and others who work on local and national levels. The group is expected to make a report to the Supreme Court by Dec. 31, 2018.

According to a news release from the Supreme Court, national studies have indicated the chronic stress placed on lawyers and law students leads to a higher rate of depression and substance abuse than the general population.

To address those issues, a national task force on well-being was established by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistant Programs, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker will serve as the West Virginian chairperson of the group.

"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," she said. "It is the duty of the leaders of our profession to do everything we can to ensure clients and the public are well served."

An order establishing the task force, signed by Chief Justice Margaret L. Workman, says action is required "to maintain public confidence in the legal profession, to increase access to justice, and to promote civility over the toxicity that has contributed to the mental health and substance abuse challenges in the profession."

The national report makes recommendations for judges, regulators, legal employees, law schools, bar associations and lawyer professional liability carriers.

Workman's order calls for the West Virginia task force to study the national findings and provide guidelines to implement its recommendations.

At least one member of the national task force will sit on West Virginia's version.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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