A persistent myth about people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is they can’t succeed in fast-paced careers like legal practice because they aren’t able to maintain focus and organization. However, much evidence indicates the opposite is true. In fact, in a landmark 2016 American Bar Association study, 12.5% of attorneys reported having ADHD compared with 4.5% of U.S. adults overall.
ADHD is a complex system of executive function impairments that affect the brain’s ability to manage itself. Symptoms of ADHD typically begin in childhood, but adult diagnosis has become increasingly common. Disorganization, procrastination, and challenges with time management are hallmarks of adult ADHD.
At the same time, certain ADHD qualities can actually help people rise to the occasion in professional environments, especially attorneys. High-stress environments can bring out what some refer to as ADHD “superpowers,” such as the ability to solve complex problems under pressure. Because legal work is nearly always urgent and important, it can be easy for attorneys with ADHD to thrive in those ways.
As such, there’s a growing movement to recognize the unique challenges and strengths of being an attorney with ADHD and implement methods to support them. At Stinson LLP, we’ve partnered with a consulting company dedicated to helping high achievers with ADHD thrive to incorporate best practices into our well-being and diversity programs.
Here are four things we’ve learned:
1. Be Flexible with Accommodations
The Job Accommodation Network has many helpful suggestions for accommodating employees with ADHD and other executive functioning deficits. Keep in mind that while some employees with ADHD need no or few workplace accommodations, others require greater support.
At Stinson, we’ve also worked with a leading legal mental health expert to enhance many of our policies to better support our attorneys and staff through leaves, back-to-work programs, and alternate work schedules. In addition to traditional leave types, such as parental and military leave, we’re explicit in our inclusion of mental health as a qualification for a leave. If someone needs to take time away from practice to support their well-being, we help them do so.
2. Leverage Your Existing Well-Being Programs
Stinson has adopted a holistic well-being framework that considers social, intellectual, and occupational well-being alongside physical and mental health. In the occupational dimension, it can be hard for attorneys with ADHD to stay organized and focused in a way that allows them to experience feelings of competence and accomplishment.
However, your workplace likely already has tools in place that can help someone manage their ADHD. Stinson has achieved significantly high usage of its employee assistance program (EAP) relative to average usage. In addition to providing free, confidential counseling services, our EAP can help with personal and lifestyle needs. It’s a great resource for someone with ADHD who just needs to lighten their cognitive load.
3. Recognize Intersectionality
“Intersectionality” refers to the complex ways that race, class, and gender impact people’s lived experiences. Much of the clinical research into ADHD has centered on the experiences of boys and men, excluding women and people of color. Girls often learn to “mask” their symptoms by hiding behaviors deemed unladylike by society, and many women are misdiagnosed before being correctly diagnosed with ADHD. It’s even harder for people of color with ADHD to get an accurate diagnosis. They are often less able to access medication and less likely to be offered behavioral interventions.
Every individual’s experience of ADHD is unique, so your organization’s framework for supporting employees with ADHD can’t be one size fits all.
4. Help Employees Help Each Other
In addition to a robust program for well-being education, Stinson offers a peer support resource called the Well-Being Champions Network. The goal of this resource is to connect someone facing well-being challenges with a colleague who has navigated a similar experience. Our Champions have experience with challenges such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and others and are willing to serve as a source of support for someone going down a similar road.
Remember, with support, guidance, and accountability, attorneys and other legal professionals with ADHD can thrive in work and life.
Casey Dixon is a professional, board, and senior certified life coach. She is also the founder of Dixon Life Coaching and may be reached at email@example.com.
Krista Larson is the director of well-being at Stinson LLP. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.