Well-Being for Attorneys

Health, wellness, and self self-improvement have become a critical part of the culture we live in. Serving others is a lawyer’s job. Being fit yourself is a necessary foundation for taking care of others. In the highly competitive practice of law, it’s no longer possible to compete on substantive knowledge. Where you can excel is as a service provider.

If you want to be a great service provider, what is more important than a substantive knowledge of the law is the understanding of what optimum fitness is. It includes physical fitness, mental clarity, emotional stability, and a spiritual foundation that will enable you to take care of clients, colleagues, and the communities you serve.

As competition and technology increases in the legal marketplace, differentiation will become increasingly important. Lawyer fitness will be an element of that differentiation. Clients, judges, juries, and other lawyers respond differently to someone who is fit and healthy. A fit person is a confident person.

The late Steve Keeva’s Transforming Practices (ABA Journal Book, Chicago, 1999), reflected his personal mission of sharing inspiring stories of how passionate individuals had innovated and changed the way they thought about their role in society and how they practiced law. In a similar way, the ABA book I recently curated and edited, The Best Lawyer You Can Be, reflects my desire to leave a legacy for a legal profession that has served me well and as a capstone to my legal career. Authors in the collection wrote from a place of personal passion and commitment to making a difference.

Given the findings of the study conducted by the ABA and the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation, it is a critical time to be talking about lawyer well-being.

Between 21-36% of practicing lawyers are problem drinkers. 28% suffer from depression, 19% struggle with anxiety, and 23% are impaired by stress. Law students fare little better—17% are depressed, 14% suffer severe anxiety, 6% reported suicidal thoughts in the past year, and 22% engaged in binge drinking during the year. Those are the dismal results of the 2016 study of 13,000 lawyers by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and a separate Survey of Law Student Well-Being conducted that same year, which included 3,300 law students from 15 different law schools. The adverse effect such statistics have on the legal profession—including the inability of its members to do their best work, fully comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, or even enjoy some semblance of job satisfaction and happiness—is obvious. So with the objective of doing something about that unwanted state of affairs, the ABA, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers created the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.

I believe that many people need at least three elements of the following emotional intelligence categories: self-awareness, self-management, and effective engagement. These are cornerstones of well-being for lawyers. Awareness of the many things that contribute to well-being can have a significant impact on individual lawyer’s lives. Let’s drill down some components of these categories.

Self-awareness: Empirical research on what makes lawyers happy; the essential contribution of reflective or spiritual practice; benefits of yoga and mindfulness; emotional renewal and resilience; development of emotional intelligence; personal branding is critical for clear identity; and the importance of self-empowerment in preventing self-sabotage.

Self-management: Attention to your career path; healthy family and relationships; pitfalls of the billable hour; financial success; physical health and proper nutrition; the value of exercise and fitness, and having a coach.

Engaging with others: Providing excellent client service; collaboration in all areas of practice; the value of diversity and inclusion; capacity to operate in a multi-generational workforce; valuing pro-bono service and giving to the profession; developing creative and innovative solutions; practicing in alignment with personal values using a multi-disciplinary approach; remembering the lawyer’s oath and being relational, not transactional, in our actions.

Here are some questions I would like to leave you with:

  •  Where are you doing in terms of self-care?
  •  Of the topics mentioned above, how many do you engage in?
  •  What’s the state of your own well-being given some of the practices listed above?
  •  How much stress do you have in your life and how do you manage it?
  •  How would you rate your dependence on substances of any kind?

This extensive list may not include everything for you as an individual and it may seem exhausting! That said, I hope you can focus on a few key components you’re not paying attention to and, in the process, become a more powerful service provider and trusted advisor… aka The Best Lawyer You Can Be!

About the Author

Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks, a mediation, consulting, training, and coaching organization. He is the curator of Becoming the Best Lawyer You Can Be, and the author of the best seller, Getting to Resolution, The Book of Agreement and Collaboration 2.0. A long time LP active, he is the current co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and serves on the following LP Committees: Publications, Women Rainmakers, and Attorney Well-Being.

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