Is wellness a priority in your law firm?
If it’s not, it should be. The evidence is clear: firms that emphasize wellness are more productive and profitable. They are also less likely to be hit with a malpractice claim or bar grievance.
“To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer,” says the ABA National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. “Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.”
Wellness has been a trending topic since the Task Force released its report, which found a profession “in crisis” with record-high rates of depression, stress, substance abuse and suicide.
Between one-quarter and one-third of all lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, according to the report, and up to 28 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety and stress. Forty percent of the workforce says it is more stressed this year than last year. For law students and new attorneys, the numbers are even worse.
To tackle this crisis, the Task Force outlined specific steps law firms can take, such as establishing wellness committees and being alert for signs of work addiction and burnout.
“Legal employers can play a large role in contributing to lawyer well-being,” the report says. “We recommend that legal employers evaluate what they prioritize and value, and how those values are communicated.”
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How to Get Started in Your Firm
Here are some Task Force suggestions for promoting wellness in your office.
- Form a Well-Being Committee. “The committee should be responsible for evaluating the work environment, identifying and addressing policies and procedures that create the greatest mental distress among employees, identifying how best to promote a positive state of well-being, and tracking progress of well-being strategies. They should prepare key milestones, communicate them, and create accountability strategies. They also should develop strategic partnerships with lawyer assistance programs and other well-being experts and stay abreast of developments in the profession and relevant literature.”
- Assess the well-being of your team. A good start is to conduct an anonymous survey to measure lawyer and staff attitudes about well-being. Identify stressors in the firm. Set a good example. Your actions will speak louder than your words.
- Monitor for signs of burnout and overwork. One-quarter of lawyers qualify as workaholics – twice the rate of workers generally. This can lead to depression, anger, anxiety, sleep problems, weight gain, high blood pressure, low self-esteem, low life satisfaction, and family conflicts.
- Combat social isolation by creating opportunities for connection. Social support from colleagues is important for coping with stress and preventing negative consequences like burnout. Socializing also helps people recover from work demands. De-emphasize alcohol at social events.
- Provide wellness training and education. Make it fun and useful. Offer in-house classes on meditation, yoga, time management, financial management, and stress reduction. Offer free gym memberships. Bring in an outside speaker. Stock the breakroom with healthy snacks.
- Make wellness a part of your new lawyer orientation. Introduce new hires to the psychological challenges of the job. Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems. Take a baseline measure of their well-being to track changes over time. Provide resilience-related training. Design activities focused on their individual interests and strengths.
- Emphasize service over profits. “At its core, law is a helping profession. This can get lost in the rush of practice and in the business aspects of law. When organizational values evoke a sense of belonging and pride, work is experienced as more meaningful. Experiencing work as meaningful is the biggest contributor to work engagement—a form of work-related well-being.”
Finally, remember that wellness is a process, not an event. Start today. Right where you are. Doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing.
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