Lawyers are among the most prominent changemakers in our society and often the driving force behind political and cultural reform. But due to the stress of their work, maintaining a sense of well-being can be a challenge. Mental health issues disproportionately affect legal professionals.
Lawyer Well-Being Week, therefore, is a chance for all of us – the general public included – to support lawyers. The purpose is to marshal resources to enhance attorney mental health so that they can continue to perform their vital role in the community.
Learn about Lawyer Well-Being Week
Lawyers are best known for their professional status and sizable incomes. But behind the glitz and glamour of the profession is often a group of regular people struggling to cope. Legal professionals work some of the most prolonged hours of anyone in any industry. And their work usually involves difficult court situations and challenging clients. Added to that, many legal professionals have considerable “extra-curricular” activities in which they support their communities, colleagues, and families. The demands on their mental and physical resources are tremendous.
While some lawyers can cope with the pressure and thrive, many find themselves turning to drink and drugs. A sizable chunk winds up with severe mental health disorders that crush their quality of life and prevent them from reaching their potential.
Lawyer Well-Being Week, therefore, seeks to address this need, support legal professionals, and help them generate maximum benefits for their communities. The more people support their lawyers, the more likely it is that they will use their tremendous skill to improve society itself.
History of Lawyer Well-Being Week
Lawyer Well-Being Week is designed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month to improve public consciousness of the challenges that lawyers face. The Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being began publicizing the issues of widespread mental health issues in the legal sector in 2016 after the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. A group of organizations from across the industry realized that they had a serious problem on their hands. They, therefore, set out to revolutionize the state of well-being across the legal profession.
The representative bodies found that there were unacceptably high levels of mental health issues attorneys. Data collected by the Task Force suggested that roughly 21 to 36 percent of legal professionals were “problem drinkers,” with rates even higher for solo practitioners under the age of 30. Nineteen percent reported anxiety symptoms, with women disproportionately affected. Twenty-three percent said that they had excessive levels of stress and stress-related symptoms. And 28 percent reported depression – with men working in solo practices being the most at risk.
The legal profession is also in the top ten for suicide by occupation, coming in at number eight, according to the Task Force On Lawyer Well-Being. The Organization of Bar Counsel, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, therefore, all got together to do something about it. It wasn’t right that there were so many legal professionals out there “treading water,” not knowing whether they are going to sink or swim. They needed to do something.
The group of organizations worked together for around nine months to come up with a strategy for how they would change the sector for the better. The culmination of their efforts was a ground-breaking report entitled The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change released in 2017. It contained a host of recommendations that legal professionals could use in their time of need.
The size of the task force, however, grew considerably over the following two years and by 2019, comprised more than thirteen industry bodies. The group represented practically everyone in the field, from those in criminal law to the insurance industry.
Lawyer Well-Being Week is an outgrowth of the Task Force’s report. It takes the best practices developed by the commission and transforms them into practical things that individuals can do throughout the week. Monday is all about eating well, staying strong, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to recover from stress. On Tuesday, the focus is spiritual well-being and developing meaning in life. Wednesday focuses on finding ways to continue to grow in one’s profession. Thursday encompasses aspects of social well-being and the importance of being a part of a network. And finally, the focus on Friday is on understanding one’s emotions and knowing when to seek help.
Lawyers, therefore, can have a tough time. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Lawyer Well-Being Week is a chance for all of us to push back against the stresses and strains of the industry and provide some much-needed support.
How to celebrate Lawyer Well-Being Week
There have been some great lawyers throughout history who changed our society. But there are also millions of professionals seeking justice for clients every day, transforming their lives daily.
There are plenty of things that you can do to celebrate Lawyer Well-Being Week. If you are a legal practice or a solo professional, you could plan an alcohol-free Happy Hour. Another idea is to organize an attorney-client seminar to discuss the obstacles to collective well-being. Some legal practices are holding panels of well-being experts to address the challenges that lawyers face and what to do about them.
The Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being is also running a series of webinars over the week, which are free for members of the ABA. The learning objectives are to teach breathing techniques to reduce stress and improve focus. The webinar leaders will concentrate on how to harness the power of pressure to improve performance and physical health. And there will be valuable information on how to heal the body with deep sleep and healthy foods.
But what if you’re not in the legal profession but still want to show your support?
People who want to get involved with Lawyer Well-Being Week can post their support on social media. They can also share materials with the people they know in the legal profession, working behind the scenes to get more attorneys involved in proceedings. So don’t let the fact that you’re not a licensed professional “bar” you from taking part!