Five Ways to Improve Well-Being in the Legal Profession

Compass with needle pointing the word well-being.Improving well-being in the legal profession can be simple. This was one of my takeaways from last week’s The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference, which is the Commission on Professionalism’s annual future law event.

This was music to my ears. I don’t know about you, but I crave simplicity right now amid a global pandemic and constant violence and unrest in the world. As Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

This week we’ve been celebrating Well-Being in Law Week. The aim is to raise awareness about mental health and encourage action and innovation across the profession to boost well-being. In that spirit, let’s commit to act in one of the following ways to improve well-being in the legal profession.

1. Know Your State’s Legal Assistance Program

It doesn’t get much simpler than this. If you are in Illinois, take 10-15 minutes to check out the Illinois Lawyer’s Assistance Program (LAP) and the great benefits it provides legal professionals (judges, lawyers, and law students). Outside of Illinois, check out the ABA’s Directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs throughout the country.

Many people in the profession still don’t have a clear understanding of what LAP does and how to leverage its many resources. They think LAP focuses only on alcohol and substance abuse issues. While alcohol abuse and drug dependency are a focus for LAP, it also addresses stress-related issues like anxiety, burnout, depression, and many others. LAP services include individual and group therapy, assessments, education, peer support, and intervention.

At The Future Is Now, Dr. Diana Uchiyama, Executive Director of Illinois’ LAP, highlighted its work and reminded attendees that you are just one phone call away from getting the support that you or someone you know needs.

The simple step of learning more about LAP and how to get in contact with them can improve well-being in the profession so fewer people are suffering in silence.

2. Define Success for Yourself.

In her opening remarks on day two of The Future Is Now, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis reminded attendees that the stressful nature of the legal profession isn’t going away. What can change, however, is how we deal with and react to this stress.

The legal profession is a helping profession. Often, our clients are facing life-altering events like the potential loss of housing or visitations with their children. The stakes are high, and lawyers know the client isn’t likely going to get all that they want. So, even after long hours spent on a case, there can still be feelings of dissatisfaction from your client and even yourself.

It’s therefore critical that you define what success means to you instead of allowing others to define it for you. Also, keep in mind that your success is much more than your work in the legal profession. It’s your relationships with family and friends, doing activities you enjoy, etc.

Taking time to define success for yourself and to check in on that every few months can go a long way in managing the stressful nature of the profession.

3. Refuel Your Tank.

All of The Future Is Now speakers who discussed well-being advocated for some form of the notion that you’re no good to anyone if your gas tank is empty. Conference attendees were reminded that there is no badge of honor for working every weekend or for not using your vacation time.

At the Commission, we often talk about William Ury’s book “The Power of a Positive No.” It’s a good read if you find yourself saying “Yes” too much. The reality is the more we say yes to things, the easier it is to miss deadlines or burn out trying to meet those deadlines.

Things like this are rarely discussed in law school but I know I could have benefitted from this education. Discovering ways to refuel your tank isn’t rocket science, however, it will go a long way toward improving well-being in the legal profession.

I recently wrote about three well-being essentials for legal professionals that might spark some ideas.

4. Use the Two Ask Rule.

Brian Cuban was the featured speaker for The Future Is Now’s well-being-focused track. Cuban is a Dallas-based attorney, author, and addiction recovery advocate. During his presentation, he shared his Two Ask Rule.

The Two Ask Rule is: (1) when you see someone who is struggling, ask them how they’re doing and (2) before the conversation ends, let the person know you’re available if they want to talk further.

Cuban explained that the person might say they’re fine, and that’s ok. The idea is that you become a cog in the wheel. Maybe the next time the person is asked how they’re doing, they will admit that they need assistance.

Asking these two simple questions can have a tremendous impact and improve the well-being of the legal profession. Your questions may even save someone’s life.

5. Lead by Example.

For any of the above to gain traction, leaders in the legal profession must support their colleagues and lead by example.

Tracy Kepler, Risk Control Consulting Director at CNA’s Lawyers Insurance Program, brought this point home during the conference.

As a leader, if you’re sending emails at 8 p.m. or on weekends, your colleagues may feel like they need to do the same, even if you’re telling them to take care of themselves. Instead, if you tell employees that weekends are a time to recharge and be with friends and family and you model this in your life, staff are more likely to follow your example. Ultimately, they may even be more productive.

The great thing about these five action items is that they don’t require a lot of time or money. They are simple and effective.

So, in honor of Well-Being in Law Week, which one are you going to try out? It has been a while since I thought about how I define success for myself, so I’m going to commit to that.

How are you going to improve well-being in the legal profession? Share what you are going to try in the comments.

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