Sure we’re a few days into January, but it’s not too late to prioritize your well-being. January 1 has come and gone, but changes need to be made all year.
It doesn’t matter if you make resolutions at the end of January or in August. The key is to make changes when things aren’t working.
Changes are happening
Lawyer well-being hasn’t been great for a while, and we’ve discussed the high rate of substance abuse and mental health challenges among attorneys extensively.
You can’t sweep this reality under the rug. But, luckily for the legal community, there are people working hard to improve the substance use and mental health landscape of the legal profession, and to create supportive and healthy work environments for lawyers.
Much has been accomplished since the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being (which became the Institute for Well-Being in Law in 2020) laid out well-being-focused action items in its report “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”
And more recently, the International Bar Association (IBA) issued a report that identified troubling mental well-being trends across the profession globally, and recommended 10 principles legal workplaces should adopt to help address this crisis.
The study of almost 3,500 legal professionals found that the “mental well-being of legal professionals is a cause for global concern; has a disproportionate impact on women, young people, those who identify as an ethnic minority, and those with disabilities; and that stigma is a major problem, with 41% of respondents saying that they would not discuss issues with their employer for fear of damaging their career,” according to a press release.
Among the principles laid out by the IBA includes adopting a mental well-being policy, identifying work practices that are problematic for mental health, modeling good mental health practices in leadership, and recognizing intersectionalities, or the difficulties experienced by specific groups.
Have you taken the Well-Being Pledge?
As we enter a new year, it’s a good time to revisit the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge for Legal Employers. The Well-Being Pledge, which was launched in 2018, is geared toward law firms, corporate entities, government agencies, legal aid organizations, and law schools looking to promote well-being in their organizations.
The framework is based on Patrick Krill’s work (who we spoke to here) to raise awareness, facilitate a reduction in incidences of problematic substance use and mental health distress, and improve lawyer well-being.
The seven-point pledge identifies the core areas firms should focus on and outlines concrete steps to achieve those goals.
By signing the pledge, organizations agree to the following:
- Provide quality education on well-being, mental health, and substance use disorders.
- Reduce the expectation that alcohol will be served at all law firm events.
- Partner with outside groups that are committed to reducing substance use disorders and mental health issues in the legal profession.
- Provide confidential access to addiction and mental health experts and resources.
- Develop policies and protocols to support the assessment and treatment of substance use and mental health problems.
- Support programs and activities that improve employees’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
- Use the pledge as a recruitment tool to retain the best lawyers and staff.
Since the pledge was launched, 204 organizations have signed on.
But the pledge is more than a signature; it demands accountability. Each year, the signatories must report on what they did to achieve the seven goals.
Your Turn to Make Changes
Now, back to you. How can you improve your well-being as well as the well-being of your workplace? Has your legal employer signed the Well-Being Pledge or reviewed the practices laid out by the IBA? If not, see what you can do to change that.
Support and resources are available to help you achieve success. A healthier legal profession is possible.
How can legal employers get started on making changes to improve lawyer well-being? A Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers exists to provide guidance and a condensed version of the toolkit (80 Tips for Lawyer Thriving) is also available.
Next, think about changes you can make in your life and resolve to give those a try. Countless benefits await you.
What well-being changes has your employer made? What changes do you plan to make? Share in the comments below.
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A version of this article was published on Jan. 24, 2019.