Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

My first post on lawyer wellness appeared just over three years ago.  Since then, I’ve posted almost 40 more.**  There have been many others in which I mentioned the topic without focusing an entire post on it.

When my brother and I were kids, we didn’t control the music in the house.  Our mom did.  One group that received a lot of air time: The Carpenters.  

Yes, I’ve posted a ton on attorney wellness.  Yes, this winter, the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession released its State Action Plan.  Comparatively, we are ahead of the curve in addressing attorney wellness.

Yet, today, I’m reminded of the title of a song by The Carpenters.  In our house, I’m fairly certain the song was played until the 8-track wore out: We’ve Only Just Begun.  

Image result for the carpenters we've only just begun images

Here’s what reminded me of the song.

Last November, Above The Law posted Burnout, Flame Out, Or Timeout?  The post was spurred by the fact that a lawyer named Paul Rawlinson had “taken a leave of absence to recover from the sheer exhaustion of running the second-largest law firm in the world.” In the post, author James Goodnow pitched an argument I’ve often made, albeit in a way much more eloquently than I.  He wrote:

  • “If the classic answer to the increasing demands of the legal marketplace has been to get tougher, let me once again advocate for a new approach: getting ‘realer.’ We need to let go of the outdated concept of the inhuman, never-tired, always-working hero attorney and replace it with the vision of actual human beings, because that’s what we all are. We’re people, with physical and mental limitations, lives and families outside of work, and interests beyond briefing, drafting, and billing hours. We need to take better care of one another, at all levels, and take better care of ourselves.”

Flash forward to very sad news.  Paul Rawlinson, the attorney who took the leave of absence?  He died last Friday.  Above The Law reported on his passing.

Rawlinson’s death crystallized a thought that’s been nagging me since the State Action Plan issued: we’ve only just begun.

Have we raised awareness? Yes we have, and it’s a damned good thing that we have.

But it’s not enough.

The work continues.  As Goodnow argued, we must get “realer.”  And, every one of us has a role to play in making the profession healthier and more hospitable to its members.  Whether volunteering with the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program, asking your firm to consider the ABA Pledge to Focus on Well-Being, not being a jerk to adversaries, taking a VBA CLE on mindfulness, or simply taking off one more afternoon this summer than you did last, we all have a role.

It will not suffice if, a few years from now, someone finds the State Action Plan and muses “I wonder what ever became of this.”

Indeed, what better time than now?  It finally looks and feels a bit like spring, a season of of renewal.  Today is a perfect day to renew, or at least to seed, a committment to well-being.

Not sure how? Don’t worry! A great place to start is with the ABA Well-Being Toolkit.  It’s chock full o’ good stuff.  For instance, consider this from the Toolkit:

  • “We are happiest and healthiest when we adopt healthy work habits and lifestyle choices. Importantly, though, we won’t be successful on our own. Well-being is a team sport.”

It goes on:

  • This means that, if we truly desire to improve wellbeing, we can’t focus only on individual strategies like making lawyers more resilient to stress; it is equally important (if not more so) to focus on systemically improving our professional cultures to prevent problems from developing to begin with. We are interdependent in that our organizational and institutional cultures—to which we all contribute and which, in turn, shape us all—have a huge impact on our individual well-being. When our cultures support our well-being, we are better able to make good choices that allow us to thrive and be our best for our clients, colleagues, and organizations.”

Finally, and consistent with the theme that we’ve only just begun:

  • This Toolkit is designed to help lawyers and legal employers improve well-being holistically and systemically. This goal will require new choices, considerable effort, and changes that likely will upset the status quo. Positive change agents might meet
    with resistance—including complaints that there is no room, time, resources, or need for change. This Toolkit offers reasons for prioritizing lawyer well-being
    as well as information, strategies, and resources for implementing a plan for positive change.”

We’ve only just begun.  Will there be Rainy Days and Mondays?  Hell yes.  Lots of them.  But, each small step towards a healthier profession brings us closer to the feeling of being on Top of The World.

Thanks Mom!

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** The posts:

(Wellness Wednesday Posts)