This is my first wellness post since the new Bar Assistance Program came into existence on April 1. An aspect of BAP is me providing resources related to well-being in the legal profession.
Today, I intend to do so in two ways.
First, you should have Brian Cuban on your radar. An attorney, Brian has long been a leading voice on issues related to lawyer wellness, including addiction and recovery. I recommend his book The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow and Redemption. Or, if an entire book (gasp!) isn’t your thing, I recommend Brian’s interview with Rocket Matter and this piece that he wrote for Above The Law.
Second, a few days ago on LinkedIn, Brian shared an article that appears in Canadian Lawyer: How compassion fatigue affects lawyers and what they can do about it. Like Brian, compassion fatigue should be on the profession’s radar.
What is “compassion fatigue?”
The ABA has dedicated this page to the topic. Per the ABA:
“Compassion fatigue is the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life.
It’s important to note that compassion fatigue is different than burnout. While burnout is predictable, building over time and resulting in work dissatisfaction, compassion fatigue has a narrower focus. Someone affected by compassion fatigue may be harmed by the work they do, experiencing intrusive imagery and a change in world-view.
Compassion fatigue is also known as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, second hand shock and secondary stress reaction. Regardless of the term used, compassion fatigue affects those in the helping professions, including the legal profession, and is treatable. Treatment of compassion fatigue may prevent the development of a more serious disorder.”
It was only a few years ago that I first encountered compassion fatigue insofar as it relates to the legal profession. At the time, I was sitting on the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession. Chairing the Commission’s Judge’s Committee, then-judge Cohen raised the issue. Then, when we published the Commission’s State Action Plan, the Judge’s Committee recommended that we “make available secondary trauma resources for judges, lawyers, court personnel and jurors.”
My sense is that compassion fatigue has spread within the profession during the pandemic. While I’m no professional, I don’t doubt that each of us has only so much to give. Thus, not immune to the personal stress and anxiety that has affected everyone over the past year, legal professionals may have grown weary of helping others with theirs. Truth be told, I’ve had that exact feeling on occasion.
That’s why I think it’s important to understand that compassion fatigue is a thing. And that it’s a thing that impacts legal professionals.
So, take a minute to review the ABA’s compassion fatigue site or the Canadian Lawyer article that Brian shared. Each includes tips on how to recognize the signs & symptoms of compassion fatigue, the risks of not addressing it, and steps to take in response. In particular, I’m a fan of the section in the Canadian Lawyer article sub-titled “How to combat compassion fatigue.” It reminds me of the attempts that Jennifer Emens-Butler and I have made to remind lawyers that it’s important to find time for things other than the law.
Make time for what matters to you. Self-compassion will help recharge your efforts to help others.
Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts
Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response (this one is about the report I mentioned from the Virginia State Bar)