Wellness . . . umm, Thursday?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I get it, I’m a day late.  Story of my life.

However, wellness & well-being have meaning even without alliteration.

wellness

I continue to feel my way into my role in the new Bar Assistance Program.

On the one hand, I’m comfortable responding to inquiries and presenting CLEs on so-called “traditional ethics.”  That is, conflicts of interests, client confidences, the trust accounting rules, and duties owed to opposing counsel and parties. My comfort a function of having worked in the Professional Responsibility Program since 1998.

On the other, wellness & well-being remain oddly new to me.  I say “oddly new” because it has been more than five years since my first blog post related to lawyer wellness. It’s a post in which I reported on the study in which the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic found “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.”  Since then, I’ve posted more than 50 additional blogs related to well-being & wellness, with the topics ranging from attorney suicide in Vermont, to Vermont lawyers who ran a 4-mile race that gave out cool hats, to everything in between.

Two things strike me as BAP begins.

First, like beauty, wellness & well-being are in the eye of the beholder. To some, BAP’s focus should be on assisting legal professionals to address substance abuse & mental health issues that are impacting their ability to do their jobs daily.  To others, the focus should be proactive.  Encouraging legal professionals and legal employers to change the profession to one that values and prioritizes work-life balance.

Second, BAP won’t please everyone.  Some who appreciate the proactive approach are tired of me posting blogs in which I argue that the profession is under pressure because we are literally killing ourselves.  This group includes people who’ve told me that highlighting the negative contributes to their personal stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, some who favor a BAP that hones in on treating lawyers who are in crisis find frivolity in wellness posts that call attention to legal professionals who are in bands or who play hockey, or posts in which I suggest that a strategy to deal with stress is to take a deep breath and slow down.  Members of this group have suggested that this is a “rainbows & unicorns” approach that diminishes the crisis.

To me, BAP will occupy a spectrum.

When confronted with a legal professional gripped by addiction or serious illness, we will work to assist that person back to health without involving the disciplinary process. At the same time, I will continue to remind lawyers that it’s okay to have interests outside the law, to take a mindfulness class at lunch, or to set boundaries as to when they will be available to clients. Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even organize a summer run/walk followed by grills, lawn chairs, and legal ethics, pub quiz style.

So, yes, BAP is here for each group.  And the middle.

Last night, I found Sam Rosenthal’s Lawyer Wellness and Mental Health: Changing the Conversation on Clio’s blog.  This paragraph:

  • “In its purest form, wellness involves doing whatever you need to do to feel better and be healthier on a day-to-day basis. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving a general sense of well-being and overall health, and anyone who claims otherwise is selling you something.”

I’m not selling anything.  Rather, BAP is here to promote well-being, decouple assistance from discipline, and, however incrementally, make the profession healthier.

It’s a big tent.  Welcome in.