Believe it or not, there are days when I do things that don’t involve running or bar counseling. Usually those days involve binging. Admittedly, the objects of my binges vary. Alas, more often than not, it’s a streaming service.
Netflix’s Schitt$ Creek is one of my favorite binges of the pandemic.
For the uninitiated, it’s a Canadian sitcom that ended a six-year run in April. After dominating the awards circuit north of the border for years, Schitt$ Creek went out in a blaze of glory, winning all seven major comedy awards at this year’s Primetime Emmys. People who went to college and law school around the same time as I did will recognize the father from American Pie, the mother from Home Alone, and the cameraman from Groundhog Day.
But what’s this got to do with wellness, surveys, and paddles?
I’m glad you asked.
In an episode of Schitt$ Creeks that I watched last night, characters who are siblings each took a “How Electric Is Your Relationship Test” that ran in a magazine The results? Each learned that their respective romantic relationship was “in need of a generator.” Neither was happy.
I’m here to argue that survey results can be misleading.
Earlier this year, the International Bar Association launched a project to address the wellbeing of legal professionals. The project includes a survey on wellbeing issues, including the extent to which COVID-19 has exacerbated the impact that we know anxiety, depression, stress, and addiction have on the profession.
The survey is here. The IBA and others associated with the attorney wellness movement are urging lawyers and legal professionals to take it. The more data, the better. You do not need an IBA member to participate. I completed the survey this morning. It took 6 minutes.
The VBA’s COVID-19 Committee recently put out a similar survey. It’s here. Please take that one too!
Back to my point.
I assume the results will paint a dreary picture, with many proclaiming that the profession is up Schitt$ Creek without a paddle. If that happens, I will channel my inner Lieutenant Commander Galloway and object. Strenuously. Here’s why.
For starters, let’s not pretend that the staggering rates at which behavioral health issues impact the profession are new. It has been more than 4 years since I first blogged on the topic. In my opinion, there will be something positive to take from data showing that the numbers have increased.
Mike, wait? What the hell are you talking about? Worse numbers are a positive?
Yes. Because it shows that those within the profession are more willing to admit to coping with behavioral health issues. We can’t help those who claim not to need it. For far too long, we ran our profession in such a way as to discourage honesty on survey’s like the IBA’s. If that has changed, it’s a positive.
For instance, since July 1, I’ve received more calls and emails from lawyers who want help than I did in my first seven years as bar counsel. And, for the naysayers, yes, I received those calls and emails from lawyers who knew full-well that I would screen any disciplinary complaint that might be filed against them. Maybe it’s true that the 80s were more than 30 years ago. But I digress.
My point is this: the profession began debilitating its members long before the Hazeldon Study was released in 2016. We just never admitted it. Rather, we compounded it by stigmatizing help-seeking behavior. The fact that lawyers are asking for help – from bar counsel no less – is a positive. I’d argue that, given our past, acknowledging our own behavioral health issues – even anonymously – is as well.
Take the surveys.
Which brings me to another positive.
Even destigmatized, requests for help wouldn’t come if people didn’t realize that others are willing to, you know, help. Most importantly, we’ve made clear that we’re willing to help without reporting you to disciplinary authorities and without jeopardizing your law license and livelihood. To stick with the theme, some of us are adrift in the water. In the old days, the profession left us in its wake. Now, there are many of us willing to extend a paddle to help pull others back to the boat. That’s a positive.
So, yes. In my view, there will be positives to take from survey results that, at first blush, appear anything but encouraging.
But let me be honest. It’s not going to be all rainbows and unicorns. We are going to need to redouble our efforts to help. We’re all going to have to paddle.
In the early stages of the pandemic, I referred to it as “rowing the boat.” I blogged:
I let things slide over the past several days. Not today.
This morning, I made my bed. I picked up the clothes that had been lying on my bedroom floor for days, folded them, and put them where they belong. As my coffee brewed, I washed the mugs that had up in the kitchen sink.
I call this “rowing the boat.” For me, routine helps keep my mind & spirit well. Completing one simple task leads to another, and so on. Next thing I know, I’ve changed my focus, been productive, and find myself one day closer to the good days that surely will return.
In rough seas, all I can do is keep rowing the boat.
I love and admire how so many of you are striving to take care of your clients and colleagues during this crisis. Take care of your own wellness too.
Note: due to letting things slide, I haven’t shaved in 13 days. “Rowing the boat” doesn’t include removing the pandemic beard . . . at least not yet.
Next week I’m going to post a blog aimed at those who are coping with personal issues and urge you to keep paddling. Today I’m going to focus on a different maritime analogy.
Yesterday I interviewed a lawyer against whom a disciplinary complaint had been filed. After we finished discussing the complaint, the lawyer shared a story about how stressful the lawyer’s practice area has become since the onset of the pandemic. Then, the lawyer thanked me for blog posts that continuously “nudge” lawyers to remember things like wellness and civility. The lawyer likened getting the profession to focus on wellness to turning a battleship. If you aren’t aware, battleships don’t exactly turn on a dime.
It got me thinking. To turn this ship around, we need as many as possible on board, on the same side, helping to paddle. One way to help? Take the IBA survey and the VBA’s COVID-19 Committee survey. Answer honestly.
In closing, I suspect I’ve lost my train of thought. I apologize. I’ll leave you with this:
We might be up Schitt$ Creek, but we aren’t without paddles.
Lawyer Wellness & Lawyer Assistance
National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being: The Path to Lawyer Well-Being, Practical Recommendations for Positive Change
Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession: State Action Plan
American Bar Association: Law Firm Pledge & 7 point framework to reduce substance abuse disorders and mental health distress in the legal profession.
American Bar Association: ABA Well-Being Toolkit in a Nutshell
The Virginia State Bar: The Occupational Risks of the Practice Law (with tips on prevention & risk reduction)