Two years ago, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being published The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. The report issued in response to two studies that revealed alarming statistics with respect to the well-being of the legal profession.
In their letter introducing the report, the Task Force’s co-chairs noted the report’s “five central themes:
- identifying stakeholders and the role each of us can play in reducing the level of toxicity in our profession,
- eliminating the stigma associated with helpseeking behaviors,
- emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence,
- educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer well-being issues, and
- taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession.”
Among other proposals aimed at furthering the third (bolded) theme, the report recommended modifying the Rules of Professional Conduct “to endorse well-being as part of a lawyer’s duty of competence.”
The Vermont Supreme Court has done exactly that.
Yesterday, the Court promulgated an amendment to Comment  to Rule 1.1. The new comment reads:
- “ A lawyer’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being may impact the lawyer’s ability to represent clients and to make responsible choices in the practice of law. Maintaining the mental, emotional, and physical well-being necessary for the representation of a client is an important aspect of maintaining competence to practice law.”
Two questions jump to mind: what is well-being and how does a legal professional maintain it?
As to the former, the Task Force wrote:
- “We define lawyer well-being as a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive in each of the following areas: emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, physical health, and social connections with others. Lawyer well-being is part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence. It includes lawyers’ ability to make healthy, positive work/life choices to assure not only a quality of life within their families and communities, but also to help them make responsible decisions for their clients. It includes maintaining their own long-term well-being. This definition highlights that complete health is not defined solely by the absence of illness; it includes a positive state of wellness.”
In addition, the Task Force noted that:
- “The concept of well-being in social science research is multi-dimensional and includes, for example, engagement in interesting activities, having close relationships and a sense of belonging, developing confidence through mastery, achieving goals that matter to us, meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy and control, self-acceptance, and personal growth. This multi-dimensional approach underscores that a positive state of well-being is not synonymous with feeling happy or experiencing positive emotions. It is much broader.”
Finally, the Task Force explained that it:
- “chose the term ‘well-being’ based on the view that the terms ‘health’ or ‘wellness’ connote only physical health or the absence of illness. Our definition of ‘lawyer well-being’ embraces the multi-dimensional concept of mental health and the importance of context to complete health.”
With the definition in mind, how does a legal professional maintain well-being? It strikes me that the answer depends on the individual. A place for everyone to start, however, is the ABA’s Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers. Its 99 pages are chock full o’ helpful tips and guidance.
I can hear you now:
- “Ummm, what’s that you say Mike? 99 pages? I don’t have that much time to work on my well-being!”
Fear not! Besides the full toolkit, and perhaps with my law school career in mind, the ABA also created the Well-Being Toolkit Nutshell: 80 Tips For Lawyer Thriving. It’s only 2 pages. No excuses!
Well-being is important. Take the time to understand what it is, how to achieve it, and how to maintain it. As you do, try not to get caught up in “I’m only doing this because the new comment says I should.” Rather, get caught up in the first of the Well-Being Nutshell’s 3 reasons to care about well-being:
“It’s the right thing to do.”