From the Chair

From the Chair | The Goal of Wellness: Essential for Family Lawyers

By Melissa J. Avery

The Family Law Section was very fortunate to have ABA President Bob Carlson join us for our Fall Meeting in Tucson, Arizona, in October. If you were in attendance at our Council meeting, you had the chance to hear him speak very eloquently about his own personal experience with tragedy and his focus on lawyer wellness.

Wellness and well-being are hot topics in many legal arenas lately, and deservedly so. The amount of stress that attorneys find themselves subjected to can be overwhelming sometimes. We who practice family law are no strangers to the pressures that come from representing clients in disputes concerning one of the most important aspects of their lives.

The good news is that there are many places to turn for help. Lawyer’s assistance programs are available across the country to help, on a confidential basis, judges, lawyers, and law students facing substance abuse issues or mental health disorders. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs keeps a directory of these programs on its website at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/lap_programs_by_state/. If you are in need yourself or you know a colleague in need, one of the most substantial steps you can take toward a solution is to take advantage of these confidential programs.

Lawyers across the country are also finding new and unique ways to work toward prevention, in addition to focusing on treatment. My state bar association in Indiana recently passed a resolution in its house of delegates urging the Indiana Supreme Court to require attorneys to attend one hour each of diversity, inclusion, mental health, and substance abuse CLE training every three years.

The ABA Family Law Section’s brand-new Health and Wellness Committee, chaired by Brian Karpf of Florida and Jennifer Hostetter of Indiana, created a health and wellness newsletter for conference attendees in Tucson that included multiple suggestions for activities during the conference. They will soon start a standing column in the Section’s monthly electronic newsletter. In 2017, we devoted an entire day-long preconference workshop to wellness at our Fall Conference in Colorado.

The point is that we have to take the time to foster our own well-being, whether it be through meditation, other mindfulness exercises, or just taking the time to assess our emotional intelligence and plan for improvement. In a September 27, 2018, article entitled “Contemplating Well-Being (Or, Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others),” Hillary H. Young, chair of the ABA Health Law Section, defined 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.” That is a lofty goal, for certain.

Whether it means examining what you require of yourself or what you require of those working for you, taking the time is not only important, it is essential. Yes, require hard work and best efforts from those surrounding you, but also encourage and model work-life balance and participation in wellness initiatives. Your efforts will most certainly lead to a happier and healthier environment for all involved, as well as more productivity for your firm and better results for your clients.

Melissa J. Avery is chair of the ABA Section of Family Law. She is of counsel to Broyles Kight & Ricafort, PC, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she focuses her practice on a wide range of family law matters. She is a fellow of the ABA and of the American and International Academy of Family Lawyers, an Indiana Family Law Board–certified family law specialist, and a registered domestic relations mediator.

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