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September 01, 2018

Lawyer Well-being: It’s Our Duty

Alexandria Hien McCombs, Humana, Irving, TX

Back-to-school season injects the excitement and promise of the new academic year. While technology advanced considerably since my school days, the core experience remains constant. Newly sharpened pencils. Crisp notebooks and binders. Bright backpacks and shiny sneakers adorn eager students as they reunite with friends. Extracurricular activities and sporting events dominate the evening and weekend calendar. Most profoundly, families bid farewell to the dreamy and spontaneous days of summer and focus on the task-oriented rigor of the fall.    

The structure and discipline required to accomplish those goals can be exhausting. Whether at the office or at home, parents are working full-time to support their families and to fulfill their sense of purpose. Sometimes the day expands into an avalanche of incomplete tasks. There is just not enough time—time to accomplish all of the work to-do’s, to answer email, to read, to connect with loved ones, to exercise, to eat, to sleep, or to relax—on any given day.

It’s tempting to start and end each day with the specter of unfinished business. But it doesn’t have to be that way if we reclaim well-being as a priority. In fact, the American Bar Association presented a report in 2017 from its National Task Force on Lawyer Well-being: The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. The following excerpt from the report is powerful:

To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being. … [T]oo many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance use. These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence. This research suggests that the current state of lawyers’ health cannot support a profession dedicated to client service and dependent on the public trust.

In essence, lawyer well-being contributes to organizational effectiveness and diligent and competent representation of clients when cognitive functioning is not impaired or otherwise inhibited. It is our professional and personal duty to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health in order to serve effectively our clients, communities, and families. The report also offers practical recommendations for specific stakeholders including lawyers, regulators, legal employers, law schools, associations, professional liability carriers, and lawyer assistance programs.

As the ABA’s Health Law Section, we are committed to offering tools and resources to promote lawyer well-being. Our Well-being Committee, formed under the leadership of Co-Chairs Sidney Welch and Lisa Genecov, continues to educate our members and the profession on the ethical considerations and diverse opportunities to enhance well-being. In fact, we recently launched a new series called “HL Well-byte” in the weekly publication of HLbytes. HL Well-byte is about taking time to care for you to recharge and reinvigorate. In each HLbytes issue, we offer simple and quick activities that you can perform at your desk. No gym membership. No workout clothes. No travel. Just you—taking a few minutes a day to care for you. If you have an inspiring story about your well-being journey, please share it with us.