July/August 2020

The Thriving Lawyer

Enabling Lawyer Well-Being Through Diversity and Inclusion Practices

Anne Brafford

Kudos go to the many legal employers that have taken much-needed steps to improve well-being in the profession. So far, most have focused on teaching lawyers strategies to toughen up or boost their individual skills—like stress management, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and physical activity and nutrition. These all are very important to lawyer well-being, and they’re a good place for organizations to start. This individual-level focus, though, leaves unaddressed the complexity of well-being, including the role of systemic and organizational issues. Lawyers are most likely to be able to fulfill their potential—to be and feel their best—when their workplace cultures help them thrive. One chronic, systemic problem to which the legal profession has not yet given enough attention as a well-being obstacle is the lack of diversity and inclusion, which uniquely impacts the well-being of women and diverse lawyers.

That the legal profession has a diversity problem is not news. For example, the headline of a 2015 opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Deborah Rhode leveled a harsh criticism: “Law is the least diverse profession in the nation. And lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that.” The critique is supported by data reflecting persistently low representation of women and people of color in the top echelons of law firms, law school dean’s offices and the federal judiciary. The lack of diversity and inclusion has numerous negative consequences for the profession—including creating significant obstacles for women and diverse lawyers to be their best at work.

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