On April 24, 2019, the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress released a report on “brain drain” across the United States. Having been born and raised in Mississippi, the problem of brain drain is something that always hits close to home. Recent numbers reveal that, as per usual, Mississippi had “leavers” who were more likely to be at the top of the national education distribution than “stayers.” United States Congress, Losing Our Minds: Brain Drain across the United States.
As I read through the report and its findings, I find myself thinking about how “brain drain” is not limited to educated people leaving one state for another but has much broader social and professional implications—particularly in the areas of mental health and wellness.
When we—attorneys in particularly—allow ourselves to reach “burnout,” we run a greater risk of leading to brain drain. Not as we typically think of brain drain as described in the congressional report, but brain drain in our own lives and careers. This can include brain drain within ourselves, where we no longer have the energy, passion, or desire to continue working in the profession. But it can also be the cause of brain drain of others, where our unhappiness or lack of fulfillment in our jobs or professional relationships leads others to “move away.”
So, while individually we may not be able to do as much to prevent the exodus brain drain on a statewide level, there are things we can do to help ourselves—and others—prevent the brain drain that so easily overcomes our goals and aspirations in life. There is a plethora of material about mental health struggles in the legal profession, so start cultivating an environment that allows you, and those around you, to make personal health and wellness (both mental and physical) a priority.
Do not be afraid to give yourself a mental health day. Lawyers work incredibly long hours in incredibly stressful situations. It is ok to need help. In my own personal experience, this is a particularly challenging thing for young lawyers to do (pot, meet kettle). But I am slowly learning that when I begin to feel the onset of burnout, I start to provide less value to my clients, my co-workers, my firm, and my loved ones. Ergo, brain drain. As the saying goes, you truly do have to nourish to flourish. Though success comes with hard work, sustained success requires self-care as well. Take care of yourself and encourage others to do the same. Let us tackle the brain drain that our profession tends to cultivate. And just like a gardener must put in the work to patiently plant and maintain his crop for an abundant harvest, our dedication to self-care will pay off not with brain drain, but with brain abundance.
Kasey Mitchell Adams is an attorney at Butler Snow LLP in Jackson, Mississippi. She currently serves as cochair of the Litigation Section’s Mass Tort Committee’s Young Lawyers Subcommittee.