Dear Stressed and Anxious,
First, I want to applaud you for recognizing the importance of mindfulness and work-life balance. There’s no doubt that well-being is a necessary piece of making you a competent attorney.
My best advice on how to influence your firm culture is twofold: First, practice being the change you want to see in your law firm. Second, build your community. Deepen your own mindfulness practice so you can cultivate a sense of inner reliance and calm. Stay curious about what it takes to maintain your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Keep in mind that there are many seasons in your life. Remember to stay flexible.
Shift the Paradigm
To begin making these changes, it’s helpful to look at our obligations as lawyers to guide us. In California, Rule 1.1 Competence defines competence as applying the “learning and skill” reasonably necessary to provide legal services. It also includes maintaining your “mental, emotional, and physical ability.” Sometimes, it can feel as though you must choose between your work, billing the maximum possible hours, and choosing your well-being. However, I want to gently encourage you to shift this paradigm and consider why your well-being is critical to being a good lawyer.
The question for all young lawyers is, looking at the long arc of your legal career, how do you want your life to look in 5, 10, 20, or even 40 years? How do you want to feel day-to-day at work and in your personal life? What do you want your relationships with your colleagues to look like? What is necessary for you to feel supported in your development as a lawyer? I encourage you to reflect on these questions and create a vision for your life that you aspire to.
Build Your Community
You can start building your community by reaching out to other attorneys at your firm who appear to have similar values and a work-life balance. It may or may not be possible to have these conversations with your direct supervising partner. If not, find and connect with colleagues and friends who also want to be on this journey to figure out how to practice law sustainably.
Change the Culture
There are many ways to begin shifting the culture. Look for ways to start a conversation about how well-being supports being a competent lawyer. Join or start a well-being initiative at your law firm. Find out if your law firm has signed the ABA Well-Being Pledge. Start a book club or create informal mindfulness practice sessions. If it’s not possible to do this at your work, look for opportunities to get involved elsewhere. Most bar associations now have some type of well-being initiative or programming. Can you get involved in those activities?
Remember, you are the future of our profession. While it may feel like you don’t have any say or control, this will shift over time. You are not alone in this journey. There are countless other lawyers who are also working to change the culture of law practice.