In February 2016, the Journal of Addiction Medicine published the results of a nationwide study of mental health and substance use rates in the legal profession that was commissioned by the American Bar Association and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. The findings painted a bleak picture—28 percent of respondents were struggling with depression, over one-fifth exhibited problematic drinking behaviors, and over 10 percent had experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in their careers. And that was before a global pandemic forced us to stay home for weeks on end, cratered the economy, and left the legal profession scrambling to adjust to the post-Covid-19 reality we all now find ourselves in.
Fortunately, the Attorney Well-Being Movement has made tremendous strides in the years since the ABA/Hazelden study was published. Organizations and individual attorneys are more focused on these issues than ever before, and much work has been done to reduce the stigma around mental health and substance abuse. Well-being programs and benefits are commonplace at law schools and law firms, and more than 180 legal employers have signed the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge.
The latest national initiative is Lawyer Well-Being Week—a week’s worth of programs, activities, and resources to promote well-being and help lawyers and legal professionals thrive in their personal and professional lives. It all kicks off next Monday, May 4th, and the post below will fill you in on everything you need to know to participate in Lawyer Well-Being Week and connect with legal professionals across the country.
What is Lawyer Well-Being Week?
Lawyer Well-Being Week is an industry-wide initiative to raise awareness and promote well-being in the legal profession. It was created by multiple organizations, including the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, the ABA Law Practice Division Attorney Well-Being Committee, and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Program’s Well-Being Committee. These entities partnered with many attorney well-being experts and advocates to create webinars, resources, activity guides, and more to help law firms, law schools, and other legal employers promote the health and wellness of their attorneys, students, and staff.
The first annual Lawyer Well-Being Week will be held from May 4-8, 2020. Each day will highlight and focus on a different dimension of well-being in accordance with the definition of well-being adopted by the National Task Force. The National Task Force’s definition consists of six dimensions of well-being: physical (Monday), spiritual (Tuesday), occupational and intellectual (Wednesday), social (Thursday), and emotional (Friday). When thinking about your own well-being and self-care, it is important to strive for thriving in each of these dimensions.
How Can You Participate?
There are a multitude of ways for individuals and organizations to participate. The Lawyer Well-Being Week website has resources, activity ideas, and webinars that are organized by topic. While many of the activities were created earlier this year before stay-at-home orders were put in place, the majority of them can be used by individuals working from home. The Remote Participation Guide can help you and your organization participate in Lawyer Well-Being Week despite not being able to physically be together.
These resources and activities range from hour-long webinars to short TEDx Talk clips to individual self-reflection exercises to gratitude challenges with friends, family, and coworkers. As long as you are taking steps to promote well-being and bolstering one of the six dimensions listed above, you are participating in Lawyer Well-Being Week. Below is additional information, along with some potential ideas from the Remote Participation Guide for the themes of each day:
Stay Strong (Physical Well-Being): To ensure your physical well-being, strive for regular exercise—or at least get enough movement to counteract a sedentary lifestyle—eat a nutritious diet, hydrate, get enough sleep, and do not misuse drugs and alcohol. Some ways you might promote your physical well-being are by cooking a healthy recipe, coordinating a sleep challenge with others to get seven hours of sleep every day next week, or trying a free online yoga class.
Align (Spiritual Well-Being): Spiritual well-being does not need to be religious in nature, although it certainly can be. Spiritual well-being involves cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose in our personal and professional lives. People who are thriving spiritually often have a well-articulated sense of what values are most important to them and take steps to make sure their actions are aligned with (and do not violate) those values. Some things you can do during Lawyer Well-Being Week to support your spiritual well-being are draft a personal mission statement, identify which values and attributes are most important to you, or watch this short TEDx Talk on What Makes Life Meaningful.
Engage & Grow (Intellectual/Occupational Well-Being): Intellectual well-being involves pushing ourselves to be continuously learning and intellectually stimulated. This dimension also relates to our cognitive functioning and capacity. Occupational well-being encompasses confidence in our short- and long-term career trajectories and our day-to-day work product, a sense of autonomy and purpose in our work, and financial stability. You can support your well-being in these dimensions by creating or revising your contact list, completing a strengths-finder exercise, or checking in on various aspects of your career development with this Wheel of Occupational Development activity guide.
Connect (Social Well-Being): Maintaining strong social relationships is important for our physical health and is also critical for bolstering resilience and weathering adversity. Social well-being is perhaps the dimension that was most acutely impacted by the coronavirus—with stay-at-home orders effectively cutting off in-person contact with everyone outside of our households. But the pandemic has also revealed new and innovative ways for staying in touch with friends and family and working with our colleagues, classmates, and clients remotely. Some steps you can take to support your social well-being next week include reaching out to a friend or colleague that you have been meaning to reconnect with, writing a gratitude letter to someone who has made your life easier or happier in the last few weeks, or reading this Harvard Business Review article on how to be happier at work by focusing more on your relationships.
Feel Well (Emotional Well-Being): Emotional well-being involves appreciating the importance of our emotions and finding ways to articulate and process our feelings. It also encompasses issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. Some recommended activities to promote emotional well-being include designing a self-care plan, journaling, or participating in this two-minute stress-release activity. You can also set aside time each day to talk about your thoughts and feelings—a process called “affect labeling”—with a friend or family member.
No matter how you choose to participate, our hope is that Lawyer Well-Being Week will serve as a reminder for each and every lawyer, law student, and legal professional to check in with themselves and be mindful of their health and wellness. Throughout the week, we encourage you to engage with other lawyers and legal professionals who are participating across the country by sharing your experience on social media using the hashtag #lawyerwellbeingweek. The coronavirus has had an impact on every dimension of well-being in each of our lives and now, perhaps more than ever, we must all prioritize self-care to ensure that we can be our best selves despite these trying conditions.
Jonathan Beitner is an attorney, certified coach, and frequent speaker on topics related to attorney development and well-being. Jonathan coaches individual attorneys to help them identify and achieve their professional and personal goals and works with firms, law schools, and bar associations to help their lawyers and staff be more productive, happier, and healthier. As a co-creator of the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge, the former President of the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Associate Board, and Chair of the Chicago Bar Association’s Well-Being & Mindfulness Committee, Jonathan has taken a leadership role in attorney well-being initiatives at the city, state, and national levels. Jonathan previously practiced as a commercial litigator at Jenner & Block LLP and clerked for federal judges on the Sixth Circuit and Eastern District of Michigan after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, where he served as a Contributing Editor of the Michigan Law Review.