In 2017, the American Bar Association published a landmark report[i] on wellness in the legal profession. This report was accomplished by a special task force commissioned as a result of multiple indicators of a decline of wellness in the profession at the time. Specifically cited are two studies that showed that many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance use.
What is remarkable is that the ABA task force took such a public stand and recognized that, “these findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.” I agree. We need to protect this noble profession and help sustain attorneys in the practice of law. If attorney well-being is not supported, then the “best and the brightest” who are drawn to the law to help others may suffer to the point of leaving the profession or much worse, illness or death. The ABA task force went even further and stated, “[t]his research suggests that the current state of lawyers’ health cannot support a profession dedicated to client service and dependent on the public trust.”
First, I would like to address one of the ABA’s recommendations (Recommendation 33.2) which states that law schools should design a lecture series dedicated to well-being topics. According to the ABA Report, “the 2016 Foundations for Practice Report by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System recommends that law schools teach character attributes including courtesy, humility, respect, tact, diplomacy, sensitivity, tolerance, and compassion; and self-care and self-regulation skills such as positivity and managing stress; exhibiting flexibility, adaptability, and resilience during challenging circumstances; and decision-making under pressure.”
I believe all these attributes can be reinforced throughout an attorney’s career in a rewarding way that contributes to an attorney’s well-being as well as the overall collegiality of the profession. In addition, these topics lend themselves well to the professional ethics CLEs that many states require, in addition to the general CLEs required during the state’s reporting period. These topics are ones that are covered in Keen Living and will be covered in the future.
The ABA provides an example list of topics for law students that I believe could be applicable to CLE for attorney well-being:
• Basic Well-being and Stress Reduction
• Cognitive Well-being and Good Nutrition
• Restorative Practices, such as Mindfulness, Meditation, Yoga, and Gratitude
• The Impact of Substances such as Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, Marijuana, Adderall, Ritalin, Cocaine, and Opiates on Cognitive Function
• “Active bystander” training that educates students about how to detect when their fellow students may be in trouble with respect to mental health disorders, suicidal thinking, or substance use and what action to take
• Cultivating a Growth Mindset
• Improving Pathway (strategies for identifying goals and plans for reaching them) and Agency (sustaining motivation to achieve objectives) Thinking
• Enhancing Emotion Regulation
• Fostering Optimism and Resilience
• Developing Strong Lawyering Values, such as Courage, Willpower, and Integrity
• Work Life Balance in the Law
Over the next few weeks, I will be researching the state of the various ABA recommendations as best I can. I will attempt to find whether the ABA’s recommendations have been implemented and to answer if we are on the path to well-being as proposed by the ABA.
© 2020 Megan Davia Mikhail
[i] NATIONAL TASK FORCE ON LAWYER WELL-BEING: Creating a Movement To Improve Well-Being in the Legal Profession, August 14, 2017. Available at: https://lawyerwellbeing.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Lawyer-Wellbeing-Report.pdf