By: Michael Flannery
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
5 Tips to Make Lawyer Well-Being a Year-Round Priority
Lawyer well-being used to be an issue that was whispered about at the office water fountain and dealt with in the home. Lawyer mental health and substance use disorders were taboo issues with personal origins. Dealing with mental health issues was not part of the law office culture and was not the responsibility of the legal industry.
But with 38.27% of legal professionals reporting depression and 71.10% reporting anxiety, according to 2023 data offered by Lateral Link, the legal profession is starting to recognize the urgent need to embrace comprehensive mental health management in law firms and law schools everywhere…
Leading the Way in Lawyer Well-Being
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) has dedicated itself to helping lawyers, judges, and law students address mental health issues and substance abuse problems by expanding lawyer assistance programs in law firms and law schools, recognizing mental health days, and implementing anti-stigma campaigns.
Additionally, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being launched the Institute for Well-Being in Law to cultivate systemic change within the profession. And there continue to be valuable educational resources available to help lawyers combat mental health and substance use disorders with practical strategies for recovery and increased lawyer well-being.
Initiatives like these demonstrate that mental health conditions are not a stigma and there are resources available to assist lawyers in need.
Law Firms Must Do Their Part. Here’s How:
Though efforts at the national level are promising, law firms have to do their part to secure better and healthier future for most valuable asset: their people. Here are five tips for instituting a culture of well-being in your law firm and in your life as a legal professional.
1. Normalize Well-Being at Work
Part of preventing mental health issues from entering the office and affecting work performance is welcoming open discussion and health-oriented protocols within the office. This means normalizing well-being as part of the office culture. There are simple ways to accomplish this. For example:
- Schedule regular and purposeful “check-in” meetings between supervisors and employees so employees feel free to speak openly about their concerns for their well-being and freely seek help if needed;
- Connect with local service providers and community health systems to assist in developing internal protocols and to provide access to community resources;
- Include mental health evaluations and treatment as part of an integrated health insurance plan so employees know that their mental health and well-being is a significant part of office policy and an important issue to the employer.
2. Connect All Employees with Resources
A significant part of taking advantage of mental health resources is being able to access them. For busy, over-extended lawyers, finding time outside of work to address their needs is just an added pressure.
Scheduling access to lawyer assistance program resources as part of the job description not only alleviates that stress for employees, it demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being and a responsibility to the law firm and the law firm’s clients to provide healthy, well-balanced legal representation.
3. Engage in Psychological Safety Training
Naturally, the legal profession places a heavy focus on competence, professionalism, and the ethical practice of law. This is a necessary part of the profession that can place added stress on conscientious lawyers.
Employees can offset that stress by engaging in psychological safety training. This is a systemic mindset of welcoming open discussion and freedom of expression from all employees wherein the workplace becomes a safety zone for learning and continued improvement rather than critical oversight and strict performance evaluation.
4. Offer Flexible Working Arrangements to Improve Work-Life Balance
Mental health stressors are not isolated to the workplace. Lawyers have personal stressors that affect their work just like anyone else. Providing employees with greater flexibility to meet their professional and personal responsibilities goes a long way toward alleviating mental health triggers without forfeiting job performance. This can be accomplished by:
- Providing “telework” opportunities, such as working from home or alternative office locations;
- Accepting alternate schedules and compressed work weeks;
- Offering flextime and extended or paid leave; and
- Providing internal day-care or elder-care arrangements.
Flexible policies like these can provide employees with greater control over their personal and professional lives, freedom from office distractions, and reduced stress during personal emergencies.
5. Appoint a Well-Being Leader
If lawyers struggling with mental illness or occasional mental health conditions knew how and when to access resources and implement effective treatment plans, most would. A critical first step on a lawyer’s path to consistent mental and physical well-being is knowing that help is available. Implementing supervisor training programs for recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health problems so personnel in leadership roles can offer assistance and support when it is needed will facilitate that first step.
This might include appointing a “well-being leader” or a “mental health advocate” who is trained to recognize warning signs and is knowledgeable about the resources that are available. Perhaps an administrative assistant or management member assigned to coordinate and schedule mental health educational opportunities will encourage greater participation. For those in crisis, a confidential path of assistance in accessing immediate intervention and treatment resources is imperative. But training must be comprehensive and readily available.
A Final Word
It is important for all judges, lawyers, law firms, and law schools to recognize that stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, mental illness, and substance abuse are not part of an isolated dynamic that originates and proliferates in the home. These are common and systemic aspects of the legal professional that infect the personal and professional aspects of the whole person. They can no longer be ignored and relegated to the personal responsibilities of the employee. They must be addressed openly within the work force.
Fortunately, institutions like the American Bar Association, the National Business Institute, and the ABA Commission have recognized the importance of education on these issues. It is up to individual law firms and law schools to adopt comprehensive and integrated policies, protocols, and access to treatment opportunities to make lawyer well-being a part of the professional culture.
Michael T. Flannery is the Judge George Howard, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law. He served as Associate Dean for Faculty Development from 2014 to 2016, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 2018 to 2020. He teaches Family Law, Decedents’ Estates and Trusts, The Prudent Investing of Trusts, The Sexual Exploitation of Children, Animal Law, and Sports Law. He served as a Special Judge for the 20th Judicial District of the State of Arkansas between 2008 and 2011. He also serves as a Legislative Expert Liaison for the Arkansas Bar Association’s Legislative Committee on Family Law. He was featured on National Public Radio as an “Agent of Change.” Professor Flannery has published numerous case books and law review articles. His research has been cited by courts throughout the country. He speaks regularly on various panel symposia and is a member of numerous bar associations and legal organizations.
This post was written by a guest blogger. Although this article was thoroughly reviewed by NBI staff, the views, opinions and positions expressed within the post are those of the author alone and do not represent those of NBI. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within the post are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.