Wellness Work Receives National Recognition

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Our state bar’s wellness work is receiving some national recognition.  A couple of weeks ago the American Bar Association (ABA) announced that the Attorney Wellness Committee of the South Carolina Bar (Living Above the Bar) will be one of the three recipients of the ABA’s 2016 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award. The prestigious E. Smythe Gambrell Award honors excellence and innovation in professionalism programs, and is given to organizations that have distinguished themselves through the development of  high quality programming  relating to professional service.

As many of you know, our state bar’s wellness initiative began in 2014 through the formation of an attorney wellness task force, and I was privileged to be asked to chair that task force.  I have continued to be a part of the group for the last two years, and during that time I have remained impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of my colleagues and fellow committee members.

In its short 2 year history, Living Above the Bar has developed a wellness website for the state bar, created a state wide wellness program for lawyers, delivered wellness presentations throughout the state (including seminars at the last two annual Bar Conventions), worked on wellness issues with senior lawyers, assisted our state’s two law schools in the development of wellness programs, and filed a petition with the South Carolina Supreme Court to propose specific rule changes to the state’s court administration policies regarding attorney leave.

In 2016 our task force evolved into a full-fledged standing committee of the state bar–with the mission of promoting all aspects of lawyer wellness by identifying (as well as attempting to address) those aspects of the legal profession that impact both the emotional and physical well-being of attorneys.  Through a lot of hard work, and a tremendous investment of time and energy, our committee has played a huge role in making attorney wellness not only a South Carolina priority, but a national conversation.

Here’s what the ABA’s Standing Committee on Professionalism had to say about the work of our committee.

“The Gambrell Award Judges and the Committee were highly impressed by this multi- faceted, extremely innovative initiative of the South Carolina Bar to recognize, proactively address and offer solutions to the health challenges facing so many in our profession. Your Living Above the Bar program is a praiseworthy testament to the legal community’s growing recognition that lawyers cannot function well as professionals or client advocates when inadequate attention is paid to their mental and physical wellbeing. We also find it noteworthy that the initiative has gained an important measure of permanence with the establishment of a standing committee on attorney wellness.
In establishing Living Above the Bar programs and resources, the South Carolina Bar has set a high bar for its counterparts across the nation, who would do well to emulate this program. Among other noteworthy features of the South Carolina wellness campaign is the commitment to addressing head-on and de-stigmatizing mental health problems, so that affected lawyers may be reached and helped, for their own benefit and that of their clients.
Courts and bars increasingly recognize that attorney wellness is a critical element of lawyer professionalism, as well as professional success, and we commend the South Carolina Bar for blazing the trail in this vital area.”

I am incredibly proud of my fellow committee members who have done so much to enable us to receive this recognition.  I congratulate all of them, as well as the leaders of our  bar— whose vision and vigorous support have made all of this possible.  It is my hope that this award will allow us to broaden, even further, the conversation around well being while inspiring  us to continue building on the good work of the past.

(The E. Smythe Gambrell Professional Award will be presented at this year’s American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco August 6th.)

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