A couple of weeks ago a group of 20 or so lawyers gathered in the upstairs dining room of the 82 Queen Restaurant (across the street from the Charleston County Courthouse). The group was there to share a meal and to listen to a presentation by Diana Deaver—a visual artist and an emotional health coach. Diana talked about the importance of being completely present with whatever is happening in our lives, without resisting or judging. We talked about the aspects of our work in the legal profession that contribute to a lack of mindfulness, as well as how mindfulness practices can help lawyers be more resilient and more emotionally intelligent.
That a group of lawyers would come together to talk about this topic is encouraging. But what is particularly inspiring is that this group has been coming together for this kind of conversation for the better part of the last two years. Every other month 25 to 30 local attorneys and judges in Charleston County come together to share a meal and to talk with each other about the challenges associated with our work, and how we can become more intentional in living healthier and more fulfilling lives. We have heard lawyers share their stories of addiction and recovery, a judge talk about the importance of her personal meditation practice, and nutritionists talk about how what we eat can affect how we feel and work. We have heard from yoga instructors, mental health professionals, medical school professors and life coaches—all inspiring us to have more conversations about how we can lead healthier, more whole lives while engaged in this practice of law.
Lawyers coming together regularly for these kinds of discussions is incredibly hopeful, because the culture of this profession does not exactly promote well being. Working hard, billing hours, striving, making money, achieving, being successful, being aggressive in our advocacy—these are the things that are encouraged by our firms and by our profession. And there is certainly nothing wrong with working hard and trying to make money. But when those aspirations become the dominant values of the profession, then you have a problem. And that problem manifests itself in the significant levels of depression, stress disorders and substance abuse in the legal profession.
If we want lawyers to become healthier, we are going to have to change our culture. We are going to have to create space to have different kinds of conversations. Spaces where lawyers can talk to each other about the difficulties of our work and support each other in trying to live lives that are healthier and more meaningful.
No small task. After all, what is so operative in the legal world is pretty prevalent in our culture as a whole. And the adversarial nature of our work, coupled with our infatuation with reason and objectivity, make it doubly difficult for lawyers to give themselves permission to make taking care of themselves a priority.
I may be naive on this issue, but I believe things don’t have to be this way. I believe things can change. Yes, it will take a long time. Yes, it may take several generations to get it done. But it can happen. And it will happen when lawyers come together to create intentional communities committed to doing things differently. Lawyers who aren’t afraid to talk about the challenges that face us on a daily basis, and who understand that until they are willing to do the radical work of taking care of themselves, they cannot truly serve their clients, their profession, their firms or their families.
And that’s why the wellness luncheons that happen every other month in Charleston are so inspiring. They are examples of how these intentional communities will be created.
In the face of the overwhelming amount of suffering in our profession, 25 lawyers and judges coming together every other month to talk about well-being might seem like an incredibly small gesture. But if it happens long enough and begins to happen in enough places, big changes will occur.