I recently spent the week in Kansas City attending the American Bar Association’s Annual Conference for the Commission for Lawyers Assistance Programs (COLAP). Front and center was the ABA’s recently published paper—The Path to Lawyer Well Being—Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. It is the result of a year-long project of the ABA’s Attorney Well-Being Task Force, and it provides a blue print for the kinds of changes that need be made in our firms, law schools, courts and bar associations to stem the tide of attorney distress.
This report came out several months ago, but I have yet to write a blog post about it. And while it’s a very valuable report, I’m not going to write about it here. Nor am I going to write about any of the numerous moving and inspiring presentations I saw at the COLAP Conference. Instead I want to say a little something about what it was like for me to be around a group of people whose life’s work is to help restore well-being to this profession that we love so much.
While attorney well-being is getting a lot more press these days, it’s still a little counter-cultural to talk about lawyers prioritizing self-care. The idea of a two-hour lunch to go to the gym, or not checking your email after you get home, still seem a bit radical. It’s not unusual for people to tell me I’m naive or idealistic when I talk about some of the changes I would like to see us make in how we run our firms and our law practices. I have even heard lawyers say that all of this talk about mindfulness and attorney well-being simply make lawyers soft, that we need to stop coddling young lawyers and instead “toughen them up” for the real-world practice of law.
So, you can imagine how Kansas City felt a little like breath of fresh air. A couple hundred lawyers, LAP directors and mental health professionals coming together for one purpose—to explore how we can begin to stem this rising tide of attorney distress and restore health and well-being to our profession. My friends at the COLAP Conference do not believe, for a second, that it is naive or idealistic to talk about making self-care a priority. No one there believed that meditation would make lawyers “soft” or that we needed to “toughen up” the new generation of attorneys. They are a group who love the law and who love lawyers. Whose collective hearts break when we learn that 11.5% of all lawyers have contemplated suicide. Whose hearts break when we hear that 53% of all law students report that they been drunk within the last 3 days, and that 33% of lawyers practicing less than 10 years are alcohol dependent.
And they are a group inspired to action. (If you want to know how inspired, spend 30 minutes reading The Path to Lawyer Well Being).
I need to be around these kind of people as much as possible. For they remind me that we cannot give this noble profession the honor, respect and dignity it deserves unless we pay appropriate attention to caring for ourselves. And they remind me that we honor this profession most profoundly, when we bring our best selves to our work.
I once heard someone define “home” as that place where your heart is full and your soul is understood. If that is true, then this Conference was a homecoming for me. A reminder that I am not alone in my meager efforts to create change in the small orbit of my life.
A reminder that there is a group out there to whom I belong.