Resilient Lawyers: The Drum That I’ll Keep Beating

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“50 percent [of attorneys polled] said their career in law had adversely affected their mental health, while 79 percent said that they would not feel comfortable seeking support from their law firm if they were suffering from a mental health concern.”

This came from The American Lawyer’s article We Need an Open Dialogue on Mental Health in the Law. They are sounding the alarm that not only is this problem not getting better, there are indications that it is getting worse. Young lawyers are at higher risk than their more senior counterparts for poor mental well-being because of “excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations,” coupled with the 24-7 intrusiveness of work through text, email and social media.

Listen, it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are three key steps to increasing resilience and well-being in the legal industry.

Decrease Mental Health Stigma

  1. If your firm has access to mental health services such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), promote it, talk about it, and use it!
  2. Start a well-being campaign in the firm. Australia’s suicide prevention organization, R U OK?, has a partnership with 18 law firms to develop a new campaign called “Look Deeper” aimed to increase mental well-being in the legal industry in Australia.

Cultivate a Culture of Resilience

  1. Encourage attorney discretion and autonomy in their work whenever possible.  Our well being and resilience dramatically improves when we have sense of agency over our lives.
  2. Promote an environment of transparency, trust and integrity. We are hardwired to seek safety. When we don’t feel safe, our ability to manage stress diminishes because we are in a constant state of hyper-vigilance and distrust. When firms live their integrity by doing what they say they believe, attorneys are connected to the purpose and meaning behind their work.
  3. Allow for optimism. I get it. Stakes are high in the legal field. The win or lose of the work can impact people’s lives forever. Optimism, gratitude and even humor is not a “Pollyanna” practice. It is critical for success. Not only does it immediately release the positive “feel good” hormones of serotonin and oxytocin, it creates more space for creative thinking and an orientation toward a growth mindset.

Engage in Training and Education

  1. There are currently only two states whose state bars require continuing education on mental health and substance abuse. Law firms can take the lead by offering and encouraging individual training in mental health well-being and resilience.
  2. It takes a (legal) village. Providing resources to individual resilience is a powerful tool for that one attorney. Providing training and resources to cultivate a culture of resilience in an entire firm—those ripple effects can positively impact a firm’s entire future.
  3. An ounce of prevention. Whether a firm provides one-hour “Lunch and Learns” or engages in full-length partner retreats to incorporate resiliency skills into attorney’s lives and into the firm’s culture, the benefit of prevention overcomes the cost of cure.

I will keep beating this drum and I will keep joining you to strengthen and cultivate resilience in your life and the life of your firm. Contact me to talk about ways to get started.

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