The American Bar Association’s Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession has created a campaign to promote well-being and mental health. The primary vehicle of this campaign is the ABA Well-Being Pledge. Below is guidance on implementing these seven areas of focus and action found in the pledge.
1. Provide Enhanced and Robust Education
Providing “enhanced and robust education” to attorneys and other legal professionals on mental health, well-being, and substance abuse requires consistent and recurring training. Lunch-and-learns, keynotes, and workshops are critical, however, opportunities to learn and practice new skills and routines need to occur daily to that positive habits can form. This can be in the form of app-based skill builders such as Calm or Headspace and can also be encouraged through regularly scheduled coach-based training.
2. Reduce Expectations of Alcohol
Think back to the last five professional social gatherings you have attended. How many of those had alcohol as a primary feature? I have attended only one in the last six months where alcohol was not, essentially, the main attraction. It is not necessary to discontinue serving alcohol at events all together. However, it is critical to be mindful of how much emphasis is put on drinking as a means of socializing. Provide non-alcoholic options other than the standard sodas. According to FoodBev Media, there is a growing trend for adult marketed, non-alcoholic drinks such. Networking or social events that have at least part of the event alcohol free (an outdoor activity, volunteering, etc.) allows those who avoid situations of social drinking to be able to participate in work events.
3. Partner with Outside Providers
Don’t go it alone. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, get to know what they have to offer as well as their limitations. Partnering with experts who are outside of the organization helps to ensure cultural change by allowing a more objective assessment and ability to speak truth to power when needed. Having a dedicated professional whose sole responsibility is to make measurable improvements to the well-being of the people in the firm can help ensure programmatic success. If you are looking for how to find the right fit for an outside provider, I outline tips here.
4. Provide Confidential Access
One of the biggest barriers to attorneys and legal professionals seeking help is fear regarding confidentiality. Some report feeling mistrust in seeking assistance from their EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or LAP (Lawyer Assistance Program). One attorney recently asked, “Why would I admit any concern about depression or alcohol use to the same body that upholds my license to practice law?” Providing confidential access help is step one. Step two is building trust in those resources among legal professionals. This can be done through education and transparent information about what privileges and limitations of confidentiality exist. Additionally, providing access to outside providers who are not affiliated with a professional association or governing body also serves to increase trust and comfort accessing help.
5. Develop Proactive Policies
The key word here is proactive. Law firms and legal departments should not wait until crisis hits to begin the work of well-being. Not only is the damage and loss already done, reactive measures are often less effective, at least initially. Once a crisis or trauma has occurred, people are less able to absorb, practice, and accept new skills and procedures. This is certainly not to say that it is too late, but it can take longer. Proactive measures such as resilience building primes the brain to be less emotionally reactive to adversity, promoting a calm and constructive response to stress. Proactive policies such as establishing back-to-work plans for people who have taken time off for treatment help set healthy norms. Proactive assessments, such as well-being and resilience indicators, help identify strength and growth areas and allow gathering of outcome data.
6. Show Core Values
Show, don’t tell. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and author of Everybody Matter’s makes a point to say that there is no company that would proclaim that they did not care about their employees. In fact, most state very boldly in their values statement that they DO care about their people. What they say matters little compare to what they do. If a firm proclaims to support well-being and healthy lifestyles, the leadership must model that behavior:
- Demonstrate healthy boundaries
- Talk out loud about mental health in positive, non-stigmatizing ways
- Don’t just sneak into the office wellness room–stride in confidently
- Ask colleagues how they are feeling–and mean it
7. Use the Pledge
Assess. Respond. Develop. Repeat. The only way this or any pledge works is when it is a living and dynamic function of the organization. One year after a firm or legal department signs the pledge, they are asked to complete the pledge commitment form to describe the steps taken toward the objectives set out in the framework during the previous year. Accountability is a critical piece in changing a culture.
If your firm has questions about the pledge or assessment and program implementation, we are available for an initial consultation conversation.