The lawyer well-being initiative came to the attention of our directors at the NABE meeting in September. An integral part of the mission of the NHBA is “[t]o serve the members by connecting them with services, programs, and resources necessary to function effectively as members of the profession.”  Programs and services that foster the well-being of our members will certainly serve to help them function more effectively, as well as to protect them from burnout increasing their overall satisfaction. With the COVID-19 pandemic increasing the threat to physical wellness, and the concurrent social isolation exacerbating problems with mental health, focus on a well-being initiative is especially timely. In response to the increasing wellness and well-being needs of our members during these troubling times, the NHBA is taking several steps to meet these needs by increasing existing offerings and adding new ones.

The national movement to improve the health and well-being of legal professionals emerged as an important initiative at the 2016 ABA Annual Conference and resulted in the creation of a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. The results of two national studies indicating high rates of depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and substance abuse amongst attorneys and law students was the catalyst for the creation of the task force. The focus of the task force is to create a positive, supportive culture that promotes health and well-being, and also helps prevent and treat impairment.

The task force authored The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change  Subsequently, the ABA and the Conference of Chief Justices passed resolutions which strongly encouraged all states to review and consider the forty-four recommendations of the task force which are summarized in the report. The task force identified stakeholders, one of which is bar associations, and the role that they can play in supporting attorney well-being.

The general recommendations for all stakeholders are:

  1. Acknowledge the problems and take responsibility.
  2. Use the report of the task force as a launch pad for an action plan.
  3. Demonstrate a personal commitment by leaders to well-being.
  4. Facilitate, destigmatize, and encourage seeking help.
  5. Build relationships with experts on lawyer well-being, including partnership with Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAP).
  6. Foster collegiality and respectful engagement throughout the profession by promoting diversity and inclusion and creating mentorship programs.
  7. Enhance lawyers’ sense of control.
  8. Provide quality educational materials and programs on well-being.
  9. Guide and support the transition of older attorneys.
  10. De-emphasize the use of alcohol at social functions.
  11. Use monitoring to support those recovering from substance abuse.
  12. Begin a dialogue about suicide prevention.
  13. Support a lawyer wellbeing index to measure progress.

Additionally, the task force report sets forth several recommendations specifically for bar associations:

  1. Encourage education on well-being topics in coordination with Lawyer Assistance Programs.
  2. Sponsor empirical research on lawyer well-being as part of annual member surveys.
  3. Launch a lawyer well-being committee.
  4. Serve as an example of well-being best practices at bar association events.

Although the NHBA does not have an official committee on well-being, much work in this area is already being done. We have a strong relationship with NHLAP, promoting their services in our Member Guide and on our website. Additionally, the Succession Planning Guide is a wonderful, free resource to guide and support the transition of older attorneys.

The CLE department provides an extensive number of COVID-19 related offerings. Additionally, CLE  offers a three-part series on “Wellness and Well-Being” and a program on “How NHLAP Works.”

The NHBA just completed an extensive member survey on how COVID-19 is affecting their practice, and we will be carefully examining the results of this survey to consider what new programs and services the NHBA can offer to address the areas of greatest concern.

To highlight the importance of lawyer well-being, we have added a new “Wellness Corner” to the Bar News which will offer useful tips and information, as well as, point readers to other good resources that they may tap into. Additionally. Our “Working Through COVID-19” resource page on the website includes a section on “Well-Being” with helpful links to current resources.

Self-care is an important aspect of well-being. Each of us can better serve those around us when we are functioning at our best. It is important to recognize that self-care is not selfish, it is necessary. At our weekly MARCOMM meetings, each member of the team is asked to share that we have done some sort of self-care for the week. This exercise is a good reminder of the importance of occasionally prioritizing one’s own needs. This is leading by example.

Other steps that the NHBA can take include offering well-being activities such as yoga and meditation at conferences and increasing educational programming on the subject.

On a going forward basis, each of us at the NHBA should examine our programs, and services with an eye to how they can be used to enhance the overall well-being of our members.

~ Misty Griffith