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First Things, First

Well-being is not an instead of kind of thing--it's a before we get to [fill in the issue or challenge] kind of thing. Why don't our law firm leaders get that?

Lawyers who are not functioning well, are basically not functioning  -- any client you ask will tell you that. Clients expect that we are performing at our best. They demand it of us, and we demand it of ourselves. Why don't our legal institutions universally endeavor to nourish and encourage well-being?

Thank goodness, the American Bar Association ("ABA") recognizes the critical importance of well-being. And a growing number of law firms have pledged their support--some are even doing something about it. Kudos to the institutions that have embraced the issue of well-being, and taken steps to advance the cause. That--at least, in my book--is real leadership.

And you know what? There's even an existing line-item budget allocation that can be tapped, in order to fund a well-being program. It's called "inclusion"--the second half of the "D & I" budget line-item that already exists in most law firm budgets. It's a relatively simple exercise in reallocating expenses. Allow me to explain.

Well-being means different things to different people, but one thing is (or should be) certain: It isn't something that is relevant only for those under the ages of 40 or 50--neither is inclusion. The challenges of both well-being and inclusion transcend arbitrary age barriers, and are rooted in a common management truth that our profession seems to have gotten away from: The importance of shared experience.

We've all heard the folksy wisdom that, "Diversity is getting an invitation to the dance. Inclusion is actually getting asked to dance". Anyone can hire his or her way into greater diversity, but can we get those diverse lawyers to actually work together? That's where the distinct concerns of well-being and inclusion, converge. And the common taking-off point is shared experience.

In his book entitled, FRACTURED REPUBLIC, Yuval Levin argues that, "As people come to have less in common with their fellow citizens, they find it more difficult to cooperate and identify with one another". That argument (which rings true, as a matter of common sense) is echoed in another tremendous book entitled, ALIENATED AMERICA: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, by Timothy P. Carney.

Although the subjects of those two books may be different than subjects directly related to the governing of a thriving law firm, they both reinforce the importance of one thing that governing a country and governing a sound law firm have in common: Shared experience.

Mindfulness and meditation are important pieces of both the well-being pie, and the challenge of inclusion in the workplace. They address the mind portion of the mind/body dichotomy that all well-being programs should address, and they are both things that all of us can join in with others--regardless of religion, age, gender or sexual orientation-- (i.e., inclusion).

So, first things, first. Well-being is finally being recognized as something that is mission-critical. Ditto re: inclusion (even though it often plays second fiddle to its close cousin, diversity). Why not kill two birds--two really important "birds"--with one stone? The CFO will be happy, and the Managing Partner(s) will be happy. And, perhaps most importantly, the firm's lawyers will be happy!


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