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Standing Inside The Fire

Are the leaders of our law firms and other legal institutions too stressed, themselves, to effectively address the issue of lawyer well-being? Are our leaders too close to the problem to recognize it, and deal with it? Are the proverbial blind, leading the blind?

Full disclosure: I'm a solid Garth Brooks fan, and yes, the title of this post is a thinly-disguised allusion to the classic song that he co-wrote and recorded, years ago. Glad I got that out of the way, because I really want to talk about well-being, in the legal profession.

At bottom. the well-being movement of today is really just a slightly more sophisticated take on the old mind/body dichotomy from the 1960's. It may be almost 2021, but the physical part of well-being is-- and always has been-- about diet, sleep and exercise. The mental/emotional part is still about silence and stillness (mindfulness and meditation)-- what some people these days refer to as, "emotional intelligence". To quote the Bard, a rose by any other name, is still a rose.

On a personal level, pretty much everybody-- even skeptical, cost-conscious lawyers-- are supportive of workplace well-being. Professionally, however, it's a different story. The difficulty (especially in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and related uncertainty concerning future revenue) is that adding costs related to the development of a balanced well-being program, often requires the addition of a new line item to a budget that is otherwise being pared down.

The fire rages on-- even grows and spreads-- and there doesn't seem to be any water to slow it down, let alone put it out. And so the firemen (by analogy, our law firm and other legal institution managers) are left to dig trenches, or cut fire lines-- stop gap measures that don't effectively address the threat. Such is the state of lawyer well-being, in far too many of our legal institutions.

Within broad swaths of the legal profession, the notion of well-being is being given plenty of lip service, but very little meaningful support. Many law firms and other legal organizations invest modestly in one-off informational sessions (typically, an hour or two) that are fully optional, and given little support by the "powers that be".

Most law firm managers are more more mindful of billable hours being recorded than the design and implementation of a lasting, multi-dimensional well-being culture. Low cost, occasional events that are aimed more at optics than substance, remain the rule-- not the exception.

Maybe we should spend more time (and money) standing-- or sitting--outside the fire, rather than inside it?


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