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Lawyer Wellbeing Is A Critical Component Of Competence

Are you well? Balanced, aware and connected to all (or, at least some) of the facets of life identified by the National Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being in it's tremendously thoughtful, and detailed, Report? If not, then respectfully, you are not functioning with the degree of competence that ABA model rules (as well as the majority of State rules governing the conduct of lawyers), expressly require.

To date, disciplinary charges related to violation of competence rules are rare and/or secondary to other substantive charges alleging professional negligence, but that may change, and lawyers-- including the men and women who manage our law firms-- would be well-served (pun intended) to implement wellbeing initiatives that can be cited in order to blunt, or mitigate, any such charge.

The proliferation of Lawyer Assistance Programs ("LAP"s) in the various State jurisdictions is a welcome and necessary means of addressing the ravages of more obvious medically-diagnosable mental health conditions, but what about lawyers who are off their game because of other less readily recognized, but equally debilitating conditions? Conditions like burnout, free floating anxiety, mild depression or work-related stress?

Those lawyers are every bit as susceptible to a failure of competence as lawyers afflicted by other more readily identifiable mental health conditions, and they're just as deserving of assistance as their otherwise challenged brothers and sisters. Equally important, the clients served by all lawyers are deserving of the best possible advice and representation-- that's what the duty of competence is all about.

A lawyer's competence is directly related to his or her wellbeing. Without one, the other simply does not exist. For years, the idea of competence was limited to knowledge and representation rendered in connection with a particular area of legal expertise.

Recently, however, the notion of competence has been expanded to require familiarity with technology that might be relevant to a lawyer's representation. The next expansion of lawyer competence can, and should be, in requiring some degree of attention to wellbeing.

The articulation of an enforceable standard will no doubt be challenging, but the recognition of lawyer wellbeing as-- at the very least-- an aspirational ideal, is long overdue.

Let's restore professional aspiration, to the legal profession!


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