Prioritizing Lawyer Wellbeing As A Necessary Component Of Professional Competence
Competence (as memorialized in both the ABA Model Rules, and the various State-enacted rules of professional conduct) is viewed from the perspective of--the expectations of-- others (i.e., the client). In contrast, the matter of lawyer wellbeing (which has not been codified by any State or Federal entity) fundamentally involves expectations that lawyers impose upon themselves.
The concepts of competence and wellbeing are indeed separate and distinct, but they directly impact each other, and we need to be clear that regulation of the former does not warrant or require regulation of the latter. In that regard, the interaction of the two must be addressed thoughtfully, but they must be treated separately-- because the expectations that animate them are fundamentally different.
Would you rather be told by someone else how you are required to conduct yourself, or be encouraged to explore new behaviors for yourself, voluntarily? Most of us would prefer option two, but-- at least, when it comes to the matter of professional conduct-- the proverbial cat is already out of the bag. Rules (enacted by others) already exist. When it comes to lawyer wellbeing, however, there are no rules-- at least, not yet.
So, what should we do about lawyer wellbeing-- regulate it, or allow it to evolve without regulation? The legal profession still has a choice (though several States have already amended their rules concerning continuing legal education, to require education related to one or more wellbeing concerns). Do those changes portend more regulation in the future? I certainly hope not.
Lawyers can voluntarily hold themselves to a standard of wellbeing that will obviate the need for any future regulation or further rule changes-- and law firms can provide encouragement to facilitate that kind of voluntary behavior.
The notion of wellbeing is basically about taking care of oneself-- physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and financially (as well as any other quality or slice of life that may be important to you).
The legal profession has already done a credible job of regulating itself, in order to take care of others-- now let's prioritize the importance of also taking care ofourselves, so we can continue to take care of others, in a competent and professional manner.