Inside View: We All Do Well, When We All Do Well

The holidays have passed. For some it was a time to spend with loved ones. For others, it may have been a time to reflect on the loss of loved ones. There was food, more food, just too much food. Feelings of joy and laughter. Feelings of sorrow and dread. Thoughts of moving on and putting the year in the past. Another new year. A time for new year’s resolutions, goal setting and taking the new year by storm. Or another year of more of the same, disappointment, and never measuring up. For some, the ups and the downs are manageable. But for others, either they are not, or the downs oftentimes outweigh the ups. And to add to all of this you have the stress of managing one’s practice, serving one’s clients, caring for one’s family, or simply trying to finish law school and enter the legal profession. Are we as an association doing enough to address the wellbeing and wellness of our members?

As Robin Wolpert, past MSBA President, has noted, “Lawyer well-being is not just the absence of illness. And it’s not feeling happy all the time.” Rather, according to the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, lawyer wellbeing “is a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive across all [of] life’s dimensions,” physically, mentally, emotionally, occupationally, creatively, intellectually, spiritually, and socially. The numbers do not lie. Practicing law is hard. In 2016, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs published a study of nearly 13,000 currently-practicing attorneys. Of note, the study found that 28 percent of attorneys reported having experienced depression, 23 percent reported having “overwhelming stress,” 18 percent reported having diagnosable anxiety, and 10 percent reported having thoughts of suicide. Interestingly, with the HCBA’s increased focus on newer attorneys and attorneys who have been practicing 7 to 15 years, the study also found that lawyers 30 years of age or younger are “significantly more likely to engage in hazardous drinking than older attorneys.” While as a whole, between 21 percent and 36 percent of attorneys are problem drinkers.

The numbers for law students fare no better. According to the 2016 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 25 percent of law students are at risk for alcoholism, 17 percent of law students reported experiencing some level of depression, 14 percent reported having severe anxiety, 23 percent reported having mild or moderate anxiety, and 6 percent reported suicidal thoughts in the last year.

Attorney well-being and mental health are pervasive. They affect all of us, from the clients we serve, to the opposing counsel across the deal table or sitting at the table on the opposite side of the courtroom, to the judge or factfinder we appear before, to the colleagues and staff we work with, to the family we come home to, to the person we see in the mirror. Paulette Brown, ABA Immediate Past President, has said,

[W]hile there has been some progress on expanding opportunities for lawyers
of all races and ethnicities, women and members of the LGBTQ community, the
same cannot be said for those with mental illness or substance use disorders. . .
It must be acceptable for people to ‘come out’ with mental health issues just as it
is becoming acceptable to do so in the LGBTQ community.

I ask again, are we as an association doing enough to address the well-being and wellness of our members? I am excited to say that the Association has already started to answer this question this year, using both an immediate and long-term approach.

With respect to the immediate approach, to start the year off right, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) spoke to the HCBA’s Board in January to provide some tips, advice and strategies that the Board could take away as they returned to their offices, work with their clients and continue the HCBA’s work in 2019 and beyond. Sections have also been encouraged to partner with LCL on CLE programming. Moreover, with the Minnesota Supreme Court’s profession-wide initiative and February 28 summit to encourage all stakeholders in the legal profession to improve and promote attorney well-being, I will be meeting with the presidents of the MSBA and RCBA in hopes that our respective associations can offer some sort of state-wide program dedicated to attorney well-being and wellness this summer. With respect to the long-term approach, I am pleased to say that the HCBA has convened a task force, led by Michael Boulette of Barnes & Thornburg, to consider what other associations have done with respect to attorney well-being and wellness, what has worked, what has not, and what can the Association do differently to address the needs of its members. While the task force’s work will begin during my presidency, it will conclude during the next bar term.

More work lies ahead, but we, as an association, are up for the task. So, what can you do in the meantime to help? Consider giving to nonprofits, like LCL, who provide confidential services to members of the legal profession who either struggle with mental illness or suspect that others in the legal profession may be. Encourage others to discuss their well-being and wellness journey openly. And, as always, if you have an idea for a CLE or other programming, please contact Micah Fenlason at mfenlason@mnbars. org. The late Senator Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better, when we all do better.” I am hopeful, that with the Association’s work on wellness and our other ongoing initiatives, that this statement will continue to ring true for not only our profession, but for the community at large.

Adine S. MomohAdineMomoh
2018-2019 HCBA President

Ms. Momoh is a partner in the Minneapolis office
of Stinson Leonard Street where she represents
clients in matters involving banking litigation,
estates and trusts litigation and creditors’ rights
and bankruptcy before state and federal courts
across the country. As a trusted advisor, she
helps clients navigate the entire lifecycle of a
case, from case development and strategy, to
discovery, to motion practice, to trial, to appeal.

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