Inside View: Well, Well, Well… ness.

September/October 2021 Inside View

By: Azure Schermerhorn-Snyder

It is surreal to be writing about attorney wellness and well-being amidst a continuing pandemic. When approached about editing this issue over a year ago, my thoughts at that time were that we would be discussing the impact of mental health and weathering difficulties while back in the workplace. Here we are, over halfway through 2021, and most of us are still working from home or running a socially distanced practice. The Delta variant has us teetering on the brink of uncertainty as we move into the fall. Is the future glib? It depends on what lessons we have learned during the pandemic.

The ability to work remotely has saved the workplace, but it has come at a cost. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, run more efficiently, and offload labor that humans once handled. We continue to evolve as a society because we are dedicated to making things simpler so we can use our extra time to do things we enjoy (or, at least that is my reason for enjoying technology and the reason I love my dishwasher). Yet, we are producing more work than ever before. We can send 100+ emails and responses a day rather than writing 10 letters and waiting additional days for a response. We are caring for children or the elderly during the day and putting in early and late hours to catch up on work. For many, there is no down time, no promised breaks from technology. In fact, many of us are so addicted to technology that we cannot bring ourselves to set our phones down, to stop checking emails during non-work hours, or simply peel our eyes from any screen. In between caring for others and caring for our work, it appears that many of us are failing to care for ourselves.

"In between caring for others and caring for our work, it appears that many of us are failing to care for ourselves."

We are humans and fight to keep going even though we need to rest. We then need to keep ourselves moving or find ways to calm ourselves down. There are many healthy ways attorneys have embraced to stay moving: exercise (as described in this issue by Joani Moberg), meditation, therapy and support (as described in this issue by Chase Anderson and Joan Bibelhausen from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers), focusing on spiritual health (as described in this issue by Lisa Buck), building relationships (as described in this issue by Joshua Franklin) and dealing with our feelings of being overwhelmed (as described in this issue by Dyan Williams).

There is also a dark side to dimming the constant stimulation we need to keep up with a busy practice. We drink. We smoke. We use other socially acceptable substances—I’m looking at you, coffee. And we often overdo it. A new study published this year titled “Stress, Drink, Leave: Gender-Specific Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems and Attrition Among Practicing Attorneys” describes the alarming mental health issues and substance abuse by our profession during the pandemic. A follow-up article to this study by Patrick Krill is also featured in this issue. It warns us that well-being issues that were brewing prior to the pandemic may be at crisis mode by the time attorneys return to the office, and we must be ready to address them.

There is a positive side to the pandemic. We are now better equipped to reach out to support networks, be it friends, physicians, or psychologists, by simply scheduling an appointment. The flexibility in our schedules means better access to beneficial resources. In addition, employers have learned to be nimble, implement new ideas, and embrace technology.

I will end with a personal anecdote. In January 2021, I was at my wits end. I couldn’t sleep because I was so behind in work. When I sat at my desk (in my bedroom, across from the bed that I couldn’t sleep in mere hours before), I was a zombie, and was making numerous mistakes. My 6-year-old daughter had been at home since February of 2020 due to the pandemic and I was helping her with homework during the day in between meetings. My 3-year-old son’s daycare was closed a total of six times (for a total of 12 weeks) during 2020 due to a staff member or child testing positive for COVID. I wasn’t exercising. We had recently decided to put our beloved 14-year-old dog, Duke, to sleep because of his incurable cancer. I almost quit my job because I felt like a failure. Then I decided to make a call to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, just to see if a professional could possibly help me off the ledge. It was successful. I spoke with a fantastic therapist who helped me formulate a plan to talk to my supervisor about my workload. I implemented that plan and was able to lighten my load and stay gainfully employed. I am so grateful my employer showed flexibility and grace when I needed it most. I hope all of you can experience the same in the upcoming months, whether it be on the giving or receiving end of much needed empathy and understanding.

Azure Schermerhorn-Snyder
September/October Issue Editor

Azure Schermerhorn-Snyder is a program AzureSchermerhornSnyder150attorney at Minnesota Continuing Legal Education. She previously practiced family and juvenile law and continues to provide pro bono support in these areas. When she is not glued to her computer or bringing one of her kids to the pediatrician, she enjoys playing and coaching soccer, walking to local coffee shops with her dog Daisy, trying new restaurants with her spouse, and sending Tik Tok videos to her amazing and placating                                                  friends.

Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter