With the previous year coming to a close, leaders of law firms across the country are met with an opportunity to focus on mental health and overall well-being in their profession.
A task force for the American Bar Association has made the claim that one must be healthy in order to fulfill the role of a good lawyer. Those in leadership need to make the well-being of their lawyers a top priority, especially with all of the mental health concerns being raised in society. Firm leaders are in a unique position to make waves of positive impact throughout their firms to make lawyers dealing with mental health issues feel safer, less-stigmatized, and more self-confident.
Let’s take a look at a few specific things firm leaders can do in 2020 to help this growing problem:
Top-down commitment – The title ‘firm leader’ clearly designates these professionals as leaders within their firm. While voicing support for those suffering from mental health issues is a good start, it doesn’t do much in the way of fixing actual problems. Some firms have hired wellness officers which is a good step, but it still might not be enough. Employees need to see that leadership is supporting these ideas in action as well as speech. Leading by example may sound cheesy, but it has some tangible impact.
Respect free-time – It’s no secret that the law sector struggles with a 24/7/365 work mentality. There’s always something to be done, and that makes it difficult to find a manageable and healthy work-life balance. A failure to find this sweet spot can be detrimental, especially when it comes to mental health. It’s time to stop wearing missed vacations like a badge of achievement. Let’s start honoring time off and recognizing it’s cognitive benefits. Firm leaders are in a great position to start this trend as younger attorneys could be modeling their work ethic after the higher-ups.
Limit screen time – Technology is a double-edged sword. It makes work easier, more efficient, and more productive. However, this simplicity is also conducive to over-working. It’s not surprising that many lawyers sleep with their phones within arm’s reach. This constant connection makes people forget that their’s a life outside of the law. The holiday season is an excellent time to stress the importance of engaging with friends and family outside of work. Several firms have taken pledges to disconnect when outside of work.
Think twice about drinking – Alcohol is the elephant in the room of the legal industry. It’s something that everyone knows is present, but no one is willing to talk about candidly. It’s commonplace to head to a drink after a grueling day at work. Such a stressful job naturally leads people to want to find a way to wind-down, relax, and forget about the stress. Limiting your drinking as a firm leader is a great way to send a message to the younger recruits that this isn’t the only way to deal with work-related stress. Instead of inviting employees to a drink, maybe grab dinner or do a light activity instead.
Changing the lawyer culture isn’t going to be easy, and it certainly won’t change quickly. However, it’s an honorable goal and firm leaders, especially Lawyers of Distinction, are in a great position to spearhead the movement towards a healthier and more aware culture.