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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Lawyer well-being: We need to talk

This year your bar association is implementing a program we call One Profession. The purpose of the program is to bring lawyers from all across the state together to address the challenges facing the legal profession. One important issue we all need to address is lawyer wellness. One of the great things about our profession is that we are constantly provided with legal problems to solve. The demanding aspects of the job are part of the challenge and fun of working as a lawyer. If it was easy, everyone would do it. At the same time we need to make rent, pay salaries, generate business, and turn a profit. That can cause us to burn the candle at both ends. This brings me to a topic we need to discuss. 

Some things are fun to discuss: the Wild, The Vikings, politics, plays at the Guthrie, good books, or the latest movie. Lawyer wellness is not on that list. As lawyers we are good at spotting issues, finding the applicable laws, and solving problems. Lawyer wellness is an issue we all need to spot, research, and solve.

In August 2017, a report on lawyer well-being co-sponsored by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs was published.1 I know that statistics can be deceiving. But if these statistics are even close, it should get your attention. The study reported that as of 2016, between 21 and 36 percent of us qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent of us struggle with depression, 19 percent of us have issues with anxiety, and 23 percent of us struggle with stress.

I am no business analyst, but when lawyers are dealing with these issues, performance is sure to be affected. It is difficult to focus on your client’s problems when you are dealing with your own. At some point the quantity or quality of the work declines and your service to clients suffers.

If the problems are severe enough, a lawyer might be forced to leave practice. This causes problems for the clients left behind. Who will take over the files? This is one of the issues our Rules of Professional Conduct Committee will examine this year. They are looking at making a recommendation to our General Assembly in June 2019. 

We can do better

As a profession that is not what we want. And, keep in mind that practicing lawyers are not the only ones affected by these problems. Law students and judges can be impacted by these same issues. The first thing we need to do is realize the problem exists. Then we need to encourage discussion on the issue. 

It is good to know that our Supreme Court is also addressing these issues. Justice Lillehaug is chairing a committee to plan a lawyer well-being event in February 2019. The committee will include representatives from the judicial branch, court administration, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, the Board of Law Examiners, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, and the MSBA. Keep an eye out for more information on this conference. 

Get involved

If you are interested in this topic, you should consider becoming a member of the MSBA Life and the Law Committee. This committee is dedicated to helping lawyers address work-life balance issues. Its chief goal is to educate lawyers on professional and personal development. 

If these issues are affecting you, please talk to someone. If you don’t know the right person to talk to, start with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. This group has been helping members of our profession since 1976. The people there know what needs to be done. They can help. You can visit LCL online at www.mnlcl.org or phone them at (866) 525-6466 (greater Minnesota) or (651) 646-5590 (metro area).

 

PAUL GODFREY is the Managing Attorney for the Twin Cities Branch Legal Office for Farmers Insurance. He is a trial attorney. He has tried more than 40 cases to jury verdict, with issues ranging from claims for whiplash to claims for wrongful death. 

 

 

1 National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being” (2017). https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/abanews/ThePathToLawyerWellBeingReportRevFINAL.pdf. 

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