Wellness is unquestionably mainstream – it’s everywhere we look: consumer goods, media, the corporate world, and yes, even in law. At many law firms and law schools, wellness is now baked in to the programming.
The stats on lawyer wellness don’t seem to be changing, though. Anecdotal evidence abounds (https://lawandstyle.ca/law/cover-story-the-mental-health-crisis-in-law/), despite years of attempts to catalyze a shift. This stagnation in the legal industry can make efforts to improve on the high rate of maladies amongst lawyers seem futile. After all, the billable hour still reigns, right?
Given the importance to law firms of human capital, and the strikingly high incidence of physical and mental illness in the profession, it would make good sense for law firms to become the gold standard when it comes to cultivating well-being in the workplace. Although those efforts are underway, the reality is that there is only so much an organization can do when it comes to something as personal as wellbeing. So, we want to add to the conversation in a way that doesn’t put all of the ownership for this issue on the professional development folks, who have been doing most of the heavy lifting here to date. We acknowledge that there’s a varied level of commitment across organizations, systemic questions about the law firm business model, and evolving career choices for lawyers.
But, the necessary shift isn’t going to happen even with the best wellness programs - yet. Why? There’s a big fat missing piece. It’s us. It’s you. It’s likely easier to convince most lawyers to buy a $50 water bottle than to take three deep breaths a day.
Why? A few reasons:
- We showed up like this. We’re high achievers who care about success and are accustomed to external validation.
- When we add high pressure, work volume, fierce competition, and financial pressure, it’s recipe for stress - both physical and mental.
- Personal growth, particularly to people whose existing strategies are “working” (e.g. lawyers are high functioning/successful) is difficult. It can seem slow, futile, and self-indulgent.
But individual changes are easier to make than organizational ones, and they are an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to evolving as a professional community. Daily practices that are shockingly small can have an immediate impact on wellbeing, and an even greater cumulative effect.
We offer two simple exercises, the only requirement being to start where you’re at.
First, take stock of your wellness holistically. Health, according to the Gallup-Sharecare wellbeing index (https://wellbeingindex.sharecare.com/about/), includes five common elements people need to thrive: physical, social, community, purpose, and financial. Between you and you, how satisfied are you in the different areas of your life? Using the below circle of life exercise, place a dot close to the middle for low satisfaction and close to the outside of the circle for high satisfaction.
Next. Create your daily practice. We’ll be talking about this in depth in this season of our Lawyer Life Podcast, but you can start by simply deciding what your wellness goals are. What’s one thing you want more of in your life? And one thing you want less of? Create a daily practice of three five-minute rituals that create momentum in the direction you’d like to go, addressing those specific goals at the start, middle and end of your day. For example, desiring less anxiety could mean diffusing an essential oil while you get ready for work, or meditating for five minutes before everyone is awake. Desiring more energy could mean getting on a supplement protocol, or changing your breakfast routine. Desiring more meaningful connection with your loved ones could mean calendering a 5-minute no distraction check in every day at the same time. You can’t get it wrong, unless you don’t start at all.
That’s it. Easy right? The trick is to do it, every day. What would happen if individual lawyers invested in themselves even a small portion of the dedication we invest in our clients and colleagues?
We started working in the realm of well-being out of altruism, personal experience, and for at least one of us, a persistent obsession with all things wellness (you can guess which one of us). We wanted better outcomes for ourselves, our colleagues, and our clients. So the more of you that are on board with what we’re advocating here, the better. We would rather you not experience a crisis to trigger this process. It’s possible.
You have a law practice. You’re going to need a wellness practice too.