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Editorial: An important reminder

If you search the Rules of Professional Conduct,  you won’t find any references to the need to take care of yourself and your health.

You won’t find any reference to the fact that law is a stressful profession and that many lawyers medicate the stress away with alcohol or drugs.

You won’t find any word of the fact that depression is constantly at many lawyers’ elbows.

You won’t see any mention of the isolation that working long hours can create.

But you might get a glimmer soon.

The Virginia State Bar has proposed a comment to the RPC’s competence rule that is a simple reminder that lawyers, to be competent, must attend to themselves.

The proposal would add this comment to Rule 1:1:

[7] A lawyer’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being impacts the lawyer’s ability to represent clients and to make responsible choices in the practice of law.  Maintaining the mental, emotional and physical ability necessary for the representation of a client is an important aspect of maintaining competence to practice law. See also Rule 1.16(a)(2).

You still won’t see any of the items in the litany at the start of this piece, and there’s a reason for that – well-being may be in the eye of the beholder. There is no definition and there is no checklist of what to do or not to do.

The comment is simply a reminder for lawyers to be aware of the role well-being plays in law practice, according the VSB Deputy Executive Director Renu Brennan. She appeared on a Jan. 20 panel on the topic of well-being at the Virginia Bar Association meeting last month.

Wellness is not just the absence of illness, she noted. This comment is about maintaining one’s competence to be a lawyer representing clients.

And as a regulator of lawyers, she was quick to note that if the comment is approved, the VSB won’t be bringing anyone up on bar charges for failure to maintain wellness.

The amendment is a comment – and comments in the Code are there to provide guidance, Brennan said.

Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons sees an important stake for the profession, and therefore, for the public in making sure that lawyers appreciate well-being and seek to take care of themselves.

Justice William C. Mims, appointed by Lemons to lead a special committee seeking ways to enhance well-being, is calling for a culture shift in the profession.

He cites a National Institute for Wellness paradigm that states that a person needs all six of six dimensions of wellness in his or her life – social, intellectual, occupational, emotional, physical and spiritual. All dimensions must remain in balance for a person’s benefit.

That’s one good definition of the undefined term “well-being.” There are many others.

The VSB is seeking comments for or against the proposed addition of the comment by Feb. 16. Look at vsb.org for additional info on how to file remarks.

Memo to VSB Executive Director Karen Gould: Please count this editorial as a resounding “FOR.”