Peter Vieth//August 1, 2018
Peter Vieth//August 1, 2018//
ROANOKE – Justice William C. Mims of the Virginia Supreme Court compares his formula for well-being with the cylinders of his car.
The car may have six cylinders, but if the spark is lacking for any one of them, the car just won’t run right. If the ignition coils fail for two cylinders, Mims’ Saab just doesn’t run at all.
Addressing the volunteer lawyers and citizens who regulate the legal profession in Virginia, Mims described six dimensions of “wellness.”
“Think of them as spark plugs,” he said. “Without all of them, you will not be able to live life the way you should.”
Mims’ observations again focused the spotlight on lawyer wellness, a theme of sorts for the 2018-19 bar year, with Newport News attorney Leonard C. Heath Jr. serving as VSB president.
“When it comes to wellness, this is our moment,” Mims said, referring to a recent national report on the sometimes shaky mental status of the legal profession.
Heath opened a session at the bar’s annual Disciplinary Conference at the Hotel Roanoke, evoking unpleasant memories of scorching media criticism that followed disclosure of an attorney’s $42 million Ponzi scheme in 1992, combined with a $3 million swindle by another lawyer the same year. At the time, newspaper writers depicted the bar’s system of self-regulation as asleep at the switch.
Heath exhorted bar regulators to be sensitive to signs that lawyers may be losing sight of what’s important in their practice and their lives.
“We have an obligation to not only self-regulate, but to self-discipline,” Heath said.
Treating the whole person
Mims said the state of lawyers’ mental health should be a call to action.
“Crisis is often necessary to move forward with positive public policy. That’s what we are facing right now as a profession. We need to seize it and do everything we possibly can,” the justice continued.
Mims’ six dimensions of wellness included social, physical, emotional, occupational, intellectual and spiritual factors.
Addressing social gaps, Mims spoke of middle–aged men who lack close friendships.
“In my occupation, it’s very easy for me to get into a shell. For me, personally, that’s something I need to work on,” Mims said.
He also experienced “pretty significant depression,” Mims acknowledged. He said he once wrote out the names of people he could reach out to if he were in crisis, and then made a commitment to talk to those people about his concerns.
“It was enormously important from the perspective of my emotional health,” Mims said.
LHL funding sought
Mims chairs a Supreme Court-appointed panel charged with reporting on ways to address lawyer well-being. More money for Lawyers Helping Lawyers is likely to be part of the group’s recommendations.
LHL Executive Director Tim Carroll said the program could do much more if it had more than just one and one-half staffers.
“There are a large number of people out there who are dodging the bullet every day,” Carroll told the conferees. “We want to intercept someone before discipline gets there.”
The Roanoke disciplinary conference brought together more than 150 lawyers and lay members of boards and committees for training, education, and professional fellowship, according to the VSB.
Speakers stressed the need for pro-active self-care by lawyers and intervention by firms, with the goal of preventing lawyers from ever harming a client in the first place, the bar said.