He brought the idea back to the commonwealth and tasked a colleague, Justice William C. Mims, with starting a Supreme Court task force to study the problem and make recommendations on how to improve attorney well-being.
The concerns are premised on a number of studies and surveys. Among the findings:
- Law is a high-stress profession with numerous unforgiving deadlines.
- Depression, substance abuse and suicide rates are higher in the legal profession than in other fields.
- Lawyers who struggle with health concerns end up serving their clients badly, and therefore it is issue affecting society at large.
The response, from a number of quarters in the commonwealth, has been encouraging.
Mims has become an ambassador for wellness, speaking to as many lawyer groups as his schedule permits and urging lawyers to pay attention to themselves and their well-being.
He is fond of citing the model developed by the National Wellness Institute that there are six facets of wellness, spanning across one’s occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional lives.
Mims likes to analogize one’s life to a car that is “firing on all six cylinders.” All six need to be tended to, the institute counsels, although they recognize it can be difficult to keep all six dimensions thriving at the same time.
Immediate Virginia State Bar Past President Leonard Heath likewise became to proselytizer for wellness, dedicating much of his year as president to the cause. The VSB, like the Supreme Court, produced a study with recommendations.
Among the biggest changes are the $30 annual wellness assessment lawyers will pay with their bar dues. That money will add more than a half-million dollars to the budget of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (formerly known as Lawyers Helping Lawyers). JLAP can help ever-more people in need and open two more offices.
And the shift to a wellness culture now is found in the Rules of Professional Conduct.
New Comment 7 was added last year to Rule 1:1 of the RPC. It provides that a lawyer’s mental, emotional and physical wellbeing impact his or her ability to represent clients and make responsible choices in law practice.
The Comment states that therefore maintaining the mental, emotional and physical ability necessary for client representation is an important aspect of maintaining one’s competence as a lawyer.
It is merely a Comment, not a rule. But the message is clear. Lawyers need to pay attention to their own well-being.
Enter this newspaper.
We have followed the wellness issues and reported them over the past year or so. We editorialized in favor of the adoption of Comment 7.
We put in our own contributions to the conversation with a revisit of the advice of numerous Leaders in the Law on balancing one’s personal and professional lives.
And this week we are launching a new initiative ourselves designed to keep the emphasis on wellness as part of one’s practice.
The new feature is called the “Virginia Lawyers Wellness” blog (VLW acronym entirely intentional).
Reporter Maura Mazurowski has been covering wellness and analyzing different areas for advice and tips on how to get and keep those six cylinders firing properly.
The feature will appear in the pages of the paper and as a blog on our website HERE. The first installment of this bi-monthly feature, entitled, “Self-care for busy people (like you),” is up for your reading pleasure.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts and if you have suggestions for topics to cover, please contact Maura at email@example.com.
— Paul Fletcher