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Virginia group gears up for wellness in law week

A pair of national studies in 2016 put a light on an unsettling trend: Attorneys and law students faced higher-than-average rates of problem drinking, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Born out of that finding was a 17-member task force that became the Institute for Well-Being in Law, a non-profit organization focused on creating a “culture shift” in the legal profession that allows for health and well-being to be “core centerpieces of professional success.”

To raise awareness, the institute is organizing the annual “Well-Being Week in Law” event to educate those in the legal field on mental health. Formerly known as “Lawyer Well-Being Week,” the event is held on the first week of May in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month. Each day of the event is focused on a specific area of health, with literature and other resources available on the institute’s website to encourage participation from legal professionals.

While the event is national in scale and focus, organizers across states have taken efforts to create a local perspective on the issues. The Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program has helped lead efforts in Virginia in organizing programs for the week.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to help to, one, get the word out on the resources that are available, but also to help raise awareness to our program and what we have to offer and how we can help anyone in the legal profession,” VJLAP executive director Tim Carroll said.

VJLAP’s main initiative for the week is a trio of one-hour CLEs on wellness topics, in conjunction with the Well-Being Week in Law schedule. The CLEs cover managing attorney stress, identifying and managing the risks of practicing law and addiction as a disease. The CLEs are approved for credit and are available for preregistration on the VJLAP website, vjlap.org, at no cost.

“We think that we’ve put together a fairly good topic of CLEs,” Carroll said. Carroll mentioned that the programs, which will be held the week of May on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, are both aligned with the overall themes of the week and spaced out along the entire event.

Carroll said that VJLAP’s involvement in the week will be greater than last year, thanks both to the program’s “incredible staff” as well as a shift to broaden the focus of the event by the Institute for Well-Being in Law.

“Anytime we have offered CLE, and particularly during this week, we have always received an incredibly positive reaction from those who participate,” Carroll said. “It’s really an opportunity that folks have taken advantage of in a positive way to help their own wellbeing and to help address some of the issues that they may be dealing with.” The popularity of the week has already paid dividends in 2021, with Carroll stating that “a fairly healthy number of people” registered for the CLEs when the VJLAP sent out a bulletin on the event on April 19.

In addition to the CLEs targeting Virginia’s legal professionals, Carroll said those who are looking for other ways to get involved with the week can do so by going to the Institute for Well-Being in Law’s website and engaging with the resources they have for individuals and organizations that go along with each day’s theme.

“Getting involved can be as simple as an individual or a small firm or a large firm simply addressing these issues and addressing how to be more productive,” Carroll said.

Oftentimes with wellness initiatives, people may not engage with programming due to stigma surrounding issues like addiction or a belief that none of the addressed topics apply to a specific person. Carroll encourages legal professionals to engage with the week’s programming, citing that education on these issues is crucial regardless of personal connection.

“You never know where that one thing that’s going to be said that’s going to be a trigger, that one thing that’s said where somebody is going to have that aha moment,” Carroll said. Carroll added that often people will join the CLEs out of curiosity and come away with tools to better themselves both personally and professionally.  Through programming like the CLEs, organizations aim to meet the stated purpose of Well-Being Week in Law by raising awareness and encouraging action on the often under-discussed issues around mental health.

For programs like the VJLAP, Carroll said that the week is valuable to help better the overall wellness of the legal community in Virginia.

“It’s just a great opportunity for all of us to focus on our own wellbeing and our own mental health,” Carroll said. “We are honored to be able to participate in this and we look forward to helping anybody who feels that we can provide assistance to them or their colleagues.”

The 2021 Well-Being Week in Law event runs from May 3-7, with more information on resources and events on the Institute for Well-Being in Law’s website.

VJLAP’s CLEs are open for registration now. Registration is required for each CLE, which will be conducted virtually. The CLEs are scheduled for May 3 at noon, May 5 at 4 p.m. and May 7 at noon. Registration and more information on Well-Being Week in Law is available on VJLAP’s website.