Attorneys, paralegals, assistants, and other legal professionals take on an immense amount of pressure from our clients, our colleagues and ourselves. Maintaining well-being, through all aspects, is essential to being the best lawyer and person you can be.
What Is Well-Being? Well-being is a continuous process where lawyers, judges, law students and legal professionals seek to thrive in each of the following areas—emotional and mental health, physical health, social connections, occupational satisfaction, intellectual pursuits, aligning with a sense of purpose in life, environmental health and personal and professional financial health. Well-being is not the same as wellness. “Wellness” is often affiliated with physical well-being like exercise and nutrition. By contrast, “well-being” is broader in scope and looks at the entire umbrella of areas that make a person whole.
In 2017, the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Attorney Well-Being in its 2017 Task Force Report, illustrated attorney well-being with this:
- Nationwide, the well-being in law movement began with some vigor when the American Bar Association (ABA) released its Task Force Report on Attorney Well-Being in 2017. The Task Force Report was a call to action across the profession, with recommendations for all sectors: lawyers, firms, bar associations, the judiciary, law schools, regulators and insurers. ABA Task Force Report
- Attorney Well-Being is a nationwide effort. The Institute for Well-Being in Law offers resources for legal professionals around the country. Institute for Well-Being in law
- You don’t have to manage alone. The Wyoming Lawyer’s Assistance Program is a free and confidential resource for Wyoming’s lawyers, judges, and law students for support in unmanaged stress, depression, impairment, substance abuse, and more. WyLAP
- Attorneys employed by the State of Wyoming have access to the broad suite of resources offered by the State of Wyoming’s Employee Assistance Program. Wyoming EAP
Emotional & Mental Health
The emotional and mental dimension of well-being is a large category and is particularly important for attorneys who, as a profession, face higher than average rates of depression, suicide, and substance abuse. This category involves recognizing our responses to stress or the vicarious trauma we are exposed to through our clients, trying to understand those feelings, responding in a healthy way, and seeking help when needed.
- E-Home Counseling is a Wyoming State Bar member benefit linking members with online, face-to-face counseling in your home or office. e-Home Counseling
- Sometimes you want a peer-to-peer connection, which can be challenging in a small and rural state. The Lawyers Depression Project is a nationwide, grassroots initiative to provide a peer-to-peer network. Lawyers Depression Project
- The Wyoming Professional Assistance Program (WPAP) offers Wyoming State Bar members an anonymous and confidential self-assessment service. The purpose of this service is to provide attorneys experiencing burnout, stress, depression, substance use issues or other mental health concerns a way to connect anonymously to support and services. To get confidential feedback and support from a licensed WPAP clinician, complete the brief online Self-Check Questionnaire. Once completed, a WPAP Clinician will review your Questionnaire and provide you with a personalized response. The response will include information, recommendations and options for next steps for connecting to support and resources, including options for mental health counseling. WPAP Self-Assessment Tool
- In 2022, Governor Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health launched their first mental health summit, raising awareness about mental health in Wyoming, including the high rates of suicide in Wyoming. Wyoming is now connected to 988, expanding suicide prevention resources in the state. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 988, or text “WYO” to 741-741 for the Crisis text line. People can talk or text about anything: financial troubles, relationships, their sources of stress, relationships, depression, illness, and loneliness, to name a few.
Social well-being is about connection and support systems outside of the work place. Social well-being helps to support emotional resilience in times of stress, and the practice of law is a high-stress profession. While social well-being efforts can include interactions and social events with colleagues in the legal communities, like bar associations, conferences and Inns of Court events, it also encompasses family connections and all types of friendships.
- Practicing law can be a lonely expedition. Creating and maintaining connections, utilizing those connections to combat the pernicious effects of loneliness, and getting the help we need to pursue well-being despite the isolating impact of loneliness are important to many in our profession. If you or someone you care about is suffering from loneliness, this article is worth a read, and provides some links of interest. Professional Cost of Loneliness, Nov. 2022
Occupational, or vocational, well-being is about personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work. In some contexts, this is about liking the type of work you are doing, finding ways to pursue the work you really like, whether you feel like your work is making a difference, and whether you have room for advancement and professional growth. Shifts in the occupational dimension might begin with working towards expanding a practice area, changing extracurricular professional activities, and working on skills for dealing with difficult colleagues.
- Mentors can be key components to success as a legal professional. To whom can you ask the small and big questions? Mentoring doesn’t need to be formal. It’s often informal. Watch this TedTalk: How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work
Physical well-being has several facets. It includes recognizing the need for exercise, as well as nutrition, sleep, and hydration. Physical well-being is necessary to support all of the other categories of well-being. After all, without a healthy body and a healthy mind to go with that body, all other activities may be impaired or at least less than optimal. This category of well-being also includes getting regular medical and dental check-ups, keeping up with screenings and seeking help when needed.
- Physical well-being is not one-size-fits-all. Check out the Physical Activity guide accompanying Well-Being Week in Law in May 2023 for a list of tools and options to pick from. Physical Activity Tips and Tools
The intellectual category of well-being is different than the occupational category. This is important for lawyers since lawyering is an intellectual occupation. The intellectual category is about outside interests, such as being part of a book club, studying new languages, being a news hound, watching TED talks, loving certain movies or being a history buff.
- Feeding and exercising our minds can have positive impacts on brain function, improve neuroplasticity, improve clarity and memory functions, and more. Check out this article: What Is Intellectual Wellness? How to Expand Your Skills for a Happier Life
One dimension of well-being is about our sense of purpose in life. The ABA Task Force referred to this as spirituality. Others refer to this as staying true to your purpose or aligning your life with your personal values. For some, this involves religion. For others, this may involve personal ethics and morals and how you see yourself fitting within the larger world. Activities in this category may include church activities for some, meditation and mindfulness exercises for some, or reading, journaling, and personal reflection for others.
- Mindfulness gets quite a bit of coverage in attorney and judicial well-being circles. Check out the Wyoming Lawyer’s review of The Anxious Lawyer, by Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford. Read Article
- Purpose is not just in the nature of our work but also in the networks around the work. People in organizations doing noble work—curing disease, saving children’s lives, educating—can be among the unhappiest while those doing seemingly mundane things feel a stronger sense of purpose. Both work and life connections create a sense of purpose. Check out this article: Do You Have a Life Outside of Work?
Environmental well-being has several parts, from small to big, such as (1) Your office environment. Do you like it tidy and sparse or organized chaos? Do you need any changes in plants, décor, lighting or window views? (2) The community you live in. Are you close or far from family, friends, amenities you like and things you like to do? And (3) Your larger environment, like clean air and clean water. If you work in Beijing or Delhi, you may have a different view of those environmental qualities than living in rural Wyoming and its wide open spaces.
- Office environments impact well-being and productivity. Read Article
Financial well-being is about financial literacy and developing the tools to help you be comfortable where you are and where you want to be. It might not be about how much you earn. Many lawyers earn less than they are worth but have highly satisfying lower-paying work in the public sector. Financial well-being has two aspects: personal and professional. Personal finances may be things like paying for rent and daycare and saving for retirement. Professional finances may be things like managing office payroll and expenses and managing client funds to avoid IOLTA violations.
- Financial well-being can mean different things for young lawyers, mid-career lawyers and retirement lawyers. Read more at the Wyoming Lawyer’s August 2021 Be Well Column, Financial Well-Being: Literacy from Graduation to Retirement and In-Between. Read Article
- Financial well-being is not a taboo topic in the profession. It has growing traction, particularly for young lawyers after a 2020 survey by the ABA about student loan debt. Legal employers are taking notice of financial well-being and some common themes have emerged. Legal employers & financial well-being
- The Wyoming State Bar offers members a scope of resources related to personal and professional finances. Check out the Member Resources page for links to resources ranging from access to ABA retirement plans, discounts, student loan refinancing, and Red Cave Consulting. Member Resources