Book View: The Best Lawyer You Can Be – Curated and Edited by Stewart Levine, J.D.
Health, wellness, and self-improvement have become a critical part of the culture we live in. Serving others is a lawyer’s job. Being fit yourself is a necessary foundation for taking care of others. In the highly competitive practice of law, it’s no longer possible to compete on substantive knowledge. Where you can excel is as a service provider.
If you want to be a great service provider, given that is more important than substantive knowledge of law, you best understand what optimum fitness is and that it includes: physical fitness, mental clarity, emotional stability, and a spiritual foundation that will enable you to take care of clients, colleagues and the communities you serve.
As competition and technology increases in the legal marketplace, differentiation will become increasingly important. Lawyer fitness will be an element of that differentiation. Clients, judges, juries, and other lawyers respond differently to someone who is fit and healthy. A fit person is a confident person.
The late Steve Keeva’s Transforming Practices (ABA Journal Book, Chicago, 1999), reflected his personal mission of sharing inspiring stories of how passionate individuals had innovated and changed the way they thought about their role in society and how they practiced law. In a similar way the ABA book I recently curated and edited, The Best Lawyer You Can Be, reflects my desire to leave a legacy for a legal profession that has served me well and as a capstone to my legal career. Authors in the collection write from a place of personal passion and commitment to making a difference.
Given the findings of the study conducted by the ABA and the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation, it is a critical time to be talking about Lawyer Well-being.
Between 21 and 36 percent of practicing lawyers are problem drinkers. Twenty-eight percent suffer from depression; 19 percent struggle with anxiety; and 23 percent are impaired by stress.
Law students fare little better—17 percent are depressed; 14 percent suffer severe anxiety; 6 percent reported suicidal thoughts in the past year; and 22 percent engaged in binge drinking during the year.
Those are the dismal results of the 2016 study of 13,000 lawyers by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and a separate Survey of Law Student Well-Being conducted that same year, which included 3,300 law students from 15 different law schools.
The adverse effect such statistics have on the legal profession—including the inability of its members to do their best work, or fully comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, or even enjoy some semblance of job satisfaction and happiness—is obvious.
So with the objective of doing something about that unwanted state of affairs, the ABA, the National Organization of Bar Counsel and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers created the National Task Force on Lawyer WellBeing.
Connecticut Law Tribune, Editorial Board, Dec 18, 2017, Confronting a Legal Profession in Distress,
I believe like many people that the three categories of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, and effective engagement are cornerstones of well-being for lawyers. Awareness of the many things that contribute to well-being can have a significant impact on individual lawyer’s lives. Once you are aware you can make conscious choices around these cornerstones including the following.
This includes empirical research on what makes lawyers happy. It reveals that a relational focus changes everything in the sense that focusing on sustaining relationships over time provides real human connection, not just a transaction. The essential contribution of reflective or spiritual practice might result in more lawyers engaging and telling others about it which raises the importance of it. Yoga and mindfulness create awareness of the body and some control over our chattering minds or at least awareness there are multiple levels. Emotional renewal and resilience practices provides practices we can engage in when we’re feeling depleted.
Self-management involves attention to your career path; healthy family relationships; pitfalls of the billable hour; financial success; physical health and proper nutrition; the value of exercise and fitness; and having a coach, are all parts.
Specifically how we engage with others is the manifestation of the importance of relationship. It includes providing excellent client service; collaboration in all areas of practice; the value of diversity and inclusion; capacity to operate in a multi-generational workforce; valuing pro-bono service and giving to the profession; developing creative and innovative solutions; practicing in alignment with personal values using a multidisciplinary approach; remembering the lawyer’s oath and being relational, not transactional, in our actions.
Here are some questions I would like to leave you with:
- Where are you in terms of self care?
- Of the topics mentioned above, how many do you engage in?
- What’s the state of your own well-being regarding the practices listed above?
- How much stress do you have in your life and how do you manage it?
- How would you rate your dependence on substances of any kind?
This extensive list may not include everything for you as an individual and it may seem exhausting! That said, I hope you can focus on a few key components you’re not paying attention to and in the process become a more powerful service provider and trusted advisor…The Best Lawyer You Can Be!
Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks, a mediation, consulting, training and coaching organization. He is the curator of Be the Best Lawyer You Can Be, and the author of the best seller Getting to Resolution, The Book of Agreement and Collaboration 2.0.