The “Problem” presented in this paper is this: How does a profession as vital to all aspects of American life overcome the fact that psychological safety is absent from the workplace? According to the 2016 study leading to the ABA Task Force, and also according to the recent report by Anker and Krill, things are getting worse for the legal profession, which is showing grave psychological harms befalling the legal profession because lawyers do not know how to live their lives in a healthy way while trying to survive in a hostile work environment (that they struggled and paid to find). Every Stakeholder knows that this problem was created unwittingly by the legal system itself – and that people graduating from law school are like sitting ducks to a miserable and unhappy career that awaits them.
With the legal profession, we must not be expected to relinquish our balance and happiness to a law license. Surely imbalance and overwork cannot come with the job; nonetheless, the grim statistics establish that lawyers don’t know how to protect themselves from the pressures within every minute of every day in their employment. This paper is about giving them the tools to find their own, personal answer to that question.
Lawyers know one thing for sure: For the most part, psychological safety is not present inside the legal workplace. . . because the way law is practiced in this country is full of stigma from fear of losing one’s employment due to the perception of non-performance. Lawyers who are dependent on other lawyers for their continued employment do not feel free to share their deepest thoughts and emotional concerns. Moreover, the employer is the last person a lawyer will approach when he has four drinks every night to relax. Some law firms are figuring out how to substantially change that, and good for them; likewise, many lawyers are balanced and satisfied. But, we all know that someone needs to spread word of those examples until becoming balanced is the norm and problems from addictions are the exception. Time is of the essence.
From the minute a lawyer gets a law license and a job, including becoming self-employed, everything about being a lawyer challenges their mental balance. No matter what the job, lawyers are expected to be strong, without any personal problems, ready to respond to the needs of the client or supervising lawyers without objection, mandating they sublimate all other needs and obligations to the ones who employ them. Every state’s rules of professional conduct demand no less. Being able to survive and thrive in a profession that demands we deny our true selves depends upon being able to stay in touch with who we are inside. We wear a mask that often controls our lives.
Professor Thomas Morawetz, of the University of Connecticut Law School, writes in the Journal
of Legal Education that the mask leads to misery and destroys careers precisely because everything about law school and about practicing law is aimed at achieving success in a world that requires us to ignore our inner selves. This need to maintain masks developed over 150 years of a highly regulated profession can lead to enormous emotional imbalance, which leads to addictions and mental illness of all kinds, which cloud our vision, fuel our delusions, and destroy the careers of close to one-in-three lawyers, directly and indirectly. "Self-Knowledge for Lawyers: What It Is and Why It Matters" by Thomas Morawetz (aals.org)
This state of ill-health in the legal profession is the unspoken enemy of law firms, including of in-house firms and government agencies. What lawyers need is a set of strategies to help them navigate an unsafe work environment so they don’t lose their way and hurt themselves and others. The disconnection between who lawyers are and who they must be for the sake of their employment creates a psychological danger-zone that is both invisible and unrelenting. Hence, clients and their law firms suffer, even though the representative nature of a lawyer’s job makes good health a necessary part of the undertaking.
Today, despite the psychological tightrope of our employment, lawyers have no easy access to a choice of resources that can offer insights and strategies on how to manage relentless stress and anxiety. Drug rehab counselors and psychotherapists will confirm that troubled lawyers are unaware of the danger signs and ways to deal with them – leading lawyers to carry on until someone gets hurt. Moreover, lawyers fail to look honestly and truthfully at their situation precisely because stigma is foreclosing the conversation, a conversation that is being directed by the establishment which created (and fuels) the stigma. Thus, the important conversations that raise such awareness become stifled inside organizational boundaries despite best hopes and intentions. We must expand the delivery of existing content and encourage more.
Today, help is mostly disregarded until a lawyer has crashed, which proves the need for greater awareness of the causes of our discomfort and healthy ways to resolve them. Hearing from others (including experts in all relevant fields) is a known way to instil some sense into a wandering soul. The legal profession lacks an easily accessible and comprehensive assortment of wellness strategies lawyers can use to deal with this difficult profession – according to each person’s unique life and personal choices. Someone recently said, “The solution needs to be as big as the problem,” and this problem involves the entire fabric of American society and requires us to bring existing voices from a wide range of speakers to every lawyer in this country aimed at tackling the problem of managing the stress and anxiety.
Legal employers can now (finally!) provide psychological safety to lawyers by using 21 st Century technology to give lawyers a way to take control of their own well-being, to find solutions to their deepest turmoil without having to reveal their most private and personal vulnerabilities to the people who employ them (and who might judge them and fire them). Lawyers need a safe, private way to look at their own personal barriers to success. No person wants to share their darkest thoughts with others, especially not with their employers.
The kindest thing a Stakeholder can do is to give lawyers the latest and best strategies for creating greater balance in one’s life. This Library is something that is good for all clients – who will know and appreciate how their law firm promotes the well-being of every member of their legal teams by privately giving them the tools to find their own best way. Health and wellness is the best friend of every law firm, every E&O carrier, every client, every company with in-house lawyers, every state bar, and the public itself.
By using advanced digital streams of information, every lawyer can make informed decisions related to what is best for their own well-being. After all, lawyers like to make their own important personal decisions, and no one knows a person like that person does. We can hide our true feelings from everyone except ourselves. What is more important to exceptional legal performance than emotional balance and stability? Legal employers should continue to join the ABA Pledge and do what they can, but it isn’t right to task supervising lawyers with telling their own lawyers how to find happiness. Moreover, legal employers aren’t the right ones to decide how their lawyers should seek well-being because employers (albeit unwittingly) are the ones that deliver the stress and anxiety – and hold the pink slips of demise, which is what gives rise to the stigma that makes things worse.
A free digital Wellness Library will allow lawyers to quickly and easily access a broad selection of wellness information coming from a source free of stigma. This Library will be a clearinghouse of wellness information that will be curated by the Wellness Librarian, ensuring it is pertinent and meaningful content from across the country, full of diversity and inclusion, and brought without cost inside a single online location. This is what lawyers need that they don’t have: A collection of materials, full of strategies to manage stress and anxiety, including 12step programs, meditation, cognitive therapy, prescription drugs, mental illness treatments, videos, mentoring, and lifestyle changes, and more.
Plus, the Library will have book reviews, videos of first-person successes, and ways to connect with help of many kinds. The Library will be an entertaining spot for lawyers, a place to visit when the mood strikes them, to explore ways to manage stress and anxiety, a spot outside of work, where many of troubles start and reside. There will be a virtual Coffee House, with a “Mentor Job Board,” a Poet’s Corner, favorite “Lawyer Jokes,” and other light fare.
Importantly, this Lawyer Wellness Library will give each lawyer a Private Library Card, which brings to each lawyer a secure, private, useful dashboard, where they can save content for future review. Every malpractice insurer or legal employer will have its own exclusive subdomain by which to bring the Library to their insureds and/or lawyers, delivering tools to control well-being for the benefit of careers, close relationships and the quality of life. Every subdomain will be a goodwill statement that the well-being of their lawyers is valued and supported – and coming from the heart of the giver.
Every entity that pays for the exclusive use and control of a subdomain (i.e., carriers, in-house departments, law firms endowing law schools) will receive an advertising banner on the pages of their subdomain, to use for monthly announcements and marketing campaigns. The nature of those campaigns is limited only by the creativity of the entity’s marketing department. Whatever a company’s website can say, the company gets to say it again on the main pages of its subdomain, increasing the goodwill from the lawyers who get the Library.
Throughout the Library will be ways to solve the problems facing lawyers in all kinds of career paths, with content from all of the disciplines that study and offer solutions for managing stress and anxiety – like psychology, sociology, Western medicine, alternative medicine, addiction treatment facilities, 12-Step programs, LAPs, State Bars and spiritual organizations – because many people think that human beings are spiritual beings inside a body, which plays a part in understanding the kind of self-discipline required to overcome addictions and mental illness (and thoughts of suicide).
In order to generate revenue for this nonprofit, it will solicit and accept paid advertising for the online Library from vendors who sell to lawyers. This additional income will be used to deliver the Library free-of-charge to lawyers and also to support non-profits that offer services to help lawyers address addictions and mental illness. After all, the idea of the Library is to encourage lawyers to seek help when the time is right, and not to wait until their competency is impaired. Law firms and in-house departments are benefited when one of their own stays balanced and stable, and this Library expects to financially support programs that help faltering lawyers without them having to reveal their vulnerability to their employers.
This Library will serve lawyers in a completely anonymous way. There will be no public actions by the Library Card Holders, and all Library Card holders will be a member (free to all lawyers) of a subdomain. The main domain will be free to the public, but without dashboards, which are a benefit that comes with being a member of a subdomain. For example, all alumni from a law school with a subdomain will be Library Card Holders through their school’s subdomain and get the use of a private dashboard. Another example is a company like Google or Qualcomm, or Jack-in-the-Box, who can give all of its in-house lawyers a Private Library Card to use the tools with which to figure out their own well-being in their own way.
This Library becomes the supplier of psychological safety, which is not otherwise attainable in the context of the American legal system. Additionally, because of the way the site is being designed, there will be a plethora of analytics available to organizations that need them, making it easier for them to study the concerns of lawyers, which is the first step in addressing them. Although identities won’t be known (which is a good thing for the users, of course), we can capture a lot of useful information for others.
Across the board, this website will be a huge benefit to all legal Stakeholders. Every company that controls a subdomain for its lawyers will benefit their own business because the good health of a company’s lawyers is good for the company’s business!
- LAWYERS: For free, lawyers will have available to them, in a single site, a broad range of proven strategies to promote emotional well-being along with a private, locked dashboard on which to store appealing information to save for a rainy day.
- LAW FIRMS and LEGAL EMPLOYERS: This Library will keep legal employers safe from liability based on claims that they failed to make the workplace psychologically safe, which is a concept that is spreading throughout the legal profession. With this Library, each employer gives their lawyers proven tools to protect their own well-being with the information brought to them in the stigma-free zone of this Wellness Library. Nothing more can be expected of a legal employer, given the realities of the profession.
- E&O CARRIERS: For a low-cost investment, E&O carriers will earn goodwill and reduced claims by providing to their insureds a wealth of wellness information, a benefit that can’t be had anywhere else; additionally, the carriers will be able to collect analytics related to their own insureds; additionally, they can have monthly campaigns that reach all of their insureds, in case their insureds didn’t notice other emails.
- CLIENTS: Clients (which includes companies with legal departments) are better served when their lawyers are able to manage the stress and anxiety of this challenging profession; clients have lives and families and problems unrelated to their legal matters and stability in the legal representation is always beneficial to the client’s interests.
- BAR ASSOCIATIONS/LEGAL ORGANIZATIONS: By linking to the sites where the articles reside, this Library will bring users to those sites, increasing awareness of their Mission and offerings; importantly, their site’s content will reach a much broader audience than they can reach alone, which better serves their goals; plus they can glean meaningful data from the Library’s analytics.
- LAW SCHOOLS: Law schools know they cannot help their alumni once they’ve left the nest; the truth is that all alumni are on their own when it comes to protecting and promoting their own mental health once they are licensed and employed – unless they have this digital Library from day one after being licensed somewhere.
- LAWYERS AND JUDGES ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS: LAPs struggle to encourage lawyers to reach out for help before their state bars intervene and law licenses are at risk; this Library seeks to support LAPs by giving lawyers reliable reasons to seek help; we can prevent impairment by educating lawyers to self-correct bad behaviors.
- COURTS: Judges know full well that impaired lawyers slow things down and make the judicial process less efficient; the public pays a higher price for “justice delayed,” not to mention disputed claims of legal malpractice, which add to the calendars of all courts.
- HEALTHY LAWYERS: Healthy lawyers like to know the latest strategies for good health; this digital Library is not only for the most troubled lawyers, but for the healthiest ones that want to stay well or who may need to guide another troubled soul.