Building a Culture of Wellness

I am always somewhat pessimistic about the response of any group of lawyers to a presentation on the subject of wellness. Though I’ve spoken more than a few times on what lawyers can do to increase their sense of personal wellbeing and maintain a greater sense of balance while doing the work they do, my expectation remains that there will be at least a little eye rolling and more likely, significant disengagement with a topic that both touches on the personal and sometimes tends towards good parental advice.

Last week I joined fellow Slaw-yer Dan Pinnington and lawyer therapist Doron Gold on a panel at the CBA’s annual legal conference titled Tips & Tricks for Happier, Healthier Lawyers. I was there because of the work I do in malpractice prevention for Canadian Lawyers Insurance Association and because the wellness of lawyers is something I’m concerned about, both personally and professionally.

Once again, I was not optimistic: the session was scheduled at the end of a long day of conference programming, was one of three offerings in that time slot and stood in the path of the end of day reception.

Yet, approximately 80 lawyers not only showed up, but also listened attentively and engaged with the topic through questions, comments and discussion that continued into the reception that followed. It was clear that our often common-sense tips and tricks resonated with this audience and that there was value in reminding lawyers of the simple ways they can incorporate an orientation toward wellness into the everyday activities of their lives.

Maybe lawyers, or at least some, are coming around to the realization that “all work and no play” makes them vulnerable not only to career dissatisfaction, but also to experiences with poor mental health and addictions.

At the Council meeting the previous day, the CBA rolled out an announcement of the transformation of Lawyers Professional Assistance Conference into CBA Wellness and launched a new and free online course for lawyers, Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession. Co-sponsored by the CBA, Mood Disorders Society of Canada and Bell Let’s Talk, the course is available to lawyers regardless of whether they are CBA members and is described as:

…a national self-learning program designed to provide Canadian lawyers, judges and law students education, supports and resources to assist them in understanding mental health and addiction issues. In this program, you will acquire knowledge about mood disorders, causes, symptoms and treatment options, fostering positive prevention strategies, treatment and recovery strategies for depression, anxiety, addiction and stress, reducing stigmatizing behaviours, attitudes and effects, and offering support and resources for recovery and the maintenance of wellness.

The goal of the program is laudable: “…participants will not only expand their own knowledge of these issues, but will then contribute to the building of a culture of wellness and self-care throughout the legal profession in Canada.”

Building a culture of wellness and self-care throughout the legal profession is key to enhancing the public profile of the profession, to drawing and retaining new talent into the profession, thereby supporting access to justice efforts and to reducing risk of malpractice, competence and quality of service claims against lawyers.

Healthy lawyers do better work. That’s not only in the public interest, but also in our own. I hope to someday see this kind of culture become pervasive among lawyers across Canada.

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