Here’s how we can change that statistic.
by Michael Fox Orr
The Florida Bar recently reported on health and wellness of lawyers and the message was grim. Seven out of 10 lawyers want to change their career.
These statistics tell the story:
• The lawyer suicide rate is double that of the general populatioan.
• 18 percent of lawyers are alcoholics, double the national average.
• Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer severe depression.
• One-third of lawyers are diagnosed with mental disorders.
Unfortunately, these statistics have become all too familiar. It must change.
A national task force on lawyer well-being set forth to tackle these concerns before issuing its report: “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”
The report is a must-read for lawyers. Upon reading it, I make the following suggestions for lawyers and for our profession:
Take vacations each year
The report found that those who feel recovered have greater work engagement and job performance.
For some, taking time away is easier said than done. Many lawyers start answering emails and texts when they wake up and continue until they go to bed.
If a lawyer takes time off for vacation or even a personal day, they feel others may question their dedication. That perception is not reality. Taking the time away and detaching from the office is essential to a healthy lawyer. Set your vacation days in stone at the beginning of each year.
Change the rules we follow
The report suggests the highest court in each state send a clear message that lawyer well-being is a high priority.
We take an Oath of Admission, but nowhere in the oath do we swear to pursue personal health and be of sound mind. Changing the rules that govern our profession to address this key issue is a step in the right direction.
Get up and move
Many lawyers sit at a desk all day except for going to the restroom or grabbing a cup of coffee. Some lawyers have stand-up desks (everyone should consider one), but for those who find themselves sitting, try one thing: Stand up at least once every hour even if for only one minute.
Moving has been shown to improve physical and mental well-being. When you stand, walk around your office, attempt to touch your toes, do some lunges, sit and stand 20 times in your chair to simulate squats. Use a timer to remind yourself. Do it on the hour.
If you like smart phone apps, try Backache or StandApp.
Participate in Health & Wellness Month
Four years ago, The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division declared May “Health & Wellness Month.” The Bar issues daily challenges that spread information and ideas via social media platforms. Law firms and local Bar associations establish programs for lawyer participation.
If you own a firm, give everyone a half day off and detach. Go to the spa. Take a group walk in the morning or at lunch. Bring in a healthy meal and encourage everyone to partake. Go fishing. Bring in a chair masseuse. Do something to get involved and promote well-being and schedule something every week.
Of course, when you realize the benefits of these efforts, the hope is that the movement extends beyond May. Personally, my firm is heavily engaged each year and plans something for the firm almost daily.
Change underwriting and programming from LPL insurers
The report suggests that malpractice insurers develop risk management programs via CLE, law practice resources and other mechanisms to reduce the susceptibility of an attorney to a claim. LPL carriers need to implement and financially support these programs.
More importantly, LPL carriers should explore the application of lawyer well-being premium credits, much like they do for internal risk management systems or documented attorney backup systems. If premiums are more favorable when a lawyer or firm promotes health and wellness, then lawyers will be more likely to do so.
These are just a few suggestions. The Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness has been holding town hall meetings around the state to open a dialogue and obtain feedback. If you cannot attend a town hall meeting, send me an email and suggest a resolution at [email protected].
We can address the issues covered in the report and pivot toward satisfaction in our profession. The standards to which we hold ourselves to are extraordinary and have consequences.
As I wrote this article, I just stood up for a minute and scheduled a family vacation in June. Do not forget the importance of taking a day for yourself or simply taking notice that nothing is more important than your own health.
At that point, maybe seven out of 10 could become one out of a million. That is what the numbers should be, considering the great vocation we chose.
Michael Fox Orr is the managing shareholder at Dawson∣Orr.