Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Every Week is Lawyer Well-Being Week

Lawyer Well-Being Week is May 2nd to 6th this year. For one week, we highlight issues impacting well-being in our profession, and we offer activities and events which support healthy living in law.

It’s great to have a special week where we recognize that law is a challenging profession. Most studies of lawyers indicate that we experience mental health challenges and substance issues at much higher rates than others in our society. But there are 52 weeks in a year and devoting just one week to lawyer well-being is not enough.

Over the month of May, our social media will be suggesting a simple activity you can do each day. We would love to create a monthly calendar going forward—but there will be some repeats because some activities are too good to do only once a year!

Before I take you through what we are offering for Lawyer Well-Being Week (the official one, and not the one we will be proposing each week), I wanted to tell you about the biggest well-being event Assist has done over the last couple of years, which wasn’t even conceived as a well-being celebration.

As a society, Assist is required to conduct certain annual business in the forum of an annual general meeting. Assist started holding a hybrid AGM several years ago—visionaries before the pandemic and before I joined the organization. We would have a group in Edmonton in a board room connected to a group in a board room in Calgary, with lawyers in other parts of the province conferencing in. 

Our first pandemic AGM was pushed until September. It was the first Assist AGM that I am aware of where children and pets popped in. We got to see two new babies who had arrived since the lockdowns started. We had our second pandemic AGM last April, and it was fine.

But this year, we wanted to have an in-person meeting, if we could safely do so. We imagined lawyers and articling students and law students of all sorts and stripes gathering in a central location and interacting just like it was 2019. With a high degree of optimism, we booked a meeting room at a Red Deer hotel (The Cambridge, which used to be the Sheraton and before that the Capri.)

We wanted people to learn about what Assist is doing in our community, and to participate in a discussion about how we will emerge from our pandemic cocoon (God willing and the creek don’t rise, so to speak!). Kind of the like the character in WP Kinsella’s novella Shoeless Joe (or the movie based on it,  Field of Dreams), we built an event in the belief that if we built it, they would come.

In all, nineteen of us gathered in Red Deer. Due to a variety of circumstances relating to family matters, pre-scheduled travel, and illness, we were a bit light on board members in Red Deer many of whom participated using Zoom. Our guests—volunteers and members of our community—outnumbered board members by more than three to one, which I consider a sign of a healthy AGM!

We had lunch together, with four or five people sitting at a table, and we talked. And then Assist Director and lawyer coach Karmen Masson led us in a workshop designed to help us reconnect with ourselves, each other, and Assist’s purpose.

Coach Karmen divided us into groups of three or four and asked us to consider a situation where we needed help. My group, two lawyers I knew a bit and one who was new to me, arrived at our designated table, and one participant said while sitting down “Here’s a situation I am struggling with.” It turned out three of the four of us at our table were all dealing with elderly parent health issues—probably a statistical anomaly, but we all felt comfortable sharing our concerns with the folks at our table. This was the first time in two years that I have sat down with a group of people in person to talk about challenges we were facing, and the sense of connection we felt was richer and deeper than what I have experienced in the Zoom era.

Lesson Number One: meeting electronically is fine — it gets the job done. But meeting in person where people can share their feelings and perhaps kid around a bit—it is priceless.

If you have been missing that sense of connection that comes from being with other people in as safe a setting as possible, let us know. We will be looking for ways we can gather in small groups—perhaps for small coffee times at downtime locations or walks in the downtown core. We can make that one of our Every Week is Lawyer Well-Being Week activities.

The culmination of our workshop with Karmen was that we all identified how we wanted to show up and serve Assist. Here are some of the words our volunteers chose for how they want to serve and be seen:

As we enter Official Lawyer Well-Being Week, please consider participating in our events, outlined at the top of this newsletter. We are celebrating Diversity and Inclusion with the CBA, discussing returning to work challenges with AWL members and friends, and learning principles of Psychological First Aid, as well as regular coffee circles, yoga, and mindfulness.

And, since May 4th tends to fall during Lawyer Well-Being Week, we will be holding a special coffee circle at noon on May 4th to celebrate all things Star Wars since stories about good triumphing over evil inspire many of us. If you are more of a Yoda fan than a Yoga fan, join us as the others get their yoga mats and we get our nerd on! I will be dressed as Princess Leia—come in costume or come as you are!

Please watch our social media through the month of May to find simple—short snapper—well-being activities. I am grateful to Joan Bibelhausen and her team at the Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers who shared their Well-Being activity calendar for the month of May. We have modified the activities to fit with what we do and what we think will work best for Alberta lawyers. I love being part of the community of lawyer assistance program executive directors where we share ideas about how we serve in our respective jurisdictions.

Lesson Number Two: We can be fine by ourselves, but we are better when we are part of a community.

You may have noticed that there was a hand-drawn tree in our Masterpiece and many coloured shapes—hands, leaves and hearts. Perhaps you can order kits online that contain pre-cut shapes and perhaps a tree diagram. But that’s not the Assist way.

Last Thursday afternoon, I had a difficult conversation with a social worker in the context of my elderly father’s current medical condition and prognosis. When I got home, all I felt like doing was curling up in a ball on my sofa with my companion dog and perhaps binge something on Netflix. But I had four large Post It note pages and a bag of art supplies from Michael’s  plus the contents of my craft room at my disposal.

I had laid out the large Post It sheets on my kitchen island and idly started sketching the outline of a tree. To be honest, I had searched online for templates of how to draw trees without leaves and I had a few printouts at hand. I am not an artist but working a pencil to outline the tree and then colouring it in with a brown felt pen energized me. I had thought that I would just play with the design for a few minutes while waiting for the kettle to boil, but the time passed quickly, and soon the trunk and branches had been fleshed out with bark.

Then there were the shapes. I had coloured paper and a pair of scissors, and I found templates of hands, leaves and hearts online. I was able to do this while cuddling on the sofa with my dog and I cut out shapes while watching Law and Order. By the time the show ended, I had about a hundred shapes cut out in six different colours. And I felt good.

Lesson Three: doing something creative—even if it is at an elementary school level—is rewarding.

My amateur art project helped me burn off some of my stress and I was proud to have completed my little project. I still had a difficult situation to deal with on Friday, but I realized as I was busy with my scissors and felt pens that part of my reaction was to the social worker’s brash manner. I began to see that she had a job to do—assess whether my father could return to his condo with 24-hour personal care—and that since she believed this would not work, she was making very strong statements not to offend us but to make the case that he needed direct admission to long-term care, which is not the norm. She wasn’t obnoxious or even poor at her job—she was making a case that would get my dad what he needed, even if it meant being critical of decisions we had made.

Did my little burst of creativity with my hands cause me to think more creatively about a problem I was facing? I will never know for sure, but the relationship between creative activities and creative thinking is well-established. Here is a link to some creative activities your team or family can try.

Perhaps there will be some creative moments in our Every Week is Lawyer Well-Being Week calendar!

Please join us as we find ways to promote well-being. And if this conversation about adding in community and creativity is leaving you feeling blue, consider calling us. Well-being activities are not going to solve serious mental health and substance use issues. These activities are designed to be pick-me-ups to help people who are in relatively good mental health stay there. We have support for you through both professional counselling and peer support if you want something more intensive. Tell us what you need, and we will see how we can help or do our best to connect you with someone who can.

Be well,