Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Guest Post by Glen Hickerson - "Change Has to Start at the Top"

In last week’s blog, I shared my takeaways from the CBA Well-Being Conference. And then I read Glen Hickerson’s LinkedIn post on his takeaways and thought we should share them as well. Glen is the Chair of the CBA Well-Being Sub-Committee and also serves on Assist’s Board of Directors. He cautions that this was written as a LinkedIn post and not as a formal article—but it more than meets our standards! Take it away, Glen.

“Change has to start at the top.”

You’ll hear a lot of well-meaning people say this when the topic of lawyer well-being comes up.  The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada showed us that when it comes to mental health, there are many persistent problems among legal professionals in Canada. Clearly, the culture of law needs to change so that serving clients does not come at the cost of lawyers’ health or their lives.

However, let’s look carefully at that idea that change needs to start at the top. What is “the top” of the legal profession? Is it judges? Is it managing partners in law firms? Is it lawyers who have been practicing for a long time? Is it the people who are in the corner offices?

As Malcolm Gladwell once noted, human beings have a remarkable capacity to characterize themselves as the “underdog” no matter who they are and what level of wealth, power or achievement they may attain. When reading the story of David and Goliath, everyone identifies with little David holding a slingshot and no one imagines being Goliath.

In a world full of Davids with no Goliaths, “change has to start at the top” effectively means “Somebody other than me is responsible for changing things around here.” It is, despite good intentions, a dodge of responsibility. Those people you think are “the top”? They don’t think of themselves as “the top”. They may even think of you as “the top”. Finger-pointing accomplishes nothing here.

Does change need to start at the top? Sure. It also needs to start at the bottom. It also needs to start in the middle. Change to the culture of law needs to start everywhere, and importantly, it needs to start wherever you find yourself.

If you are part of the culture of law then you too have a responsibility to change that culture. You can’t do it on your own. You can’t change it overnight. You probably will make mistakes, backslide, fail, and do all the other things that human beings do when they set out to do something important (lawyers are, I should remind you, humans). It’s said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second-best time to plant a tree is right now. I propose an adaptation of that saying: The best place to plant a tree might be at the top of a hill, but the second best place to plant a tree is wherever you happen to be standing.*

Don’t waste time looking for the best person to make change. Look in the mirror and you’ll see that best person.

So if you’re waiting for someone else to come along and save the profession and save you, quit waiting. Solving this problem is down to you and anyone else you can ally with to make the world a better place. Contact the CBA Well-Being Sub-Committee, volunteer with your jurisdiction’s lawyer assistance program, reach out to like-minded people in your profession, and start the change now.
#cbawellbeing Glen