HALT in the Name of Law
This week is Lawyer Well-Being Week at Assist, Mental Health Week in Canada, and Well-Being in Law Week in the United States.
We kicked off Lawyer Well-Being Week on Monday with a special Red Mug Coffee Circle where we considered the issue of why lawyers need (or don’t need) a Well-Being Week. Red Mug Coffee Circle is a group of lawyers, articling students, internationally trained lawyers, and law students who gather as a community on Mondays at noon. We discuss issues facing our profession, our peer support volunteers provide support and suggestions, and we assist legal jobseekers with motivation and resources. Not surprisingly, at least to me, no one in attendance on Monday argued that lawyers don’t need to focus on their well-being.
One of our participants talked about HALT, an acronym that arose in the recovery community but has spread into the larger mental health community. HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. For some reason, it made me think of an old Supremes song called Stop in the Name of Love, and after a mashup of hand gestures from the song from a certain participant, I said that someone would have to write a blog called HALT in the Name of Law (queue the music track in your head.) No one stepped up, so that someone is me.
When we are feeling stressed, HALT reminds us that we should first consider whether we may be feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired since these are common stressors. Feelings of Hunger, Anger, Loneliness and Tiredness can cause us to feel anxious (or to want to have a drink or use a different substance.) But by developing self-awareness about our physical states (hunger and tiredness) and our emotional states (anger and loneliness), we can then seek constructive solutions that address the underlying cause.
You can do self check-ins periodically to monitor how you are doing, or you can apply the HALT acronym when you start feeling “off.” If we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, there are steps we can take to resolve our distress. The trick is that we have to know what is wrong to know what to do.
As lawyers, we take perverse pride in our ability to deprive ourselves of basic human needs. When I was a junior lawyer in a corporate finance practice, it was common to get tied up in conference calls or meetings that started in the morning and went well into the afternoon. And much to my chagrin the first time I was in one of these meetings, no one suggested that we break for lunch or order in food! By about two pm, my stomach was rumbling and feeling empty, but if any of the other lawyers were feeling the same way, they weren’t showing it. They just kept plowing on. I was an underweight young person (sigh), and I needed to eat regularly.
My solution, as soon as the meeting finally ended, was to run to the commissary and purchase my standby pseudo-lunch: yogurt and a pack of cheezies which I pretended were good sources of protein. I usually didn’t feel well by the time a deal closed.
I don’t think my work is as good when I am hungry. I perform better when I am well-fed, even now when I am anything but underweight.