Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Investing an Hour in Your Well-Being

Investing an Hour in Your Well-Being

Lawyers are busy—we get that! The last thing we need is someone telling us about one more thing we should be doing…

But next week—May 6th to 10th-- is both Canadian Mental Health Week and Well-Being in Law Week (US). Assist combines these two events to communicate with Alberta lawyers and articling students about practical (and relatively short-term) strategies for improving their mental health and well-being.

I would like to invite you to invest an hour next week if you can--or even just fifteen minutes-- with us next week.

We approach MHW/WBWL week using a tool created by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Well-Being (now the Institute for Well-Being In Law, or IWIL) which shows dimensions of well-being:

As lawyers, we tend to expend our time and energy on our occupational and intellectual dimensions. In law, it is hard to separate the two as intellectual activity is embedded in our occupation—we use our brains to make a living!
Do you remember hearing the saying “law is a jealous mistress,” a sexist statement but true all the same. Law can draw you in infinitely. There is always something more you can do or learn, and spending time on files leads to compensation, so we are incented to work as much as we can.
But this fixation on two dimensions of well-being is not always healthy, and we neglect our emotional, social, physical and spiritual elements at our peril. Some lawyers work their entire careers successfully focusing on their occupational and intellectual realms and feel satisfied, while many others exhibit symptoms of burnout and unhappiness.
The first ten to fifteen years of practice are often found to be the most stressful. The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada found that practice experience of ten to fifteen years became a protective factor against negative outcomes, but this is not an absolute immunization as more senior lawyers still face mental health crises—and ten to fifteen years is a long time for young lawyers to suffer and feel devoid of energy.
During Mental Health/Lawyer Well-Being Week, Assist has five events and activities, as well as linking you to an excellent webinar put on by CBA-Alberta.
Three of our regular programs are running this week: mindfulness, yoga and Red Mug Coffee Circles. Mindfulness is fifteen minutes, on noon on Tuesday. We urge lawyers to find fifteen minutes to join lawyer Amanda Huxley as she leads us in breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and mindfulness activities.
Please don’t be intimidated by the concept of mindfulness—you don’t need to have any experience, and you can participate as long as you can breathe! There is no “woo-woo” component. In fact, what it remains me of is elementary school when savvy teachers would have students put their heads down on their desks while the teacher spoke soothingly. No doubt there were two objects to this: making students settle down and restoring the teacher’s sanity! Think of your clients and files as the unruly students, with you in the role of teacher/leader, helping them to settle and be quiet.
Yoga is on Wednesdays, at noon, and you can join virtually (or if you are in downtown Calgary, you can come to the Parlour Room at Knox United Church). We have a team of lawyer/judge yogis who lead this fifty-minute class. Most online participants are in their offices with their doors closed, like a Zoom call, and they either change or wear loose-fitting clothing. If you are sitting on the fence about yoga (and that is not a yoga position, by the way!), why not make our class one of your lawyer mental health week activities?
Mental Health Week’s theme this year is #CompassionConnects, and Well-Being in Law’s theme is Well-Being Reboot: A Fresh Start for Positive Change.
On Assist’s promotional materials, you will see the icons showing the six dimensions of well-being. We cover all six! But there is one theme through all of Assist’s events: Social Well-Being. It is through Assist’s Community arm that we deliver these programs: we can become isolated practising law—or looking for a position in which to practice law—so being part of a welcoming group is a well-being strategy in and of itself. But it is also how we do our #CompassionConnects.
Red Mug Coffee Circle is a wonderful example of how we do this. Everyone is welcome—we meet you where you are. We always have a theme for discussion, but people can also come to talk about a work or personal issue (although groups are not always appropriate for confidential sharing.) People who share their struggle are met with empathy and support. But we also chat and get to know each other.
I wish that a group like this had existed when I practiced on my own, from my home. I loved my clients, but I was the only lawyer in my interactions, because my niche practice area was corporate human resources for small businesses and not-for-profits. I stopped going downtown to CBA meetings because of the cost of parking, which was short-term thinking at best, and I could have taken the train if I just organized myself. I felt isolated and lonely, and that is a big part of why I elected to wind up my practice and take employment where I could be part of a team of lawyers. But the good news for everyone else is that you can find community without leaving your job! Join us on Monday to meet some friendly and welcoming lawyers from across the province and different practice areas.
Assist is promoting CBA-AB’s presentation with lawyer-coach Amy Binder on Tuesday at noon. Amy will be speaking about working smarter, not harder, a message that resonates with Assist. If you can work smartly (i.e., achieve your work goals more easily), you may have to work on other dimensions of well-being.
And we are running two webinars of our own. On Thursday, we are hosting a panel of lawyers who have taken interesting career paths to achieve their personal goals and values. Many lawyers tell us that they are “stuck.” They no longer enjoy what they are doing, or where they are doing it. But they don’t feel empowered to make change, and some have learned not to even think about how things could be better for themselves.
We hope that Sanjiv, Gillian and Meredith will inspire lawyers who want to make changes. Sanjiv set up his own firm after articling which allows him to volunteer and lead in the legal and greater community. Gillian left an insolvency practice to work in-house and found a business unit that resonates with her. And Meredith is using her legal skills with another regulated profession, Alberta pharmacists, in a policy role.
While Sanjiv, Gillian and Meredith are special people, as you will see on Thursday, you are special, too, and you deserve the chance to re-align your work with your values and preferences (e.g., controlling the hours you work.) This can be part of our Well-Being Reboot, making a Fresh Start for Positive Change!
We have a special presentation on Friday, and I hope you will come if your schedule permits. We hope that this will be the first in a series under the Dare to Dream Banner! Calgary lawyer, Tiro Clarke, KC, will share how he made his dream a reality. Tiro runs his own firm—two lawyers and two assistants, and he wanted to sail through the South Seas to Australia. Me—I’m not a boat person. I get motion sick on the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island—but I understand the dream: something special and meaningful that you want to experience to feel fulfilled in your life.
Whenever lawyers talk about sabbaticals, they are wistful and often say “but you just can’t do that as a lawyer with your own practice.” Tiro will turn this on its head. He planned his voyage and readied his boat, but he also readied his firm and both the six-month sailing trip and his absence from his firm succeeded. Like Sanjiv, Gillian and Meredith, Tiro is a special person—but so are you, and you can make your dreams a reality, too.
Making your dreams come true, feeling fulfilled, connecting with your sense of purpose—these can all be part of a lawyer well-being strategy. Please explore your dimensions of well-being with us this year. And remember that Assist is here 52 weeks of the year. Just call us.
PS—Please check out Brian Cuban’s video in Closing Corner. It reflects #CompassionConnects and Well-Being Reboots!