Questions Resilient Leaders Ask Themselves at the End of Every Day — Part III
Contributing Author: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair
This is the final installment of our three-part mini look at resilient leadership. Part I expands the scope of meaningful self-care. Part II explores a leader’s responsibility to offer an environment and provide the opportunity for employees to thrive. This final piece centers on our collective responsibility to effectuate positive change and evolve our professional culture, from surviving to thriving.
What have I done to move prosecutor well-being into the mainstream?
It is easy as leaders to occasionally fall into the mind-rut of “I handled it. They have no idea how easy they have it. When I was a young prosecutor…” Yes, some of us survived, but it hasn’t always been pretty. In the past few years, two of my mentors have died by suicide. Their circumstances were complex and unique, but I often wonder whether the hard-driving nature of our work and our profession’s stoic, stubborn tendency to mock appeals for help as “weakness” played some role in their deaths.
In 2017, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being conducted a comprehensive study of our profession and the dismal findings were published in a report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, with five central themes.
1. Identifying stakeholders and the role each of them can play in reducing the level of toxicity in the legal profession,
2. Eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors,
3. Emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence,
4. Educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer well-being issues, and
5. Taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession
The evidence is clear that we need to rethink and drastically change our approach to well-being, as individuals, as organizations, and as a professional culture. We are all responsible. I encourage you to read the report and share it with your staff. Here are the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s recommendations.
Recommendations for all stakeholders:
1. Acknowledge the problems and take responsibility.
2. Use this report as a launch pad for a profession-wide action plan.
3. Leaders should demonstrate a personal commitment to well-being.
4. Facilitate, destigmatize, and encourage help-seeking behaviors.
5. Build relationships with lawyer well-being experts.
5.1 partner with lawyer assistance programs.
5.2 consult lawyer well-being committees and other types of well-being experts.
6. Foster collegiality and respectful engagement throughout the profession.
6.1 promote diversity & inclusivity.
6.2 create meaningful mentoring and sponsorship programs.
7. Enhance lawyers’ sense of control.
8. Provide high-quality educational programs and materials about lawyer well-being.
9. Guide and support the transition of older lawyers.
10. De-emphasize alcohol at social events.
11. Use monitoring to support recovery from substance use disorders.
12. Begin a dialogue about suicide prevention.
13. Support a lawyer well-being index to measure the profession’s progress.
Recommendations for judges:
14. Communicate that well-being is a priority.
15. Develop policies for impaired judges
16. Reduce stigma of mental health and substance use disorders.
17. Conduct judicial well-being surveys.
18. Provide well-being programming for judges and staff.
19. Monitor for impaired lawyers and partner with lawyer assistance programs
Recommendations for regulators
20. Take actions to meaningfully communicate that lawyer well-being is a priority.
20.1 adopt regulatory objectives that prioritize lawyer well-being.
20.2 modify the rules of professional responsibility to endorse well-being as part of a lawyer’s duty of competence.
20.3 expand continuing education requirements to include well-being topics.
20.4 require law schools to create wellbeing education for students as an accreditation requirement
21. Adjust the admissions process to support law student well-being.
21.1 re-evaluate bar application inquiries about mental health history.
21.2 adopt essential eligibility admission requirements.
21.3 adopt a rule for conditional admission to practice law with specific requirements and conditions.
21.4 publish data reflecting low rate of denied admissions due to mental health disorders and substance use.
22. Adjust lawyer regulations to support well-being.
22.1 implement proactive management-based programs (PMBP) that include lawyer well-being components.
22.2 adopt a centralized grievance intake system to promptly identify well-being concerns
22.3 modify confidentiality rules to allow one-way sharing of lawyer well-being related information from regulators to lawyer assistance programs.
22.4 adopt diversion programs and other alternatives to discipline that are proven.
23. Add well-being-related questions to the multistate professional responsibility exam (MPRE)
Recommendations for legal employers
24. Establish organizational infrastructure to promote well-being.
24.1 form a lawyer well-being committee.
24.2 assess lawyers’ well-being.
25. Establish policies and practices to support lawyer well-being.
25.1 monitor for signs of work addiction and poor self-care.
25.2 actively combat social isolation and encourage interconnectivity.
26. Provide training and education on well-being, including during new lawyer orientation.
26.1 emphasize a service-centered mission.
26.2 create standards, align incentives, and give feedback
Recommendations for law schools
27. Create best practices for detecting and assisting students experiencing psychological distress.
27.1 provide training to faculty members relating to student mental health and substance use disorders.
27.2 adopt a uniform attendance policy to detect early warning signs of students in crisis.
27.3 provide mental health and substance use disorder resources.
28. Assess law school practices and offer faculty education on promoting well-being in the classroom.
29. Empower students to help fellow students in need.
30. Include well-being topics in courses on professional responsibility.
31. Commit resources for onsite professional counselors.
32. Facilitate a confidential recovery network.
33. Provide education opportunities on well-being related topics.
33.1 provide well-being programming during the 1l year.
33.2 create a well-being course and lecture series for students.
34. Discourage alcohol-centered social events.
35. Conduct anonymous surveys relating to student well-being
Recommendations for bar associations
36. Encourage education on well-being topics in association with lawyer assistance programs.
36.1 sponsor high-quality CLE programming on well-being-related topics.
36.2 create educational materials to support individual well-being and “best practices” for legal organizations.
36.3 train staff to be aware of lawyer assistance program resources and refer members.
37. Sponsor empirical research on lawyer well-being as part of annual member surveys.
38. Launch a lawyer well-being committee.
39. Serve as an example of best practices relating to lawyer well-being at bar association events.
Recommendations for lawyers’ professional liability carriers
40. Actively support lawyer assistance programs.
41. Emphasize well-being in loss prevention programs.
42. Incentivize desired behavior in underwriting law firm risk.
43. Collect data when lawyer impairment is a contributing factor to claims activity.
Recommendations for lawyers assistance programs (LAPs)
44. Lawyers assistance programs should be appropriately organized and funded
44.1 pursue stable, adequate funding.
44.2 emphasize confidentiality.
44.3 develop high-quality well-being programming.
44.4 lawyer assistance programs’ foundational elements
What is my action plan?
Can I create a leader’s action plan? Yes! Review the report. Review the recommendations. As a leader, call upon your cohorts. As a participant, rally your peers. Schedule a time for your team to talk about the next best steps. Start small. Prioritize one or two action items and go for it. If we all pitch in, we can move the needle, but it will take a little time and a whole lot of elbow grease.
Kirsten Pabst chairs NDAA’s Well-being Task Force and serves at the County Attorney for Missoula County, Montana.