Wellness Efforts Benefit Attorneys and Contribute to Better Work for Clients
November 12, 2020
WELL-BEING IS AT THE CORE OF A SUCCESSFUL LIFE AND PRACTICE. With the pandemic exacerbating mental health and stress-related illnesses, the Iowa State Bar Association has coordinated its efforts to raise awareness of health-related risks for attorneys. As chair of the ISBA’s Well-Being Committee, attorney Kathy Law is a guiding force in its work to promote all facets of wellness. She shares insights into the committee’s programs for assistance and recovery.
Why was the Well-Being Committee created?
A couple of years ago, the Iowa State Bar Association Board of Governors developed small groups to deal with specific areas of interest. I was named chair of the small group for well-being. When we researched stress, anxiety, and physical challenges for attorneys, the board of governors decided to make the Well-Being Committee a standing committee. We want to have an ongoing dialog about well-being issues.
Our committee is not just attorneys. Iowa Supreme Court Justice Thomas Waterman is on our committee, and he’s a great contributor. It’s nice to see judges and attorneys working together because it will help our judicial system if we have attorneys who are well. Hugh Grady, who leads the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program is on the committee. The rest of us are attorneys from all over the state with different kinds of practices and of different ages. We have a broad base of knowledge to draw from.
“The biggest thing we’ve been able to do so far is to let people know if you have mental health issues, you’re not alone. There’s help out there, and you can get through to the other side.” — Kathy Law
What is the focus?
We are focusing on almost everything:
- Mental well-being and mindfulness
- Physical well-being, health, and nutrition
- Emotional well-being
- Financial well-being
- Occupational well-being
- Social well-being
- Spiritual well-being
For example, we look at how to help attorneys deal with stress and anxiety. How do you deal when you have clients that have crises? How do you handle it if you’re a family law attorney or in those fields where you can’t help but take your work home?
In almost every area, we’ve been doing Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and other seminars. Seminars on financial well-being help newer attorneys who have student loans and help attorneys get their finances in order. Everything in your body works together. If you’re stressed about your finances, that’s going to affect your emotional and physical well-being. To be a well-rounded person, you have to have balance in all those areas.
What programs have you initiated?
We’re really proud that the Iowa State Bar Association Iowa Lawyer focused the entire September 2020 issue on well-being. Every article had to do with a different aspect of well-being. Attorneys wrote, anonymously and not anonymously, about addiction problems and a wide gamut of well-being topics. We’ve had such an outpouring of people saying how much that issue meant to them and how much it meant that people were willing to tell their stories. There will be another wellness-focused issue in 2021.
We’ve also done CLEs or seminars across the state, lots of virtual ones, of course, in the past year. Members of our committee speak to different groups. We’ve added wellness components to our bar association meetings too. The bar association has an annual meeting. In June it wasn’t in person, but typically we have yoga classes, AA meetings, and Al-Anon meetings. For a social activity focused on connecting, we did a wine and painting class one night. We’ve been doing a lot of things like that.
How do attorneys benefit?
It helps attorneys who are struggling, especially with addiction or mental illness, to know that they’re not alone, that this happens to other attorneys. Attorneys have a very high rate of suicide, very high rates of addiction, and mental health issues.
The biggest thing we’ve been able to do so far is to let people know if you have any of those mental health issues that you’re not alone. There’s help out there, and you can get through to the other side.
What resources does the committee offer?
In addition to our seminars, members of our committee work with the Iowa Lawyer Assistance Program. It’s about helping lawyers deal with these issues. We’re publicizing that more so more people know about it.
We’re looking into having an employee assistance program, which would be insurance funded so people could have low-cost or no-cost mental health sessions with a counselor. I want to see the program adopted so attorneys can have a place they can call and have mental health visits when they need them—a convenient way so you can just call and talk to somebody if you’re not able to attend in person.
Why is this program valuable for attorneys and their clients?
I think it’s beneficial because the resources we’re making available will help the attorney, which ultimately helps the clients. If attorneys can do a better job because they’re more mindful about the work they’re doing or if they have better emotional and mental well-being, it all translates into better work.
What should attorneys do if they need wellness assistance?
We’re hoping the ISBA wellness website will provide contacts so people can seek help. People shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. Many times, that’s the only way you can get better. The more we normalize that people have mental illness problems, emotional problems, or addiction problems, the more we can help people get the help that they need.
What has this taught you about your own wellness journey?
I knew wellness encompassed all these other things, like financial well-being, mindfulness, occupational well-being, and spiritual well-being, but now I think of it more as pieces to a whole. They all have to work together to have balance in your life. Everything has to work together and if one thing is out of whack, it can affect your entire well-being.
For my own well-being and to be there for others, I want the resources there that people need. I struggle with physical well-being issues. I’ve also struggled with depression and anxiety issues in the past. I was able to get the help I needed, and I want that to be available to everybody who needs it.