As a lawyer and member of The Missouri Bar, I am required to complete a certain number of hours of training every year to remain in good standing with the Bar and the Courts. While most of the hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) can be in any number of fields, every lawyer is also obligated to obtain hours of ethics and bias/diversity training on an annual basis. In most years, the options for ethics training are few and, because of their rarity, are also very expensive.
This year, The Missouri Bar held its annual meeting in mid-September virtually, with online meetings held over several days. When I reviewed the offerings before the meeting, I saw, to my delight, that among the sessions were both ethics and bias and diversity training and, even better, the sessions were FREE!!! I immediately signed up and logged on.
The first session was entitled, “Strategies for Well-Being: Now More Than Ever.” The presenter, a lawyer in recovery since December 2009, began by explaining what she meant by well-being and how that concept relates to ethics. “Well-being” in this context means prevention of impairment, whether from substance abuse or mental health challenges or both; treating impairments when and as they occur; and preventing relapse or reoccurrence.
Well-being, as we now know, is an integral part of ethical behavior because it is a key element in professional competence and fitness to practice since it minimizes the incidence and effects of burn-out and increases productivity. On a more holistic level, a feeling of well-being is also necessary for lawyers, their work colleagues, their friends, and their families to be able to function in a stressful environment.
I can attest to the stress associated with the practice of law. In my prior practice as a Public Defender, the stress arose from the knowledge that my clients’ freedom, and often their lives, depended on my performance. My friends and former colleagues still experience that stress day after day. But, this year, that stress has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
On a national level, for the third week of July, the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau’s Household Survey showed that 36% of adults were exhibiting signs of anxiety disorder, up from 8% in 2019; 30% of adults were exhibiting signs of depressive disorder, up from 6.6% in 2019; between 40 and 50% of workers reported feeling burned out; and 60% of adults reported being more tired than ever before. As the presenter acknowledged during The Missouri Bar meeting, since March 2020, most people’s “check engine light” has been on.
Stress exists in everyone’s life and, like this year, stress levels can rise to the point they affect our physical and emotional well-being, our relationships with others, and our professional performance. The question becomes how and whether we address stress, in our own life and in the lives of those around us. For many of us, across many professions, and in many communities, even acknowledging that our “check engine light” is on is difficult or even impossible.
As we navigate the next few days, weeks, or months, please take the time to acknowledge the stress in your life and make use of the many resources in our community that can help you combat its effects. Whether you make use of an Employee Assistance Program at work, take up mindfulness meditation, step up your physical exercise, or consult with a professional, it is important to care about and for yourself.
At the same time, when a colleague, a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance speaks, writes, or acts in a way that highlights negative emotions, resist the urge to reply in the same vein. Ask yourself first if the speech or conduct might be based in an emotional outburst. It might just be that their “check engine light” is on too.