Special Guest, Ken Hodges: A Healthier Lawyer is a Better Lawyer

The Attorney Wellness Committee invites you to get the ball rolling toward a healthier professional and personal life.

Promoting health and wellness among members of the legal profession is one of the five major priority areas of the State Bar of Georgia’s strategic plan for 2016-18, which was approved by the Board of Governors in January 2016. The Board approved the creation of an Attorney Wellness Task Force in June 2015, and since that time its members have been working to explore programs, accumulate information and educate members about wellness issues and resources.  At this year’s Annual Meeting, the task force completed its evolution to committee status and hereafter is known as the Standing Committee on Attorney Wellness. The committee is comprised of a dedicated group of active Bar members who understand the day-to-day stresses associated with the practice of law.

Lane Sosebee, administrative assistant in the Communications Department, will be the committee’s point person on the State Bar staff for members to access information about the wellness program and submit events to be posted and promoted on our wellness website, LawyersLivingWell.com. Contact Lane at 404-527-8736 orlanes@gabar.org. I also encourage you to contact Lane if you would like to serve on any of our subcommittees: Mental Health, Physical Well-Being, Social Well-Being, YLD Initiatives, Technology and Branding.

Over the past two years, the task force has worked to incorporate wellness activities into the agenda for Bar meetings on a regular basis. For example, during the Annual Meeting this month at Jekyll Island, the Young Lawyers Division, the Pro Bono Resource Center and Capitol Partners Public Affairs Group sponsored a 5K Fun Run and there was a Sunrise Beach Yoga session.  The YLD’s Women in the Profession Retreat last October also included yoga sessions and a mountain sunrise walk.  We make an effort to include this in all Bar meetings.

Another component of the Lawyers Living Well program is offering wellness-related continuing legal education seminars. During this year’s Spring Meeting of the Board of Governors at Lake Oconee, Avarita Hanson, executive director of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, and I co-chaired a two-hour interactive CLE session, “Ethics of Wellness,” reviewing recent research and trends in attorney wellness.

Our presenters were lawyers Stacey Dougan of the Anxiety & Stress Management Institute and Anne Brafford, chair of the Attorney Well-Being Committee of the American Bar Association. Recognizing the role of “Lawyer as Counselor,” the American Counseling Association’s ethical requirement of “self-care” will be used to understand how stress and other psychological issues can cause career dissatisfaction and affirmative harm to clients.  Our neighbor, South Carolina, actually requires that it’s members obtain some wellness oriented CLE and that is an idea that is in discussion for Georgia.

As a part of the Bar’s strategic plan, we will develop and offer more CLEs on work/life balance and consider implementing a mandatory one-hour CLE on overall wellness issues.

The lawyer wellness initiative also includes promoting and increasing member awareness of existing Bar programs to help lawyers recognize when they (or others) are in need of help, including:

  • Lawyer Assistance Program, a confidential service for lawyers seeking assistance with depression, stress, alcohol/drug abuse and other issues through a 24/7 telephone hotline (800-327-9631) staffed by trained counselors, prepaid personal counseling sessions and a work/life program for assistance with childcare, elder care and finances. To ensure confidentiality, the Bar contracts the services of CorpCare Associates Inc., Employee Assistance Program, a Georgia-headquartered national counseling agency. CorpCare is absolutely independent of the Bar, and no information about lawyers using this service is shared with the Office of the General Counsel. Bar members can receive up to six free personal counseling sessions per issue per year. You are encouraged to utilize this benefit if and when it is needed.
  • Suicide Awareness Campaign, which is directed toward lawyers and judges who are suffering from anxiety and depression and may be at risk for suicide, and other Bar members who need to recognize the severity of the problem and be able to identify warning signs among our colleagues. We have also promoted and encouraged Bar members to participate in community wellness events. Last November, we had good participation for the Out of the Darkness Walk, an event devoted to suicide awareness and prevention.
  • SOLACE, which is designed to assist those in the legal community who have experienced a significant, potentially life-changing event in their lives, including but not limited to medical conditions, losses due to fire or other disasters, and transportation needs in a crisis situation.
  • Law Practice Management Program, a member service to help lawyers and their employees solve office management issues such as technology, firm finances, organization, library materials, etc.

We also support the goals of the Senior Lawyers Committee, a special committee focused on the development of a progressive diversion and non-disciplinary system for intervention with respect to aging and impaired lawyers. This initiative will help lawyers in preparing their practices for succession upon retirement, death, impairment or otherwise, and assist the Office of the General Counsel in the disposition of the practices of lawyers who leave their practice without a succession plan.

A tangible benefit of our Lawyers Living Well program is the participation by our Wellness Partners around the state. These partners are gyms and fitness centers; running, yoga and cycling programs; athletic wear and gear retailers; and even chiropractic offices which offer significant discounts for State Bar members. Under the Physical Well-Being tab on the LawyersLivingWell.com website, click on Wellness Partners for a list of these facilities and discounts.

The Attorney Wellness Program exists out of a recognition that lawyers who are able to reduce the effects of work-related stress and live healthier, happier lives, will see a positive impact on their effectiveness and service to their clients and their firms.

We also know that merely promoting and encouraging a wellness program is only the beginning. The hard part is the actual commitment to exercise, nutrition, work/life/sleep balance that a busy lawyer must take in order to realize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and become a better lawyer.  Since I have focused on this issue I have offered to all of my employees as an extra benefit a monthly membership to a gym or healthiness oriented club (ie yoga, spinning, etc) and encouraged them to utilize it.  I make time to exercise myself because I know when I feel better, I am more productive and better able to serve my client’s needs.

As James Herrera, founder of Colorado-based Performance Driven, a business that focuses on athletic performance and executive health and wellness, said in an interview for the ABA Journal Podcast, “You’ve got to prioritize your health, physical fitness and nutritional excellence just like you would prioritize your career or family. It has to be a big thing in your life in order to be successful with it long term.

The clients that I deal with, they buy in and they stick to it, they made it a priority and recognized the benefits. Once you get the ball rolling, it is almost impossible to stop and then you wonder how you ever lived any other way.”

The Attorney Wellness Committee invites you to get the ball rolling toward a healthier professional and personal life. We’re offering the tools to get you started. Please visit us at LawyersLivingWell.com.

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