Practicing Well: Talk About It!

Patty Beck | Minnesota Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company

If you asked me during March 2020 how I felt about COVID-19, I would tell you that it was awful and that I had nothing good to say about it. If you asked me that same question at the end of April, I would tell you that I have seen more beauty, creativity, and courage from people around the world in the last eight weeks than ever before. Not only have I witnessed this in my news feed and around my community, but I’ve experienced it professionally as well.

Nearly every phone call and video conference I attended during April began with everyone sharing how they were doing, things they were struggling with, and what they were doing to stay physically and mentally healthy. This was not a matter of being polite or going through the motions of asking someone how their day was going. People were genuinely concerned for each other and wanted to know how everyone was doing. That may be one of the greatest things to come out of COVID-19 for the legal profession—lawyers are becoming more interested and willing to talk about their well-being without fear of judgment or negative repercussions.

Lawyers tend to not want to share what they are stressed about. There are
a lot of reasons for this, one being there is a perception that lawyers are supposed to be tough and that sharing our struggles can be viewed as a sign of weakness. But COVID-19 seems to be changing that in a way. With this pandemic, we finally have a level playing field where there is absolutely no weakness or negativity associated with talking about how we’re doing because everyone has been impacted and can relate in some way to
what others are going through.

Everyone knows the challenge of not being able to hug their loved ones, the fear of financial uncertainty, or the sheer boredom that we have all undoubtedly faced at some point during our respective lockdowns. There are emotional consequences of social distancing, there is anxiety that can come from reading too much news, and exhaustion from wondering how long this will last.

We don’t have to look hard to find statistics about lawyers battling various mental health and well-being issues before COVID-19 (see the 2016 ABA Hazelden Betty Ford Study for reference). Many lawyers admit there are significant barriers to openly discussing our problems and getting help, most of which have to do with concerns of confidentiality and the potential for professional consequences if our colleague and clients learn that we are struggling. But given that everyone understands, on some level, the stress associated with COVID-19, there seems to be a greater willingness to share our experiences knowing that suddenly we are not “alone” in our struggles.

I recently heard the phrase “we may not be in the same boat, but we are all
in the same storm.” The way I see it, this storm is currently helping lawyers get comfortable talking about their well-being, which is something our profession needs. At the end of April, I am encouraged and feel hopeful that when welcome out the other side of this pandemic, lawyers will continue to talk about their well-being and help reduce the stigma that has seemingly plagued our profession.

So, talk about it. Ask your colleagues how they are doing. Be willing to share
what challenges you are facing, or the great ways you are staying healthy. If you feel nervous about sharing what you’re going through, try to find the courage to talk about it anyway—not only will it be helpful for you, but hearing that a peer is going through the same thing may be the push that someone else needs to share their own experience and get the help they need.

This article was originally published in Professional Liability Defense Quarterly – Volume 12, Issue 2 (2020).

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