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ANALYSIS: Want to Boost Well-Being in the Law? Define the Terms.

May 3, 2021, 9:00 AM

Well-Being Week In Law kicks off today and we can expect an uptick in conversations about workloads, stress, and expectations in the legal industry as a whole. How we define and talk about well-being in those conversations matters.

Setting definitions for well-being will elevate terminology and experiences that are too often stigmatized and also make sure discussions don’t get derailed by misunderstanding. Keeping the conversation rooted in a vision of well-being that everyone in the legal community can picture together can help build a culture that provides space for people to prioritize their own well-being and ask for help when they need it.

What’s Better Than ‘Happy’?

Well-being in the law is the emotional, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, physical, and social health of legal professionals. It’s not only about “wellness” or the absence of disease. It’s not simply about feeling “happy” either. Happiness, joy, awe—all emotions are experiences, and experience is momentary.

Try thinking more holistically: self-acceptance, a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy and control, connection, belonging, continual growth, and health. This holistic approach allows you to appreciate experiences in a way that a fleeting rush of emotion can’t. If you find you are or are moving in a direction that satisfies you, that’s contentment and it’s sustainable.

Because well-being isn’t about perfection. People who feel stress aren’t failing at well-being. No one gets a well-being merit badge. Well-being is about the continuing process of understanding and prioritizing fulfillment.

What’s Worse Than ‘Well-Being’?

As we talk about these issues, I think it’s important to add a word of caution: Well-being should never be a weapon. Well-being must be about support and resources, and not about punishing lawyers who are struggling or making lawyers feel guilty when they work long hours or don’t have time to take a walk.

More-recent data underscores how relevant well-being is to the current practice of law. Lawyers are still working long hours and are prone to burnout, they are still struggling to disconnect from work, and nearly three-quarters say they have experienced work-related disrupted sleep or anxiety.

Well-being can’t be about holding lawyers to even higher standards.

Well-being is about giving lawyers room to need and to ask for help. It’s about holding law firms and businesses accountable for how they treat their lawyers. It’s about changing the culture of the legal industry.

What’s Next?

This week Bloomberg Law will delve into a range of well-being topics, like firm policies and programs to support lawyers, the realities lawyers face when they try to take time off, and how inclusivity is tied to well-being. Please join us in these conversations and help contribute to a more open, supportive culture.

Everyone can find related content available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.

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