Bar associations are organized in a variety of ways, but all share common goals of promoting members’ professional growth, quality of life, and quality of the profession by encouraging continuing education, professionalism (which encompasses lawyer competence, ethical conduct, eliminating bias, and enhancing diversity), pro bono and public service. Bar members who are exhausted, impaired, disengaged, or overly self-interested will not live up to their full potential as lawyers or positive contributors to society. Below are recommendations for bar associations to foster positive change in the well-being of the legal community which, in turn, should benefit lawyers, bar associations, and the general public.
In line with Recommendation 8, bar associations should develop and regularly offer educational programming on well-being-related topics. Bar leadership should recommend that all sections adopt a goal of providing at least one well-being related educational opportunity at all bar-sponsored events, including conferences, section retreats, and day-long continuing legal education events.
Create Educational Materials to Support Individual Well-Being and "Best Practices" for Legal Organizations
We recommend that bar associations develop “best practice” model policies on well-being-related topics, for example practices for responding to lawyers in distress, succession planning, diversity and inclusion, mentoring practices, work-life balance policies, etc.
Educating bar association staff regarding lawyer assistance programs’ services, resources, and the confidentiality of referrals is another way to foster change in the legal community. Bar association staff can further promote these resources to their membership. A bar association staff member may be the person who coordinates a needed intervention for a lawyer facing a mental health or substance use crisis.
Many bar associations conduct annual member surveys. These surveys offer an opportunity for additional research on lawyer well-being and awareness of resources. For example, questions in these surveys can gauge awareness of support networks either in law firms or through lawyer assistance programs. They can survey lawyers on well-being topics they would like to see addressed in bar journal articles, at bar association events, or potentially through continuing legal education courses. The data gathered can inform bar associations’ outreach and educational efforts.
We recommend that bar associations consider forming Lawyer Well-Being Committees. As noted in Recommendation 5.2, the ABA and a number of state bar associations already have done so. Their work supplements lawyer assistance programs with a more expansive approach to well-being. These committees typically focus not only on addressing disorders and ensuring competence to practice law but also on optimal functioning and full engagement in the profession. Such committees can provide a valuable service to members by, for example, dedicating attention to compiling resources, high-quality speakers, developing and compiling educational materials and programs, serving as a clearinghouse for lawyer well-being information, and partnering with the lawyer assistance program, and other state and national organizations to advocate for lawyer well-being initiatives.
The South Carolina Bar’s Lawyer Wellness Committee, launched in 2014 and featuring a “Living Above the Bar” website, is a good model for well-being committees. In 2016, the ABA awarded this Committee the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, which honors excellence and innovation in professionalism programs.
Bar associations should support members’ well-being and role model best practices in connection with their own activities and meetings. This might include, for example, organizing functions to be family-friendly, scheduling programming during times that do not interfere with personal and family time, offering well-being-related activities at events (e.g., yoga, fun runs, meditation, providing coffee or juice bars, organizing Friends of Bill/support group meetings), providing well-being-related education and training to bar association leaders, and including related programming at conferences and other events. For instance, several bar associations around the country sponsor family-friendly fun runs, such as the Maricopa County Bar Association annual 5k Race Judicata.