How Firms Can Amplify Attorney Well-Being Stories
Last week, the legal media focused its attention on Well-Being Week in Law, an initiative organized by the Institute for Well-Being in Law to raise awareness of mental health challenges in the legal profession and diminish the reluctance to seek help. Raising awareness starts with increasing visibility, and it was encouraging to see the many lawyers who spoke up, in first-person articles and on social media, about their personal struggles. While these kinds of disclosures have become the norm in other industries, the culture of law continues to stigmatize anything perceived as “weakness,” whether that is anxiety and depression, physical illness, postpartum experiences or any other aspect of having a body that might get in the way of productivity. The lawyers who spoke out last week showed courage in doing so, and their honesty may very well help someone who is struggling today.
So what happens next? Structural problems create the circumstances that lead to poor attorney mental health, so the solutions must be structural too. So far we are seeing individual lawyers share stories. How are their firms responding to these narratives and taking account of their own role in driving change?
This is a question of values — What is the right thing for firms to say and do in this moment? — but also of communications strategy: If one of your attorneys has spoken out on the topic of mental health, or even if you are just inspired by the story of attorney you don’t even know, what your firm does, or doesn’t do, in response speaks volumes about where you really stand on the issue of well-being.
Amplify and validate the story. Simply sharing the message or article with your firm’s network is a welcome show of support. Taking this step communicates that the firm supports this attorney’s perspective and views his or her radical honesty as a crucial step toward improving lawyer well-being. Conversely, failing to acknowledge the story sends the message that the firm continues to be uncomfortable with the topic and would rather sweep it under the rug.
Connect the individual’s experience to systemic changes. Celebrating the attorney’s bravery in coming forward is an important first step in addressing how your firm talks about mental health. Next it’s important to place that individual’s experience in a broader context. What kinds of policies and supports has your firm put into place to make your workplace culture more humane? What are your leaders doing to lower the barrier to asking for help and protect attorneys from being doxed or stigmatized? And how can you communicate about those concrete changes in internal firm communications, on social media, in firm newsletters and on your website? Again, there is no neutral ground here from a messaging perspective. You either talk about the steps you are taking to drive change, or your silence on the issue communicates that firm leadership is just fine with the status quo.
Make wellness a regular feature of your editorial calendar. Well-being Week in Law won’t come around again until next May, but true commitment to its goals will require year-round engagement. Just as many firms have now integrated discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion across all its messaging and stories, so too must well-being become a permanent fixture of how firms talk about who they are and what they do. Not only is it the right thing to do for the health of the human beings who work there, but it is also smart communications strategy. Remember, clients and recruits are highly sensitive to these messages. And to when you are silent.