By Christy Crow
President, Alabama State Bar
I am excited to serve as the 144th President of the Alabama State Bar and only the third female president in our organization’s history. As I reach the half way point of my presidency, I am evaluating my goals and what I have been able to accomplish thus far.
While it is not yet time to be reflective about my presidency, since I’m only halfway through, one of the things that I am most proud of is that we have brought more attention and focus to quality of life, health and wellness for attorneys. When I was planning for this year, I had many ideas of what I wanted to accomplish. While I certainly had witnessed first-hand the stress of practicing law, talking about quality of life, health and wellness was not a focus. Then, in May of 2018, a fellow lawyer and friend lost his battle with mental illness. I was working with him on cases at the time and while visiting in his office earlier in the week, we talked about the future. As with most people who lose a friend or loved one to suicide, when I heard about his death, I questioned myself. I wondered if I could have made a difference if I had only taken a few more minutes to talk to him on that day. Should I have asked deeper questions, engaged on more than a superficial level or asked him to lunch or coffee?
While I know that my response to my friend’s death is probably not unusual, I also knew that I was uniquely positioned to do something more than question myself. I could bring more awareness to the issues that affect all lawyers, even when talking about it is uncomfortable. I delved a little deeper into this topic and realized that, according to the ABA Report on the Path to Lawyer Well-Being, between 21 and 36% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, and that approximately 28% are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety and stress. This is not just dangerous for the lawyer and his or her family, it is a problem for the profession as some authors suggest that between 40 to 70% of the disciplinary proceedings and malpractice claims against lawyers are related to substance abuse or mental health problems. Obviously, these problems affect law firms as well.
I investigated to see what the bar had done in the past to talk about these issues and what we could do. The Alabama State Bar formed a Quality of Life, Health & Wellness Committee in 2016 and had recommendations from them, but implementation had been spotty. Some parts of the State had active and thriving wellness conversations going on, and others did not even know we had a Quality of Life, Health & Wellness Committee. Obviously, getting that committee up and running and having strong leadership was vital to accomplish anything. We have done that, thanks to the leadership of Brannon Buck, Susan Han and Emily Hornsby. They have developed a CLE that will count toward your ethics CLE hour, a page on the ASB website dedicated to health and wellness and much more.
The number one recommendation from the ABA and most mental health professionals is to reduce stigma, and increase the conversations regarding health and wellness. The reality of the stressful nature of our profession and how easy it is to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms is not easy for anyone to talk about, especially lawyers, because it requires a certain degree of vulnerability. Admitting that I am not Super Woman is certainly not easy for me to do. When the Alabama Lawyer Editorial Board decided to dedicate an entire issue to wellness, I knew it was time for me to share my story and why this is important to me. I commend this issue to you for reading.
As 2020 begins, I encourage you to slow down, focus on yourself and your family and remember that you cannot adequately represent your clients if you are not healthy – both physically and mentally. Remember, we are Better Together. Check on your friends and co-workers, co-counsel and opposing counsel, and check in on yourself, too. Be well.