The past year has been a time of disruption and maybe even a little bit of chaos. Practicing law can bring stress and anxiety in “normal” times, but during the pandemic, even more so. Challenges brought by the needs and demands of clients, changing rules for court proceedings, and personal pressures have all combined to keep us constantly working on ways to stay balanced in a topsy-turvy world.
Mary Spranger, Manager of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Lawyers Assistance Program, says her office has had recent conversations with attorneys who essentially worked themselves into having panic attacks because they made a mistake on a case. “We feel like the normal amount of support they received from co-workers would have sufficed pre-COVID-19. We would say a common and scary trend we’re seeing amongst lawyers during the pandemic is not reaching out for support. Pre-pandemic, colleagues and friends helped provide support and keep things in perspective and we are missing that now.”
Working remotely from home and the closure of courthouses to in-person proceedings has contributed to a significant rise in stress and depression among lawyers. Spranger says isolation and loneliness have been among the most common issues she has helped lawyers with during the past year. “This is personal as well as professional. Lawyers who are used to going to court and being part of that community are now unable to access their informational and peer support sources. One lawyer commented to me, ‘I’ve been practicing 30 years but I feel like a newbie because everything is different now.’ That stress can be unsettling and make people anxious for a return to normal.”
What You Can Do
Spranger says continue to nurture your important relationships in whatever way you can. “Schedule time with friends, colleagues and mentors by phone or Zoom to maintain your critical supports. Physical health needs are important. At least, focus on the basics of enough exercise, sleep, and eat as healthy as you can. Don’t put off needed medical care. Refill your prescriptions. Seek out extra support.”
She also says those who have well-controlled mental health diagnoses and regularly take medicine or are engaged in treatment are having their stability challenged. “It is not unexpected that this should be the case. If you find you are struggling, it is not a personal failure, it is a predictable response to stress that none of us has ever faced before. There’s no reason not to ask for help.”
Spranger also suggests lawyers seek out CLE or self-study on self-care and lawyer well-being. The Bar’s WisLAP program can help provide you with material – it is available in abundance. And, she adds that lawyers should “practice creative activities and hobbies when possible. This is a form of self-care that can be restorative and mindful, as well as redirecting your thoughts away from work. Don’t view this as a waste of time. Self-care helps with productivity in the long run.”
Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program – WisLAP is a member service of the State Bar of Wisconsin which provides free confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families in coping with any substance misuse, mental health challenges, or other stressors which negatively impact the quality of life and the practice of law. The program is designed to help members and their families build on their strengths and to provide support through offering services that promote physical, mental, and emotional health.
In future editions of Mutually Speaking, we will continue with the Wellness Corner, and the importance of connections, and the importance for all of us to recognize that we need to be well to be competent lawyers.
Contact Information for the WisLap program:
24 hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
WisLAP Manager Mary Spranger (800) 444-9404 ext. 6159
WisLAP Coordinator Jason Magill (800) 444-9404 ext. 6151