Sara G. Neill
BAMSL President, 2019-20
Shareholder, Capes Sokol
Originally published in the August 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
I have many memories of my first semester at the University of Missouri—Columbia School of Law. Wonderful professors; interesting classes; Pennoyer and International Shoe; happy hours at Déjà vu and Shiloh with my friends from Section 3; eating at the Subway in Brady Commons approximately 93 times; learning to do legal research using books without Westlaw access (was this really necessary?); and contemplating whether I needed hand surgery after filling approximately 13 Blue Books during finals week.
There are few things during that semester that I remember as vividly as the 1L presentation focused on lawyer health and wellness. The presenter spoke to us about the statistics surrounding lawyer addiction to drugs and alcohol and told us about how stressful this profession can be and how important it is to develop healthy habits and mechanisms to deal with stress, including exercise.
At the time, it was hard for me to fully comprehend what we were being told. I was only 23 years old and had just spent a year in corporate America. No one had ever mentioned any of these issues during my brief time in that industry.
I often think about what an honor and how rewarding it is to be a lawyer. It is also a huge amount of responsibility. There is always an obligation to do your best, to correctly set expectations, to exceed expectations, to meet deadlines, meet billable hours, bring in enough business, set a good example, return phone calls in a timely manner, win your case, etc. Lawyers try to balance these things with their families and often have little to no time for hobbies, vacations or relaxing. What seemed foreign in that law school seminar makes so much more sense having practiced law for more than 15 years.
In March, BAMSL's executive committee and members-at-large gathered for the annual Leadership Retreat. We each spoke for a few minutes about what we thought BAMSL was doing well, and what BAMSL could do better. The purpose was to develop our focus areas for this bar year. As we talked, common themes began to develop. The leadership agreed that BAMSL could better support its members and our legal community by participating in efforts to improve the health and well-being of lawyers.
The Missouri Bar and the (American Bar Association) ABA already devote significant resources to this effort. The Missouri Bar's Missouri Lawyers Assistance Program (MOLAP) is available to assist Missouri lawyers and their families. It is a confidential counseling program designed to help individuals overcome problems such as substance abuse, depression, stress and burnout.
Recently, the ABA has asked law firms around the country to sign a pledge to promote wellness. When current ABA President Bob Carlson visited St. Louis last month, he spoke of the crisis in our legal communities and the need for bar associations to work on solutions and even shared some personal stories of how he has been affected by suicide.
A group of BAMSL members is working to try to figure out what we can do to assist in these efforts. We are already trying to be more diligent about including relevant topics at our CLEs. For example, this year's Bench and Bar included a presentation focused on how to cope with the stress of having a law practice.
Discussions at BAMSL's Well-Being Committee meetings have focused on the culture we create, particularly at our law schools, about being a lawyer and what expectations we create for social and performance behaviors and the need to examine that. We do not have all the answers. But we do want to help and one of the things this organization does well is advocate for the legal profession and community. When our lawyers need help we want to be there for them.
August is BAMSL's Health and Wellness month. We have planned a trial run at Yoga in Clayton, an exercise class at barre3 in Des Peres, the Project XOXO 5K run with The Simon Law Firm, informational classes on nutrition and diet, and mindfulness classes downtown. We hope you will take the opportunity to explore a new avenue for your own wellness.
BAMSL plans to continue working on lawyer wellness through the bar year and we welcome ideas for a healthier legal community. Please share with us your thoughts and ideas as we support our own legal community.