Commissioner’s Column: Well Being in Law

By Jillian H. Caires

As lawyers, we have a tough job. We work long hours and feel a hefty pressure to obtain the best possible outcomes for our clients. Attorneys meet clients and victims in their hour of greatest need and walk alongside them as they navigate crisis. Our judges see some of the darkest parts of humanity daily. We can all likely empathize with the stress of law school and studying for the bar exam. Additionally, as Idaho lawyers, we go through long, dark winters, which, in my opinion, multiplies the weight we feel as lawyers (thank goodness it is FINALLY spring!).

Most of us have experienced stress from our work – in my career, I have experienced physical manifestations of stress such as a chronically sore shoulder and I have gone through periods of burn out. We have also likely all known colleagues in the legal profession who have self-medicated with alcohol or drugs or been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. One of my law school classmates tragically took his own life several years ago, a shock to those who knew him as an upbeat friend who would lift others up. Sadly, many of us have been touched by this type of tragedy.

The first full week of May is Well-Being Week in Law[1], and May is Mental Health Awareness Month; a month focused on building awareness about, and breaking stigmas around, mental health.[2] “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”[3] In a profession where we often tend to the needs of others before our own and in a state with a suicide rate higher than the national average, it is critical that we take time as individuals and as a profession to build our mental health awareness.[4] Maintaining well-being is part of lawyers’ ethical duty of competence.

We are instructed by airline attendants that in case of emergency, we must secure our own oxygen mask first before we help others. The same is true when it comes to taking care of our own mental health and well-being: we must take care of ourselves first if we are to successfully help others. Part of taking care of ourselves is knowing what warning signs to watch for. Some warning signs of mental health problems include: withdrawing from people or activities; eating or sleeping too much or too little; experiencing a drop in energy levels; feeling hopeless; increasing use of substances; and thinking of harming one’s self or others.[5]

As a Board of Commissioners, we took time last fall to develop our strategic vision for the Idaho State Bar. One focus of that strategic vision is supporting the well-being of our members. If you have a passion for well-being, please keep your eyes open for an opportunity to join the Bar’s Well-Being Committee which will soon be formed by the Commission.

Jillian H. Caires is an Idaho native and a proud Washington State University Cougar and Gonzaga Bulldog. After clerking for the Honorable Benjamin Simpson, Jillian spent several years in private practice in Coeur d’Alene before joining the in-house legal team of Avista Corporation. In her free time, Jillian enjoys baking, gardening, walking her standard poodle, and spending time with her family.