Kristin Bjorkman Dunn
Published March/April 2022
As I prepared to write this message, I looked back at what I had previously written for the Commissioner’s Message. How awkward if I were to write on a topic I had previously addressed! What came of this exercise turned out to be a good laugh at the following lines from my message in the January 2021 issue of The Advocate: “At times it felt like it would never end. The year that seemed to span a decade. Yet here we are at the start of 2021. Is that a worldwide collective sigh of relief I hear?”
As 2021 dawned, I did not expect that any sigh of relief on my part would be short lived. Indeed, I had higher expectations of 2021 than what turned out to be a year that felt like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day. Meetings and hearings via Zoom were still common if not the norm, masks continued to line the shelves at stores, and COVID protocols were still part of our everyday vernacular. Certainly, the pandemic was never welcome, but had it been, the welcome would have worn off long ago.
My look back also got me thinking about the myriad effects the pandemic has left in its wake, one of which is the impact it has had on morale and well-being. As reflected in the results of the 2021 Idaho State Bar Membership Survey, COVID-19 has been a menace to attorney well-being. One of the questions posed by the survey was, “In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected your practice?” and more than 40% of respondents selected “personal well-being.” In fact, “personal well-being” received more votes than any other option. A Bloomberg Law Survey reported in the June 2021 edition of the ABA Journal also contained disheartening statistics. The survey disclosed that nearly half of lawyers acknowledged that their well-being declined over the first quarter of 2021.
But this begs the question: just what is “well-being”? In 2017, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, published by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, pointed out that well-being is not defined solely as an absence of dysfunction; nor is it limited to feeling “happy.” Full well-being is multi-dimensional and requires things like connection, belonging, continual growth, and aligning our lives with our values.
No matter what the pandemic has in store for us going forward, there are a number of practical steps lawyers can take to address well-being concerns. Following is a brief excerpt from the steps identified in a report from the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being.
Assess Well-Being. Offices should collect and measure information about well-being stressors as well as lawyer and staff beliefs about well-being and organizational support for improving well-being to ascertain whether lawyers and staff perceive that their employer values and supports their well-being.
Evaluate current policies and practices relating to well-being. Make adjustments as necessary. Seek input from all lawyers and staff in a safe and confidential manner. Establish confidential reporting procedures for lawyers and staff to convey concerns.
Monitor for signs of poor self-care and work addiction. Avoid rewarding extreme behaviors that can ultimately be harmful to one’s health. Encourage lawyers to make time to care for themselves and attend to other personal obligations. Physical activity can aid health and cognitive functioning.
Actively Combat Social Isolation. Socializing helps individuals cope with stress and prevent negative consequences like burnout. It counters feelings of isolation and disconnectedness.
Educate. Teach lawyers and staff about the benefits of well-being practices such as meditation and yoga. Discuss the psychological challenges of the job. Take active steps to reduce stigma surrounding mental health challenges.
In addition to these steps, the Idaho State Bar offers resources. In February 2020, the Board of Commissioners of the Idaho State Bar formed The Attorney Well-Being Task Force. The task force brings various representatives from sections, committees, and practice groups together to investigate obstacles to well-being in the profession and identify resources to help attorneys, judges, law students, and related staff members not only survive but thrive in their professional and personal lives. You can access more information about the Idaho State Bar Attorney Well-Being Resources & Task Force online at https://isb.idaho.gov/member-services/programs-resources/attorney-well-being-resources/. The Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program is also available. This program offers a 24 hour hotline (866) 460-9014 and has an online presence at https://isb.idaho.gov/member-services/programs-resources/lap/.
This year’s Idaho State Bar Annual Meeting presents an opportunity for all of you to combat social isolation by attending July 20th through 22nd. For the first time ever, the annual meeting will be held in Twin Falls, Idaho. The venue overlooks the stunning Snake River Canyon. It is a terrific opportunity to mingle with attorneys from around the state and grow your social connections. If financial or professional circumstances are an issue, there are a limited number of scholarships available for attorneys. Scholarships include full registration, tickets to the social events, and per diem up to $75 per day for travel and lodging. To apply for a scholarship, go to the Idaho State Bar website and complete the Annual Meeting Scholarship Request Form. If you have questions, contact the Idaho State Bar Commissioner who represents your judicial district or the Bar’s Program and Legal Education Director, Teresa Baker. I hope to see you in Twin Falls!
Growing up, Kristin Bjorkman Dunn lived in several parts of Idaho. She called the towns of Salmon, Burley, and Moscow home. When she was finished with school, Kristin’s first job took her to Coeur d’Alene. Kristin now makes her home in Boise. In her spare time, she can be found reading on her back patio, running on the greenbelt, or camping with her family.