President's Page by Renee Ezer
Many of us practice in Boulder because we believe that if sustained work-life balance can actually be achieved, we can achieve it here. We have the mountains, clean air, a creek that runs right through town, walking and running trails, music, theater, restaurants, two pedestrian malls, yoga studios, and spas. National Geographic Explorer recently concluded that the happiest Americans live in Boulder. And yet, many attorneys practicing law here have recently reported that they feel exhausted, tired, burned out. I, too, can get overwhelmed from time to time, no matter how carefully I try to guard against it.
Brett Landis, Managing Attorney of Boulder County Legal Services, told me last week that early in career, one of her mentors taught her to protect herself from secondary and vicarious trauma in the practice of law. These terms refer to what we take on, as lawyers, in the representation of clients who have experienced trauma or are involved in traumatic litigation, or what seeps in when our cases involve highly emotional or traumatic facts and evidence. Compassion fatigue can also produce secondary trauma symptoms. Judges are particularly susceptible to vicarious trauma because they are exposed to many more cases than attorneys are. Brett was fortunate. I don’t know anyone else who was mentored in that way.
People who experience secondary or vicarious trauma can become irritable, unreasonable, anxious or depressed. They might have trouble concentrating during the day or sleeping at night. They might disconnect emotionally from people and activities that used to bring them joy and comfort, feel chronically stressed or burned out. These symptoms can often be exacerbated by other pressures in daily life, and can lead to unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. These strategies might work for a while, but are not a sustainable, long term solution to the problem.
We are trained to manage conflict and stress for other people, but most of us have not been trained to create a healthy lifestyle and practice for ourselves. I think this is the critical part of our education that is lacking. To address this void, and to promote improved health and well-being in the legal profession, the ABA National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being recently issued a 75-page report with practical recommendations for positive change . This is ground-breaking and revolutionary, and I believe that it will create the impetus for trainings at the state and local levels, which ultimately will benefit all of us. The BCBA Executive Committee and Staff will attend the first CLE offered on this material in November. The Criminal Law Section of the BCBA is also sponsoring a CLE on November 29, 2017 at noon at the Justice Center entitled, “COLAP Presents: How to Make Stress Work for You.” This is going to be an excellent program, and I expect it will be very well-attended.
We work in a community that promotes and encourages all of us to live our best lives, in and out of our practices. I think the time has come to increase our awareness and learn how to create our own best practices to help relieve, or avoid altogether, symptoms of secondary trauma and stress, as we strive for that illusive work-life balance.