President's Page: The rhythms of well-being
Vol. 77, No. 2 / Mar. - Apr. 2021
John Gunn practices with Gunn Law Firm PC in St. Louis.
While corresponding with a member of our bar regarding recently encountered difficulties and the often-deafening static of thought we endure, I was struck by how symphonies are written out of such chaos.
Of all the notes, scales, rhythms, and melodies available to any composer, some fixed combination is conjured and established to form music. Sometimes soothing, sometimes energetic, sometimes angry, sometimes even remaining chaotic – good music always evokes emotion. Music and emotion are inextricably linked. Not only is music a means of emotional journey or escape, the process by which it is made is deeply parallel to our emotional existence.
Cacophony of images, thoughts, sounds, and other clatter is not unique to lawyers, but if recent studies have shown us anything, it is that we lawyers experience such lack of emotional clarity at a rate far exceeding what the general public experiences. Perhaps worse, we attempt to mitigate that experience through self-medication at a similar and alarmingly disparate rate.
The well-being of members of our bar is something to which little direct attention has been paid historically. The Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program has been in place, in one iteration or another, for decades. However, its utilization is far below what the objective numbers suggest. Fortunately for those working in the justice system, there has been a national movement toward an increased focus on the well-being of lawyers and others with whom we regularly work. It has been The Missouri Bar’s good fortune to enter this discussion with consensus, dedication, and guidance from a national expert in the field. Bree Buchanan, president of the Institute for Well-Being in Law (formerly the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being), not only presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of The Missouri Bar, but served as facilitator for a Roundtable on Lawyer Well-Being I had the honor of co-hosting with Chief Justice George W. Draper III in October 2020. This roundtable, attended by stakeholders from throughout the profession, discussed issues impacting well-being in law and how those issues can be best addressed by The Missouri Bar. A report generated by the roundtable includes several recommendations, the consideration and implementation of which is the charge of a newly created Lawyers Living Well Special Committee. Chaired by Athena Dickson, of Kansas City, and vice-chaired by Erica Mynarich, of Springfield, and Whittney Dunn, of St. Louis, the Lawyers Living Well Special Committee first convened in late February and established three working groups to consider unique ways to address wellness within the purviews of stigma, education, and policy. My pride in announcing this special committee is in part because it constitutes the true beginning of my passion project as president of The Missouri Bar, but the majority of the pride is in the striking personal commitment of the members of the special committee.
The first meeting of the special committee was not only moving, as members shared their personal reasons for involvement in the effort, but also remarkably inspiring. Lawyers are often quick to find competition in what we do. This is residual to how we were trained and also a large contributing factor to our collective difficulty when it comes to well-being. But in this space specifically, there is no ownership of ideas or jockeying for attention. Pure, selfless collaboration may seem unattainable, but if it can be found anywhere it is in the communal effort to address issues that result in the literal loss of life among our colleagues. The judges and lawyers involved in this project are engaged for the best of reasons: solely to help others. But the reach of this special committee will certainly not be limited to its members. It is our hope that the fruits of work done will reach all corners of our state and beyond.
Our profession may have fallen behind in taking care of ourselves, but whether individually or in groups such as our special committee, there are myriad symphonies yet to be written. Your assistance in advancing these efforts would be enormously appreciated, but for now, as we approach May's Well-Being Week in Law, I ask that you: accept that we all fall short personally and professionally; appreciate there are others who genuinely care about you, many of whom you may never meet; know you are valued; trust difficulty is not permanent; and always maintain an open mind.