Results from Bloomberg Law’s most recent Workload & Hours Survey show the largest jump in hours lawyers spent on self-care since the survey’s inception. The 658 survey respondents reported spending an average of 6.6 hours per week on self-care in H1 2022—one hour more than attorneys reported spending on self-care in Q4 2021 (5.6 hours).
Even though this weekly amount breaks down to less than an hour a day, in a profession where burnout is high, I believe any increase in the time spent on self-care is a shift in the right direction.
Female Lawyers Trail Males in Self-Care
Consistent with earlier survey results, female attorneys reported spending less time on self-care than their male counterparts.
The survey used the National Institute of Mental Health’s definition of self-care: taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.
Both male and female respondents reported spending at least an hour more per week on self-care since the final quarter of 2021, but female attorneys—reporting 5.9 hours a week—still lagged behind male attorneys, who reported 7.2 hours.
Women suffer “disproportionately” as a result of work-life conflicts, research shows. The survey responses support this finding, as women have continuously reported spending less time on self-care than men for the last year and a half (since the survey began).
When the self-care data are broken down by job title (i.e., senior associate, partner, general counsel, etc.), there was a reported increase in weekly self-care hours for all lawyers except for those who identified as general counsel. These respondents reported a slight decrease in H1 (5 hours a week) from the previous quarter (5.2 hours a week).
Lawyers Prioritizing Physical Health over Mental Health?
For the first time, Bloomberg Law’s Workload & Hours Survey asked attorneys what forms of self-care they were practicing.
“Exercise” came in as the most popular form of self-care, with 66% of respondents selecting it (almost 10% more respondents than the No. 2 activity—“family time”).
Exercise is promoted by legal organizations, and it’s a fast (and acceptable) way to de-stress. Legal organizations hold walking challenges, sponsor 5Ks, and offer access to fitness apps. My former law firm even had regular virtual yoga classes. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve gone through more walking shoes than I did in the prior five years.
In contrast, only 14% of respondents selected “attending to my mental health” as a form of self-care. Although mental health awareness is promoted by legal organizations, there’s still stigma surrounding mental health care and substance-abuse treatment, which often goes hand-in-hand with mental health problems.
Self-Care Is a Start—Not the Solution
The increase in time spent on self-care reported in Bloomberg Law’s survey is encouraging, and may be due in part to the work that Lawyer Assistance Programs and other bar organizations have spent promoting attorney well-being.
Last month, I attended the ABA’s 2022 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), which had as a theme that self-care is not only good for you—it’s good for business. And CoLAP took this idea and ran with it, so to say: One session was devoted to self-compassion, and another session was focused on meditation and taking restorative breaks for yourself during the day. Personally, these breaks allow me to then return to work with increased productivity.
Another important theme I picked up on during 2022 CoLAP is that if the legal profession truly wants to improve attorney well-being, there needs to be more education for, and buy-in from, the people at the top. Self-care won’t solve everything. Structures and systems need to change. But, as we can’t control everything around us, we can start with what we can control.
This past Monday, October 10, was World Mental Health Day and Law School Mental Health Day. Now is an ideal time for all of us—law students, young lawyers, and seasoned attorneys— to make self-care a priority.
Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations, and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.
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