WilmerHale has reaffirmed its commitment to the health of the firm community by continuing its participation in the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Well-Being Pledge for Legal Employers.
The ABA launched the campaign in fall 2018 to encourage law firms and other legal-sector employers to commit to helping lawyers and staff maintain positive mental health and combat substance abuse. By signing the ABA pledge, WilmerHale became part of the inaugural group of participating law firms.
Since then, the firm has made significant strides to support lawyer and staff well-being. Over the past 18 months, the WilmerHale Well-Being Working Group has led the push to uphold the seven expectations of the ABA pledge.
“The pledge’s framework challenges us to provide practical support and resources to lawyers and staff and to make a critical cultural shift in the way we approach well-being as a whole and how we talk about issues of mental health and substance abuse,” said Partner Jeannette Boot, who spearheads the firm’s well-being efforts, along with Partner Laura Schneider.
Understandably, the importance of supporting the emotional and physical health of the WilmerHale community has been reinforced by the converging stressors of 2020. The health threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the isolation of remote work and thrown the economy into recession, the killing of George Floyd and resulting reckoning over racism, and an increasingly tension-packed general election season all have added to the stresses so many people are currently experiencing.
The working group—with support from Legal Personnel and Development, Human Resources, Practice Management and other administrative departments at the firm—has implemented several practical programs and proactive changes since the adoption of the pledge. The firm participated in Lawyer Well-Being Week, which was organized by the ABA and the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being to raise mental health awareness and encourage action across the profession to improve well-being for lawyers and staff members. Additionally, as a response to working remotely amid the pandemic, the group has organized many opportunities to connect and engage in the firm community; for example, WilmerHale launched Microsoft Teams firmwide, featuring a Team called Connecting During COVID-19, intended to give members of the firm a space to collaborate outside of email.
Additionally, the working group has led efforts to encourage conversations surrounding well-being as a priority that should be adopted within the broader legal industry. Another key message of the working group is that everyone faces challenges and that, for those experiencing mental health and substance abuse disorders, there should not be stigma attached in seeking help.
“Well-being is relevant to everyone at the firm, not just people who suffer from illness,” says Boot, who co-wrote an article in the National Association for Law Placement’s PD Quarterly. “We want to encourage everyone to take care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally, and are committed to providing resources to help everyone at the firm thrive.”