Wellness & Our Professional Family: A Letter From MSBA President

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I want to thank the publisher of this wonderful magazine for the opportunity to share a few words from the Minnesota State Bar Association. I am honored to serve as the MSBA president this coming year.

One of the key provisions of the current MSBA strategic plan centers upon attorney and staff wellness. Before the pandemic a study produced by the ABA in coordination with researchers at the Hazelden Foundation found that approximately one-third of legal profession survey respondents identified significant mental and chemical health issues plaguing their personal and professional lives.

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On June 29 the Minnesota Supreme Court, in conjunction with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, joined forces to lead a renewal of their call to action on lawyer well-being. The “renewal” aspect of this year’s program reflects a re-examination and recommitment to wellness on the part of the profession following the impact of the pandemic and the shutdown.

Beginning last year, the two courts—led by Justice Natalie Hudson and Federal District Court Judge Donovan Frank, respectively—established a judiciary task force that led the way to this year’s renewal. Representatives of the appellate and district courts, LCL, and the state and federal bar associations met to try to thoughtfully and purposefully usher in the renewal effort. Surveys were utilized to get input on the effects of the pandemic, best practices that were being developed or in use, and how best to construct a kick-off event. The gathering on June 29 was the culmination of many months of hard work. I am happy to report the program was a great success.

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Chief Judge John R. Tunheim of the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, began the program, entitled “The Judiciary: Embracing Lawyer Well-Being,” by reviewing where we as a profession have been, where we hope to be going forward, and the role of the judiciary in this process. Next came keynote speaker Patrick Krill, principal and founder of Krill Strategies. He discussed where the profession currently stands on well-being as well as recently published and forthcoming research that underscores the magnitude of current challenges but also opportunities for improvement.

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The presentation included three distinguished panels of speakers that looked at issues of wellness in the profession from different perspectives – private law and private legal employers; public lawyers and public legal employers; law schools, students and new lawyers.

The event culminated in the presentation of the first-ever Chiefs’ Award to recipient Joan Bibelhausen of Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL). And how well-deserved it is. As many of you know, Joan has a national reputation for outstanding work and leadership in the lawyer assistance and diversity and inclusion realms. She has served as executive director of LCL since 2005. Joan has significant additional training in the areas of counseling, mental health and addiction, diversity, employment issues, and management. She has spent more than two decades working with lawyers, judges, and law students who are at a crossroads because of concerns over mental illness, addiction, stress, and other issues of well-being. Joan is a treasure to our state and our profession, and I know I join everyone in congratulating and thanking her for her hard work and leadership.

The review of how we do things as a profession, how the courts and the members of the Bar handle matters and provide a just system, is happening. I expect that over the next two-three years in particular there will be a re-examination of how we as a profession operate, with an eye on improving the systems that may be negatively impacting wellness in our profession. Everything from how we license lawyers and the bar exam to the provisions of the general rules of practice and other procedural rules to marshalling resources to help those already suffering and how the courts schedule and handle cases while implanting the technology gains during the pandemic.

The MSBA is a key voice in this process. If you want to help shape the future of our profession, please come join us. As a voluntary bar association, we need lawyers to step up and join. There are many, many good reasons why MSBA membership is important to our profession and brings great value to the member. If you aren’t currently a member of the MSBA please join. Give us a call and ask to explore becoming a member and our wonderful staff and members are happy to help make that happen. Now, more than ever, we need our profession to come together as a family to be the voice of our profession at this critical time.

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