Analyses of the practical and economic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the legal profession are abundant, and not much new can be added. Similarly, considerations of the economy and business in general are also often covered with elaborate views of the current situation and familiar projections of often gloomy futures.
Still, general health issues connected with the lifestyle of lawyers are not so commonly discussed. And this topic is especially relevant in the context of the novel virus outbreak. How can we remain healthy and protect others? And, against the backdrop of a still expanding global pandemic, how do we preserve our mental health?
About the novel virus, it seems that we know all that is currently available – or at least we know how much we do not know. Thus, it seems reasonable to speak about health in a broader sense, and especially about the mental health of lawyers. This area is often neglected by lawyers in our urge for perfection;
a particular danger considering how serious mental health issues are becoming in the new context of the Covid pandemic.
I remember the International Bar Association gathering in Budapest at the occasion of the 14th Annual Bar Leaders Conference in 2019. It was there where I heard for the first time the topic of lawyers’ mental health and well-being discussed in depth. Striking examples were shared, including situations of substance abuse and serious broader negative social and health consequences.
Always pushed by the imperatives to succeed – to master the profession at the highest level – we fail to notice the toll that the “busy lawyer lifestyle” takes on our mental status and overall health. Lawyers are not the only one to suffer, of course – their families, friends, and colleagues suffer from the fallout as well. Last but not least, clients can also be impacted by the failure by their lawyers to provide smooth and secure service due to mental disruptions.
Many members of the legal profession suffer from depression, anxiety, and addiction, whether we are aware of it or not. This has always been the case, and it is occurring at an ever-increasing rate due to the pressure of potential job losses and the generally grim atmosphere the novel virus is imposing on all of us, across all jurisdictions. Prospects for the future do not look encouraging – there seems little reason to believe things will get better soon. Or maybe I am wrong?
The impact of the novel virus is still not fully understood, and its full consequences will emerge after time. In the interim, we hope that the easing of restraints will arrive soon, along with the development of a cure, the degradation of the virus, and the development of effective vaccines. What will remain constant is the need to establish and maintain a work-life balance not only during the days of Covid, but also once they pass.
As the pandemic has opened up different perspectives on our general health and social issues and on the need to have a proper health base to be able to survive the obstacles of everyday life, I ask myself whether we are now better equipped to recognize the core values of human society, in its entirety. We should not forget that being human and healthy is the biggest gift. And to be human means to be among other humans and respect their needs and interests and have an understanding of their personalities in the widest sense possible. If we start from there, and act with the care and compassion necessary to understand the needs not only of the profession but of the business world in general, and the significant role it plays in our day-to-day lives, we will be making a good start. And we will be able, at the same time, both to meet the highest demands of our profession (which should include the highest ethical norms), and do good for business.
If we adopt that, the future will be significantly less gloomy and we will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
By Stevan Dimitrijevic, Partner, Dimitrijevic & Partners