Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 9

TOWARD WELL-BEING
We Cannot Pour
From an Empty Cup
By Bonnie Prober
A
s lawyers, we spend our days
- and often our nights -
helping people who are
facing difficult, sometimes
traumatic situations. We advocate
zealously on their behalf, often subordinating
our own emotional
responses. We are helpers; we do
not want to be seen as needing
help ourselves. But there are very
real costs to helping.
The emotionally demanding nature of our work
puts us at high risk for " compassion fatigue, " a
condition defined as the cumulative psychological
and physical effects of exposure to
the pain, distress, or injustice suffered by
others. It is often described as a deep spiritual,
physical, and emotional exhaustion that leads
to increasing feelings of despair and apathy.
While compassion fatigue is a term most often
used in the traditional " helping " professions,
the cumulative toll of such draining work is not
unique to individuals in the medical, mental
health, or social welfare fields. Lawyers are
increasingly exhibiting compassion fatigue.
WHY LAWYERS?
Lawyers are susceptible to compassion fatigue
beginning in law school, where a high value is
placed on competition and self-reliance. We are
taught to be strong, objective, and unemotional,
lest we be perceived as unprofessional.
In practice, the nature of our work is inherently
adversarial. Our ability to effect change or
achieve just outcomes is more limited than we
may have imagined, and work conditions often
are isolated and less collaborative than in other
professions. Historically, the legal field has been
reluctant to acknowledge the emotional toll on
lawyers and has shown little support for mental
health treatment.
Judges and lawyers practicing in areas such as
criminal, family, juvenile, and immigration law
may face a particularly high risk of compassion
fatigue, and even vicarious trauma, as they are
regularly exposed to individuals' stories of fear,
pain, and suffering, as well as graphic evidence
of victimization. In this profession, we all strive
tirelessly to assist clients during their worst or
most vulnerable times. Many lawyers log
countless hours of work for emotionally difficult
pro bono cases.
" We invest heavily . . . [and] feel the pain pretty
acutely during the ups and downs of the representation, "
says Kim Koopersmith, chairperson
of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.
Practitioners with heavy caseloads, and those
who are particularly conscientious and empathetic,
are at an even higher risk of experiencing
compassion fatigue, as are those who
have suffered personal trauma and those who
lack social and emotional supports, sufficient
boundaries, and a commitment to self-care.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
The condition manifests in a range of psychological
and behavioral symptoms, including:
* Regularly allowing client demands to
encroach on personal time.
* Feeling emotionally exhausted, pessimistic,
irritable, demoralized, numb, hopeless, or
apathetic.
* Experiencing intrusive thoughts, a heightened
fear of harm, disturbing dreams, sleep
disturbance, loss of appetite, headaches,
other physical complaints, decreased productivity,
or greater absenteeism.
* Detaching or withdrawing from professional
and personal relationships.
* Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.
REVERSING THE IMPACT
Self-care is critical to combatting compassion
fatigue, achieving work-life balance, and
enhancing overall health and wellness.
Examples of self-care include healthy eating,
physical exercise, adequate sleep, regular
medical care, meditation, participation in
leisure activities, and scheduled downtime to
unplug from work and electronics.
Symptoms may be mitigated or even prevented
by engaging in regular self-assessments
to monitor thoughts, emotions, and behaviors;
establishing personal and professional boundaries
and saying no or asking for help more
often; maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships;
learning and implementing stress
management techniques; and regularly
debriefing with other practitioners about
feelings and reactions to cases or traumatic
material. At Akin Gump, one of the most effective
strategies has been " giving voice to [the
impact on lawyers] and allowing people to talk
about it, " says Koopersmith.
A variety of resources are available to assist
lawyers suffering from compassion fatigue. The
D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program provides
free, confidential counseling and referral
services (visit dcbar.org/lap, call 202-347-3131, or
email lap@dcbar.org). Many firms and government
agencies also provide access to employee
assistance programs, which offer free and confidential
short-term counseling services.
As lawyers, we empathize with, dedicate ourselves
to, and work tirelessly for our clients. But
we cannot pour from an empty cup. Our own
health and well-being, as well as the quality of
our representation, require that we also invest
in ourselves.
Bonnie Prober is a member of the D.C. Bar Lawyer
Assistance Committee. She practiced civil litigation
for over a decade before transitioning to a career
in social work.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021
* WASHINGTON LAWYER 9
http://www.dcbar.org/lap

Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021

Letter to Members
From Our President
Calendar of Events
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
Reforming Conservatorship: A Battle Over Best Interests
Legal Deserts: No-Man’s Land of Affordable Legal Help
The Unfinished Work of Equal Justice for All
Pro Bono Mentoring for High-Impact Help
The Afghanistan Fallout: Broken Promises & Processes
Taking the Stand
ABA Delegate’s Corner
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Speaking of Ethics
The Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 4
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Letter to Members
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Reforming Conservatorship: A Battle Over Best Interests
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 11
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 12
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 13
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Legal Deserts: No-Man’s Land of Affordable Legal Help
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 15
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 16
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 17
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 18
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 19
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Unfinished Work of Equal Justice for All
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 21
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 22
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 23
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Pro Bono Mentoring for High-Impact Help
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 25
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 26
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 27
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Afghanistan Fallout: Broken Promises & Processes
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 29
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 30
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 31
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 33
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - ABA Delegate’s Corner
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 37
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 39
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 40
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 41
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 43
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 46
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 47
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 49
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 50
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 51
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 52
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 53
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 55
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover4
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