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Kutak Rock Incorporates Well-Being into Firmwide Professional Culture, Celebrates Well-Being Week in Law

News - Inclusiveness and Diversity | May 6, 2024

Even before the pandemic, the mental health and well-being of lawyers and legal professionals was a cause for concern throughout the industry. Given the high-stress nature of the law and the types of personalities drawn to such a service-oriented, high-stakes profession, the American Bar Association put a plan in place to help law firms address high levels of stress, burnout, mental health issues, substance/alcohol use disorders, and social isolation. 

Not long after, Kutak Rock began formulating its own plans to address professional well-being throughout the firm, including offering mindfulness and meditation sessions at annual partnership meetings. That evolved into a firmwide Mindfulness Group, which officially launched in April 2020, unintentionally but fortuitously timed with the beginning of the pandemic and the mental health crises that followed. 

Mindfulness. Since then, the Mindfulness Group has conducted a 30-minute session nearly every week. These experiences, which are open to everyone at the firm, often center on a word such as “abundance,” or “compassion,” “reflection,” or “awe.” Each session is recorded, made available in an ever-growing library of resources, and is accompanied by an email containing extra resources. New in 2024, the group has begun focusing on topics specific to the professional work environment. 

Well-Being Initiative. Meanwhile, members of the firm’s National Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee (NIDC) envisioned a holistic approach to professional well-being and formed a subcommittee to lift the project off the ground. The Well-Being Initiative officially began in October 2021 with weekly themed emails addressing specific, pertinent topics (e.g., depression education and awareness in October, aspects of gratitude every November, etc.). The NIDC subcommittee eventually turned into the Well-Being Initiative Group (W-BIG), comprised of attorneys, staff, and firm leaders, which makes changes to systems and conducts education and training opportunities. 

First Survey of its Kind. The W-BIG quickly realized that to improve the firm’s well-being as an organization, it needed a baseline and sought an appropriate survey. Unfortunately, none existed. The firm turned to professor and psychologist Dr. Andrew Smith of Cardiff University in Wales, who was able to adapt his previous organizational well-being research surveys to fit large, legal entities in the United States. Incredibly, the firm had an 84% participation rate on that survey.

Well-Being Strategic Plan. The results of the survey were used not only to direct and inform the content of weekly firm emails, trainings, and education, but to create a tailored, three-year well-being strategic plan for Kutak Rock, including nine overarching goals and hundreds of supporting tactics within three focus areas: 

  • Develop satisfying work relationships and reimagine connection and belonging (especially in a hybrid work environment)
  • Support psychological capital/HERO (Hope, self-Efficacy, Resilience, Optimism)
  • Support firm members in finding healthy work-life balance/boundaries/blend

Firmwide Support. Although the W-BIG—with administrative backing from the Inclusive Engagement Department—spearheads well-being at Kutak Rock, the initiative benefits from widespread support. The firm’s current strategic plan is divided into two parts, one of which is intended to support firm members’ careers through increased focus on holistic health and well-being and professional development. The firm’s Human Resources Department is also constantly looking for reasonable ways to expand the firm’s benefits offerings to better support members’ health and well-being. 

Mental Health Awareness Month/Well-Being Week in Law. Since 1949, mental health experts have sought to bring awareness to the public about various aspects of mental health and mental disorders every May by declaring it Mental Health Awareness Month. It wasn’t until nearly 70 years later that the legal profession followed suit. 

Following the publication of several national studies highlighting alarmingly high levels of depression, anxiety, and alcohol misuse among U.S. lawyers and law students, the American Bar Association created the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. This task force was comprised of members of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs. 

In August 2017 the group published The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, which contained 44 recommendations. The task force expanded and eventually evolved into an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Institute for Well-Being in Law (IWIL), which launched the first Well-Being Week in Law in May 2020. It now occurs the first week of May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Kutak Rock joins other law firms, attorneys, and legal professionals around the world May 6-10, 2024 to recognize Well-Being Week in Law. We, too, have experienced deep bereavement at the loss of colleagues, friends, and loved ones due to professional pressures, mental health struggles, and substance misuse disorders. We have also celebrated with those who have undertaken sobriety journeys, begun mindfulness practices, sought out professional help, recognized unhealthy behaviors in themselves or loved ones, reached out to a struggling colleague, set healthy boundaries, and said yes to new adventures.