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On Balance

The Year-End Wellness Checklist We All Need

By Megan Zavieh

On Balance by Megan Zavieh

At the end of each year, Megan Zavieh typically recommends a checklist of steps lawyers can take to shore up their best practices and ethics safeguards. This year is no exception, but the focus is a bit different. Here’s her year-end wellness checklist befitting a not-so-typical year.

Year’s end is a great time to review your fee agreements, close old files and contact referral sources. As we’ve discussed before in this column, staying organized is the best tactic to prevent malpractice trouble. This year, however, a bigger concern for attorney ethics is attorney well-being.

Mental health is always a concern in the legal profession, where we have staggering rates of depression, substance abuse and burnout. This year, mental health problems have been compounded by working-from-home issues, practices sinking under the weight of unexpected economic hardship — and, for some, health challenges — plus the stress of trying to shift everything in our lives to a new way of working and living.

We cannot evaluate 2020 based on the prior year’s performance, or end the year with the same office-focused checklists.

In her Hack the Practice blog, Jess Birken, of Birken Law Office in Minnesota, sends amazingly positive messages to colleagues. Her focus this year has largely been about being good to ourselves and celebrating our wins in the midst of a pandemic. (You can sign up for her newsletter here.) Her approach is absolutely right: This was not a normal year, and it cannot be viewed be through the same lens as 2019 or any other year.

So, this year’s annual checklist looks like this.

1. Celebrate the Wins

When you look back over the year, rather than focusing on what went wrong, look at what went right. Did you implement a new system that overcame a challenge for you? Help a client through a problem they never expected to have? Find a new niche in your practice? Simply keep the doors open? Make a list and celebrate what you accomplished.

2. Recognize Your Team

More than ever, people need a little pick-me-up right now. Even if you are a true solo, there must be people who are part of your team: family and friends who support and encourage you, your mail carrier, your favorite barista, the Amazon delivery person (I feel like we are on a first-name basis this year). All contribute to your daily work life. Take a moment to tell them that they made a difference for you.

3. Adjust Your Goals

If you started 2020 with a list of goals you intended to accomplish, no doubt you should have adjusted them by about June. Even if your practice was a raging success this year, so many variables changed. One of my goals was to spend fewer nights away from home — well, that one I rocked! But another was to speak at more conferences — an obvious fail. And that is OK. Your year-end review of the year’s goals should include an adjustment to them and a realistic evaluation for next year.

4. Make New Goals for a Post-COVID World

At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of minimalism tips included asking yourself this question: “When things go back to normal, and regular activities are once again available, which ones do I want to add back?” At this point, we have lived without many of our activities for so long, and yet normalcy really could return in the coming year. This is a great time to think about what you would like your post-COVID world to look like. If we intentionally craft it, it can have the best of our old life and the positives that have come amid the coronavirus. For instance, perhaps you would like to continue working from home with remote staff, or drop one of your children’s activities, or keep up that daily walk with your spouse that you found time for when you stopped commuting.

5. Take Time Off

It is always important to take a break from work for your mental health. But this year the line between work and home hasn’t just been blurred — it’s been obliterated. There are positives to that, but a lot of negatives too, especially if working from home was new to you. Block some time on your calendar, tell your receptionist you will be out, set your autoresponder to say you are out of the office, and close the office door (whether figurative or literal) for a true break from work before 2021 ramps up.

This year has been like no other in our lifetimes, and our year-end cannot look the same as it did before. Be good to yourself.

Illustration ©

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Megan Zavieh Megan Zavieh

Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of “The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide.” At Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Her latest book, “The Modern Lawyer: Ethics and Technology in an Evolving World,” (ABA 2021 ) covers how to run a modern practice while staying in line with current ethics rules. She podcasts on Lawyers Gone Ethical, blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.

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