California Lawyers Association

Wellbeing Week in the Law Q&A with Sara Rief

Well-Being Week in the Law (WWIL) is coming up on May 2-6. We checked in with Sara Rief, chair of CLA’s Health and Wellness Committee, to find out what activities are on tap and what drives the committee’s work. 

This year’s Well-Being Week coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month. Why is it important to align those two topics?

The latest study by well-being expert Patrick Krill (done in conjunction with CLA and the D.C. Bar) found that about half of practicing attorneys are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Lawyers are also one of the top professions for highest suicide rates. Spreading awareness that mental health issues are not only present in this profession but, in fact, common, is of utmost importance. Well-Being Week provides the space and resources for lawyers to focus on bettering their mental health.

What events or programs are you looking forward to? Why? 

The great thing about Well-Being Week is that each day focuses on a different aspect of well-being, so that makes it really “user friendly” as there is a place for everyone to find connection whether it is physical, social, emotional, spiritual or occupational well-being. Our committee has events planned for the week (in addition to the national events) that include a “Walk and Talk” and a cooking class—two things I love to do!

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the committee’s approach to health and wellness programs? If so, how?

At the beginning of the pandemic, we put our immediate efforts into mindfulness and stress-reducing speakers and events. Our committee had our first meeting in February 2020, so a lot was put on our plate right away! As the pandemic progressed and we found ourselves at home longer than we all expected, our focus shifted to providing a space once a month for us to come together virtually and either hear from a speaker or have a discussion on some aspect of health and wellness (these were known as “Wellness Wednesdays”). As we have slowly transitioned out of the “acute” aspect of the pandemic, there are still Covid-related issues that we will continue to address as they evolve (like the presentation we had by Jarrett Green last year on returning to the office), but I do feel like we can get back to our “normal programming” which encompasses mental/physical health, substance abuse, stress management and mindfulness.

What prompted you to take a leading role on the Health and Wellness Committee?

Sadly, it was the suicide of a colleague that made me want to contribute more and become a leader in this space. I also have close family members that suffer from depression, so I have seen first hand how crippling it can be for work and family life. 

That’s heartbreaking. How would you characterize the state of well-being in the legal profession?  

To be frank, historically, the legal profession has done a poor job at supporting the health and wellness of lawyers. The studies show that lawyers are suffering from the grueling hours, competitive environments and the overall stressful demands of practicing law (clients, deadlines, etc.). Thankfully, the alarming results of these studies are having an impact and we see associations like CLA, law firms, and even some law schools prioritizing health and wellness. So, we are heading in the right direction which is exciting and has me hopeful for the future.  

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