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every section of the mandatory Professional Responsibility course.
The first program of its kind at a top law school, the curriculum
will inform students about risks to health and career satisfaction
and equip them with tools to promote awareness and well-being
in their own future careers.
Here in Montgomery County, we have just as much of a
responsibility to address the well-being of our own legal staff. As
public defenders, we serve individuals in the community who
are often struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, and
homelessness. This requires significant compassion and patience
from us in addition to legal expertise and excellence. Our job is
not just to represent our clients to the best of our abilities, but also
to support them in any way we can. How are we supposed to do
our jobs well if we are not well? Here at the Montgomery County
Public Defender's Office, steps are being taken to promote our
staff's well-being so that we can continue to serve the community
and fulfill our duties as client-centered, zealous advocates.
Last year, the National Association for Public Defense
(NAPD) started a conversation about wellness in the public
defense community, urging Chief Defenders to talk with
their staff members about the importance of prioritizing our
physical and mental health. We formed a Wellness Committee,
comprised of several members spanning all the divisions in
the office. We were deliberate about the composition of the
committee, wanting to ensure that all voices and perspectives
were represented. Too often, when we talk about wellness, only
attorneys are included in the conversation. The initiatives by
the ABA and University of Pennsylvania Law School, though
laudable, only address lawyer well-being. However, everyone in
our organization, every administrative professional, paralegal,
social worker, investigator, and lawyer, is impacted by the work we
do with our clients. We also included an organization supervisor
on the committee, as any suggested programming would need the
buy-in from management.

hour, or day to take care. We are currently cleaning out a small
room in the office that we will call the Quiet Room. This room
will have a chair, a small table with books and magazines, and
enough space for yoga and meditation. This is a space our staff
can use to briefly re-charge from the pressures of the work. The
response to these programs has been encouraging. In the next
few months, we plan to add additional initiatives suggested by

In April, after several meetings, we launched our wellness
program, "Doing Good By Staying Well." If we do not
acknowledge our own vicarious trauma and prioritize our
own emotional and physical well-being, we cannot be the
compassionate, client-centered and zealous advocates we need to
be. If we are to continue doing the good work, we have to stay
well. Our objective is a simple one: de-stigmatize conversations
around mental and emotional health and provide the time,
space, and opportunities for staff to engage in programming
geared towards improving their well-being. Incorporated in our
programming are opportunities for staff to take hourly breaks
from their desks, get outside, eat healthy lunches, and exercise.
We offer monthly yoga classes and in-office chair massages. On
Sundays, staff are encouraged to send in a photo showing them
doing some self-care activity. These photos are then shared with
everyone so that we can encourage each other to take that minute,

As lawyers, we are taught that the client always comes first.
But what about when the "client always coming first" translates
into working through lunch, compromising sleep, being too
exhausted to exercise, and feeling emotionally and physically
spent by the time we get home? Here in Montgomery County,
we are following the ABA's initiative to actively work against
this culture. We believe that our staff's well-being is in the best
interest of everyone: not just the individuals, but also their
families, their organizations, their communities, and their
clients. In short, as legal professionals, we owe it to ourselves
to step back, take a breath, and relax. As Chief of Appeals Lee
Awbrey admitted about her own wellness journey, some of her
greatest breakthroughs in legal arguments come to her not at
her desk, but while she's on a walk. We can all learn a lot from
Awbrey, by remembering this anecdote as a testament to how
taking care of yourself can help you be a better advocate.

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