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Bar President's Message

Richard D'Addario, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

Reducing Stress

Richard P. D'Addario, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

 "We have to make our own choices of when our work day begins and ends, and those choices need to consider our own well-being, as well as the reasonable needs of our clients."

Recently, I started thinking about the many changes in our profession from the time I started practicing law in 1971 to the present. Certainly, the world we live in and the way we conduct our law practices are vastly different in so many ways. You would expect we are all reaping the benefit and harvest of the vast advances in technology as we handle our caseload on a day to day basis. However, this may not necessarily be the case as I see so many of us, myself included, enduring increases in our stress levels. While we would all agree that technology has made it far easier to communicate with our clients and fellow counsel, we have to ask ourselves why this ability to do so has not eased our workload and worry. In fact, in some ways, there seems to be more pressure and stress in our profession than ever.

I remember taking two-week vacations in my first few years of private practice, something I have rarely been able to accomplish in a long time. Those vacations did not involve the incessant checking of emails, text messages, and returning phone calls that have been a part of every vacation I have taken in more recent years. In fact, we used to rent an island cottage off the coast of Maine for a two-week stretch, and I was unreachable for that entire time since there was no phone available, not even a landline.

Perhaps you could say that the availability of technology and enhanced communication has led to a more efficient law office and ultimately better service for our clients. At the same time, it has immeasurably increased our client expectations and made it more difficult to separate our work time from the rest of our day. We have to step back and ask ourselves what effect all of this has had on us as attorneys and on our staff and families. What is the human side of these developments?

I recently had a closing where I represented a real estate seller, who, like some of our clients, was distrusting of the whole process. The closing took place without a hitch and the buyer’s attorney was ready to record the next day, make the payoff of my client’s mortgage, and wire the proceeds to her account. Routine stuff which should not have resulted in any stress for the participants, but my client kept calling and emailing the buyer’s attorney after the closing to check on when the funds were going to hit her account and when her lender was going to acknowledge receipt of her mortgage payoff funds. Emails and voicemails from her were sent late at night and in the early morning hours. One such email went to the buyer’s attorney at 11:45 PM and I noticed that he had responded to her minutes after receipt.

The next day I asked the buyer’s attorney why he felt it necessary to do so – it was obvious to me that the matter could have waited for his response during normal working hours. It certainly was not an emergency. He replied that it was just a habit of his to check and read emails as they came in, and he hadn’t really given much thought to whether he should respond when he should have been heading to bed.

The lesson learned from this example is this: we have to make our own choices of when our work day begins and ends, and those choices need to consider our own well-being, as well as the reasonable needs of our clients.

The recent COVID-19 crisis forced all of us to work at home for the past few months, further narrowing the space between office and home, between work and pleasure. Our computers and personal mobile devices make it too easy to always be in touch and we need to make choices as to when to turn off the work day. If we do not do so, the level of stress we face will get worse as it becomes easier for our clients to communicate with us at any time and at any place. This will inevitably change client expectations of the level of service required from their attorney, and we should all look carefully at how we want to service our clients, keeping in mind the overall effect it has on our well-being and the well-being of our staff and family members. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention your Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers Program (LHL). For those that may feel overwhelmed at times and have a need to talk to someone about whatever personal issue you may be dealing with, I would remind you that the LHL program, which is free of any cost, is a confidential, valuable resource to you as a Bar member. For more information about the program, go to this link from the Bar’s website: You may find it very helpful.