Attorney Wellness is a big tent. A lot fits underneath:
Lawyer assistance programs. Helping colleagues in need. Mentoring attorneys. The connection between wellness and civility. Making time for what matters: family, friends, interests outside the law.
Of all that’s under the tent, nobody did them better than Joan Loring Wing.
Many of you knew Joan. For those who did not, she was a titan of the Vermont legal community. A figurative Giant. All the good we’ve done on attorney wellness over the past few years? It’s not as much us as it is that Joan lifted us up, put us on her shoulders, and showed us the way.
I knew Joan well. She was on the Professional Conduct Board when I was hired as deputy disciplinary counsel in 1998. To the extent that wellness includes having a job and being involved in the profession, Joan is why I’m well.
In 2000, it looked like my job would be cut. Joan made sure it wasn’t. I’m still here and, honestly, do not want to imagine how my career would’ve turned out if she hadn’t intervened.
In 2009, Liz Miller asked me to the run for a seat on the Vermont Bar Association’s Board of Managers. Waffling, I turned to Joan for guidance. As had her father and grandfather, Joan had served on the Board and become President. She told me it’d be the best experience of my professional life. Then, to make sure I didn’t chicken out, she showed up to the voting meeting and gave a speech nominating me. I remain convinced that many who voted for me did so only because Joan vouched for me.
Joan was right about the Board experience. As with my day job, I don’t like to think how my career would’ve turned out had she not convinced me to run.
Tonight, I’m speaking at the meeting of the Joan Loring Wing Inn of Court. About a week ago, I decided to mark the occasion by making today’s post about Joan.
Thinking about Joan and “wellness” can be funny.
- She smoked constantly. Even in her office. I remember many a meeting having to look thru Lark smoke to see her across the desk.
- She drank a ton of soda. She brought a little cooler full of cans of Coke to every meeting or event that I remember. Then asked the serving staff to bring her a cup of ice.
- The soda chased the Cheetos and Thin Mints that she brought along with it.
Cigarettes & junk food. And from what I recall, her work days began in the middle of the night. But Joan would be at the forefront of Attorney Wellness. How do I know? Because she was all about Attorney Wellness even before it was a thing.
Joan died in a car accident on December 8, 2009. Two days later, the Supreme Court held a swearing-in ceremony for new lawyers. Chief Justice Reiber spoke. He dedicated his words to Joan. The VBA Journal printed his speech here, It tells the story of Joan, and what she meant to Vermont, far better than I can.
So can others. In anticipation of this blog, I asked several who knew her to share thoughts on Joan and how she’d view the “attorney wellness” phenomenon. Here are some responses:
- “Joan knew the benefits of social interaction, positive mentoring, and just plain support to the profession. No matter the age, nor level of experience of the lawyer, she was always willing to provide unbiased and meaningful advice. She promoted wellness among the bench and bar by encouraging personal best behaviors and openness for constructive criticism. Joan knew that small gestures which invoked humor where absolutely necessary for the practice: always having “settle” and “pay” M& Ms at mediation would bring some comedic relief to an otherwise stressful situation for both the parties and the lawyers. While her methods of practicing “wellness” were non-traditional, they were effective to promote the best version of ourselves as lawyers, and deal with the stressors that come with an active practice.” Attorney Bonnie Badgewick
- “Joan Wing was like a sister to me. I can hear her now delivering some irreverent tongue-in-cheek comment about what the legal profession was coming to if it actually needed to focus on ‘wellness’ and on teaching ourselves how to take care of ourselves. But if someone were not well and she found out about it, she would have been one of the first to respond. While never taking herself too seriously, she manifested for all of us a caring attitude toward her fellow attorneys, which in and of itself helped promote our collective wellness.” Honorable Peter Hall, United States Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
- “You know for Joanie I think over all the years when she served as a leader in so many capacities, what she did and what she said was never about her. Her efforts were not designed to invite praise or attention to herself. I think the motivation was to push us all to be our best selves, not for our self-interest but for the betterment of the whole. The notion that we in the bar need to look after our own mental health and support our friends and colleagues, seems to me to be very much in concert with Joan’s strong sense of duty. Like her father who escaped a German prisoner of war camp in the winter in bare feet, Joanie was tough, with a single-minded devotion to the common good. I will never forget the moment I learned of her death. Through her memory she continues to be an inspiration.” Honorable Paul Reiber, Chief Justice, Vermont Supreme Court.
- “She absolutely would have been on board with wellness, as long as there was no mandatory smoking cessation program. The first thing Joanie ever said to me was ‘well, are you a shrinking violet or what?’ I told her ‘or what.’ She always made sure to reach out to young women starting out in the RCBA to make sure we were introduced to our fellow RCBA lawyers and to make sure we knew that we weren’t alone in our experiences and could tap into the resources of those who had been there before us. I am so thankful to her for helping me meet people and making me feel supported as a young lawyer starting out in Rutland County. She was an endless source of historical information and quick wit, and I feel incredibly lucky to have known her.” Attorney Erin Gilmore.
- As to wellness, I agree, she would be on board. Her heart was open as a shrine, and anyone could walk in and be welcomed. A particular wellness initiative on the part of her and her family: ARC (Advocacy, Resources, Community). She had a special-needs brother who was beloved by his family — the original spark for ARC, which she supported throughout the years. On a personal wellness note, I was phobic about snakes, and eventually went through a course of exposure therapy to overcome my fear. When I finished, Joan was so pleased that she gave me an extraordinarily beautiful Venetian glass pendant in the shape of a snake. She supported my efforts and cheered my triumph.” Attorney Lisa Chalidze.
- “One thing she told me when there were some issues at my firm was something akin to, ‘No matter how much work you have put into this profession, nobody can prevent what someone else might choose to do to you. Sometimes it is healthier to just walk away. Being a lawyer is not more important than being healthy.'” Matt Valerio, Vermont Defender General.
- “I know she was defiinitely on board with wellness. I remember on a few different occasions her bringing some folks into the office (or she would go to them), who she was trying to help without posting their troubles for the whole world to see but at the same time letting them know that they needed to get their ** together! She was sympathetic but also wasn’t afraid to tell them what was unacceptable. Thank you for keeping her spirit alive, I still miss her each and every day.” Karen Poljacik, Joan’s long-time employee.
- “Joan epitomized wellness, because she made everyone who encountered her feel great. It was impossible to feel stressed or anxious around Joan. You’d either be laughing too hard, or you’d be marveling at whatever her insight was about the topic of the day. Plus, you knew that Joan would be the first to help any lawyer in need. She was a lawyer’s assistance program before we had lawyer’s assistance programs!” Teri Corsones, Executive Director, Vermont Bar Association.
- “And now we have this attempt to link Joan Loring Wing to ‘wellness’. Another well-intentioned gesture to connect a cause to a person who did much to distance herself from it. From the Classic Cokes she snuck into restaurants in her giant purse to the Larks that she and Harold Berger smoked with abandon in her office ‘back in the day’, Joan was the epitome of an unhealthy lifestyle. Salt and Cheezypoofs were two of her main food groups and she even co-opted M&M’s into her mediation practice with her famously inscribed ‘settle’ and ‘pay’ candies. But just as [her father] settled hundreds of cases in his own gruff style so did Joan encourage the big picture of ‘Wellness’ in her care for her fellow lawyers and her attitude towards life itself. If Wellness means embracing life and living it to its fullest without concern for judgment and constraints, then mark Joan down as very well indeed. Joan may have been a terrible patient but a great friend to all who had the privilege of knowing her. Her concern for the wellbeing of the attorneys around her was legendary and that should surely entitle her to be enshrined in the Wellness hall of fame.” Honorable Karl Anderson, Probate Judge, Rutland County.
Attorney Wellness is about improving the profession’s health. Joan devoted herself to doing so. May her star never fade from our collective memory or her example from our collective conduct.
I’ll leave you with words from my good friend Eric Johnson, another attorney who knew Joan. Hootie captures how Joan would remind us to move forward:
- Joan was one of the best people I have ever known. She was appropriately old school, with a wicked sense of humor and a ton of common sense. She gave a lot of her time and of herself to help others, both within and outside of the Vermont Bar. It has been nearly ten years since we lost Joanie, and I still miss her. I keep the card from her funeral in my office, which reads:
nor speak of me with tears…
but talk of me…
as though I were beside you.
I loved you so…
’twas Heaven here with you.
Indeed it was.