Happy Wellness Wednesday!
I’ve often used Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to legal professionals who make time for interests outside the law and who are willing to share their thoughts on how those interests relate to their practices and wellness.
Today, with the Stanley Cup finals in full-swing, I’m thrilled to introduce you to 4 of Vermont’s hockey-playing lawyers: Alison Bell, Shireen Hart, Samantha Lednicky, and Alison Milbury Stone.
I started my interview by asking each to respond to this email:
- So, you’re a hockey playing lawyer. I don’t know about you, but I’m often asked, “why’d you go to law school?” Tell us how you got into hockey & your involvement with the sport now.
The answers fascinate me. So much so that I contemplated stopping there. Nevertheless, Alison, Shireen, Sam, and Alison were kind enough to answer follow-up questions as well.
Thank you to this fantastic foursome!
Any and all typos are mine. Enjoy!
I started playing (a version of) hockey when I was 16 (for those counting, I am now almost 62). I grew up in a skiing/ski racing family in Stowe, so had never really skated. But one winter, there was literally no snow, and a bunch of us decided to play broom ball. Unlike some versions of that game, we used skates. My parents owned a convenience store, so I ordered a box full of regular brooms, chopped them at an angle in my high school shop class, and dipped them in fiberglass (I was a white water kayaker, with access to fiberglass, but that is a different story). Needless to say, the “sticks” weighed a ton, and were dangerous weapons. But we chased that ball around the rink, and I (sort of) learned to skate.
I first went to college at Bowdoin, then a men’s hockey powerhouse. There was no women’s team, but there was something called “Powder Puff Hockey” (seriously!). Some male students volunteered to coach, and I learned a lot about the game. But I still could not really skate.
I transferred to Harvard for my junior year, and some first-year women, who had actually played in boarding school, were agitating for a team. We were granted club status for my junior year and then, thanks to Title IX and an imposed need for parity, we became a Division 1 varsity team my senior year. My claim to fame is that I was the first-ever captain of Harvard Women’s Hockey, now a women’s hockey powerhouse. The first ever coach – Joe Bertagna – is now the head of Hockey East, and still a dear friend. We get invited to alumnae events as the OG, and get to share the dais with various Olympians, which is a thrill. I was recently honored along with other original players at the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Beanpot tourney, also a thrill.
As to the actual quality of hockey, my Harvard team was awful; we once lost by “two touchdowns and a field goal,” as Coach said. But we worked hard, had fun, and my teammates remain my friends, which is the best part of hockey (more on that below).
After college, I played and coached in a girls’/women’s program in Stoneham, MA for many years, while I was in law school and working in Boston. That was when I really learned to play. I had a specific epiphany, when I realized that the edges on my skates were the same as the edges on my skis, and it all clicked. My women’s team won a national championship at the Senior A level (that would clearly be B or C level today), and I helped to coach a U12 team to a national championship in Lake Placid, where Sandra Whyte (who would later play for Harvard and score the game winning goal in that first Olympic gold medal game) scored the only, winning goal, in the fourth overtime. That was a high point!
Moving back to Vermont, my husband and I coached all three of our kids in youth hockey, much to their dissatisfaction with being the coaches’ kids. I also played a lot of pick up hockey, both with women and coed, and frankly grew to dislike it. It is frustrating when you have an idea how the game should really be played and others do not. I was thinking about quitting, when a new opportunity arose. A guy named Ian Smith – who had been D3 player of the year at Middlebury and who is a natural teacher – offered to coach a team of women. We put a team together, and actually had practices once or twice a week, in addition to games. We learned so much, by focusing on more technical skills, game strategies, mental aspects, etc.
Though we no longer have a coach, that team continues to exist and play in the VWHO league. It is the best group of people (our rule is no drama!), ranging in age from early 20s to me, and they are my closest friends. There is such joy in being able to play a team sport, at a decent level, at this stage in life. I can actually say that all of the best things in my life have been connected to hockey, as I met my husband playing in a law firm league in Boston!
About 10 years ago, I was spending a lot of time in the stands watching my son play. A friend who was in the stands with me reached out to Dan McFall (played for the Winnipeg Jets and runs Full Stride Hockey) to put together a women’s intro to hockey group. About 20-30 of us showed up – all “hockey moms.” Most of us were brand new to the sport – and skating too. At the end of the two-month session, we had the temerity to break into 2 teams and join an existing women’s league.
Our first season was not pretty. We were playing against women who had been skating since the time when they could walk. I had somehow convinced myself that I would be safer in net than skating out – given that I hadn’t mastered the hockey stop yet. I also figured that my less than stellar skating would be less obvious between the pipes – even though goalies are supposed to be the best skaters on the ice.
Fast forward to today, where I play pickup twice a week with a co-ed group that has been playing together for decades. I have met some of the most interesting and entertaining people through hockey. It is rare when I go out these days and don’t run into someone, I have at some time met on the ice.
Perhaps the most surprising outcome from taking up this kind of endeavor mid-life is what it has done for my all-around confidence or moxie. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, and I still consider myself a baby goalie, I thankfully can’t remember the last time I had to use double digits to count the goals I let in. Goalies don’t pay to play hockey, but, looking back, my teammates probably should have charged me to play for the first several years.
By the way, Sam can attest to this. She played D on one of my teams several years ago and could not have been more gracious about my utter lack of know-how. Always a smile and positivity.
That’s a good question, I remember taking skating lessons when I was really young (with figure skates first!) and skating on my town outdoor rink in the winter. I didn’t get into hockey until my sister picked it up and played on CVU’s first women’s hockey team. When she graduated (she’s 5 years older) I inherited her equipment and asked to play CSB (a youth team) and then join the high school team. It was in high school where I discovered I had a passion for the game.
Although I was far from the best skater on the ice, I was probably one of the most determined and fearless (often ending up in the penalty box because I didn’t know how to stop). At UVM I joined the women’s club team, which started out playing in the local Full Stride League in the fall and traveling to New England colleges in the spring. Since women’s hockey was still relatively new, most colleges didn’t have developed club teams yet, so we found ourselves playing against whoever would agree to play us. Notably I remember traveling with the whole team up to Quebec and playing in a tournament against all male teams whose average ages were 20 years older than us.
Once I moved on to law school in Boston I stopped playing, but one of my internships in law school brought me to the Burlington US Attorney’s Office where I was introduced to Barb Masterson who happened to be the captain for the “Switchblades” (the jerseys were sponsored by Switchback Brewery) an all-women’s hockey team. Then after graduating law school and moving back to Vermont I started playing with the DRM Sharks and Vermont Vixen. At one point I was playing three times a week, now I’m down to twice a week. Somehow I manage to get myself to late night games, even when they start at 10:05PM and I have to be in court at 8:30AM the next day!
Alison Milbury Stone – Assistant Attorney General
I’d say I didn’t have a choice, but my rebellious younger sister proved otherwise by signing up for basketball. By then it was too late for me.
Hockey is part of the fabric of my family, and I can’t remember being introduced to it, only that it was always around. My dad played for, coached, and managed the Boston Bruins, and later coached and managed the New York Islanders. My mother was the leading scorer for the first Colgate University women’s hockey team. I grew up playing street hockey and pond hockey with my two older brothers. We spent a lot of time at the old Boston Garden, watching games and practices and playing in the bowels of the old building. I played on boys teams until I was about 11, when a regional girls team was formed (and then I played with both the boys and the girls).
Hockey has taken me many places. One of the first was Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire as a high school freshman (among other draws, they had a girls team and two sheets of ice).
Next was Brown University. There, the Bears (dubbed the Pandas) were ranked #1 in the country, and we were Ivy League champs but lost the national final in an upset to the University of Minnesota. As a junior and a French major, I decided to study abroad in France, but made sure to pick a city (Lyon) that had a women’s ice hockey team. Unfortunately, they cancelled the season after a few training sessions, but as a consolation I joined their roller hockey team and was able to travel around France – to the Alps, Bordeaux, and then Lille for the national championships, where we clinched second.
After graduating from college, I bought a backpack for a round-the-world adventure. But as chance would have it, I went with my dad to the NHL entry draft that summer (in Nashville, Tennessee, of all places), and found myself sitting between the New York Islanders’ Swedish talent scout and Finnish scout at dinner. Both spoke Swedish, a language I had studied my senior year. They quickly decided that as a Swedish-speaking hockey player, it was imperative that I do a stint in Scandinavia, and they made good on their word to facilitate that. A few months later I moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where I suited up for the Allmänna Idrottsklubben (AIK) women’s team. I also got a day job at the Stockholm offices of the American law firm White & Case – the start of my career in the law. My team won the Swedish national championship, and I still have a gold Jofa helmet to show for it (though now it is a bit dinged up from my family playing with it and using it as a bike helmet).
I subsequently moved to Washington, DC, where I adopted the Washington Capitals as my second team and joined a beer league (coed by virtue of my participation). When I was considering Vermont Law School, a colleague introduced me to a female hockey player there. It turned out the VLS Swans were playing in a tournament the weekend I was to visit, and because it was their spring break, they were short on players. So, I suited up for the Swans before even enrolling. I took it as a sign that the school was a good fit.
Though I am now well past my hockey prime, I still play on two Burlington-area teams, both with Sam Lednicky: a co-ed team, the DRM Sharks (Sam and I are both Downs Rachlin Martin alums) and a women’s team called the Vermont Vixen. We play against Alison Bell in the women’s league. This year I made my fourth appearance at the Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Tournament in Mallet’s Bay. I am now also a proud hockey mom as my oldest child, 4-year-old Ned, just finished his first season.
MK: Fantastic stories! I’m in awe. Do you remember what made you burn to be a lawyer? These days, I wonder if one of the challenges of “attorney wellness” is keeping that fire lit. How do you as lawyers make sure that the drive that landed you in law school continues to push you? Are there lessons from hockey?
Alison Bell: I did not have a burning desire to be a lawyer, but I knew I wasn’t going to medical school, and I didn’t know what else to do. I did work as an investigator under some superb lawyers after college and before law school, so that encouraged me to apply. But I have always been driven by social justice issues, even since childhood, and that keeps me going as a lawyer. I am fortunate enough to work in a firm that supports such efforts, both in our own work and in involvement with other organizations and causes. As I look at “retirement” I am thinking about using my legal skills in the service of a cause. Not sure any of this relates to hockey, other than the general idea that sports teach perseverance.
Shireen Hart: I consider myself new to hockey (and probably always will), so I am still developing my skills. I tend to focus on one different skill or strategy over the course of several games until muscle memory kicks in. I then turn to another new skill or strategy.
In my law practice, I try to push myself in a similar way. While I can certainly continue to do the work I have been doing for more than 2 decades, I am making myself step out of my comfort zone to take on new types of cases within health law – the most recent being serving as a Patient Care Ombudsperson in bankruptcy cases and representing a court-appointed receiver for several long-term care facilities. This new work has not only rejuvenated my practice, but it has also offered me additional skills to apply throughout my health law practice.
Samantha Lednicky: I started undergrad as a psychology major, got involved in various research projects and found myself interviewing juveniles at Woodside as a research assistant studying risk/reward deficits in youth. It was then that I realized I was bound to be in a courtroom helping criminal defendants and not in a research lab. Every day that I’m in court or meeting directly with clients I am reminded why I became a lawyer. The feeling I get with direct client contact and courtroom time is the same feeling I get on the ice—an excitement to be there and a determination to do well.
Life gets busy and client needs can be demanding. It’s easy to put your head down just to get through the day, that’s when I think lawyers suffer the most and burn out. If hockey has taught me anything it’s keep your head up and skate hard to the net. Practicing law it’s equally as important to keep your head up and work hard towards your goal. But you have to maintain a work life balance, just as in hockey, you can’t skate every day of the week you need a rest day. I recently had a particularly tough day in terms of the subject matter of the cases I was working on, and I reminded myself that it’s okay to take a break and I took some time for myself by, you guessed it, playing hockey!
Alison Milbury Stone: Same formula: do something you are passionate about, that plays to your strengths, and do it with good people. Also, leave room for other things in your life so you can have balance and not burn out!
I went to law school because I was concerned about environmental degradation and wanted to be part of the solution. I love reading and writing, am very detail-oriented, and enjoy some healthy competition, so I settled on environmental law and policy as a way to marry my strengths and interests. The environmental challenges and tensions that initially “lit that fire” still persist, and continue to motivate me to become the best advocate I can be.
The environmental field being a broad one, I’ve worked in a range of and the diversity of my work – in terms of substance areas as well as the mix of litigation and transactional matters – keeps things interesting. I still learn something new every day, and that’s very gratifying.
But equally important is that fact that I really like and respect my colleagues. In sport and at work, having strong leadership and supportive peers can make all the difference in the quality of the experience. In my current position at the Attorney General’s Office and in my most recent job in private practice, I’ve been lucky to work with skilled attorneys who are good team players and who I consider friends as well as colleagues. People who, before delving into work matters, ask how my weekend was and genuinely listen to the answer. And they elevate my game; just as a goal in hockey is made sweeter by a crisp set-up pass from a teammate, a brief that is improved by colleague’s adept edits is all the more satisfying.
Finally, I’ve been fortunate to work with people who value and promote wellness. When I worked with Leslie Cadwell, she would encourage me to walk my dog during conference calls on sunny days, and once surprised me by sending a NutriBullet to my house so my family and I could sneak vegetables into our morning smoothies. Attorney General T.J. Donovan still makes time for basketball, and Chief Assistant Attorney General Sarah London and Environmental Division Chief Rob McDougall do marathon training runs at lunch. That sets the tone for a culture where people feel they have the space to get out and exercise and come back to their desks refreshed and more focused (and it kind of feels like slacking if you don’t!).
MK: Lately, I’ve spoken & blogged often on increasing reports that civility among lawyers is no longer a thing, so much so that it might be a cause of many lawyers’ anxiety & stress.
Bigger deterrent to lawyers who are rude & obnoxious: contempt of court, PRB disciplinary action, or an actual penalty box to which a judge might banish them for 2 minutes during a hearing. Or, do the rest of us just keep on “killing ‘em with kindness?”
Samantha Lednicky: The great thing about hockey is you can get a penalty in the heat of the moment but at the end of the game you always go through and shake everyone’s hand. As a lawyer, I think it should be required to look opposing counsel in the eyes at the end of a hearing, shake their hand, and thank them for their civility—maybe if we knew this was coming we would all be more civil.
Alison Milbury Stone: The genius of the penalty box is the shame that comes from sitting behind the glass in plain view, watching helplessly as your teammates play on short-handed due to your bad decision. We’d have to figure out how to do this without leaving the client high and dry during a hearing (a particular challenge if there is no co-counsel), but I think you’re on to something here.
Shireen Hart: I have not found player yet that can’t be broken down with some good locker room banter.
Alison Bell: I love the image of a penalty box in the courtroom; it will never happen, but I bet it would work!
MK: There are 4 of you. We need 2 more to fill out a team. For each of you, who are the 2 “dream teammates” you’d add to fill out the team?
Shireen Hart: Both are women with whom I currently play. One plays D and is the kind of player who stands right next to me until everyone clears the area. I like to kid myself that I actually need that kind of protection. And, it doesn’t hurt that she is truly a fierce defender with a great slap shot – the kind of shot where everyone in the puck’s path dives away from it. The other is a woman who was apparently born with skates on her feet and a stick in her hand. I am truly awed watching her on the ice. She can put the puck wherever she wants and score on demand, but 9 times out of 10, she’s going to make the pass to set up a teammate instead.
Samantha Lednicky: Kendall Coyne because she’s a badass. She’s on the US women’s hockey team and competed this year in the NHL (previously all male) skills competition, placing as one of the fastest skaters.
Cale Makar because he won the Hobey Baker this year and two days later played in his first NHL game and scored a goal.
Alison Milbury Stone: Oh, this is a tough one. Since Sam and I are both forwards, Alison B. plays defense, and Shireen is a goalie, I’ll be practical in terms of the lineup and pick one forward and one D.
With my first pick in the fictional draft, I select Bruins defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara. “Big Zee” is hands down the hardest worker I’ve ever met, a really nice guy, and an intimidating 6’9” before he even puts on his skates. You don’t want to be digging a puck out of the corner when he’s on the other team.
I also pick my former teammate Danijela Rundqvist, previously a member of the Swedish national team. She is a pure talent, a really positive and encouraging teammate, and fun in a mischievous kind of way, which is good for the atmosphere in the locker room.
Alison Bell: I would add my two daughters, both great players, because there is nothing better than playing with your kids.
MK: Last question: Stanley Cup finals: Bruins, Blues, Don’t Care?
Alison Milbury Stone: Bruins ALL THE WAY!
Alison Bell: Bruins. I have never worn socks in my skates, because I read Bobby Orr’s book as a kid, and wanted to be like him.
Shireen Hart: Bruins in 6.
Samantha Lednicky: BRUINS.
Thank you all again! And let’s hope you’re right about the Bruins!
Also, before I ever imagined a “Wellness Wednesday” column, Elizabeth Kruska & Wesley Lawrence were kind enough to take the time to discuss their interest in horse racing, Scott Mapes talked soccer with me, and many lawyers & judges shared their marathon stories.