Wellness Wednesday: It’s okay to reach out – BAP will listen and support you.

The Bar Assistance Program (BAP) began on April 1.  An aim of BAP is to assist lawyers and judges with behavioral health issues.

There haven’t been many referrals.  I suppose some might view that as a good thing.  Alas, given the informal inquiries I receive, it’s clear to me that many continue to struggle with stress, anxiety, and burnout.  If you are among the many, reach out.  We are here to help.

And, while I doubt you’ll ever find BAP on Yelp or Google, I’m here to share a positive review!

Through the end of August, I’d heard from a handful of lawyers who wanted guidance or resources, but not from any who wanted to participate in a more structured form of assistance.  Nor had Screening Counsel or Disciplinary Counsel referred to BAP a disciplinary complaint that revealed or was rooted in a behavioral health issue.

Then, in early September, a lawyer contacted me.  The lawyer reported levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout that had the lawyer considering whether to quit the profession. After I explained what BAP can and cannot do, the lawyer asked me to set up meeting with an assistance panel.  Three days later, the lawyer met via Zoom with me and two lawyers who volunteer in BAP.

I started the meeting by commending the lawyer for reaching out.  Each volunteer did the same. It takes a ton of courage to ask for help.

Then, the lawyer shared with us a perfect storm of personal and professional challenges that, over the past year, have relentlessly attacked the lawyer’s sense of self, self-worth, and worth as an attorney. To be very clear, challenges above and beyond those that are common to all practitioners, and challenges that I’m quite sure would’ve defeated me.  I found the lawyer’s strength inspiring: both in confronting the challenges and in expressing vulnerability to them.

In return, the panel members and I shared thoughts, experiences, and resources.  Our focus was that the lawyer is not alone, that it is okay to seek help, and that the lawyer is not an impostor.[1]  The lawyer intends to follow-up with one of the panel members to discuss a challenge common to their shared practice area.  In that sense, perhaps a mentorship was formed.

Today, I called the lawyer to check in.  Despite yet another setback that is outside the norm, the lawyer is doing okay. Challenges remain, but the lawyer is ready to take them on.  Then, the lawyer thanked me.  Specifically – and I have the lawyer’s permission to share this – the lawyer told me that mentors had often left the lawyer fearing “judgement,” a fear that caused the lawyer to engage in “approval seeking behavior” that wasn’t helpful or healthy. The lawyer told me the BAP experience wasn’t like that at all.  That it was supportive and “freeing.”

I shared the lawyer’s comments with one of the volunteer panel members.  The volunteer attorney said something that struck me. I don’t have the volunteer’s exact quote, but it was essentially this:  “sometimes people who are supposed to help think their job is to tell people what to do.  No.  Our role begins with listening.”

BAP is here.  It’s okay to reach out.

We will listen and we will support you.

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[1] I have several posts and videos that touch upon “Impostor Syndrome.”  Including this post, this video, and this video.

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness Wednesday: Set communication boundaries with clients and opposing counsel

Wellness Wednesday: Compassion Fatigue

Wellness Wednesday: A message from Justice Eaton

Jessica Burke: “Well People Do”

Wellness Wednesday: Schitt$ Creek and Paddles

Wellness Wednesday: Be Kind to Lawyers

Civility Matters. Especially Now.

Coping with COVID-19 Related Stress & Anxiety

Wellness Wednesday: Unplug

Well-Being is an Aspect of Competence

Wellness Wednesday: Survival Skills

Wellness Wednesday: Make time for what (and who) matters

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response (this one is about the report I mentioned from the Virginia State Bar)

Do summer your way

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Alison, Shireen, Samantha, and Alison

Reach Out, Check In

Wellness Wednesday: Mentor Someone

Wellness Wednesday: Joan Loring Wing

Wellness Wednesday: Law Day & Pro Bono

Get your sleep

Take a Chance on Being Nice

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

Be Kind to a Lawyer Today

Be Nice to Someone Today

Wellness v. Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Molly Gray

Wellness Wednesday: Judge Garland & My Cousin Vinny

Shakespeare, Pink Floyd and Wellness

Wellness Wednesday: You are not an impostor

Wellness Wednesday: “N O” is “O K”

Wellness Wednesday: Stop it!

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Jeff Messina

Lawyers Helping Lawyers Part 2

Lawyers Helping Lawyers: Keep it on the front burner

Lawyer Well-Being: a call to action

Anxiety, Stress & Work-Life Balance for Lawyers

Make time for what matters

Lawyer Wellness: resolve to find 6 minutes for yourself

108 is way too many

Workplace Happiness

Make Wellness a Habit

A pledge by legal employers to focus on lawyer well-being

Legal Ethics & the Water Cooler

Wellness Wednesday: Island Vines

Wellness Wednesday: on ponds, puffery and paltering

Wellness Wednesday: Neil Diamond, the Lock Screen, and National Mental Health Day for Law Students

Wellness . . . umm, Thursday?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I get it, I’m a day late.  Story of my life.

However, wellness & well-being have meaning even without alliteration.

wellness

I continue to feel my way into my role in the new Bar Assistance Program.

On the one hand, I’m comfortable responding to inquiries and presenting CLEs on so-called “traditional ethics.”  That is, conflicts of interests, client confidences, the trust accounting rules, and duties owed to opposing counsel and parties. My comfort a function of having worked in the Professional Responsibility Program since 1998.

On the other, wellness & well-being remain oddly new to me.  I say “oddly new” because it has been more than five years since my first blog post related to lawyer wellness. It’s a post in which I reported on the study in which the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic found “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.”  Since then, I’ve posted more than 50 additional blogs related to well-being & wellness, with the topics ranging from attorney suicide in Vermont, to Vermont lawyers who ran a 4-mile race that gave out cool hats, to everything in between.

Two things strike me as BAP begins.

First, like beauty, wellness & well-being are in the eye of the beholder. To some, BAP’s focus should be on assisting legal professionals to address substance abuse & mental health issues that are impacting their ability to do their jobs daily.  To others, the focus should be proactive.  Encouraging legal professionals and legal employers to change the profession to one that values and prioritizes work-life balance.

Second, BAP won’t please everyone.  Some who appreciate the proactive approach are tired of me posting blogs in which I argue that the profession is under pressure because we are literally killing ourselves.  This group includes people who’ve told me that highlighting the negative contributes to their personal stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, some who favor a BAP that hones in on treating lawyers who are in crisis find frivolity in wellness posts that call attention to legal professionals who are in bands or who play hockey, or posts in which I suggest that a strategy to deal with stress is to take a deep breath and slow down.  Members of this group have suggested that this is a “rainbows & unicorns” approach that diminishes the crisis.

To me, BAP will occupy a spectrum.

When confronted with a legal professional gripped by addiction or serious illness, we will work to assist that person back to health without involving the disciplinary process. At the same time, I will continue to remind lawyers that it’s okay to have interests outside the law, to take a mindfulness class at lunch, or to set boundaries as to when they will be available to clients. Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even organize a summer run/walk followed by grills, lawn chairs, and legal ethics, pub quiz style.

So, yes, BAP is here for each group.  And the middle.

Last night, I found Sam Rosenthal’s Lawyer Wellness and Mental Health: Changing the Conversation on Clio’s blog.  This paragraph:

  • “In its purest form, wellness involves doing whatever you need to do to feel better and be healthier on a day-to-day basis. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving a general sense of well-being and overall health, and anyone who claims otherwise is selling you something.”

I’m not selling anything.  Rather, BAP is here to promote well-being, decouple assistance from discipline, and, however incrementally, make the profession healthier.

It’s a big tent.  Welcome in.