Wellness Wednesday: Unplug

I confess: today’s topic isn’t much more than a regurgitation of a blog I posted this summer.  However:

  1. It’s important.
  2. I’m pressed for time and out of ideas.
  3. And it gives me an excuse to ask readers to share their favorite episodes of MTV Unplugged.  More on that later.

wellness

In July – a time & place that seems so far away this morning – I posted Vacations, Devices and Vacations from Devices.  The post highlighted excerpts of this report issued by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.

I focused on the fact that the report identified “the pace of work” as one of 8 major issues affecting lawyer well-being.  In particular, that so many of the Steering Committee’s sub-committees urged legal employers to encourage lawyers to take vacations that include vacations from their devices.  For instance, the Massachusetts Bar Association Sub-Committee on Attorney Well-Being wrote:

  • “By far, the single most common cause of stress among all the disparate areas of legal practice was technology. The fact that technology allows attorneys to always be accessible to colleagues, partners, clients, and courts creates the expectation that they will always be accessible. Technology impacted the ability of attorneys to unwind, relax, and focus on the nonlegal aspects of their lives. They expressed concern that, if they do not respond to partners’ emails, texts or calls immediately, that they will lose their positions. They also believe that law firm culture demands that they remain accessible in order to meet billable hour requirements and to advance within the firm.”

And,

  • “Client expectations of full-time access with no boundaries is bolstered by the
    competitive nature of the practice of law. Attorneys reported that they fear that clients who demand immediate responses to emails and cellphone access, regardless of the date and time, will go elsewhere if the attorneys do not respond quickly enough. Reviewing work emails, text messages, and responding to work-related phone calls at all hours interferes with family time, social interactions, and self-care. A common issue among the responding attorneys is that they feel they never truly get away from work to recharge.”

In the end, the Steering Committee urged legal employers to “encourage vacations, set limits on client access, and allow attorneys to establish boundaries to them to devote time to self-care and family life, without fear of retribution.”

I’ve often mentioned Jeena Cho.  Jeena is a lawyer, author, and mindfulness instructor.  In my opinion, Jeena is one of the most important voices in the attorney wellness discussion.

Earlier this month, the ABA Journal’s On Well-Being column featured Jeena’s post Adults need screen time limits too.  It’s a great reminder that it’s perfectly okay to go more than a minute without checking your cell phone or work email.

I’m guilty of all the bad habits Jeena lists in her column.  Just last night I woke up around 1:00AM.  I was thirsty.  Inexplicably, before I walked to get a glass of water, I checked my cell phone – which was in my bed – to see how my NBA fantasy team did in last night’s games.  That is a problem!

Anyhow, this morning, I was struck by the “Intentionally Unplug” section of Jeena’s post:

When is the last time you intentionally ‘unplugged’ from your digital device? I’ve found that carving out regularly scheduled time where I give myself an opportunity to unplug is helpful in allowing me to better connect with my family as well as myself.

There are many pockets of time where you can institute ‘unplugged’ time. Some people observe the “digital sabbath” turning off the phone and laptop on Saturday evening and not turning them on again until Sunday evening, while others practice no screen time during meals.

If you’re like most lawyers and always eat lunch at your desk, looking at a screen, take yourself out to lunch once a week where you don’t look at your smartphone.”

Excellent advice!

It’s time for Wellness Wednesday to morph from a hashtag to action.  I’ll start.  Here’s how.

As many of you know, I love to run.  Among other things, whether I run 3 miles or 18, I love the time that goes by without checking my phone. I never bring it with me  . . .

. . .except on the rare occasions I run on a treadmill.  Then, I use my phone to listen to music or podcasts. Of course, at the same time, I find myself glancing at it to see if a text or email has popped in.  The intervals between glances grow shorter with every step.

That defeats the purpose of going for a run!

It’s so damn cold that today’s run will be on a treadmill at the gym.  I vow to leave my phone in my car.

Unplug. It’ll help you recharge.

Oh yeah, MTV Unplugged.  The interwebs are chock full o’ lists of the top performances ever.  My favorite? The Mariah Carey & Trey Lorenz cover of the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There.

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Wellness Wednesday: Small Things

As many of you know, I’m a big believer that small things matter.

In my view, when working to address the larger challenges that face the legal profession, we too quickly write off suggestions that will help a little for no other reason than they won’t help enough.  With “help enough” often defined as “solve the entire problem.”  I’ve used the Starfish story to make my point.   I’ve also argued that while changing the world would be ideal, winning your 3-feet of influence is a great start.

Imagine if each of us did.

Wellness is one of the profession’s most significant challenges.  Fortunately, it appears that many within the profession are taking small steps to meet the challenge instead of searching for a non-existent magic cure.  Today, I’d like to share some examples with you.

  • every Friday in August, the workday at a large Vermont firm ended at 3:00 PM.
  • the lawyers who work in-house for a Vermont government agency recently created a Well-Being Committee whose first task was to develop a tool to allow lawyers and nonlawyer staff to weigh in on the office’s strengths & weaknesses on well-being issues.
  • the VBA now includes mindfulness & wellness programs for members at all its meetings.
  • practicing what it preaches, this summer, the VBA staff rotated thru 1/2-day Fridays.

Outside Vermont, and as reported by Law.Com’s Corporate Counsel section, legal departments within some of the nation’s largest businesses are making wellness part of their culture. For example:

    • law firms that bid for 3M’s outside legal work must disclose whether they’ve adopted the ABA Pledge on Lawyer Well-Being and the steps they’ve taken to promote well-being within their own firms.
    • Cummins is a Fortune 500 company that makes engines.  The in-house legal department has recently taken several steps aimed at wellness: health screenings, yoga instruction, and 20-minute breaks from meetings to go for a walk with someone you don’t know too well.
    • The in-house staff at Barclay’s must consider the effects that their requests will have on other lawyers.  For instance, unless absolutely necessary, supervising lawyers are discouraged from assigning work with a Monday deadline.

Finally, in July 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an order addressing issues related to work life balance. Among other things, the Court

    • changed the deadline to file most pleadings from 11:59 PM to 5:00 PM after concluding that the 11:59 PM deadline had “contributed to a culture
      of overwork that negatively impacts the quality of life for Delaware legal
      professionals without any corresponding increase in the quality of their work product or the functioning of the judiciary;” and,
    • ordered all lower courts to consider adopting policies that would disfavor (1) Monday deadlines; (2) issuing dispositive opinions on Friday afternoons; and (3) scheduling oral arguments and trials in August; and,
    • ordered all lower courts to consider anything else that would “improve the quality of professional practice by and quality of life of Delaware legal professionals.”

The Delaware Court’s order doesn’t preclude “small things.” Neither should you, your office, or your firm.  No matter how small, every improvement will make a difference to someone.  And that’s what matters.

For ideas, check out the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers (or the same tookit, but in a nutshell).

wellness

ps:   speaking of small things, with this blog on my brain, my personal wellness program will undoubtedly include blaring Blink-182 in the garage while I grill tonight.  Bad karaoke is better than a life without karaoke.

 

Well-Being Is An Aspect Of Competence

Two years ago, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being published The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive ChangeThe report issued in response to two studies that revealed alarming statistics with respect to the well-being of the legal profession.

In their letter introducing the report, the Task Force’s co-chairs noted the report’s “five central themes:

  1. identifying stakeholders and the role each of us can play in reducing the level of toxicity in our profession,
  2. eliminating the stigma associated with helpseeking behaviors,
  3. emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence,
  4. educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer well-being issues, and
  5. taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession.”

Among other proposals aimed at furthering the third (bolded) theme, the report recommended modifying the Rules of Professional Conduct “to endorse well-being as part of a lawyer’s duty of competence.”

The Vermont Supreme Court has done exactly that.

Yesterday, the Court promulgated an amendment to Comment [9] to Rule 1.1.  The new comment reads:

  • “[9] A lawyer’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being may impact the lawyer’s ability to represent clients and to make responsible choices in the practice of law. Maintaining the mental, emotional, and physical well-being necessary for the representation of a client is an important aspect of maintaining competence to practice law.”

Two questions jump to mind: what is well-being and how does a legal professional maintain it?

As to the former, the Task Force wrote:

  • “We define lawyer well-being as a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive in each of the following areas: emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, physical health, and social connections with others. Lawyer well-being is part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence. It includes lawyers’ ability to make healthy, positive work/life choices to assure not only a quality of life within their families and communities, but also to help them make responsible decisions for their clients. It includes maintaining their own long-term well-being. This definition highlights that complete health is not defined solely by the absence of illness; it includes a positive state of wellness.”

In addition, the Task Force noted that:

  • “The concept of well-being in social science research is multi-dimensional and includes, for example, engagement in interesting activities, having close relationships and a sense of belonging, developing confidence through mastery, achieving goals that matter to us, meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy and control, self-acceptance, and personal growth. This multi-dimensional approach underscores that a positive state of well-being is not synonymous with feeling happy or experiencing positive emotions. It is much broader.”

Finally, the Task Force explained that it:

  • “chose the term ‘well-being’ based on the view that the terms ‘health’ or ‘wellness’ connote only physical health or the absence of illness. Our definition of ‘lawyer well-being’ embraces the multi-dimensional concept of mental health and the importance of context to complete health.”

With the definition in mind, how does a legal professional maintain well-being?  It strikes me that the answer depends on the individual. A place for everyone to start, however, is the ABA’s Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers.  Its 99 pages are chock full o’ helpful tips and guidance.

I can hear you now:

  • “Ummm, what’s that you say Mike? 99 pages? I don’t have that much time to work on my well-being!”

Fear not!  Besides the full toolkit, and perhaps with my law school career in mind, the ABA also created the Well-Being Toolkit Nutshell: 80 Tips For Lawyer Thriving.  It’s only 2 pages.  No excuses!

Well-being is important.  Take the time to understand what it is, how to achieve it, and how to maintain it.  As you do, try not to get caught up in “I’m only doing this because the new comment says I should.”  Rather, get caught up in the first of the Well-Being Nutshell’s 3 reasons to care about well-being:

“It’s the right thing to do.”

 

Image result for images of lawyer well-being

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response

I’ve been blogging & speaking about wellness since March 2016.  Over time, the tide has turned.  Early skepticism and resistance has given way to widespread acceptance that wellness must be addressed, and even wider enthusiasm in providing solutions.

The various responses to the wellness crisis flow from this 2017 report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  Among other things, the report urged state supreme courts to create commissions to study & make recommendations on how the profession’s various stakeholders could act to improve wellness.

Under the leadership of Chief Justice Reiber and the Supreme Court, Vermont did exactly that.

Late last year, the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession issued a State Action Plan. The plan outlines the proactive measures that the stakeholders in Vermont’s legal community will take to improve the profession’s health and well-being.  To my knowledge, following the report & recommendation from the National Task Force, Vermont was the first state to issue an action plan.

Interestingly, while the profession has accepted and started to address the problem, nobody has looked critically at the “why?”  Why do legal professionals suffer from behavioral health problems at such staggering rates?  What is it that puts us at risk?

Until now.

Last month, the Virginia State Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Well-Being issued The Occupational Risks of the Practice of Law.  Professor Alberto Bernabe blogged about it here.  The report identifies four categories of risk, then dives deeper within each:

You don’t have to read the entire report.  Pages 2-11 include an accessible and hepful matrix that, for each risk, sets out its (1) potential effects; (2) practice pointers for individuals; and (3) practice pointers for organizations.

For example, lately, I’ve blogged and spoken often on the connection between incivility and wellness.  Here’s what the report from the Virginia State Bar says about the occupational risks associated with the adversarial nature of our work:

More Risk

 

Good stuff.  The matrix does the same for each risk factor. Give it a read.  Again, it’s here.

After all, it only makes sense that the most effective response will come from understanding the risk.

Wellness

 

Wellness Wednesday: Reach out, check in.

Granted, as a morning person and a creature of spring & summer, I’m biased. That being said, between the sun, the bluebird skies, and the temperature, it doesn’t get much better than this morning in Vermont.

Speaking of spring and summer . . .

. . . oh wait, before I go on: happy birthday Ben Traverse!  Ben has long contributed to others’ wellness, including mine. He was one of the earliest supporters of this blog, has a stellar record of providing pro bono services to clients unable to afford legal services, and, via his leadership role with the Young Lawyers Division, has served the past several years on the VBA’s Board of Managers.  If you know him, check in with him today to wish him well.

Speaking of checking in, back to our regularly scheduled blog.

If you’re at all like me, you associate spring and summer with an improved mood & outlook on life.  ‘specially ’round these parts, winter is long & dreary. So, as you enjoy a coffee on your porch with the only sounds being those of the birds, and as you revel in rolling the recycle bin to the curb without having to drag it thru slush, a morning like today’s lifts the spirits.  Spring, summer, and all the good that comes with each are finally here.

But not everyone feels the same.

Like Ben Traverse, Andrew Manitsky sits on the VBA Board of Managers and has long-supported this blog and the profession’s larger efforts on attorney wellness.  He’s a member of a PRB hearing panel and gets his wellness on by playing in a band.  Last weekend, Andrew sent me this opinion piece that ran in the New York Times.

Warning: it is a heavy read.

But it raises an important point: for some, spring is a time of despair.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

  • “It’s a popular and perhaps dangerous belief, reinforced by that inescapable Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that winter is the peak season for suicide. Yet experts have known since the late 1800s that it’s not true: More people take their own lives in the spring months than in other times of the year. No definitive explanations have emerged for why this is so.”

From there, the author shares a moving personal story. Then, concludes with a tip that all of us should consider.  Referring to spring, she writes:

  • It brings new pleasures by the week — asparagus in the farmers’ market, excitable toddlers in the playgrounds — and also a reminder to try to reach out to people who have lost someone recently, or those who seem withdrawn. They may need to be given a chance to talk about how they’re doing, and if things are very bad, encouraged to get the professional support they need. I can confirm that with time, help and love, things get better.”

Back to my original thoughts.

Speaking of spring and of checking in with someone, odds are that you know or work with an attorney who, if not struggling with significant behavioral health issues, is on the path towards the full-on struggle.  An attorney who has started to withdraw.

Reach out, check in.  As the author points out, sometimes that’s all it takes to make a difference for someone.

And, as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a big believer that we can make a difference, one person at a time.

Image result for starfish story printable pdf

 

 

 

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

My first post on lawyer wellness appeared just over three years ago.  Since then, I’ve posted almost 40 more.**  There have been many others in which I mentioned the topic without focusing an entire post on it.

When my brother and I were kids, we didn’t control the music in the house.  Our mom did.  One group that received a lot of air time: The Carpenters.  

Yes, I’ve posted a ton on attorney wellness.  Yes, this winter, the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession released its State Action Plan.  Comparatively, we are ahead of the curve in addressing attorney wellness.

Yet, today, I’m reminded of the title of a song by The Carpenters.  In our house, I’m fairly certain the song was played until the 8-track wore out: We’ve Only Just Begun.  

Image result for the carpenters we've only just begun images

Here’s what reminded me of the song.

Last November, Above The Law posted Burnout, Flame Out, Or Timeout?  The post was spurred by the fact that a lawyer named Paul Rawlinson had “taken a leave of absence to recover from the sheer exhaustion of running the second-largest law firm in the world.” In the post, author James Goodnow pitched an argument I’ve often made, albeit in a way much more eloquently than I.  He wrote:

  • “If the classic answer to the increasing demands of the legal marketplace has been to get tougher, let me once again advocate for a new approach: getting ‘realer.’ We need to let go of the outdated concept of the inhuman, never-tired, always-working hero attorney and replace it with the vision of actual human beings, because that’s what we all are. We’re people, with physical and mental limitations, lives and families outside of work, and interests beyond briefing, drafting, and billing hours. We need to take better care of one another, at all levels, and take better care of ourselves.”

Flash forward to very sad news.  Paul Rawlinson, the attorney who took the leave of absence?  He died last Friday.  Above The Law reported on his passing.

Rawlinson’s death crystallized a thought that’s been nagging me since the State Action Plan issued: we’ve only just begun.

Have we raised awareness? Yes we have, and it’s a damned good thing that we have.

But it’s not enough.

The work continues.  As Goodnow argued, we must get “realer.”  And, every one of us has a role to play in making the profession healthier and more hospitable to its members.  Whether volunteering with the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program, asking your firm to consider the ABA Pledge to Focus on Well-Being, not being a jerk to adversaries, taking a VBA CLE on mindfulness, or simply taking off one more afternoon this summer than you did last, we all have a role.

It will not suffice if, a few years from now, someone finds the State Action Plan and muses “I wonder what ever became of this.”

Indeed, what better time than now?  It finally looks and feels a bit like spring, a season of of renewal.  Today is a perfect day to renew, or at least to seed, a committment to well-being.

Not sure how? Don’t worry! A great place to start is with the ABA Well-Being Toolkit.  It’s chock full o’ good stuff.  For instance, consider this from the Toolkit:

  • “We are happiest and healthiest when we adopt healthy work habits and lifestyle choices. Importantly, though, we won’t be successful on our own. Well-being is a team sport.”

It goes on:

  • This means that, if we truly desire to improve wellbeing, we can’t focus only on individual strategies like making lawyers more resilient to stress; it is equally important (if not more so) to focus on systemically improving our professional cultures to prevent problems from developing to begin with. We are interdependent in that our organizational and institutional cultures—to which we all contribute and which, in turn, shape us all—have a huge impact on our individual well-being. When our cultures support our well-being, we are better able to make good choices that allow us to thrive and be our best for our clients, colleagues, and organizations.”

Finally, and consistent with the theme that we’ve only just begun:

  • This Toolkit is designed to help lawyers and legal employers improve well-being holistically and systemically. This goal will require new choices, considerable effort, and changes that likely will upset the status quo. Positive change agents might meet
    with resistance—including complaints that there is no room, time, resources, or need for change. This Toolkit offers reasons for prioritizing lawyer well-being
    as well as information, strategies, and resources for implementing a plan for positive change.”

We’ve only just begun.  Will there be Rainy Days and Mondays?  Hell yes.  Lots of them.  But, each small step towards a healthier profession brings us closer to the feeling of being on Top of The World.

Thanks Mom!

_________________________________________________________________________________________

** The posts:

(Wellness Wednesday Posts)

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Molly Gray

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means!

I like to use the Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to members of the legal profession who make sure to make time for non-legal, non-lawyerly things. As the VBA’s Jennifer Emens-Butler says, “pursuits of happiness.”  Links to my prior posts on lawyers and their non-lawyerly interests appear at the end of today’s blog.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Molly Gray.

Molly Gray's Profile Photo, Image may contain: Molly Gray, smiling, standing

Molly is an assistant attorney general. She’s also a top-notch cross-country skier who grew up on a working farm. Molly was kind enough to agree to answer questions that are loosely related to her background, legal ethics, and attorney wellness.  All mistakes and typos are mine, not Molly’s.

MK:Thank you for doing this!  Like me, you grew up in Vermont. Unlike me, it wasn’t near the Burlington airport. Tell us a little about life as Molly Gray before you went to law school?

 MG: Thanks for reaching out!   Where to begin, I grew up on a farm. A real working vegetable, fruit and dairy farm in Newbury on the Connecticut River. I was born on the farm. Yes, in the farm house in the early 1980s. My parents retired from competitive ski racing and shifted all that competitive energy to farming. They have an indomitable love of labor, Vermont and being outside. The skiing, at least, was contagious. I attended Oxbow High School (that would be the Oxbow “Olympians”) and a ski academy in southern Vermont, the Stratton Mountain School. All the skiing and probably farming in those early years, led to a scholarship to ski for the University of Vermont. I am extremely fortunate. After four years of racing, a budding interest in government, law, and international relations drove me, like my parents, to zero in on something new; an eventual legal career. That being said, I was 22 and had never really left Vermont! Ultimately, I attended Vermont Law School, but there was quite the eye-opening journey in getting there several years later

 (MK Note:  in 2015, VTDigger featured Molly’s parents’ farm)

 

Molly & her parents

(Molly’s parents & her brother)

MK:  Very interesting!  So much information. But first things first.  I have roots in the Upper Valley.  My mom grew up in Bradford and was a Bradford Academy Admiral.  In my job, I often preach a lawyer’s duty of competence.  As a Newbury native, what is the only competent way to pronounce your home town?

MG:  You had mentioned the Upper Valley connection. You are aware then of the friendly rivalry between Bradford folks and the community in Newbury. Frank Bryan once said Newbury is the town that time forgot. That’s probably about right.   It is “New Bury.”  It’s an “ury” instead of an “erry” and the “B” is right there with the “New.” “NewBury”

MK:  Professor Bryan was my favorite professor at UVM!  Speaking of UVM, you skied for the Cats.  What were your events? Also, I don’t think people realize how amazing it is to receive a ski scholarship to UVM. Only 3 schools have won more national championships.  That means that UVM is to college skiing what Duke is to men’s college basketball. Was UVM your dream all along?

MG: What a great time to talk about skiing – the University of Vermont Ski Team just hosted NCAA’s and came in second behind Utah. Go Cats! I will quietly admit that there was a short-lived and naive dream of skiing for CU Boulder but the then Director of Skiing, Chip LaCasse, to his credit, was recruiting locally (rather than internationally) and gave a handful of Vermonters opportunities of a lifetime.

I can’t comment on Duke basketball, but UVM skiing is not for the faint of heart. The nordic ski team trained every day, some days twice per day, with the exception of Monday, from August to March and all summer long. Races ranged from 5kms to 20kms, both classic and skate, with the occasional relay or sprint relay. Although skiing is an individual sport, in college you race as a team. Each Thursday we would load up the vans and drive to races or “carnivals” hosted by colleges across New England. Alpine and nordic team results would be combined after two days of racing with one collegiate team coming out on top. As you might imagine, there were UVM traditions to be upheld and no shortage of rivalries.

I raced all four years (not always fast) and served as a captain. Above all my teammates became some of my closest friends and remain so to this day.

MK:  Colorado tries its best to beat UVM! That would’ve been a conflict of interest! #ThisIsVermont  The Buffs loss was our gain.

All kidding aside, great answer!  A few things.

First, the work required.  Your success as a skier didn’t come by accident.  The dedication to the training.   I can’t imagine the time commitment!  I suspect that growing up on a working farm was like skiing.  Both probably involved lots of hard work, at hours that most people weren’t up, in weather conditions that kept most people inside.  Did lessons you learned on the farm help with being a competitive skier?  Did both (or either) help you to tackle the workload that is the first year of law school?

MG: Thanks! Although I have to say this interview is making me sound super tough and disciplined. I’m not! I still struggle with an early morning workout. To answer your question though, I do think growing up on a farm instilled an inevitable attraction to hard work and being outside. Farming, and having parents who do not shy away from a little healthy competition, probably left me and my siblings constantly self-imposing physical challenges–why carry one flat of strawberries when you can carry 2 or 3 or by end of summer 4. Equal parts training and efficiency. Without question, managing school work while ski racing (or vice versa) at UVM was great preparation for law school. I also came to appreciate, as I am sure many in the legal community do, that the most productive, “clear-headed” work, comes in the hours after a good workout.

 MK: Clearing the head.  That’s wellness!  I’m with you though: as much as I love the idea of sunrise runs that I finish before work, those early wake ups are NOT fun.  But, speaking of wellness, do you still ski?  In legal ethics, I often talk about conflicts.  For some athletes, the conflict that exists between doing something for enjoyment vs. doing it as a competitor is too much to overcome.  So, once they stop competing, they give up the sport. Having competed at the highest levels, do you ever find it difficult to ski for the pure enjoyment of it??  Conversely, I still love to run even though I’m not as fast as I used to be. As much as I love it, there are times where what I wouldn’t give for just one more race as good as I once was.  So, even if you’re out enjoying a beautiful & relaxing day on the trails, does your mind ever wander to that feeling you used to have as you waited at the starting line in Green & Gold?

MG:  This is a great question! I’ll admit I still have the occasional racing dream. It normally starts out with feelings of incredible and surprising speed and “I’ve still got it” followed by profound and mortifying exasperation. When I was racing, I loved sprint races — 1km qualification, followed by the top 30 or so skiers racing in heats of 5 or 6 with 2 or 3 racers progressing from each heat to a final heat. It is a more tactical, high-energy and spectator-friendly race. In my dream, I can “fake it” for the qualification round.

Some athletes learn to ski in order to race. Although my parents were competitive ski racers, to his credit, my father taught us to ski for the love of skiing. Racing came later, and random sprint dreams aside, I crave a good ski far more than the competition.

 MKLove the dreams! Mine are often daydreams as I’m running.  The body & brain re-living the feeling of a PR or great race.  I want to go back to something you said earlier.  You mentioned the life-long friendships with your teammates.  There’s something about the shared experience that forges bonds – not only among teammates, but among competitors. My closest friends are people I met thru basketball.  My “attorney wellness” is nourished by those relationships outside the legal profession.  Do you feel the same?

MG: Absolutely. This is by no means a dig at our profession, I am happy to run or ski with fellow attorneys but sometimes you have to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing. Basketball, skiing, running, should be cathartic. Inviting colleagues does not always make it so. Inevitably, you start talking about work. There have to be some ground rules!

I recall the first winter I did not ski race and did not have teammates. It was 8 months after graduating from UVM, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for Rep. Peter Welch. I had not figured out the work-life balance and it was the first winter without racing or a true winter. My body was miserable and confused. On the advice of a friend, I joined a running club “Fleet Feet Sports” in Adams Morgan. A couple of the runners became close, non-work, running friends. We trained for the USMC marathon together and built a unique bond that was cathartic, supportive, competitive and limited to our non-work identities. It was terrific. I have lived in a lot of different places and try to forge these bonds.

IMG_1686 

(Molly, some of her UVM teammates, and Rally Cat)

MK: I like those bonds.  As lawyers, we seem to focus on discrete practice areas, tending to bond with others in the same area.  How’d you end up focusing on Nordic vs. Alpine?  Also, once we pick a practice area, we seem not to venture to another.  Do you downhill ski?

MG: I like the comparison to practice areas. I keep both sets of equipment in my car (just in case…). I learned to alpine ski at one of my favorite spots in Vermont, “Northeast Slopes” in East Corinth. It’s one of the oldest rope tows in the United States, and still operating today. One of Vermont’s hidden treasures. Why nordic? My mother was an alpine racer (an adrenaline chasing downhill racer) and my father was a nordic racer. Ultimately, nordic won over, but the practice areas are ever evolving.

MK:The T-Bar! We used to drive by the Slopes on our way to Bradford! Speaking of “ever evolving,” can we talk about training equipment for a moment? I often speak and blog about tech competence. A few years ago, I was running down Spear Street. The UVM ski team was coming other way. It was summer, so they were doing dry land training. They had these contraptions that looked like giant elliptical machines! I was fascinated.  Did you ever train on one of those?

MG: Roller skis! I haven’t put on a pair since 2006. Hundreds, likely thousands, of miles banked on those “contraptions”. I hope the design has improved. In my day they took a lot of balance, and although they were the closest thing to skiing (literally, short skis with wheels on them), they contributed to some pretty epic wipeouts. No breaks! While at UVM, we did an annual 50km or so fall training “ski” through Underhill, Cambridge and up to Fairfax. All told, roller skis do provide a unique way to see some beautiful parts of Vermont.

MK: Yikes!  Concrete ain’t exactly fresh powder!   I do not wear headphones on my runs, even the 20 milers.  Other runners think I’m nuts.  You are out for a long ski by yourself.  Headphones or not?

MG: Headphones? No. You’re out in the woods and its beautiful. Enough said.

 MK:Runners should take heed!  Ok, circling back for a moment. You mentioned an eye-opening journey from your last days at UVM to your first days at VLS.  Can you give us some highlights of the journey?

 MG: I really don’t want to bore your readers to death. In a nutshell, upon graduating from UVM in 2006, I worked as a Congressional campaign scheduler for longtime attorney and state senator Peter Welch. Over a 3-month period, Welch visited all 251 towns (and gores) in Vermont. Ultimately (and I would like to think the 251 “marathon” had something to do with it), Welch won that November and I was offered a job in Washington. A whole crew of Vermonters were hired. It was a tremendous honor to be part of that. Eventually, and because the world was calling, I went on to work for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As a Congressional Affairs advisor in the Washington office, I worked with US lawyers and policymakers on international law issues including those arising at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the emerging use of drones. I travelled a lot during that time and led missions to Haiti, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the former Yugoslavia and Georgia. It was eye-opening to say the least! A far cry from Vermont, and as they say, “you can take a girl out of Vermont, but …,” by 2011 I was ready to come home and get cracking on law school.

 MK: Wow! Traveling the world to help people. You did Vermont proud!  And we’re lucky to have you back.  Okay, who are the 2 or 3 other skiers, living or dead, who you’d pick to be on your “dream relay team?”

MG:

  •  Bill KochA Vermonter and the first American ever to win a medal at the Olympics (Innsbruck ’76) in cross-country skiing. For all intents and purposes, he also invented the “freestyle” or “skate” technique.
  • Jessie DigginsNot a native Vermonter (I’m all about inclusivity) but she trains here now, and second American ever to win a medal at the Olympics (PyeongChang ’18) in cross-country skiing. She is an awesome ambassador for the sport and role model for girls.
  • Bob GrayYep, going with my old man. I’ll be honest, there is not a person on the planet who loves the sport as much as he does. All heart.

MKGood job getting Dad in there!  I read in the Valley News that he’s still kicking butt!

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(Molly and her Dad)

MK: Earlier you mentioned classic vs skate skiing.  With the duty of competence in mind, do you have any thoughts on a lawyer who shows up at Trapp Outdoor Center, rents classic skis, then proceeds to try to skate ski all over the property?

MG: Oh, no. Such a brave lawyer. That would be comparable to arriving criminal court and attempting to litigate a civil claim.  I’m always happy to advise on equipment and better yet meet for a ski and especially at Trapp’s.

MK: Molly – that is the perfect closing argument in your case to disbar me from cross-country skiing: “Kennedy is no Bill Koch: it’s like he’s a lawyer who brought a civil claim to criminal court.”

Thank you Molly Gray! Hope some people are inspired to get out and enjoy these last few weeks on the trails!

Related posts:

Five for Friday #152

Welcome to February’s final Friday.  You know what that means?

Spring is near!

Indeed, as @CounselorAdrian has hashtagged of late, #TheLightIsWinning.

That’s wellness!

On the other hand, I’m not certain that the light was winning in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 152.

I know next to nothing about Shakespeare.  With “next to” being defined as “immediately adjacent to, if not leaning upon.”  It’s my worst category in Jeopardy.  Even worse than “Opera.”

Sometimes I watch Jeopardy with my mom.  When “Opera” is a category, I drive her crazy by yelling “Puccini!!” as soon as each clue is revealed.

You know what?  Every now and then “Who is Puccini” is right!

Alas, I have no such luck in “Shakespeare.”  That’s because the easiest clues are worth $200.  Not 2 cents.

Anyhow, looking for something to tie to this week’s number, I stumbled across Sonnet 152.  It’s the last of the so-called Dark Lady sonnets.   Literally, here’s the CliffsNotes version.  In short, in Sonnet 152, the writer acknowledges that love has rendered him blind. It left him unable (or unwilling) to see what was obvious.

Thinking on it, I was reminded of an article that I read in yesterday’s ABA Journal: Jeffrey Bunn’s Is there anybody in there? Lawyers can learn something about mindfulness from Pink FloydIt’s worth a read.  Bunn observes:

  • “We have, regrettably, become comfortably numb to something we need to prioritize and invest in—lawyer well-being, including mindfulness and meditation.”

As most readers know, I’ve banged the drum on attorney wellness, both on this blog and at presentations around Vermont.  Overall, and over time, the reception has been positive.  The profession now realizes that it has to do something for lawyers who are coping with significant behavioral health issues.

Mindfulness?  Folks seem a little more fuzzy on that, less willing to agree that it’s a critical component of competence. That’s where Sonnet 152 and Comfortably Numb collide.

Please read the ABA Journal’s full post.  Otherwise, in short, Bunn argues that being mindful of mindfulness is a good thing for the profession.  His argument reminds me that attorney wellness is much more than helping lawyers whose practices are at risk due to crippling and unaddressed substance abuse & mental health problems.  Wellness includes mindfulness, or, as Bunn writes:

  • “Don’t get me wrong—I don’t believe that the legal profession is broken. But it certainly is sick. Sick, as in: Not sustainable as currently constituted. That’s because our profession comprises women and men who can all use a little TLC, once in a while.”

He continues:

  • “Mindfulness and meditation are important pieces of the well-being pie, and our institutions would do us all a great service—they’d do themselves a great service—if they could find a way to normalize those practices and bring them into the everyday realm of our profession. Neither is a panacea for everything that ails our profession, but they can provide us with precious time—time to sharpen our awareness, time to contemplate and reflect—time for ourselves, which, in turn, can benefit our institutions.”

In Sonnet 152, the speaker realized he’d long turned a blind eye to the obvious.  In a way, we’ve done the same.  Every single one of us needs a little TLC every now and then.  It’s time to open our eyes to mindfulness.

We cannot afford to remain Comfortably Numb.

Onto the quiz!

Rules

  • None.  Open book, open search engine, text/phone/email-a-friend.
  • Exception – but one that is loosely enforced – #5 isn’t open book.  (“loosely enforced” = “aspirational”)
  • Unless stated otherwise, the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct apply
  • Team entries welcome, creative team names even more welcome.
  • E-mail answers to michael.kennedy@vermont.gov
  • I’ll post the answers & Honor Roll on Monday
  • Please don’t use the “comment” feature to post your answers
  • Please consider sharing the quiz with friends & colleagues
  • Please consider sharing the quiz on social media.  Hashtag it – #fiveforfriday

Question 1

Each of the following words is in the name of its own rule. Three of the rules involve the same type of ethics issue.   Which is associated with a different ethics issue than the other three?

  • A.  Prospective
  • B.  Meritorious
  • C.  Current
  • D.  Former

Question 2

Attorney called me with an inquiry. I listened, then replied, “yes, but only in an amount reasonably necessary for the purpose.”

You may assume that my response accurately (and exactly) quoted the rule.  Thus, Attorney asked whether the rules permit a lawyer to:

  • A.   charge for copying
  • B.   bill for travel time
  • C.   take time off to relax
  • D.   deposit the lawyer’s own money in a trust account

Question 3

There are two rules that impose a duty to take “reasonable remedial” action or measures.  One is the rule that addresses a lawyer’s duties when a nonlawyer assistant does something that would violate the rules if the lawyer did it.  The other is the rule that addresses a lawyer’s duties when the lawyer learns that:

  • A.   the lawyer deposited the lawyer’s own funds into a trust account
  • B.   opposing counsel violated the Rules of Professional Conduct
  • C.   the lawyer inadvertently communicated with a represented party
  • D.   a client engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct related to a proceeding in which the lawyer represents the client

Question 4

Lawyer called me with an inquiry. I listened, then asked:

  • “I understand the first part: you have reason to believe that your client is going to commit a criminal act.  What I didn’t understand is this: is the criminal act going to result in substantial bodily harm to your client? Or to someone other than your client?”

Lawyer’s inquiry related to the rule on:

  • A.   Client confidences
  • B.   Withdrawal
  • C.   Concurrent conflicts of interests
  • D.   Duties of a Prosecutor

Question 5

Speaking of Shakespeare, what did Dick the Butcher suggest to Jack Cade that they do first?

See the source image

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: an action plan

On March 3, 2016, I posted my first blog on attorney wellness: Lawyers Helping Lawyers.  Since, I’ve raised the issue as often as possible on this blog and at continuing legal education seminars.  Today, I’m pleased to report that the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession recently issued its State Action Plan.

The Vermont Supreme Court created the Commission in response to a report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  That report, The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, made a series of recommendations in response to a study that found staggering rates of behavioral health issues among lawyers.  Relevant to my job as bar counsel, the national report noted:

  • “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer.  Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.  The two studies referenced above reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse.  These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.”

Competence is the first professional duty set out in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Again, Vermont’s state action plan is here.  When you have time, give it a read.  Here’s the concluding paragraph from the introduction:

  • “Our profession has a duty to deliver competent legal and judicial services that will serve to uphold the integrity of the justice system. We recognize that the recommendations that follow may impose costs on the profession. We are certain, however, that the benefits of these proposals outweigh the modest cost of implementing them. Neglecting the truths of the national report that issued and its focus on the elevated risks for mental illness and substance abuse will, we believe, impose greater, more damaging costs—both on our profession, the public and its confidence in the rule of law. We hope that these proposals will be recognized as responsibilities fundamental to the privilege of practicing law.”

I agree 100%  We cannot neglect the issue.  As a profession, we must follow-up on the action items.  We cannot congratulate ourselves on the Commission’s fantastic work only to relegate the plan to the digital equivalent of a shelf where it collects electronic dust until that long-off day when someone finds an archived version and says “Wow.  Great ideas. I wonder what ever became of them?”

Wellness

If you’re new to this topic, here are my various posts:

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Jennifer O’Connor

Welcome to Wednesday!

So far, Wellness Wednesday has featured:

This week, I’d like to introduce Jennifer O’Connor.

Jennifer is a 3L at Vermont Law School.  At VLS, Jennifer chairs the Mental Health Committee.  The Committee is doing great work.  Per Jennifer, the Committee’s

  • “mission is to lay the groundwork to strike the stigma of mental health issues.  Our goal is to provide services and resources to students to maximize their mental health throughout the academic year.”

In addition, Jennifer is a 3L representative to the Law School Committee of the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  Last but not least, Jennifer is the 3L rep to the VLS Fitness Advisory Board.  In that capacity, Jennifer practices what she preaches.

Ten days ago, Jennifer finished her first running race.  And it wasn’t just any old race: it was the Chicago Marathon!

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In the process, she conquered weather conditions – rain & wind – that I’m sure exacerbated the mental & physical challenges that marathoners face even in the best of weather.

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Jennifer ran Chicago on behalf of a friend who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.  Jennifer used the marathon to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association.

Not only does she practice wellness, Jennifer chooses to help.

For all she does for wellness in the profession, Jennifer is this week’s focus of Wellness Wednesday.

Thank you Jennifer!  You’re doing great stuff!

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