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.

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(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!

IMG_1699

(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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Wellness Wednesday: The Lock Screen & National Mental Health Day for Law Students

Welcome to Wellness Wednesday!

Two points today.

First, nothing makes me weller than the Red Sox beating the Yankees.

Actually, wait, that’s not correct.  What I meant to write is that nothing makes me weller than the Red Sox beating the Yankees in a playoff series!

(Yes, I know “weller” isn’t a word – blogger’s license makes me well as well.)

My blog on how superstitious I am about the Red Sox is here.  Last week, Suzanne Lewis, a very good friend who I met in law school texted from Fishers, Indiana.  Fishers is the mid-west headquarters of Ethical Grounds.  Friday, the opening night of the Sox-Yanks series, Suz texted “Go Sox!” to me, her husband, and their son (my godson Sammy) along with a picture of a Neil Diamond album cover  (The Sox play Neil’s Sweet Caroline over the loudspeakers in the middle of every 8th inning at Fenway.)

Upon receiving the text, my superstition gene went into overdrive.

I didn’t reply. That would have been bad luck.  But, the next morning,  after the Sox had hung on to win Friday night’s game, I texted Suz that superstition dictated that I make the picture my lock screen.  So I did.  And then Monday night & last night happened.

Go Sox indeed!

Neil Diamond

My second point:

To my readers at VLS, today is National Mental Health Day for Law Students.  Check out the link – it’s full of great resources.  And, as I said when I spoke at the character & fitness forum a last month, take care of yourselves! Make wellness a habit that carries over into your careers.

To paraphrase Neil, habitual wellness would be:

so good, so good, so good!

Wellness Wednesday: on ponds, puffery & paltering.

It’s Wellness Wednesday!

Remember – wellness is about much more than the staggering rates at which lawyers are afflicted with behavioral health problems.  Wellness is also about taking action to be well.  For instance, making time for what matters, taking 6-minutes a day for yourself, and making wellness a habit.

Last week, I debuted “Wellness Wednesday” with this post congratulating the lawyers who ran in the Island Vines 10K. This week: some thoughts on the ethics of puffery & paltering, but only after a big thank you to Jennifer Emens-Butler!

Jennifer is the VBA’s Director of Communication and Education. She’s a staunch ally in the quest to encourage lawyers to be well.  Among other things, Jennifer pens Pursuits of Happiness, a regular column in the VBA Journal, and she is commited to including wellness components at the VBA’s conferences & meetings.

For example, at last weeks’ annual meeting in Manchester, Jennifer organized an early morning walk on the trails at the Equinox Preserve.  Not even a little rain could keep Jennifer & me from starting the day with wellness!

Equinox

Now, the ethics part of this post: paltering.

The night before the morning walk, I had the privilege of joining Andrew Manitsky and Tad Powers on a CLE panel.  Our topic was puffery and the ethics of negotiation.

One of my favorite parts of the program (we’ve presented it before) is a piece that Andrew does on “paltering.”  A person palters by actively using the truth to deceive.  As this piece in the Washington Post points out, many consider “the behavior of someone who paltered in a negotiation as being just as unethical or untrustworthy as the person who outright lied with a known falsehood.”

Remember: when representing a client, Rule 4.1 prohibits misrepresentations of fact or law to a third person.  Per Comment [1], “[m]isrepresentations can also occur by  partially true or misleading statements or omissions that are the equivalent of affirmative false statements.”

So, what’s this got to do with Wellness Wednesday? I’m glad you asked.

On our walk, Jennifer & I set out on the Pond Trail.  We never found the pond.  Either it evaporated or it’s so small as to be indistinguishable from the rain puddles we encountered on the trail.

Later, throughout the morning at the conference, several people asked if I’d hiked to the pond.  Normally I proudly display my Chittenden County roots. However, not wanting to admit that a kid born & raised by the airport couldn’t find a damn pond in Southern Vermont – even while hiking on “the pond trail” – I replied:

“we took the Pond Trail. It was terrific.”

True statements indeed.  But, I paltered.

Enjoy Wellness Wednesday! Do something for yourself, even if it’s only for 6 minutes!

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Island Vines

Around these parts, summer is an opportune time to work on wellness and work-life balance.  At least for me. I’m not a winter guy.

But that’s no excuse not to make wellness a habit that carries into winter! I vow to try. And, in that spirit, I’d like to use this column to call attention to lawyers who are doing the same.

This week’s focus – the lawyers who ran in Sunday’s RunVermont Island Vines 10K. I spotted at least 5. It was great to see them out there!

Let me know what your non-lawerly, non-work thing is to re-charge. Whether it’s running, reading, hiking, knitting, fly-fishing, jamming on a guitar – whatever  helps make you well – let me know.  If I can, I’ll show up, join you, and post it here (with your informed consent, of course. after all, this is an ethics blog.)

Anyhow, I’m already looking forward to who I might see Friday morning at the VBA Meeting in Manchester.  Both at the run/walk that Jennifer Emens-Butler has organized and yoga with Samara Anderson.  Thank you Jennifer and Samara for encouraging lawyers to make wellness a habit!

And speaking of Jennifer – she writes a column in every issue of the VBA Journal.  It’s called “Pursuits of Happiness.”  In it, she shares stories of lawyers who are doing fantastically intriguing & interesting things that have nothing to do with the law.  Happy things.  That help make and keep them well.   Check out the column. Or better yet, let Jennifer know about your own pursuit(s) of happiness!

The 10K’ers

Amber Thibeault – Ward Law – her first ever 10K!

IV Amber

Cara Cookson – Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services

IV Cara

Scott Kline – Vermont Superior Judge

IV Judge Kline

Eric Knudsen – Langrock Sperry & Wool

IV Knudsen

Dave Mickenberg – Mickenberg, Dunn, Lachs & Smith

IV Mick

 

Find something that helps you be well and make it a habit!

Make Wellness a Habit

I’ve blogged often on issues related to lawyer wellness.  Most of my posts have focused on lawyer impairment.

A related issue is mindfulness. Or, as I’ve blogged, workplace happiness.  In short, does your firm or office foster a positive environment in which people are happy to work?  Or, as James Goodnow wrote at Above The Law, is your firm or office Blinded By the Benjamins?

Earlier this year, the Vermont Supreme Court took a step towards fostering a more positive environment for Vermont’s legal profession when it created the Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Commission met last week.  Members shared updates from their various committees. On the issue of mindfulness, I was excited and encouraged by the report from the Legal Employers Committee.

Laura Wilson & Ian Carleton chair the committee.  I’m not going to delve into the details of their update.  Suffice to say, it sounds like their committee is doing a fantastic job looking at steps that legal employers can take to make workplaces healthier.

I’ve been as encouraged by the buy-in I’ve heard from lawyers & firms in my travels around the state.  A few years ago, nobody wanted to talk about impairment, wellness, or mindfulness.  Now, not only are legal employers talking the talk, they’re starting to walk the walk.  Which brings me to the point of this post.

If your workplace is looking at ways to incorporate wellness & mindfulness into its culture, remember this: it’s marathon, not a sprint.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let me turn to a different sport.

As most of you know, I used to coach high school basketball.  Any coach will tell you this: whatever you do every day in practice, that’s probably what your team will be good at doing.  If you shoot a lot, your team will probably shoot well.  If you work a lot on plays against a zone defense, your team will probably execute its zone offense well.  If you do a little of a lot, but not a lot of any one particular thing, your team will probably be okay at a lot, but not very good at much of anything.

The same goes for incorporating wellness and mindfulness into your workplace.  If you want wellness and mindfulness to be part of your workplace culture, you have to practice them.  Not just talk about wellness for 50 minutes at the firm retreat.  Not just mention mindfulness at every other staff meeting.  But do them.

Every. Single. Day.

And then again the next day.

Over and over.

For wellness & mindfulness to become part of your workplace culture, you have to make them habits.  It’s that simple.  As they say, practice makes perfect.

Jeena Cho is one of the country’s leading voices on wellness and mindfulness in the legal profession.  In May, the ABA Journal ran Jeena’s post 4 strategies for effectively implementing a mindfulness program.  Give it a read.

Because it so resonates with me, I’m pasting in the third of the four strategies that Jeena recommends:

FOR LASTING CHANGE, THINK LONG TERM

As with buying a gym membership—you actually have to go to the gym and work out regularly to see benefits—mindfulness training has to be ongoing.

Anne Brafford, author of Positive Professionals: Creating High-Performing Profitable Firms Through the Science of Engagement, says, “To be effective, programs designed to build complex people skills like mindfulness can’t end with a single training session. This train-and-go approach is popular among organizations—with the result that billions of dollars are wasted annually because trainees end up using only about 10 percent of what they learn.”

For a mindfulness training to stick, Brafford says, “organizations will want to provide ongoing support for learning. This includes, for example, providing opportunities or encouragement to apply the new skills, reinforcement learning with feedback and reminders about its relevance and importance, supervisor and peer support, and opportunities for ongoing development.”

Jeena and Anne are right.

Make wellness a habit.

Image result for practice makes perfect

 

 

 

Workplace Happiness

As I mentioned earlier this week, the plenary session at today’s Midyear Meeting of the Vermont Bar Association introduced the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Supreme Court formed the Commission in response to last summer’s report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  I blogged about the report here.

The report makes recommendations to various stakeholder groups within the profession.  In short, each stakeholder group is encouraged to ensure that the profession prioritizes lawyer well-being.

One of the stakeholder groups is “Legal Employers.”  Laura Wilson and Ian Carleton co-chair the Legal Employers sub-committee of the Vermont Commission. This morning, each made an important point: lawyer wellness is much more than substance abuse and depression.  It includes creating a positive environment within the workplace.  As Laura and Ian articulated, every single lawyer is either an employer, an employee, or both.

A positive environment within the workplace.  In other words, a place where people are happy to work.

With that in mind, it’s ironic that minutes after hearing Laura and Ian speak, I came across James Goodnow’s post at Above The Law: Blinded By The BenjaminsGive it a read.

While it might be aimed at BigLaw, I think Goodnow’s post is valuable to legal employers & employees in firms of ANY size. Simply, is your firm a place that values Career, Cause, Community?  If not, what changes are you going to make so that it does?

Again, for a great explanation of why the 3 C’s are so important, check out Blinded By The Benjamins.

Sadly, this post caused me to break a promise I made a few months ago when I said this blog would never again mention Puffy.  But, low-hanging fruit is too easy to pick.  And, as Goodnow’s post makes clear, when it comes to the lawyer well-being, It’s (Not) All About the Benjamins.

Plus, it’s got Biggie in it. And while I’m a West Coast guy, Biggie is Biggie.

Lawyer Well-Being

The Vermont Bar Association’s 61st Midyear Meeting is set for this Thursday and Friday. Jennifer and Laura have a fantastic program in place.  It includes seminars on:

  • ESI and admitting electronically stored info into evidence; (TECH COMPETENCE!!)
  • legal ethics;
  • free speech in the workplace;
  • DACA and other hot topics in immigration law;
  • a primer on the new tax law;
  • legal issues related to sexual harassment & the #metoo movement; and
  • issues related to post-adoption contracts (PACA).

The meeting will also include several seminars on lawyer well-being, with Friday’s plenary session scheduled as the public introduction of the Vermont Commission on Well-Being in the Legal Profession.  For more info on the VBA meeting, please click here.

Given the meeting’s focus on well-being and mindfulness, I thought I’d re-post some prior blogs on the topic.  Here’s one that originally ran on Friday, March 2, as the introduction to the 108th #fiveforfriday legal ethics quiz.

*******

108

Warning: today’s post isn’t as light-hearted as some of the #fiveforfriday intros.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  In 2015, SAMHSA conducted a national survey on drug use and health.  The survey found that approximately 4% of Vermonters had experienced serious thoughts of suicide over the previous year.  The Vermont results are here.

There are approximately 2,700 lawyers with active licenses in Vermont.  If lawyers suffer at the same rate as other Vermonters, 108 Vermont lawyers have had serious thoughts of suicide over the past year.

108.

Okay, I know the math might not be accurate.  However, consider the following:

In 2016, the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic released a study on lawyers’ behavioral health.  The ABA announced the study’s results here.

Per the announcement, the study revealed “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.”  In addition, the study “determined that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a far higher rate than other professional populations, as well as mental health distress that is more significant.”

So, given that lawyers suffer at higher rates than other professionals, 4% might not be too far off.

Fact: in the past 3.5 years, 5 Vermont attorneys have committed suicide.

Fact: 2 of those 5 took their lives in 2018.

Fact: since September 2016, as many lawyers have had their licenses transferred to disability inactive status due to mental health or substance abuse issues as did in the previous 16 years.

There’s a problem.

Fortunately, the profession has started to address it.

In response to the ABA/Hazelden Study, three groups spurred creation of a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  The groups:

Last summer, the National Task Force published “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”  The report makes a series of recommendations to the legal profession’s various stakeholders and urges state supreme courts to form committees to review the recommendations.

On January 2, 2018, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a charge & designation creating theVermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Commission includes a representative from each of the stakeholder group mentioned in the National Task Force’s Practical Recommendation for Positive Change.   Each Commission member has formed a sub-committee to review the recommendations for that particular stakeholder group.

For example, I’m on the Commission as the representative from the “attorney regulators” stakeholder group.  My sub-committee includes one representative from each of the following: the Professional Responsibility Board, the Board of Continuing Legal Education, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Character & Fitness Committee, and the Judicial Conduct Board. I also appointed a lawyer who has long represented lawyers and judges in professional conduct investigations and prosecutions.  My sub-committee will review and report on recommendations that the Court’s various regulatory bodies ensure that lawyer health & wellness is prioritized throughout the licensing/regulatory scheme.

The Commission’s work will be the subject of the plenary session at the Vermont Bar Association’s upcoming midwinter meeting.  For more information, including how to register, please visit this site.

As I’ve blogged, the report from the National Task Force is a call to action.  In my view, we have duty to keep this issue on the front burner.

Why?

Because 108.  That number is far too high.

Other posts on this topic: