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plan to the digital equivalent of a shelf where it collects electronic dust until that long-off day when someone finds an archived version and says “Wow.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?”


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!

IMG_3624 (1)

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.


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!


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!


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:


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.



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.


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.


Because 108.  That number is far too high.

Other posts on this topic:

Lawyer Wellness: Resolve to find 6 minutes for yourself.

My father used to joke that he’d hold back on calling a lawyer until he had enough to talk about for 6 minutes.  Because he knew that’s how much he’d be charged simply for making the call.

Those days are gone.

Now he waits until he has enough material to send his lawyer a really long e-mail.

Anyhow, here’s something else that lawyers can do in 6-minute increments: invest in their own wellness.


Last August, the the National Task Force On Lawyer Well-Being released its report The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.  The report puts the issue of lawyer well-being on the front burner in each of our kitchens.

And it turns up the heat.

Here’s an excerpt from the Task Force’s introductory note:

  • “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.” (emphasis added).

The report includes recommendations for various stakeholder groups connected to the profession.  My blog post on the Task Force’s recommendations is here.

Last week, and in response to the report, the Vermont Supreme Court created the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Commission’s first meeting is later this month.  The Commission includes a representative from each of the stakeholder groups identified in the Task Force’s report.  Each representative will lead a sub-committee charged with reviewing the recommendations targeted at that stakeholder group.  The Commission will be formally introduced at a plenary session during the Vermont Bar Association’s Midyear Meeting in March.

I expect that you’ll hear a lot about the Commission, its work, and lawyer wellness throughout 2018.

In the meantime, don’t forget that lawyer wellness isn’t all about rehab or treatment. It also includes things like work-life balance and mindfulness.

Jeena Cho is legal mindfulness strategist.  She’s a leading voice on lawyer wellness.  She’s a great Twitter follow and writes often for the ABA Journal.

One of Jeena’s sayings sticks with me.  As I referenced in my post recommending that lawyers Make Time For What Matters, Jeena tells us:

“Finally, remember: ‘Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.’ ”

It’s great advice.  We can’t help others (our clients) if we haven’t already helped ourselves.

And it’s easier than you might think.

Jeena authored an article that appears in the January 2018 issue of the ABA Journal: Starting small: it’s time to make an achievable well-being resolution.  As she points out, even only 6 minutes per day can help to improve well-being.

Maybe mediation isn’t your thing.  Maybe it’s running, or reading, or playing an instrument, or cross-country skiing, or doing puzzles, or cooking, or crafts, or coaching, or hiking, or . . . whatever.  Something other than work!

Whatever it is, in 2018, resolve to find a few minutes a day to focus on your own well-being.