Connect & Contribute

It’s Well-Being Week in Law. Today’s theme is social well-being.  The focus is on connecting with others within our communities. Doing so fosters a sense of belonging and provides us with a reliable support network, critical components of social well-being.

Many of us are part of communities both in our work and personal lives.  Examples include practice areas and interests that we have outside the law. There are many ways to contribute to those communities.  As this activity guide makes clear, it can be as easy as expressing gratitude or doing something nice for someone.

I’ve been encouraging members of the Vermont legal community to do ONE thing to participate in Well-Being Week in Law. Imagine the result if a lot of us chose a random act of kindness? Or to thank someone?

I’ll start.

Judge Colleen Brown: thank you for all you did for the Vermont bar during your tenure as United States Bankruptcy Judge. I’m especially grateful for your support for wellness related initiatives within the profession.  Happy retirement!

Karen Allen, fellow member of both the legal and running communities: thank you for letting me know about the random acts of kindness you recently decided to make part of your daily runs!

Sarah Katz: thank you for suggesting that we honor Well-Being Week in Law by going for a run from the office yesterday morning.  It was great!

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Finally, mom.  Thank you for the wave as I was filming today’s video from my deck.  And thank you for the mint plant that is on the deck.  I forgot to include it in today’s video but look forward to enjoying a few of its crushed leaves during the Kentucky Derby!

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For anyone interested in 8 more minutes of social well-being, in today’s video, I eulogize my external camera, steal an idea from one of my basketball players, share one of my favorite things about United States Bankruptcy Judge Colleen Brown, and urge us to reach out to the members of our community who no longer feel connected.

I Made Bread

Happy Hump Day!  I have big news to report.

First, my sense is that many in the Vermont legal community are participating in Well-Being Week in Law.  And now I have proof!  Congratulations to the folks at Dunkiel Saunders!  Yesterday, Melinda Siel let me know that, over lunch, the firm had a lively game of Viking Chess on the lawn and that they’re doing something related to wellness each day this week.  This makes Dunkiel Saunders the first Vermont firm or office to reach out to me to confirm participation!  True to my word, I’m here to launch them to internet fame! If you or your office/firm is participating, let me know.  I’ll post the entire list on Saturday.

And that’s not the only big news!

I am here to report that, yesterday, I made bread.  The official video chronicling the endeavor is here:

Now, I know what you’re asking yourself.  “Self, why is it big news that Mike made bread?”  Fear not my friends! I have the answer.

Today’s theme is Intellectual Well-Being.  Continuing to grow intellectually is an important component of our overall well-being. We should strive to grow both at work and in our personal lives.

For instance, at work, you might resolve to wade into a new area of law. Or, take a pro bono case in an area that you don’t typically practice. Remember, even if the area is new to you, the person you’ll help is far better off with your assistance than they would be if left to their own devices.

Similarly, in your personal life, stagnation doesn’t do much for well-being. We need new interests and challenges.  To that end, on this day during last year’s Well-Being Week in Law, I resolved to learn how to make bread.  It took me 364 days to get around to it, but I did it!  Many thanks to the First Brother for his assistance, and to Nicole Killoran and Heather Devine for supporting this project from the start and checking-in, both periodically and gently, on my, umm, “progress.”

That’s the news for today. If you’re interested participating in Well-Being Week in Law, here’s an activity guide.  Or, like Dunkiel Saunders and me, find your own thing.  After all, and as we know, well-being is personal.

As always, be well and may the 4th be with you.

Align

Welcome to Tuesday of 2022’s Well-Being Week in Law. Today’s focus is on spiritual well-being, with the key word being “Align.”  The organizers are challenging us to assess whether we are “cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose in work and life.”  One that allows us to align our work & personal lives with our values, goals, and interests.

My thoughts on the day are in the video below.  Or, you can access it here. For those who prefer to consume content via blog post, I’ve shared them below.

To me, it’s tough to assess whether you’re cultivating your values if you don’t know what your values are. So, the way I’m participating today is by taking the Values Activity Challenge. It’s an activity designed to assist people to identify their core values and think about ways to exemplify them every day.

Honestly, I was tempted by the awe walk and might build that into the run I’m going on as soon as I finish this post.  Typing of which, this post about awe, my dad, the Foo Fighters, and Nandi was one of this blog’s most read in 2021.

Last thoughts on Align & Spiritual Well-Being.

For those of you whose work lives align with your personal values, that’s fantastic and is a good sign for the spiritual component of your well-being.

For those of you who aren’t quite there yet, that’s okay. While your current position might not be the job you envisioned when you entered law school, there’s still meaning in it. Maybe not the meaning you’re seeking, but it has meaning to your clients and to your office. It also has meaning to Future You. What you do now will put Future You in a position to choose a next job that best aligns with your values. Future You will thank you for today’s efforts towards those values.

Finally, for those of you who aren’t concerned about finding meaning in work, that’s okay too! In the group discussion we had on Tuesday of last year’s Well-Being Week, I learned from other participants that it’s not uncommon not to seek meaning in work, so long as the job allows the person to pursue the values that are important to them in their non-work life. In a sense, the job’s meaning is that allows the person to find meaning elsewhere.

In short, well-being is personal.  Find what works for you.

Be well!

Stay Strong

Welcome to 2022 Well-Being Week in Law!

Today’s theme is “Stay Strong,” with the focus on the importance of our physical well-being. Here’s a video with some of my thoughts for the day.  It’s only 6 minutes and includes the story of how my fear of bees almost caused me to jump the railing and sprint away from the deck as I was setting up.

Don’t worry. I don’t ask people to run a 5K or hike the Long Trail. Rather, I encourage folks to find one thing to read, to listen or watch, or to do to improve their physical well-being. For ideas, check out this participation guide put out by the Institute for Well-Being Week in Law.  Or do your own thing! As the guide indicates, Well-Being Week in Law

  • is designed so that people and organizations can participate in any way that fits their goals and capacities. If you want to participate in multiple things every day, that’s great. But also feel free to select only a few things over the entire week that match your priorities.”

If you have an Apple Watch, Vermont lawyer Tammy Heffernan has offered to host a month-long challenge associated with well-being. Tammy set it up so that there are both team and individual challenges. Instructions on how to sign-up are at the end of this post.

Many of the guide’s suggestions can be completed in 20 minutes or less and no amount of participation is too “small” or “inconsequential.” For instance, here’s an article on how to improve well-being via better sleep habits.

Remember to include non-lawyer co-workers!

Oh! And don’t forget about prizes and fame. The Institute for Well-Being in the Law is offering a chance to win prizes by completing the 2022 Well-Being Week in Law Participation Survey.  Or, you can show your commitment to well-being by participating in the Social Media Challenge.  Finally, I will use my blog and Twitter account to mention any member of Vermont’s legal community who lets me know that they, their co-workers, or their office/firm participated, even if just barely, in Well-Being Week.

Be well!

APPLE WATCH TEAM CHALLENGE

”VT Attorney Well Being Team Challenge ”

First, download Challenges: https://challengesapp.app.link/download

Once you have the app, enter invite code: ‘cheu’ or tap on the link below to join:

https://sync.challenges.app/invite?eligibilitycode=cheu

APPLE WATCH INDIVIDUAL CHALLENGE

“VT Attorney Individual Challenge”

First, download Challenges: https://challengesapp.app.link/download

Once you have the app, enter invite code: ‘kfdk’ or tap on the link below to join:

https://sync.challenges.app/invite?eligibilitycode=kfdk

Consider participating in Well-Being Week in Law. Nothing is too small . . . and there are prizes!

Next week is Well-Being Week in Law. Conceived and promoted by the Institute for Well-Being in Law (IWIL), the event’s goals are “to raise awareness about mental health and to encourage action and innovation across the profession to improve well-being.”

I encourage you, your co-workers, and your colleagues to participate, even if only by doing something that might seem “small” or “inconsequential.”  Indeed, as we know too well, when it comes to improving the profession’s well-being, there is no step too small to help. For example, sending a “thank you” note. Surely, someone at your office has time (and reason) to express gratitude at some point next week!

Of course, Well-Being Week in Law features many additional activities and opportunities to promote well-being. Legal professionals can participate as individuals, with a friend/colleague/co-worker, or as an entire office/firm. There’s something for everyone!

And speaking of everyone, you lawyers, don’t forget to include your non-lawyer staff. They are much a part of the profession as lawyers!

Each day focuses on a different aspect of wellness:

Each Day

IWIL’s participation guide includes dozens of suggestions for each day, breaking the suggestions into things to read, things to watch or listen to, and things to do.  For instance, on Monday, legal professionals might

Or, for the legal professional who has an Apple Watch, Vermont lawyer Tammy Heffernan has offered to host a month-long challenge associated with well-being. Tammy set it up so that there are both team and individual challenges. Instructions on how to sign-up are at the end of this letter.

There are other ways to participate in Well-Being Week.

The event coincides with May being Mental Health Awareness Month. So, next week, you and your co-workers might consider the daily challenges in the 31-Day Mental Health Challenge.

In addition, I plan to host virtual discussions on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The discussions will begin at noon and focus on the day’s theme. All are welcome. Each morning, I’ll post a link to join that day’s discussion on my blog. The videos I recorded last year provide a flavor of the discussions.

Again, the participation guide is chock full of ideas.

Finally, well-being is not “one size fits all.’  It’s personal. As the participation guide states:

Pick & Choose to Fit Your Needs

WWIL is designed so that people and organizations can participate in any way that fits their goals and capacities. If you want to participate in multiple things every day, that’s great. But also feel free to select only a few things over the entire week that match your priorities.

As I mentioned, there’s something for everyone. I encourage you to find what works for you and to encourage your colleague and co-workers to do the same.

Oh! One last thing. With participation comes reward(s)!

IWIL is offering legal professionals a chance to win prizes by completing the 2022 Well-Being Week in Law Participation Survey.  Or, you can show your commitment to well-being by participating in the Social Media Challenge.  Finally, I will use my blog and Twitter account to mention any member of Vermont’s legal community who lets me know that they, their co-workers, or their office/firm participated, even if just barely, in Well-Being Week.

Thank you for considering ways that you and your co-workers might participate in 2022 Well-Being Week in Law.

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P.S. – thank you Tammy!

APPLE WATCH TEAM CHALLENGE

”VT Attorney Well Being Team Challenge ”

First, download Challenges: https://challengesapp.app.link/download

Once you have the app, enter invite code: ‘cheu’ or tap on the link below to join:

https://sync.challenges.app/invite?eligibilitycode=cheu

APPLE WATCH INDIVIDUAL CHALLENGE

“VT Attorney Individual Challenge”

First, download Challenges: https://challengesapp.app.link/download

Once you have the app, enter invite code: ‘kfdk’ or tap on the link below to join:

https://sync.challenges.app/invite?eligibilitycode=kfdk

Related Resources

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

 

Wellness Wednesday: 40 tips, with at least 1 for everyone.

When it comes to wellness and well-being, the legal profession has made progress.  The topic is now openly discussed, well, everywhere.

Whether at last week’s VBA Mid-Year Meeting, the lunch-time check-ins I’ve organized through the Bar Assistance Program, the VBA COVID-19 Committee’s conversation groups, or even something seemingly so small as the email I received yesterday, soon after a completing an in-house CLE for a local firm.  The CLE had covered a wide variety of issues related to legal ethics, but the follow-up email was, basically, “Mike, thank you.  How can our firm do more on wellness?”

Good question.

Despite the progress, it can be hard to do more, or even to get started.  One reason is that there is so much information so readily available that it can be overwhelming.  In my opinion, the trick is to approach the task as you would any other that, at first, seems daunting: one step at a time.

The ABA Journal recently published 40 wellness tips to help lawyers cope with job pressureI’m usually not a fan of lists that purport to show the way to faster marathons, stronger relationships, or whatever.  But I’m a huge fan of the ABA’s 40 wellness tips.

Each is from a different legal professional and each is easy to understand.  Not to be trite, but among the 40 tips, there’s one for everyone.  Whether beginning the journey to wellness or taking the next step, find the one that works for you and go from there.

wellness

Related Resources

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness Wednesday: Mentoring

It’s been a bit since my last Wellness Wednesday post.  And, since I already blogged once today, I’m reluctant to do so again.  However, in that this morning’s was about trust accounting, my personal well-being requires a new post to cleanse my palate of my least favorite topic.

So, let’s consider mentoring as an aspect of well-being.

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I’ve long thought that mentoring provides an opportunity to improve well-being. Not only for the mentee and the obvious benefits of wise guidance, but for the mentor.  In fact, a quick search reveals that I’ve posted several blogs in which I urged lawyers to consider serving as mentors.

The first was Resolve to be a Mentor, a post in which I suggested that mentoring can be traced back to the earliest recorded guidelines of attorney conduct.  Next, here and here, I used the Wellness Wednesday forum to encourage lawyers to serve as mentors. The former referenced my tribute to Joan Wing.  Very few, if any, have done more to promote the wellness and well-being of the Vermont legal profession than Joan, with her various efforts including serving as a mentor to many lawyers who still practice today.  This blogger included.

My prior posts focused on the benefits to the mentee. I’ve never been able to articulate my feeling that, at some level, helping others to find their way benefits the helper as well.  Then, today, I saw the ABA Journal’s Mentorship is not all about the menteeIt’s a great post in which Katherine Gustafson reminds us that, yes, while ‘the benefits of being mentored have been extolled in articles everywhere,” when it comes to mentoring “before you reject the idea, consider the benefits that come with such a role.” Among those benefits, wellness.

Referring to the “intrinsic rewards” associated with mentoring, Gustafson notes:

“Let’s face it, the practice of law is difficult, often frustrating, work. Even those of us who love our jobs sometimes feel burned out and unsatisfied. This burnout can affect our physical and mental health as well as our work productivity. We long for something in our daily work that satisfies our soul. Mentorship can be that magic ticket.

We have long known that helping others makes us feel good, but research by the University of Wisconsin—Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs proves it. The research concluded that helping others makes us happier. When you do something good for someone else, the pleasure centers in your brain light up and endorphins are released that give you a sensation referred to as a ‘helper’s high.’ So, taking a little bit of time out of our daily life to help a new attorney find their way in the profession can counteract some stress and negativity that naturally accompanies law practice.”

I agree!

So today I’m here to share two mentoring opportunities.

Last month, the Vermont Bar Association announced the Vermont Mentor Advice Program (VMAP).  VMAP aims to pair “experienced Vermont lawyers with new lawyers practicing in Vermont and with lawyers newly-located in Vermont.” The VBA hopes that VMAP “will be a helpful way to welcome new lawyers practicing in Vermont to the Vermont legal community, and for experienced lawyers to be able to share their knowledge and experience with new Vermont lawyers.”  For more info, including answers to frequently asked questions and an application form, please go here.

In addition, the Vermont Judiciary administers a separate program.  The Rules of Admission to the Bar of the Vermont Supreme Court require newly admitted lawyers to complete a mentorship.  More information is available here.  To be added to the list of those willing to serve mentors in the admission program, please email Licensing Counsel Andy Strauss.

Note: the VBA program is NOT for mentees seeking to satisfy the admission requirement.

If I know Joan, she wouldn’t recommend one program over the other.  Rather, I expect that she’d suggest – as only Joan could “suggest” things – that you serve in BOTH.

For now, please consider one.

Here’s to being like Joan and improving our own well-being while helping others.

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

R.I.P. Cheslie Kryst – may your tragic story spur us to continue to help others.

This post deals with suicide.  It is devastatingly sad.

Here is a picture of Attorney Cheslie Kryst:

Cheslie

Attorney Kryst first made national news in May 2019 when she was crowned Miss USA.  At the time, she was in private practice in North Carolina.  I referenced the achievement in Question 5 of this #fiveforfriday legal ethics quiz, also noting Attorney Kryst’s pro bono work.

A few months later, Attorney Kryst’s firm announced her role in securing a sentence reduction for a pro bono client who had been sentenced to life in prison. Later that year, Insider noted that Attorney Kryst was far more than the stereotypical pageant winner, using her podium as Miss USA to advocate for social justice and changes to laws that resulted in long prison sentences for relatively low-level drug possession.

Upon leaving private practice, Cheslie started White Collar Glam, a site dedicated to assisting others to find “appropriate, affordable, professional clothing.”  The project was inspired by Cheslie’s experience during a mock trial competition. Then, in 2020 and 2021, Cheslie received Emmy nominations for her work as reporter for Extra.

Cheslie died on Sunday.

As reported by many outlets, including the Charlotte Observer, the Washington Post, and CNN, Cheslie jumped from the Manhattan building in which she lived.

Cheslie was 30 years old.

This is the third post in which I’ve referenced suicide and the legal profession.  That’s three too many.

In the first, 108, I shared statistics that suggest that 108 Vermont lawyers with active licenses had serious thoughts of suicide in the previous year.  In the next, Enough, I linked to the heartbreaking story of Gabe MacConnail and Joanna Litt, and urged us all to check in with others who we know are struggling.

We must continue the effort.  We must work to ensure that everyone knows:

  • It’s okay not to be okay.
  • It’s okay to ask for help.
  • Help is available.

May our efforts help to prevent a fourth blog post.

May Cheslie rest in peace.

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If you need help:

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If you want to help others but don’t know how, start with my post Ask the Question.

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Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

 Aiming for Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Aiming for Well-Being

Whether blogging or presenting on wellness, I’ve frequently mentioned Jeena Cho.  I’m a big fan of Jeena’s thoughts and work on the well-being of the legal profession.

In 2017, the ABA Journal ran Jeena’s post Talking about the elephant in the room – social anxietyThe closing sentence has always resonated with me.  It strikes me as perfectly capturing the idea that well-being is an aspect of competence.  Jeena wrote:

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

 Of course, therein lies the challenge, right? How do we help ourselves?  More specifically, how do we align and balance our personal lives & values with our work lives & values?  It’s a question I addressed in this video during 2020’s Well-Being Week in Law, and again here during the same week last year.  Jeena has addressed the question too.

Last summer, the ABA Journal posted Jeena’s piece Are you living your values?  Use the ‘Bull’s Eye” exercise to check these 4 areas of your life.  Check it out.  The exercise Jeena shares a great tool to help to clarify values and to enhance well-being. And, as you read it, take note of the final paragraph.

When discussing wellness and well-being with legal professionals, it’s common for someone to tell me something like “I stink at this.”

Not true.

As Jeena writes:

  • “My advice is to practice being gentle with yourself. Most of us are overtaxed, juggling more than what can possibly be accomplished in a day, and working under intense pressure. It’s also possible that you may consciously choose to focus more of your time and energy in one domain. This exercise is a tool to increase your awareness so that you can actively pay attention to the areas of your life that are in balance as well as areas that have been neglected. If there are areas that you would like to prioritize, start by setting some achievable goals. This isn’t a test to see how successful you are at life but rather a tool you can use on a regular basis to pause, to reassess and make course adjustments as you go. Ultimately, it’s a tool for increasing self-awareness and learning to be a better person.”

Great advice!  Thank you, Jeena.

Wellness

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness (every)Day: emotional regulation and the power of “what’s important now?”

In July 2017, I posted W.I.N. Your 3-Feet of Influence.  I shared how a basketball team that I coached used “W.I.N.” – What’s Important Now? – as a tool to focus our energies on the things that we could control. The post was this blog’s most read in 2017. Ever since, I’ve used both this space and CLE podiums to argue that the “W.I.N.” mindset could lead to a healthier, more civil profession.

Wellness

My pitch is best reflected in this video on Emotional Intelligence. I recorded it in conjunction with 2020’s Well-Being Week in Law.  It includes mention of how we need to understand (1) that we will experience negative emotions; and (2) that it is okay to acknowledge that we are experiencing them.  From there, I argued that employing “what’s important now” when confronted with a negative emotion can improve emotional IQ.

Having long been interested in the topic and its connection to attorney wellness, I was pleased yesterday to find Law Practice Today’s Emotional Regulation: What It Is and Why Lawyers Need It.

I recommend the article.

Here is the opening paragraph:

  • “Law schools and legal employers are struggling to meet the growing demands for lawyers who possess not only the intellectual capability to perform the demanding work of a lawyer, but also the emotional intelligence to perform that work with interpersonal skills, while also maintaining a sense of well-being. Lawyer well-being and lawyer performance – two critical issues that historically have seemed antithetical to one another.”

True.  Historically, we’ve made the choice binary.  Fortunately, that’s changing.  The article goes on:

  • “In today’s legal climate, well-being and performance are less of an ‘either/or’ and more of ‘both/and’ leaving both law schools and legal employers scrambling to find how to teach both emotional and substantive skills. Many firms, other legal employers, and law schools are beginning to teach emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) and emotional regulation (ER). While you may have heard of emotional intelligence, emotional regulation is a relative newcomer to the vernacular. Emotional regulation is a component of emotional intelligence. Together, EQ and ER can help lawyers improve their well-being, heighten their interpersonal skills, and build fulfilling and successful careers.”

I love the premise.  Wellness is not inconsistent with performance.  Rather, wellness is an aspect of competence.  And, when confronted with a negative aspect of the profession, focusing on what’s important now is a critical aspect of wellness.

In other words, something will happen today that causes negative emotions.  A client will be angry. Opposing counsel will refuse to extend a deadline. A judge will be short with you. You cannot control how they impacted you and it is okay to acknowledge that they impacted you negatively. But, for your own well-being, before responding, try to pause and consider “what’s important now?”

Again, please consider reading the entire article. It presents a compelling argument that emotional regulation – or what’s important now? – is a powerful and productive response to the stress and anxiety all too prevalent in the profession.

Oh.  Yes, I’m aware that today is Thursday.  But wellness is important even when it isn’t Wednesday.

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