Wellness Wednesday: It’s okay to be you.

At the end of May, I posted this blog.  In it, I suggested that, this summer, you do what works for you, not what you think others expect you to do.  In other words, be yourself.

A few weeks later, I posted Wellness Wednesday: Survival Skills.  It’s a post in which I referred to Link Christin, a lawyer who contributes to Attorney at Work.  In February, Attorney Christin started a series on survival skills for lawyers.  As of my blog, he’d posted five:

A few weeks ago, Attorney Christin posted Survival Skill No. 6 for Lawyers: Bring Your Authentic Self to Work.  In it, he writes:

  • “Lawyers must create an environment where they can deal with personal and professional behavioral issues in a timely way rather than internalizing them only to have them surface later in more dangerous and destructive ways. We shouldn’t expect everybody to embrace or even like our authentic selves. But, at the end of the day, our success as lawyers and our happiness and stability in life are premised on honoring who we truly are.”

Attorney Christin’s argument that well-being includes being your authentic self reminded me of my suggestion that you spend the summer being you.  And, the more I thought about it, the more I was reminded of my friend David Marlow.

Dave is the Activities Director at Mt. Mansfield Union High School.  In 2018, Dave was Vermont’s Division 1 Athletic Director of the Year.

Last year, Dave did a lot of work getting MMU’s student-athletes involved with mental health awareness.   An aspect of the students’ focus was de-stigmatizing mental health issues and encouraging peers who want help to seek it.  They came up with a phrase that Dave uses often on social media: “It’s okay not to be okay.”  Dave often follows it with #EndTheStigma.

Attorney Christin and Dave make great points that, really, are part of a singular message.

Again, Attorney Christin writes that “[l]awyers must create an environment where they can deal with personal and professional behavioral issues in a timely way rather than internalizing them only to have them surface later in more dangerous and destructive ways.” In other words, not only must we help lawyers deal with behavioral health issues, we must create an environment conducive to seeking help.  Which is exactly what Dave and his student-athletes mean when they say, “it’s okay not to be okay.”

It’s okay to be you.  And, if you need help being you, that’s okay too.  There’s a list of resources here.

wellness

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Time to change our business model?

“BigLaw” refers to the nation’s largest law firms.  Contrary to popular stereotypes, BigLaw lawyers have been some of the most influential voices in the on-going discussion of attorney well-being.

Jana Cohen Barbe is a partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.  Last week, several outlets, including LawFuel and Law.Com, published an open letter in which Attorney Barbe argued that a root cause of the legal profession’s mental health crisis is, in fact, the profession’s business model.  As such, Attorney Barbe urged firms to re-think compensation systems, vacation packages, and “the almighty billable hour.”

I urge you to read Attorney Barbe’s letter.  Here’s the paragraph that resonated most with me, mainly because it reminded me of a blog I posted two weeks ago: Vacations, Devices & Vacations From Devices:

  • “What would happen if we de-emphasized the billable hour or did away with it completely, sizing our fees to projects undertaken and rewarding efficiency in performance? What would happen if we fostered a culture where vacations were mandatory and professionals were instructed not to check email while out of the office? I posit that our workforce would be happier, our clients would be happier (and also institutionalized to a far greater degree) and we could still pay the proverbial rent.”

Indeed, what would happen?  It’s time to find out.

(thank you Geoffrey Bok for the tip!)

Wellness

Vacations, Devices & Vacations from Devices.

Last week, I went to Chicago with the First Brother and Waskow.  We went to a Cubs game Friday.  It was a fantastic day off.  Yet, what did I do as we approached the Cubbie Bear before the game? I lagged behind so that I could respond to a lawyer who had emailed me an ethics inquiry.

Not cool.  I need to practice what I preach.  And here’s today’s sermon in 4 points:

  1. It’s mid-July.  A time for Vermonters to be on vacation.
  2. It’s also 2019.  A time for everyone to be on a device (or 2 or 3).
  3. If you’re a legal professional on vacation, stop reading now!
  4. Put the device down, back away slowly, and resume your vacation.

Wellness

Here’s the longer version.

Last week, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court received this report from its Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.  The report, which is like Vermont’s State Action Plan, includes an array of recommendations from various stakeholders within the profession that is incredibly thorough and well thought out.

The Massachusetts report identifies 8 “Major Issues Affecting Lawyer Well-Being.”  They are:

  • Stigma
  • The pace of work
  • Financial pressures
  • Court deadlines & courtroom dynamics
  • Alienation from a lack of diversity and inclusiveness
  • Isolation
  • Secondary Trauma
  • Incivility

Over the next few months, I hope to touch on each.  Today, I’m focusing on “the pace of work” as a major issue affecting lawyer well-being.  In particular, I was struck by a theme that emerged  from the Steering Committee and its subcommittees: take a vacation, including from your devices.

Here’s the opening paragraph from the section of the report that deals with “pace of work” as a “major issue affecting lawyer well-being.”

  • The pace of work: The relentless pace makes it very difficult for lawyers
    to set boundaries between work and the rest of life, and appears to be significantly
    exacerbated by the technology-fueled demands for constant availability. This point
    was underscored by practitioners in firms of all sizes, public attorneys, and in-house counsel.”

From there, the report recommends that legal employers “encourage employees to take vacations.”  The recommendation cites to a study of 6,000 lawyers that “found that their number of vacation days was the strongest predictor of well-being of all activities measured in the study – – even stronger than income level.”

The recommendation follows from the reports of the Steering Committee’s various subcommittee.  For example:

The Subcommittee on Lawyer Well-Being noted that “work addiction” is 250% more prevalent among lawyers than nonlawyers and recommended that employers “encourage vacations.”

The Subcommittee on In-House Counsel found that “in-house counsel face the same pressures as other lawyers,” including “an expectation of 24/7 responsiveness.” As such, the subcommittee recommended that lawyers in supervisory roles should “encourage mental health days and vacation that specifically includes time away from work devices such as laptops and cell phones.”

The Large Firm Subcommittee cited several “major sources of stress.”  Among them, a workload that causes lawyers to “feel pressure to avoid taking full vacations or otherwise establishing time blocks when they are not available to work.”  Another source of stress:

  • “Lack of boundaries: Lawyers often feel that there is no line between being ‘on’ and ‘off’ duty and that they are expected to be available to respond to firm and client demands at all hours of the day and night. As a result, there is no true ‘down time’ for lawyers when they can recharge and be fully present with other aspects of their lives.”

Thus, the subcommittee’s recommendations include:

  • “Vacations. Lawyers should be encouraged to take their full allotment of
    vacation time as an essential component of their job responsibilities. Lawyers should be discouraged from remaining ‘on the grid’ while on vacation. Lawyers should be encouraged to cover for others who are away so that any disruption of service to clients is minimal. Vacation time should be tracked and inquiry made by attorney supervisors or the human resources department if attorneys are failing to take most of their allotted time to make sure that the failure to take vacation is not an early warning sign of burn-out’ or other mental health issues.”

The Massachusetts Bar Association Subcommittee on Attorney Well-Being found that:

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

And,

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

Then, the subcommittee recommended that legal employers “encourage vacations, set limits on client access, and allow attorneys to establish boundaries to allow them to devote time to self-care and family life, without fear of retribution.”

In sum, take a vacation.  Not just from your job, but from your devices.

Start now.

 

Careful with your wellness!

Damon Silver is an attorney in the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office. A few days ago, The San Jose Mercury News ran an article that included this quote from Silver:

  • “As an office we encourage our employees to pursue outside interests and explore their passions. For many it’s traveling, and we think such pursuits are critical to the general wellness of our entire PDO family.”

Great stuff! I completely agree and applaud the office’s approach to well-being.

Alas, there’s more to the story, and it’s kind of scary.

The Mercury News wasn’t running an article on attorney wellness.  It was reporting on the assistant public defender who was gored while taking a selfie as he participated in  Pamplona’s famed Running of the Bulls.  The Associated Press, the ABA Journal, and Above the Law also covered the story.  Fortunately, the lawyer survived and is expected to make a full recovery.

I’m all for well-being and passions outside the law.  But, let’s be careful out there.

P.S.  If Mr. Vernon taught me anything, it’s this:

 

 

 

Well-Being Is An Aspect Of Competence

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

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

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

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

The Vermont Supreme Court has done exactly that.

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

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

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

As to the former, the Task Force wrote:

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

In addition, the Task Force noted that:

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

Finally, the Task Force explained that it:

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

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

I can hear you now:

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

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

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

“It’s the right thing to do.”

 

Image result for images of lawyer well-being

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: make time for what (and who) matters.

 

Over the past three years, I’ve not stopped speaking or blogging about lawyer wellness.  A consistent component of the message: make time for what & who matters.

For various reasons, I didn’t write my regular Wellness Wednesday blog this morning.  Then, about an hour ago, I found myself scrolling thru Twitter looking for updates on KD’s injury and its impact on NBA trades & free agency.  In the process, I found this thread. It’s a more heartfelt message on attorney wellness & making time for what & who matters than any I could’ve posted.

After I post this, I could finish up tomorrow’s presentation for the Defender General’s Annual Meeting.  But I’ll have time for that in the morning.

Tonight is the most beautiful night of the year.  For us in northern Vermont, it’s possible no summer night will top it.  Indeed, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.  And, when I go, I don’t want a blog post or, no offense Matt, prepping a CLE on the legal ethics of criminal defense to be the last thing I did.  So, I’m going to slice a lemon, grab a Corona, walk down to my mom’s, and wait on her deck for her to get home from her Wednesday night running class.  That’ll be time that matters.

I urge you to make time for whatever or whoever matters most to you.

wellness

PS: if i get hit by a truck on my way to my mom’s, please don’t consider this post to have been spooky. I’m Irish!  So, if it happens, my brother re-telling the story will make for the greatest wake in the great history of Irish wakes!

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

More Risk

 

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

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

Wellness

 

Five for Friday #165

Welcome to Friday!

With Memorial Day in the rearview, I took a drive today.  Time to emancipate.

Whoops…wrong blog.

What I meant to say is that with Memorial Day in the rearview, I intended to use today’s intro to remind you that, while not even here yet, summer will be over before we know it.  I expected to remind you to make time to enjoy it.

Honestly, I hope summer provides you with time for family, friends, and relaxation.  The things that matter.  But, through personal experiences, I want to share some caveats.

First, if summer isn’t your thing, that’s fine!  As I mentioned in Reach Out, Check Inspring & summer are exceedingly difficult for many.  Far less serious, but still to my point, I’m reminded of Kenny.

I love Kenny. Awesome dude.  He claims to be my cousin – we aren’t – but that’s a story for another day.  Kenny LOVES to ski.  He had more than 100 days on the slopes this past season.  Skiing – and winter – is his wellness.   Summer?  He works about 100 hours a week at a golf course.  Hard, hot, dirty work, but work that frees up his winters.  The fact that I’d prefer just the opposite doesn’t mean that Kenny is wrong or unwell.  It means he’s true to himself.

I’m a creature of summer.  Kenny is a creature of winter.  Both are ok.  Be you.

Second, don’t judge your summer by others’.  Here’s something that the Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program posted to Instagram a few days ago:

WISLAP

For the next few months, pictures of friends & colleagues having what appear to be grand ol’ summers will clog your social media feeds.  Don’t be jealous.  Don’t hope that they’re not having as much fun as it looks.  Most importantly, don’t consider their posts a reflection on you and your life.   I deal with this often with someone close to me. It makes zero sense – and is unhealthy – to compare your life to someone else’s digital moment that may or may not reflect reality.

Next, do what you want, not what you think others will approve of.

For many summers, I told myself I had to spend a week in either Maine or on the Cape.  After all, that’s what everyone else does.

I never did.  Often, just thinking about NOT doing what others had done caused me stress and anxiety.  I’d wonder what was wrong with me.  Why hadn’t I booked a week on the coast?  The stress of finding the idyllic summer getaway always ended in me never getting away, stuck in a Labor Day funk beating myself up over another wasted summer.

No more.  Last summer, I didn’t even consider a formal “vacation” somewhere out of state. Instead, I decided that every weekend, I’d drive somewhere in Vermont and go for a long run.

I loved it.  Every part of it.  I loved being on the road early: sunroof open, coffee in the console, tunes blaring.  I loved the runs – seeing parts of the state that I’d never otherwise see. I loved my post-run swims in lakes, ponds, and rivers.  I loved my post-swim-post-run stops at local breweries.  Most of all, I loved being back home that night.  On my deck, grill fired up, those local brews in a chilled glass.

Is that for everyone?  No.  But it’s what’s good for me.  Do what’s good for you. Not what you think others will “like” as good for you.

My final point is this: if you have something “big” planned this summer, enjoy the other moments too. I’ve often found myself so wrapped up in the anticipation of a future event – say a race or a trip – that I forget to make time to enjoy life as it happens along the way.

For instance, in July, my brother and I are going to Chicago for a half marathon and a Cubs game. It’s going to be great.  But it’s almost 2 months away!

I resolve not to get so focused on a late-July weekend as to lose sight of all the weekends to enjoy between now and then.  You know, life’s a journey, not a destination.  Or, maybe what I’m saying is that rather than carving out a week of time for things that matter, I’m going to make a habit of making time for things that matter.  And it’s not just the big things that matter.

Well-being isn’t one size fits all.  However, aspects of it apply to each of us:

  • Be you.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Do what works.
  • Make it a habit, one that doesn’t lose sight of the “small” things that matter.

Onto the quiz!

Rules

  •  Open book, open search engine, text/phone/email-a-friend.
  • Exception – but one that is loosely enforced – #5 (“loosely” = “aspirational”)
  • Unless stated otherwise, the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct apply
  • Team entries welcome, creative team names even more welcome.
  • E-mail answers to 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

 Except as permitted or required by other rules, a lawyer shall not use information relating to the representation of a client to the disadvantage of the client:

  • A.  True and that’s end of it, there are no exceptions.
  • B.   Unless the client gives informed consent.

Question 2

 True or False.

If one of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires a “writing,” an email complies with the rule.

Question 3

Attorney called me with an inquiry. I listened, then said:

  • “the first thing that the rule requires is that you not state or imply that you’re disinterested.”

Given my response, it’s most likely that Attorney called to discuss the rule on:

  • A.  Candor to a tribunal
  • B.   Trial publicity
  • C.   Dealing with an Unrepresented Person
  • D.   Pro Bono work

Question 4

Lawyer represents Plaintiff in a civil case.  Trial is scheduled to being Monday.

Lawyer called me this morning.  Lawyer told me that, yesterday, Lawyer learned that Witness intends to lie for Plaintiff.

Which is most accurate Vermont’s rule?

  • A.  Lawyer must explain to Plaintiff the risks of providing false evidence, then abide by Plaintiff’s informed decision whether to call Witness.
  • B.   Lawyer may refuse to call Witness if Lawyer reasonably believes that the evidence Witness will offer is false.
  • C.   Lawyer may call Witness, but not ask any questions. Witness must testify in the narrative.
  • D.   Lawyer must withdraw.

Question 5

Lawyer called.  Lawyer told me that Lawyer had been asked to get involved in a matter involving Person.   Lawyer explained that Lawyer had previously belonged to a country club owned by Person’s business.  Lawyer said that Lawyer’s family resigned their membership and asked for a refund of the membership deposit.  The club did not refund the deposit, but placed Lawyer’s family on a wait list to be refunded on a “first resigned/first refunded” basis.  As tends to happen no matter who owns these clubs, no refund has yet to be made.  Lawyer asked my thoughts on whether the refund issue posed a conflict that precluded Lawyer’s involvement in the matter.

Then I woke up!

Your task: Identify Lawyer who made an ethics inquiry in my dream.

I need better dreams.

Wellness Wednesday: Reach out, check in.

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

Speaking of spring and summer . . .

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

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

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

But not everyone feels the same.

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

Warning: it is a heavy read.

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

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

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

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

Back to my original thoughts.

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

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

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

Image result for starfish story printable pdf

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Law Day

Happy Law Day!

This year’s theme: free speech, free press, free society.

(Try saying that 3 times fast and learn why today might also be national tongue twister day.)

What’s this got to do with wellness?  Let me try to convince you that it does.

Per today’s ABA Journal, there are “gaps in Americans’ civic knowledge.”  The gaps were revealed by the 2019 ABA Survey of Civic Literacy.  Honestly, the numbers don’t look terrible to me. Especially compared to numbers I reported in this space a few years.

In this post, I referenced this poll.  37% of those surveyed couldn’t name EVEN ONE of the protections in the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Free speech, free press, and free society indeed.

As I blogged back then,

Worse, per the same poll, only 1 in 4 Americans can name all 3 branches of government!

If 3 out of 4 don’t know the branches, how are we to impress upon the executive & legislative branches the importance of an independent & fully funded judicial branch?

Here’s a simple way to help: contact the Vermont Bar Association at info@vtbar.org  Ask for a pocket constitution.  Give the pocket constitution to a kid, or to a teacher, or to a client who is a school board member.

Or, do what a number of Vermont lawyers have been doing around the state: volunteering their time to visit schools and civic organizations to talk about the Constitution and civics.  It might sound like a small step.  It is.  But small steps often lead in the right direction.

Earlier that week, I’d posted Constitution Day & KaraokeIn it, I laid down this challenge:

As I’ve mentioned at a few seminars, my initial exposure to the U.S. Constitution was during the Saturday morning cartoons I watched as a kid.  Courtesy of the folks at Schoolhouse Rock!, that’s when, where, and how I first learned about the origins of the Constitution and the words to The Preamble.

Of course, if people are not able to access the legal services that they need to protect their rights, the Constitution might mean little to them.  So, in honor of Constitution Day, if an attorney or firm donates $1,000 to the Vermont Bar Foundation’s Access to Justice Campaign by Friday, September 29, I’ll karaoke the Schoolhouse Rock! version of The Preamble at the VBA’s upcoming annual meeting.

Within days, the challenged was accepted and my singing debut finalized.  At the October 2017 Annual Meeting of the Vermont Bar Association I  subjected those in attendance  to my rendition of the Schoolhouse Rock! song.  How it has not gone viral is truly the 9th wonder of the modern world.

If picturing me singing The Preamble to a ballroom full of 300 as my parents looked on in abject horror doesn’t improve your mood, then I don’t know what wellness is.

Furthermore, last week, Eileen Blackwood and I presented on professionalism at the VBA’s Basic Skills conference.  Eileen urged the new lawyers to consider pro bono work.  Among its other benefits, Eileen shared a poignant story of how a case that she handled pro bono brought her a measure of personal satisfaction that she didn’t always find in her work for “paying” clients.

Her story is relevant today.

Pro bono is a professional responibility.  The rule here.  It states that a substantial majority of a lawyer’s pro bono hours should be provided to persons of limited means or to organizations whose primary purpose is to support persons of limited means.

After that, however, Rule 6.1(b)(3) indicates that additional hours may include “participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.” Per Comment [8], this includes “taking part in Law Day activities.”

So,

  • it’s clear that we need to do more to increase civic knowledge;
  • Rule 6.1(b)(3) and Comment [8] indicate that Law Day activities count as pro bono;
  • as Eileen shared, pro bono work can improve your sense of wellness.

Thus, volunteering to raise civic wellness might include the added benefit of improving your wellness.

Get involved.  The rule of law needs lawyers, and lawyers need wellness.

Schoolhouse Rock Preamble