Wellness Wednesday: Lawyers Depression Project

A phrase that’s new to me has entered the public discourse in the past 24 hours: “social distancing.”  Coincidentally, shortly after hearing it for the first time, I stumbled across a tweet that’s the impetus for today’s post.  Here’s the backstory.

Brian Cuban is an attorney.  To me, he’s an invaluable resource on addiction, recovery and the legal profession’s response to each.  You can read more about Brian here.  I follow Brian on Twitter.

Today, Brian retweeted a link to a blog he posted last December.  Check out the comment that accompanied the retweet — it references “social distancing.”

The December post is one that I’d missed.  In it, Brian introduced his readers to the “Lawyers Depression Project.”  In Brian’s words, it’s a project that is “an incredible mental health resource that has been flying under the radar.”

I don’t want to block quote Brian’s post. So, read it.  Again, it’s here.  The link to the Lawyers Depression Project is here.  However, here’s something that’s

IMPORTANT!!! 

Some of you might be thinking “Thanks Mike. But this isn’t for me. It’s for people who’ve been diagnosed with depression.”

Wrong.

And now you’ve forced me to resort to a block quote.  From Brian’s post:

  • “The LDP consists of attorneys, law students, law school graduates pending bar exam results and/or admission, and others in the legal field who were diagnosed at one point or another in their lives, with major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder, or another mental illness.

“It is also for those who are suffering but not formally diagnosed or who simply feel that something ‘isn’t right’ but have not sought formal mental health help.”

Check it out.  Even if only because, every now and then, things don’t feel right.

wellness

Related Posts:

 

 

DC advisory opinion addresses duties when another lawyer is impaired.

In March 2016, I authored my first post on lawyer wellness.  In it, I mentioned that lawyers often inquire whether Rule 8.3, the mandatory reporting rule, requires them to report impaired lawyers.  I added:

  • “Maybe.  But how about this? How about coming it at from the perspective of helping another human being instead of analyzing whether another’s struggles trigger your duty to report? If a colleague, co-worker, or opposing counsel needs help, why not help them?”

I suggested contacting me or Josh Simonds at the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.

Somewhat ironically, a lawyer called me this morning, minutes before I began to draft this post.  The lawyer asked for help getting into a residential treatment program. It was my first call of that nature. I referred the lawyer to Josh and stand ready to assist if the lawyer enters treatment and steps need to be taken to protect the interests of the lawyer’s clients.

But I digress.  I write today because I suppose there are instances in which helping a colleague doesn’t work.  If so, when does the colleague’s level of impairment trigger the duty to report?

Earlier this week, the D.C. Bar issued Ethics Opinion 377: Duties When a Lawyer is Impaired.  I want to highlight the paragraph that I consider most important:

  • “Beyond the ethical obligations embodied in the D.C. Rules, a fundamental purpose of identifying and addressing lawyer impairment is to encourage individuals who are suffering from mental impairment to seek and obtain assistance and treatment.  This purpose should not be forgotten as lawyers, firm, and agencies seek to comply with the ethical mandates discussed herein.”

In other words, let’s help people and let’s not disincentivize seeking help.  That’s why assistance must be decoupled from discipline.

As for the guts of the opinion, I don’t want to regurgitate it here.  It’s worth reading on your own.  In sum, it recommends that lawyers in supervisory & managerial roles:

  • “seek to create a culture of compliance” within their firms & agencies;
  • promote an office culture that encourages those in need to seek assistance;
  • develop internal policies & procedures to encourage early reporting to appropriate personnel within the office;
  • develop internal policies & procedures with which an impaired lawyer will be expected to comply**;
  • keep in mind that the duties to clients might include removing an impaired lawyer from involvement with client matters; and,
  • keep in mind that the substantive law will inform the firm or office on how to deal with an impaired lawyer’s privacy and employment rights.

** On this point, last week I blogged about the ABA Well-Being Template for Legal Employers.

I understand that many lawyers will continue to view lawyer wellness through the lens of a duty to report.  Even if that’s your perspective, don’t forget the key line from the D.C. opinion:

  • “Beyond the ethical obligations embodied in the D.C. Rules, a fundamental purpose of identifying and addressing lawyer impairment is to encourage individuals who are suffering from mental impairment to seek and obtain assistance and treatment.”

Help because you can, not because you have to.

As always, if you or a legal profession you know needs help, contact me or Josh Simonds at the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.

wellness

 

Wellness Wednesday: Small Things

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

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

Imagine if each of us did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wellness

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

 

Well-Being Is An Aspect Of Competence

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

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

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

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

The Vermont Supreme Court has done exactly that.

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

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

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

As to the former, the Task Force wrote:

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

In addition, the Task Force noted that:

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

Finally, the Task Force explained that it:

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

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

I can hear you now:

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

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

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

“It’s the right thing to do.”

 

Image result for images of lawyer well-being

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

More Risk

 

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

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

Wellness

 

Wellness Wednesday: Reach out, check in.

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

Speaking of spring and summer . . .

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

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

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

But not everyone feels the same.

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

Warning: it is a heavy read.

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

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

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

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

Back to my original thoughts.

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

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

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

Image result for starfish story printable pdf

 

 

 

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what reminded me of the song.

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

It goes on:

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

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

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

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

Thanks Mom!

_________________________________________________________________________________________

** The posts:

(Wellness Wednesday Posts)

Wellness v. Well-Being

It’s Wellness Wednesday!  Or, better yet, it’s Well-Being Wednesday.

At tomorrow’s Mid-Year Meeting of the Vermont Bar Association, I’m presenting a CLE that will include a discussion of attorney wellness.  The seminar will open with a look at the recommendations made by Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession in its State Action Plan.

The Commission grew out of a report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being: The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change , a report, in turn, that grew out of the ABA/Hazelden study that found ““substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.”  You can read more about the Hazelden study here.

In short, the study showed that the profession isn’t well. It suffers from a behavioral health problem.  That’s wellness, or more to the point for the profession, a lack thereof.

Well-being is different.  To oversimply, I view it as the proactive steps we take to stay healthy & happy. While funding a Lawyers Assistance Program that will help lawyers who are facing serious health issues is important, so is well-being.  As they say, an apple a day.

Here’s a great example.

On Monday, an attorney called me with an ethics inquiry.  I’m all about mixing business with pleasure, so we also chatted about basketball.  Specifically, tomorrow’s UVM v. Florida State game in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.  Tip-off is at 2:00 PM in Hartford, CT.

Vermont

The attorney told me that she’s going.  She’s taking her son.  When he initially asked, the attorney’s reaction was something like “I can’t miss a day of work.”  But, then, the attorney said to herself “yes, I can.  This is exactly why I work for myself.”

That’s well-being.

As I’ve blogged, make time for what matters.  Family time matters.

Go Cats Go!

For more great ideas on well-being and how to make it part of your office culture, check out the ABA’s Well-Being Toolkit Nutshell: 80 Tips for Lawyer Thriving.  It’s a cool little flier that is chock full o’ tips and links to other resources.  Also, if you work in a firm, consider the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge. The list of signatories grows by the day.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Answers #147

Welcome to Monday.  Friday’s questions are here.  The answers follow today’s Honor Roll.

And, on Martin Luther King Day, here’s a quote from Dr. King that relates to the point I tried to make in the intro to the quiz:

 “On that day the question will be, ‘What did you do for others?'” 

(“The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon)

HONOR ROLL

ANSWERS

Question 1

In Vermont, if a prospective client meets with but does not retain a lawyer, the lawyer’s duty of loyalty is relaxed vis-à-vis the client, but another duty is not.

Which duty?

The duty of confidentiality.  Rule 1.18(b)

Question 2

There’s a rule that prohibits “qualitative comparisons” that cannot be factually substantiated.  A disciplinary prosecution under the rule is most likely to involve:

  • A.  a frivolous pleading
  • B.  a statement made during closing argument in a jury trial
  • C.  extrajudicial statements made to the press that are likely to prejudice an adjudicative proceeding
  • D.  attorney advertising

Question 3

With respect to the Rules of Professional Conduct, the phrase “acting through its duly authorized constituents” is in the rule on:

  • A.  the duties when representing an organization.  Rule 1.13(a)
  • B.  lawyers holding public office
  • C.  firm names & letterhead
  • D.  the unauthorized practice of law

Question 4

Here are 2 things I mentioned at CLE:

  1. last-minute changes to wire instructions;
  2. a prospective out-of-state client who claims to be owed money by a Vermonter, and who only communicates with you by e-mail

What topic was I discussing?

TRUST ACCOUNT SCAMS.   Here are some of my posts on scams:

Question 5 (Fill in the blank)

I often blog about Rule 1.1’s duty of competence.

Some might argue that when the answer is relevant to a witness’s credibility, competence includes knowing how long it takes to cook grits .

Proponents of that theory would assert that Vincent Gambini complied with Rule 1.1 by asking that “so, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you 5 minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit eating world __________ minutes?”

20.  Vinny’s cross-examination of Mr. Tipton is here.

See the source image

 

 

 

Five for Friday #147: Under Pressure

Under Pressure.

I usually use the intro to the quiz to share a memory triggered by the week’s number.

Not today.

The staggering rates at which lawyers suffer from behavioral health issues have the profession at a crossroads.  To borrow a phrase, we are Under Pressure.  More precisely, the pressures on lawyers are not only driving lawyers from the profession, they’re killing lawyers.

Our response, or lack thereof, will shape the profession for decades.

Let me back up.

I’ve blogged , some have told me “ad nauseam,” on lawyer wellness.  My first post, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyerswas in May 2016.  My most recent was two days ago: Wellness Wednesday: an action plan.  There were at least 24 in the interim.

If the seemingly endless posts bother you, I’m not sorry.

Available data suggests that approximately 500 of Vermont’s licensed, employed lawyers are problem drinkers.  At least as many have likely suffered from problem anxiety or  problem depression within the past year.

I know, for a fact, that in the past 3 years, as many of Vermont’s licensed, employed lawyers have had their law licenses transferred to disability inactive status as did in the preceding 15 years.

I know, for a fact, that at least 5 of Vermont’s licensed, employed lawyers have taken their own lives since 2014.  I also know, for a fact, that at least 1 other died of alcohol abuse.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that we’re killing ourselves.

What’s this got to do with ethics?  Pretty much everything.

The first of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to provide clients with competent representation.  Here’s a quote from last summer’s report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being:

  • “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).

Last week’s quiz referenced James Valente’s fantastically competent rendition of the minutes of the Windham County Bar Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting sung to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  Quite cleverly, a team of lawyers submitted answers to  the quiz using the team name Under Pressure.  

(For those of you who don’t know, Under Pressure is a song by Queen and David Bowie.  The official video is here.  The version with the Freddie I remember is here.)

Last night, reflecting on what to post today, I listened to music. As I navigated my Amazon Music app, I stumbled across “Top Songs in Prime.”  Scrolling thru, there, at #88, was Under Pressure.  I’d have listened anyway, because I love the song.  Still, seeing the title made me think of last week’s quiz.

I like to sing along when I listen to music.  And I like to be right.  Exactly right.  So, despite having listened (and sung along) to Under Pressure countless times in my life, I Googled the lyrics.

Until last night, I’d listened, but never heard. The lyrics almost perfectly describe the pressures that the legal profession is facing.

For example:

It’s the terror of knowing
What the world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’

That’s what 5 suicides are.

Next:

Turned away from it all like a blind man.
Sat on a fence, but it don’t work.

That’s what we’ve done for years. Ignored the problem.  Sat on the fence.

Neither works. Neither helps.

Here’s the part that most struck me:

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word,
And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night,
And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.
This is our last dance.
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves.

The Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession recently released its State Action Plan.  Please read it.

It’s time to fund a Lawyers Assistance Program.

I dare you to care for the lawyers who are on the edge of the night.  The lawyers who, due to the stigma we’ve imposed, are too afraid to ask for help. If you don’t think the stigma is real, read this.

I dare you to change the way we think about caring about ourselves as a profession.

I dare you to love your fellow lawyers.

Our response the State Action Plan presents a chance to help to relieve the pressure.

We have to take the chance.  Because the problem?  This is ourselves.  And, absent action, this opportunity to act might be our last dance.

Under pressure.

Image result for freddie mercury and david bowie together

Onto the quiz.

Rules

  • None.  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 michael.kennedy@vermont.gov
  • I’ll post the answers & Honor Roll on Monday
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Question 1

In Vermont, if a prospective client meets with but does not retain a lawyer, the lawyer’s duty of loyalty is relaxed vis-à-vis the client, but another duty is not.

Which duty?

Question 2

There’s a rule that prohibits “qualitative comparisons” that cannot be factually substantiated.  A disciplinary prosecution under the rule is most likely to involve:

  • A.  a frivolous pleading
  • B.  a statement made during closing argument in a jury trial
  • C.  extrajudicial statements made to the press that are likely to prejudice an adjudicative proceeding
  • D.  attorney advertising

Question 3

With respect to the Rules of Professional Conduct, the phrase “acting through its duly authorized constituents” is in the rule on:

  • A.  the duties when representing an organization
  • B.  lawyers holding public office
  • C.  firm names & letterhead
  • D.  the unauthorized practice of law

Question 4

Here are 2 things I mentioned at CLE:

  1. last minute changes to wire instructions;
  2. a prospective out of state client who claims to be owed money by a Vermonter, and who only communicates with you by e-mail

What topic was I discussing?

Question 5 (Fill in the blank)

I often blog about Rule 1.1’s duty of competence.

Some might argue that when the answer is relevant to a witness’s credibility, competence includes knowing how long it takes to cook grits .

Proponents of that theory would assert that Vincent Gambini complied with Rule 1.1 by asking that “so, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you 5 minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit eating world __________ minutes?”

I got no more use for this guy.