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
  • 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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: an action plan

On March 3, 2016, I posted my first blog on attorney wellness: Lawyers Helping Lawyers.  Since, I’ve raised the issue as often as possible on this blog and at continuing legal education seminars.  Today, I’m pleased to report that the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession recently issued its State Action Plan.

The Vermont Supreme Court created the Commission in response to a report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  That report, The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, made a series of recommendations in response to a study that found staggering rates of behavioral health issues among lawyers.  Relevant to my job as bar counsel, the national report noted:

  • “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer.  Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.  The two studies referenced above reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse.  These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.”

Competence is the first professional duty set out in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Again, Vermont’s state action plan is here.  When you have time, give it a read.  Here’s the concluding paragraph from the introduction:

  • “Our profession has a duty to deliver competent legal and judicial services that will serve to uphold the integrity of the justice system. We recognize that the recommendations that follow may impose costs on the profession. We are certain, however, that the benefits of these proposals outweigh the modest cost of implementing them. Neglecting the truths of the national report that issued and its focus on the elevated risks for mental illness and substance abuse will, we believe, impose greater, more damaging costs—both on our profession, the public and its confidence in the rule of law. We hope that these proposals will be recognized as responsibilities fundamental to the privilege of practicing law.”

I agree 100%  We cannot neglect the issue.  As a profession, we must follow-up on the action items.  We cannot congratulate ourselves on the Commission’s fantastic work only to relegate the plan to the digital equivalent of a shelf where it collects electronic dust until that long-off day when someone finds an archived version and says “Wow.  Great ideas. I wonder what ever became of them?”

Wellness

If you’re new to this topic, here are my various posts:

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Enough.

Usually I use this column to highlight lawyers doing nonlawyerly things.

Sadly, suicide is becoming a lawyerly thing to do.  As we know, over the past 4 years, at least 5 Vermont attorneys have taken their own lives.  I know a sixth whose death technically was not a suicide.  But it was.

We must continue to work to make the profession a healthier place.

Ten years ago today, Joanna Litt married Gabe MacConaill.  Gabe was an attorney.  He’s not here to celebrate his anniversary.  He took his own life last month.

A few days ago, The American Lawyer published a letter from Joanna.  It’s here.  The Tax Prof Blog has it for free here.  Reporting on the letter, Above The Law has Jill Switzer’s  post on how lawyer suicides are becoming too frequent.

Joanna’s letter is heartbreaking.  It should make us double our resolve to destigmatize a lawyer’s decision to admit that he or she needs help.

Sometime in the next few months, the Vermont Commission on the Well Being of the Legal Profession will issue a state action plan.  I expect that the plan will reference, if not incorporate, aspects of the ABA’s mission to convince legal employers to pledge to commit to a healthier work environment.  My post on the pledge is here.

Consider the pledge.

In the meantime, odds are that many of us know a lawyer who is fighting the fight that Gabe fought.  Let’s do what we can to encourage that lawyer to seek help.

So that his or her Joanna doesn’t have to write a letter.

Free, confidential services are available 24/7 for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress and for those around them. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). A crisis text line is at 741-741.

Wellness

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Jennifer O’Connor

Welcome to Wednesday!

So far, Wellness Wednesday has featured:

This week, I’d like to introduce Jennifer O’Connor.

Jennifer is a 3L at Vermont Law School.  At VLS, Jennifer chairs the Mental Health Committee.  The Committee is doing great work.  Per Jennifer, the Committee’s

  • “mission is to lay the groundwork to strike the stigma of mental health issues.  Our goal is to provide services and resources to students to maximize their mental health throughout the academic year.”

In addition, Jennifer is a 3L representative to the Law School Committee of the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  Last but not least, Jennifer is the 3L rep to the VLS Fitness Advisory Board.  In that capacity, Jennifer practices what she preaches.

Ten days ago, Jennifer finished her first running race.  And it wasn’t just any old race: it was the Chicago Marathon!

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In the process, she conquered weather conditions – rain & wind – that I’m sure exacerbated the mental & physical challenges that marathoners face even in the best of weather.

IMG_E3609

Jennifer ran Chicago on behalf of a friend who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.  Jennifer used the marathon to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association.

Not only does she practice wellness, Jennifer chooses to help.

For all she does for wellness in the profession, Jennifer is this week’s focus of Wellness Wednesday.

Thank you Jennifer!  You’re doing great stuff!

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

Welcome to Wellness Wednesday!

Two points today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Sox indeed!

Neil Diamond

My second point:

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

To paraphrase Neil, habitual wellness would be:

so good, so good, so good!

Wellness Wednesday: Island Vines

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 10K’ers

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

IV Amber

Cara Cookson – Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services

IV Cara

Scott Kline – Vermont Superior Judge

IV Judge Kline

Eric Knudsen – Langrock Sperry & Wool

IV Knudsen

Dave Mickenberg – Mickenberg, Dunn, Lachs & Smith

IV Mick

 

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

Pledge to Focus on Lawyer Well-Being

Earlier this year, I blogged on the creation of the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Commission is in the midst of its work.  Its charge and designation is here.

This is a national topic.  Others states have undertaken similar projects.  The ABA has been a leader in raising awareness of issues related to lawyer well-being.

Last week, the ABA Journal reported that several of the country’s largest law firms have signed a pledge to follow a 7-point plan to improve lawyer well-being.  The pledge and the plan are here.   The pledge was developed by the ABA’s Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession.  The group has also developed this Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers.

Per the article in the ABA Journal, the goal is for all legal employers to take the pledge by January 1.

Here’s the pledge:

  • “Recognizing that substance use and mental health problems represent a significant challenge for the legal profession, and acknowledging that more can and should be done to improve the health and well-being of lawyers, we the attorneys of _______________________ hereby pledge our support for this innovative campaign and will work to adopt and prioritize its seven-point framework for building a better future.”

The seven-point framework:

  1. Provide enhanced and robust education to attorneys and staff on topics related tow well-being, mental health, and substance use disorders.
  2. Disrupt the status quo of drinking based events by challenging the expectation that all events include alcohol, and, ensuring there are non-alcoholic alternatives when alcohol is served.
  3. Develop visible partnerships with outside resources committed to reducing substance use disorders and mental health distress in the profession: healthcare insurers, lawyer assistance programs, EAPSs, and experts in the field.
  4. Provide confidential access to addiction and mental health experts and resources, including free, in-house, self-assessment tools.
  5. Develop proactive policies and protocols to support assessment and treatment of substance use and mental health problems, including a defined back-to-work policy following treatment.
  6. Actively and consistently demonstrate that help-seeking and self-care are core cultural values, by regularly supporting programs to improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
  7. Highlight the adoption of this well-being framework to attract and retain the best lawyers and staff.

The ABA’s program is a 2 year process.  The first year is focused on legal employers to recognize the problem and, as stated above, pledge to commit to promoting awareness & the seven-point plan. Then, in year 2, the ABA will ask legal employers to complete a commitment form that describes steps taken in the prior year.

In my view, whether formally taking the pledge or not, the ABA’s program provides a fantastic vehicle for legal employers to make the workplace healthier.

Wellness

 

Make Wellness a Habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every. Single. Day.

And then again the next day.

Over and over.

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

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

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

FOR LASTING CHANGE, THINK LONG TERM

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

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

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

Jeena and Anne are right.

Make wellness a habit.

Image result for practice makes perfect