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

 

 

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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.

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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

 

 

 

108

I do a lot of CLEs this time of year.  This week, I’ve met with the Professional Responsibility Program, the State’s Attorneys, and the Chittenden County Bar Association.  Later today I’m presenting at the Defender General’s training.  Next week: the Attorney General’s Office and Andy Mikell’s VATIC conference.

Obviously, each presentation is different.  Yet, I’ve started each (and will start each) with a report on the relatively new Vermont Commission on Well-Being in the Legal Profession.   The response has been fantastic.  After each presentation so far, I’ve been contacted by lawyers who are willing to get involved to help other lawyers.

For more, read on.  I’m pasting in a blog that I posted a few months ago.

108

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  In 2015, SAMHSA conducted a national survey on drug use and health.  The survey found that approximately 4% of Vermonters had experienced serious thoughts of suicide over the previous year.  The Vermont results are here.

There are approximately 2,700 lawyers with active licenses in Vermont.  If lawyers suffer at the same rate as other Vermonters, 108 Vermont lawyers have had serious thoughts of suicide over the past year.

108.

In 2016, the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic released a study on lawyers’ behavioral health.  The ABA announced the study’s results here.

Per the announcement, the study revealed “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.”  In addition, the study “determined that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a far higher rate than other professional populations, as well as mental health distress that is more significant.”

Fact: in the past 3.5 years, 5 Vermont attorneys have committed suicide.

Fact: 2 of those 5 took their lives in 2018.

Fact: since September 2016, as many lawyers have had their licenses transferred to disability inactive status due to mental health or substance abuse issues as did in the previous 16 years.

There’s a problem.

Fortunately, the profession has started to address it.

In response to the ABA/Hazelden Study, three groups spurred creation of a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  The groups:

Last summer, the National Task Force published “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”  The report makes a series of recommendations to the legal profession’s various stakeholders and urges state supreme courts to form committees to review the recommendations.

On January 2, 2018, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a charge & designation creating the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Commission includes a representative from each of the stakeholder group mentioned in the National Task Force’s Practical Recommendation for Positive Change.   Each Commission member has formed a sub-committee to review the recommendations for that particular stakeholder group.

For example, I’m on the Commission as the representative from the “attorney regulators” stakeholder group.  My sub-committee includes one representative from each of the following: the Professional Responsibility Board, the Board of Continuing Legal Education, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Character & Fitness Committee, and the Judicial Conduct Board. I also appointed a lawyer who has long represented lawyers and judges in professional conduct investigations and prosecutions.  My sub-committee will review and report on recommendations that the Court’s various regulatory bodies ensure that lawyer health & wellness is prioritized throughout the licensing/regulatory scheme.

The Commission’s work will be the subject of the plenary session at the Vermont Bar Association’s upcoming midwinter meeting.  For more information, including how to register, please visit this site.

As I’ve blogged, the report from the National Task Force is a call to action.  In my view, we have duty to keep this issue on the front burner.

Why?

Because 108.  That number is far too high.

Other posts on this topic:

Workplace Happiness

As I mentioned earlier this week, the plenary session at today’s Midyear Meeting of the Vermont Bar Association introduced the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Supreme Court formed the Commission in response to last summer’s report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  I blogged about the report here.

The report makes recommendations to various stakeholder groups within the profession.  In short, each stakeholder group is encouraged to ensure that the profession prioritizes lawyer well-being.

One of the stakeholder groups is “Legal Employers.”  Laura Wilson and Ian Carleton co-chair the Legal Employers sub-committee of the Vermont Commission. This morning, each made an important point: lawyer wellness is much more than substance abuse and depression.  It includes creating a positive environment within the workplace.  As Laura and Ian articulated, every single lawyer is either an employer, an employee, or both.

A positive environment within the workplace.  In other words, a place where people are happy to work.

With that in mind, it’s ironic that minutes after hearing Laura and Ian speak, I came across James Goodnow’s post at Above The Law: Blinded By The BenjaminsGive it a read.

While it might be aimed at BigLaw, I think Goodnow’s post is valuable to legal employers & employees in firms of ANY size. Simply, is your firm a place that values Career, Cause, Community?  If not, what changes are you going to make so that it does?

Again, for a great explanation of why the 3 C’s are so important, check out Blinded By The Benjamins.

Sadly, this post caused me to break a promise I made a few months ago when I said this blog would never again mention Puffy.  But, low-hanging fruit is too easy to pick.  And, as Goodnow’s post makes clear, when it comes to the lawyer well-being, It’s (Not) All About the Benjamins.

Plus, it’s got Biggie in it. And while I’m a West Coast guy, Biggie is Biggie.

Lawyer Well-Being

The Vermont Bar Association’s 61st Midyear Meeting is set for this Thursday and Friday. Jennifer and Laura have a fantastic program in place.  It includes seminars on:

  • ESI and admitting electronically stored info into evidence; (TECH COMPETENCE!!)
  • legal ethics;
  • free speech in the workplace;
  • DACA and other hot topics in immigration law;
  • a primer on the new tax law;
  • legal issues related to sexual harassment & the #metoo movement; and
  • issues related to post-adoption contracts (PACA).

The meeting will also include several seminars on lawyer well-being, with Friday’s plenary session scheduled as the public introduction of the Vermont Commission on Well-Being in the Legal Profession.  For more info on the VBA meeting, please click here.

Given the meeting’s focus on well-being and mindfulness, I thought I’d re-post some prior blogs on the topic.  Here’s one that originally ran on Friday, March 2, as the introduction to the 108th #fiveforfriday legal ethics quiz.

*******

108

Warning: today’s post isn’t as light-hearted as some of the #fiveforfriday intros.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  In 2015, SAMHSA conducted a national survey on drug use and health.  The survey found that approximately 4% of Vermonters had experienced serious thoughts of suicide over the previous year.  The Vermont results are here.

There are approximately 2,700 lawyers with active licenses in Vermont.  If lawyers suffer at the same rate as other Vermonters, 108 Vermont lawyers have had serious thoughts of suicide over the past year.

108.

Okay, I know the math might not be accurate.  However, consider the following:

In 2016, the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic released a study on lawyers’ behavioral health.  The ABA announced the study’s results here.

Per the announcement, the study revealed “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.”  In addition, the study “determined that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a far higher rate than other professional populations, as well as mental health distress that is more significant.”

So, given that lawyers suffer at higher rates than other professionals, 4% might not be too far off.

Fact: in the past 3.5 years, 5 Vermont attorneys have committed suicide.

Fact: 2 of those 5 took their lives in 2018.

Fact: since September 2016, as many lawyers have had their licenses transferred to disability inactive status due to mental health or substance abuse issues as did in the previous 16 years.

There’s a problem.

Fortunately, the profession has started to address it.

In response to the ABA/Hazelden Study, three groups spurred creation of a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  The groups:

Last summer, the National Task Force published “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”  The report makes a series of recommendations to the legal profession’s various stakeholders and urges state supreme courts to form committees to review the recommendations.

On January 2, 2018, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a charge & designation creating theVermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  The Commission includes a representative from each of the stakeholder group mentioned in the National Task Force’s Practical Recommendation for Positive Change.   Each Commission member has formed a sub-committee to review the recommendations for that particular stakeholder group.

For example, I’m on the Commission as the representative from the “attorney regulators” stakeholder group.  My sub-committee includes one representative from each of the following: the Professional Responsibility Board, the Board of Continuing Legal Education, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Character & Fitness Committee, and the Judicial Conduct Board. I also appointed a lawyer who has long represented lawyers and judges in professional conduct investigations and prosecutions.  My sub-committee will review and report on recommendations that the Court’s various regulatory bodies ensure that lawyer health & wellness is prioritized throughout the licensing/regulatory scheme.

The Commission’s work will be the subject of the plenary session at the Vermont Bar Association’s upcoming midwinter meeting.  For more information, including how to register, please visit this site.

As I’ve blogged, the report from the National Task Force is a call to action.  In my view, we have duty to keep this issue on the front burner.

Why?

Because 108.  That number is far too high.

Other posts on this topic:

Monday Morning Answers: #108

Good morning.  Friday’s questions are here.  The answers follow today’s honor roll.

As usual, I greatly appreciate the thoughts & stories that readers shared in response to the Friday intro.  Remember: people care, help is available.  If you (or someone you know) needs help, you can make a confidential inquiry of me, or, you can call the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.

Also, please remember this:  when it comes to helping someone else, don’t think of it as whether you have a professional obligation to make a report.  Think of it as helping another human being.  As I blogged last March

  • “In my experience, lawyers are in position to recognize signs of substance abuse and mental health issues exhibited by another lawyer, whether a co-worker, colleague, or opposing counsel.  Some lawyers wonder whether there is a duty to report substance abuse and mental health issues.  Maybe.  Rule 8.3, the reporting rule, is HERE.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?

    Yes, I get it, we are reluctant to get involved.  Some of these might sound familiar:

    • It’s not my business.
    • I don’t know for sure, could’ve been she was having a bad day.
    • It helps my client that he isn’t doing his job.
    • The firm doesn’t need the bad publicity.”

When we’re dealing with a number like 108, those reasons for reluctance don’t cut it.

Honor Roll

Answers

Question 1

Which is different from the others?

  • A.  A contingent fee agreement
  • B.  An hourly fee agreement.   The rules do not require an hourly fee agreement to be in writing.  However, I’d encourage you to reduce it to a writing.
  • C.  A former client’s consent to a conflict
  • D.  Concurrent clients’ consent to a conflict

Question 2

There phrase “persons of limited means” appears four times in a single rule.

What’s the topic of the rule?

Voluntary Pro Bono Services – Rule 6.1

Question 3

There’s a rule that prohibits a lawyer from counseling or assisting a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.  In 2016, a the Supreme Court adopted a Comment to the rule.  The Comment makes it clear that lawyers may:

  • A.   accept cash to represent people charged with financial crimes
  • B.   not accept cash to represent people charged with financial crimes
  • C.   not disclose a client’s immigration status absent the client’s informed consent
  • D.   advise & assist clients on matters related to Vermont’s marijuana laws & regulations.

Rule 1.2(d).  The order adopting the Comment is here.

Question 4

There’s a rule that prohibits a lawyer from doing something, unless it’s:

  • to another lawyer; or,
  • to someone with whom the lawyer has a family relationship, close personal relationship, or prior professional relationship.

What’s the “something?”

Solicit employment by in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact.   Rule 7.3(a).

Question 5

Vincenzo Leoncavallo was an attorney and judge in Italy.  In 1865, he presided over a murder trial that involved a love triangle: the victim was stabbed to death by a romantic rival.  The victim was Judge Leoncavallo’s son’s babysitter.

Fast forward to 1910.  It was then, 108 years ago,  that the first public radio broadcast took place.  The broadcast was of 2 operas.

One of the operas had been composed by Judge Leoncavallo’s son.  It involved a love triangle in which Silvio was stabbed to death by Canio, a jealous romantic rival.

Name the opera.

Bonus: name the character for whom Silvio and Canio shared dueling affections.

The opera: Pagliacci

The character: Nedda.

Pagliacci