Wellness Wednesday: Don’t Stresslax

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time to discuss wellness.  Today’s topic: tips on recognizing and responding to anxiety.

I’ll cut straight to the chase: I recommend The Legal Burnout Solution: How to Identify and Manage Attorney AnxietyIt’s by Cynthia Sharp and Rebecca Howlett and appears in the latest report from the ABA’s Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

I’ve mentioned Cynthia before.  I first encountered her through her work with The Sharper Lawyer. Later, I heard nothing but rave reviews for a presentation Cynthia did for the Bennington County Bar Association. Finally, I was honored that Cynthia referenced me in a post she did for the ABA Journal on how best to respond to negative online reviews.

A few years ago, Cynthia and Becky Howlett started The Legal Burnout Solution.  They’re doing good and important work.  Their piece in the GPSolo report shares great strategies on identifying and managing stress.  While I urge people to read the entire article, I’m going to highlight a paragraph that resonated with me.

I’ve often used this space to remind legal professionals to make time for interests outside the law. When Jennifer Emens-Butler was with the Vermont Bar Association, she did the same via her Pursuits of Happiness column in the VBA Journal. Well, now we can add Cynthia and Becky to the chorus — and we can introduce a new word to our lexicon!  Here’s one of their tips to manage anxiety:

  • “Have fun! On average, children laugh 300 times a day, whereas an adult generally laughs only 17 times per day. Often as attorneys, we over-prioritize our work and under-prioritize play, even to the point of ‘stresslaxing’ where we worry about what we ‘should be’ doing when we are trying to have fun. Consciously set aside time to do activities that bring you fulfillment and joy and make you laugh! Channel your inner child and do the things that brought you joy when you were younger—have a water balloon fight, go to an amusement park, play in the mud. Whatever the activity may be, give yourself permission to relax and play and just be in the moment. Laughter is medicine!”

They are so right! And I LOVE the term “stresslaxing.”

I’m terrible at practicing what I preach.  At countless CLEs and in numerous blog posts, I’ve urged legal professionals to consider not just time away from work, but time that they’re fully away from work.  For example, setting and honoring boundaries, or, making sure that vacation includes a vacation from devices.  Alas, not only do I rarely take time off, when I do, I reflexively, or perhaps compulsively, respond to work matters that, in a vacuum, I know can wait until I’m back. 

Why?  Because I constantly worry that I should be available and responding.  That’s stresslaxing. It’s not good and I know I’m not alone.

Instead, all of us should heed Cynthia and Becky’s advice:

Don’t stresslax! 

When making time for something outside the law, fully commit to enjoying it!  It is perfectly okay to do so and it is exactly what you are supposed to be doing when you’re there. Also, for you supervisors, strive to ensure that your employees know that it’s not only okay to be fully away, it’s healthy and it’s expected.

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

It’s healthy for legal employers to value employees as people.

In 2018, the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession published its State Action Plan.  As I blogged here and here, I’m a big fan of the recommendations made by the Commission’s Legal Employers Committee.  Among other things, the Committee stated:

  • “Legal employers, meaning all entities that employ lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants, can play a pivotal role in promoting and maintaining lawyer well-being.”

I agree 100%.  Which is one of the reasons that I’ve incorporated wellness and referred to the Committee’s recommendations for legal employers at nearly every CLE I’ve presented so far this month.  I will continue to do so, that’s how much of a fan I am of the Committee’s work.

Today, however, I’m here to share a new tip for legal employers: the more you value your employees as people instead of as revenue producers, the better for their well-being.

Says who?

Experts who asked the employees.  That’s who.

In 2020, the California Law Association (CLA) and the District of Columbia Bar Association (DC Bar) agreed to participate in a research project to study issues related to lawyers and their behavioral health.  Last Friday, the CLA announced the project’s most recent findings.  The findings are based on “research [that] examined the relationship between what lawyers think their employers value most about them, and the mental and physical health of those lawyers.”

To me, the key findings are both unsurprising and eye-opening.

As summarized by the CLA, the study

  • “found that lawyers who felt most valued for their professional talent/skill or overall human worth had the best mental and physical health. Lawyers who felt most valued for their billable hours, productivity, and responsiveness were a distant second in mental and physical health. Lawyers who did not feel valued by their employers or did not receive enough feedback to know what their employers value about them fared the worst in terms of mental and physical health. In addition, lawyers who felt most valued for their professional talent/skill or overall human worth were much less likely to report they were considering leaving the profession.”

Imagine that! Valuing your employees for their “human” worth is better for their well-being than valuing them as revenue-producers or not showing them that you value them at all!

(The findings appear in a report by the researchers that was originally published in Behavioral Sciences.1)

The researchers surveyed thousands of members of the CLA and DC Bar. Based on their responses, lawyers were broken into three groups.  Those groups, and each group’s percentage of the total were:

  • Feel valued for their talent, skill, humanity:                               62%
  • Feel valued for their productivity & financial worth:                28%
  • Don’t feel valued or receive no feedback as to value:                10%

And here’s how the researchers ranked each group’s behavioral health and risk of attrition from the profession:

  • Feel valued for their talent, skill, humanity:                               Best health, lowest risk
  • Feel valued for their productivity & financial worth:                Worse health, higher risk
  • Don’t feel valued or receive no feedback as to value:                Worst health, highest risk

For more details, check out this infographic.

According to the CLA, the “key takeaways for legal employers” are:

  • “Employers who can make their lawyers feel more valued for their skill or humanity may be able to improve lawyer well-being, reduce healthcare costs, and mitigate unwanted turnover.
  • Providing clear and regular feedback may reduce stress and improve mental health.
  • By targeting and seeking to improve maladaptive behaviors in their workplace, employers may be able to improve the stress levels and mental health of their lawyers.”

In other words, when employers make people feel valued as people, the people are healthier and less likely to leave. And while I’m no expert, my guess is that healthier employees who aren’t looking to leave make for better business.

Here’s to making people feel like people.

For additional tips on how to create a healthy work environment, check out the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers or, my favorite, the ABA Well-Being Toolkit in a Nutshell.

Wellness

1 Last year, and as part 1 of the same project that’s the subject of today’s post, the researchers released Stress, Drink, Leave: an examination of gender-specific risk factors that their findings on the factors that drive lawyers from the practice. As Bloomberg Law noted upon its release, the first report concluded that women were at a higher risk of leaving the profession for behavioral health reasons than men.

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Meet David Rocchio: The Move to Movies

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

When it comes to wellness, long-time readers likely are familiar with one of my more frequent refrains: legal professionals should make time to pursue interests outside the law.  Or, to borrow a phrase that Jennifer Emens-Butler coined when working for the VBA, “pursuits of happiness” are part of wellness.

I’m fortunate to be privy to the non-legal passions that many of you pursue.  Among the most popular, movies & film.  My friends – today’s post is for you!

This weekend marks the First Annual Vermont Film + Music Festival.  Produced by Stowe Story Labs, the Festival’s Film Program runs from Friday thru Sunday at the Stowe Cinema.  Here’s the trailer:

The Festival schedule is here. Not only is there something for everyone, but it’s also FREE!

Even better, David Rocchio, one of the founders of Stowe Story Labs, is a lawyer admitted to practice in Vermont.  Many years ago, Rocchio transitioned out of the law to pursue a long-held dream of working in film. In conjunction with the Festival, Rocchio was kind enough to agree to an interview, the latest in my series on members of the legal profession who pursue passions outside the law.  So, without further ado, I’m pleased to present the world print premiere of:

Meet David Rocchio: The Move to Movies

All typos and errors are mine.

Enjoy!

MK: David, let’s set the background.  You’re a lawyer!  I remember what I was doing when I first met you, but for the readers, share the outline of your career.

DR:  Going way, way back, I grew up in Warren, Vt., when it was a farm town with some skiers in it. I graduated from UVM in 1982 with a degree in political science and history, and my first job out of college was as a legislative aide to Jim Jeffords when he was Vermont’s lone Congressman. After three years in D.C., working for Congressman Jeffords and then Ralph Nader, which was one weird experience, I went to B.C. Law. When I graduated, I clerked for John Dooley and then went to Hale and Dorr in Boston, which I did for four years. Interesting, varied work with great people, but not how I wanted to spend my life. Jackie and I moved to Vermont and I told her then I wanted to be a writer, but it was a long turn to get there. When we moved back to Vermont in 1994, I worked as an assistant AG under Jeff Amestoy, focused on complex litigation and constitutional defense, which was terrific (and which was when I met you!). Howard Dean then hired me to be his Deputy Legal Counsel, and when Janet Ancel left, I was promoted to be Governor Dean’s legal counsel, and I served until the end of his term. That was my last job as an attorney, although for many years after I consulted on strategy, complex problem solving, and then corporate culture and cultural alignment, which I still do when I can because I love it.

MK:  An interesting and varied background! I did my first year of undergrad at BC and lived on Newton Campus. I don’t think I knew that’s where you want to law school.  I remember when you first started with the AGO – you handled the ACLU case against DOC. At the time, I was an AAG assigned to DOC.  I didn’t work on that case, but you helped me to learn a lot about how to be a lawyer.  If I’ve never thanked you for that, I apologize and, also, thank you!

DR:  You are welcome! I enjoyed the ACLU case because obviously it was wicked interesting, and Joe Winn was a joy to work with, and John Gorczyk was an incredible leader and client, but also because you were there! Always a joy working with you — at least to talk about the Sox if nothing else! And you had the tools and I was more than happy to talk with you about the cases. Just loved getting to know you and here we are nearly thirty years later!

MK: Yeah, the Sox. More on them in a bit.  So, your work for Governor Dean.  I’m intrigued in particular by two things. The first is the sort of role reversal in which the client provided the lawyer with some important advice.  The second being that the advice, albeit given long ago, is so consistent with what we talk about these days when we discuss attorney wellness and work-life balance.  Can you share your thoughts on the advice you received from Governor Dean and how, really, it was the start of a journey that you’re still on today?

DR: It wasn’t advice from the Governor, it was an order. The order was to take a six-week parental leave when our son Callum was born. At first, it was an offer, but when I said I didn’t think I could take the time, it quickly turned to, ‘you are not understanding me. You will take the time to be with your family.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ was the answer. And it was a wonderful time. Governor Dean was always focused on family wellness, and rightly so. That time with Callum was truly a joy. I don’t know if it made Callum a better human being, but it certainly made me one and I remember it almost minute to minute. And it helped me obliquely because I wrote the first draft of my first script with Cal sitting next to me in a bouncy seat. I cranked out a terrible first draft — which was 22 years ago almost to the day — and it turned into a pretty good script and almost got made — and might still one day. I should thank the Governor for that time, because it definitely lit a fuse with me. I always, from a very early age, wanted to write and make films but did not pursue it for dozens of reasons. The Governor took away all excuses. That fuse may be a long and slow burning one, but once lit it has not gone out.

MK:  What a great order by Governor Dean! I love that you mentioned your memories of the time with Callum.  I understand that, as lawyers, we have jobs to do.  But your story drives home a point I try to stress: wellness includes making time for what matters.  And family matters!  Ok, so, let’s backup.  You also mentioned your “first script” and a long-held interest in making films.  Tell us some more about that interest.  Who or what kindled/sparked the flame that lit the fuse?

DR:  My Dad.  He kindled my love of cinema, taking me past just liking being in the theater to thinking about story, about character, and what makes a film worthy of having been made. He was an English teacher, so lots of Socratic method on drives home from the Capitol Theater (back in its majestic art deco balconied-movie-palace version) to Warren. And he was not afraid to dig deep either. He took me to see The French Connection when it came out and, probably not a great idea, took me and a friend to see Deliverance for my 15th birthday. Not his best parenting decision. He started buying me books of scripts when I was very young. I remember reading Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler, which were two of his favorites, and he bought me a collection of Preston Sturges movies, which I still love and read now and then. And the movies are fantastic. By the time I was ready for college, I wanted to make films, but that path just was not available to me. I did make an awesome short for a class I took at UVM — and making that film remains one of my best memories from college — but I did not pursue it. The desire never dulled. Maybe my legal career was just deep research for projects to come. The challenge of making the turn mid-career, and with a growing family, is real but I couldn’t not do it.

MK: Did you know that I use Cool Hand Luke at CLEs?  In my experience, most disciplinary complaints are rooted in a lawyer’s failure to communicate reasonable expectations to the client at the outset of the representation. And speaking of The French Connection, your dad, and Gene Hackman’s later role in Hoosiers, I think I read somewhere that your dad was also a coach? Is that right?

DR:  Yes, my dad was a coach. He coached football for Montpelier High in the ‘60s and then coached football at Hanover High for years. He was also a Faulkner scholar and an English teacher and drama coach so had a pretty interesting and well-rounded run as a high school teacher in Vermont.  And my dad was the closest thing I had to film school. Beyond movie nights with Dad, I had no idea how to break into the industry. I did not go to film school and had no contacts in the industry. And it is a very closed industry, meaning it is relationship driven and the way to get work made is totally opaque — there is not one process or approach.

MK:  Interesting and well-rounded indeed!  I bet he taught or coached (whether on the grid iron or the stage) some future members of the Vermont bar!  Sounds like he was a wonderful mentor.  Something we could use more of the legal profession.  By the way, I don’t know anything about movies, film, or cinema, but I found a Preston Sturges quote that I love: “the most amazing thing about my career is that I had one.”  I can also relate to that!

DR:  Yes, that is a great quote. I think Preston Sturges felt really privileged to have done all he did.

MK: Here here!  Ok, back to you.  Your Dad lit the fuse, Governor Dean gave the order, you wrote your first script . . . what happened from there?

DR:         The first thing that happened with my work was that first script of mine actually did well. It started to come together as a project, but then as happens more than not it all fell apart.

So I kept writing. I wrote, produced, and directed a short film, and then another. As I developed my work, I had a simple test to determine whether I was crazy. Do the projects attract attention in the industry? Do they do well in contests and festivals? If yes, I’d keep going and if not I’d stop. They did well. I had a short film at Cannes, and it went to another very small but wonderful festival in Italy (Capalbio), and from there I was invited to markets for emerging filmmakers and did well in contests.

Just to make it easier to find like-minded souls, I started a filmmakers’ lab in Stowe in 2013 with a colleague I’d met at a workshop. That first year we had 16 New England based filmmakers. This became “Stowe Story Labs,” and by the third year we had hundreds of applicants and admitted 50 participants annually. We now work with about 200 emerging artists from around the world each year.

We run labs, retreats, ongoing mentoring programs, and online writing programs for TV and film. Participants come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and the common denominator is a good story and a collaborative nature to getting work made.

We are about to open our Tenth Annual Lab, and I continue to write and work to develop my own projects (and make short films).

The Tenth Lab will coincide with the 1st Vermont Film and Music Festival, which will bring all the elements together. Making new work, exhibiting it, and selling it into a complicated industry. Bringing the industry into Vermont I hope will incubate projects getting made here. That is an uphill battle in Vermont for lack of a film commission and tax credit program, but that’s a whole other conversation.

MK:       Wow! It seems that, in a sense, Stowe Story Labs is mentoring in action. Helping folks to learn the ropes and find their way in the business.  Is that a fair description?

DR:         The labs are 100% designed to mentor new talents. We look for people with great ideas and the capacity to work in this collaborative art. The point is to find voices that otherwise would not be heard, and we are good at doing that.

MK:       I read on the website that you “pitched” the idea of SSL.  Using the lingo, did you “pitch” it in the same sense that you and others are now “pitching” scripts?

DR:        I did ‘pitch’ the idea of the labs to David Pope, my colleague now for ten years, and it was a good pitch just like pitching a story. He adds a lot to what we do. David is very good at explaining and demystifying the complexity of story. He also gets writers to think deeply about what they are working on. I took a workshop with him at Cannes (which I did only because it was free if you had a film in the ‘short film corner’ and I had nothing but time) and we hit it off. We then met again at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (I was at the market and he runs the producers lab there) and I pitched him on the labs over Chinese food. He’s brought a lot to what we do, which is, as he puts it, ‘meaningful feedback in a supportive environment.’

MK:       By the way . . . Cannes!  To me, in film making, making it to Cannes means you’re among the best of the best? Or, at the very least, one of a select few.  Is it the legal equivalent of arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court?

DR:        Cannes was certainly the “E ticket” of festival admissions. I was so green at the time, I thought ‘I’ll send this to Cannes,’ since I knew it. Who knew what a big deal it would be to be there? Well, I guess a lot of people knew, but I did not. And it is a good film. It’s helped me advance my work. This is a long game, though, and the community of the labs makes the road a bit less daunting, and not maybe so lonely.

MK:       I love that last bit: forging a community to make the road both less lonely and daunting.  We need more of that in the law.  Especially now when, at least it seems to me, isolation and stress are driving people from the profession.  Ok – how can folks learn more about the Labs and the Vermont Film & Movie Festival?

DR:         The Festival will be terrific. It starts Friday night at Stowe Cinema at 7 PM with The Sound of Silence, which stars Peter Sarsgaard. It was produced by one of our mentors, Jonathan Duffy. Saturday and Sunday are a mix of fantastic films – docs and features – from the deep south, blocks of horror films (for those who can take it!) and short and narrative films from our alumni, and A League of Their Own, speaking of baseball, followed by a Q&A with one of our alumni who has been cast in the TV remake. The schedule is here and there’s a trailer here.

MK:      Sarsgaard is awesome! So, it seems like there’s something for everyone.  Is that the theme? Or is there a more specific theme?

DR:         The theme of the festival is ‘portraits of America’. We have chosen films showing the breadth of life in this country (with two outliers I’ll explain about below). Each film shows some aspect of the human condition and contains notes of hope or uplift.

A key element of this program is the Southern Voices strand, built in partnership with the Sidewalk Film Festival of Birmingham, Alabama. For several years we have run a narrative lab at the Sidewalk Film Festival, and we are pleased to be working with them to bring these films addressing issues such as

  • What does it mean to be ‘Southern’ in 21st Century America?
  • An examination of the efforts to bring America out of a dark past. (SNCC, Directed by Danny Lyon)
  • The struggle of high-level high school sports against the backdrop of a failing public school and all the curve-balls life throws us (Wrestle, Directed by Suzannah Hebert and Co-Directed by Lauren Belfer)
  • And just the struggles of being young in the South (Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Directed, Filmed, Edited, and Written by RaMell Ross)

And there are a dozen more ….

The two outliers are

  • Freddy Mercury: The Final Act, which is a documentary about Freddy Mercury’s struggle with aids and the groundbreaking tribute concert Queen staged in his memory. This doc was released this year. It was produced and directed by James Rogan, a Stowe Story Labs mentor (and my partner on my doc THE GUN SHOP). James and the film were nominated for a BAFTA this year and we just wanted to honor James — and Freddy — by screening it.
  • The Bootlegger, which was written by an alum and we helped develop the project. It is a Quebecois Film about a student returning to her reserve to carve a life, and chaos reigns …. Written by Daniel Watchorn

Both generally fit the theme of struggle and hope, but the stories are not based in America ….

There are also two blocks of short films, just because shorts are fun! One block features films by our alumni. The other features films from a wonderful festival called the HollyShorts Film Festival. On top of that, we are screening one block of horror shorts and a screening of The Babadook late Saturday night. The shorts are by the Nyx Horror Collective, which is a community of women writers over 40 digging deep into horror.

The entire schedule is here. And there’s music Saturday afternoon at the Alchemist (schedule is here). And the entire program is free!

MK:       Again, wow! There’s a theme, something for everyone, and it’s free! Ok.  A few final questions.  Having transitioned away from the law, do you have any thoughts or advice for members of the legal community who have similar thoughts? That is, folks who are thinking of doing something else, maybe following the dream that, like you, they had as a kid?  On the flip side, are there things you learned or skills you developed as a lawyer that helped you enter and grow in the film industry?

DR:         My thoughts on moving away from a career in law are complex. Law is a wonderful career and there is so much you can do with the degree. It is also a nice, predictable income, which film is not. For me, I took a long, slow turn away. In my mind it was like turning a large cargo ship; nothing abrupt about it and no way to turn it quickly.

Much of what I learned in my law practice is used both in my writing and the work with the labs: thinking logically, being analytical, really driving to comprehend material, seeing the way forward. Much is not useful. That same analytical thinking which helps push things forward is not a good space for creativity and pushing boundaries. For that you need to leave a lot of thoughts on process behind. For me, the best thing I did to make the move is to commit to it. I talked with my wife about the intent, I pushed some work out into the world, and slowly found myself being more of a writer than a lawyer, which was liberating for sure.

MK:       Not listening to the analytical brain can be a challenge when considering change. I get that.  What happened to the short you made your first year at UVM?  Any chance it’ll be remade by the Labs?

DR:        Ha!  I lost that film. It was a silent, black, and white cowboy movie we shot at the Webb Estate before it was restored. Was such a great experience making it and it came out great, but somehow it ended up lost.

MK:       Damn!  What about you?  What do you like to watch?  What are your all-time favorites?  And, speaking of “watching,” if memory serves, you don’t have a television. I seem to recall that you and Jackie would only watch tv once per year.  You’d go to Hanover to watch the Academy Awards . . . is that right?

DR:         You remember right! We did not have a TV for years. Now we have apple tv and stream, but still no channels. We do go each year to watch the Academy Awards at a hotel. It’s a long-standing tradition (but the show is not so good so we might stop!). My go-to movies are anything by Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder (or William Wyler — The Best Years of Our Lives is my favorite all time film). I love The Life Aquatic by Wes Anderson (and a few other Anderson films are top contenders). Another favorite is A League of Their Own, which we are screening at the Festival at 3 PM on Sunday, June 5th. The screening will be followed by an interview with an alum of our programs, Lea Robinson, who has been cast in the TV remake of the film, which will be a trans take on the thirty year old classic. Lea is both an outstanding writer and actor and we are thrilled they are part of our community.

I could write another twenty or so titles ….

MK:       There’s no crying in baseball!  Seriously though, great list.  Speaking of baseball, I cut the cord recently.  My package doesn’t include NESN. So, like you, I listen to the Sox on the radio.  Since we started this interview, they’ve lost a bunch of games to bad teams.

DR:         Yes, the Sox are driving me mad.

MK:       You should write a film about that: how mad our younger selves would be that our current selves let the Sox drive us mad even after winning 4 World Series.  Younger Us would’ve settled for ONE by now!

DR: Very good idea. I almost miss the dark days – when you could get a good seat for $10 and then move to a better one to watch Jim Rice hit into a double play. And you remind me to add Moneyball to my list of favorite films.

MK:       That made me laugh! A true Sox fan indeed. Thank you for doing this! It was great to catch-up. Good luck with Stowe Story Labs and the Festival!

DR:         Thank you! I hope people come out for the films and music. Anyone can reach out with any questions. Thanks again.

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The Wellbeing Week Wrap-up and my self-report of significant bread making violations.

Last week was Wellbeing Week in Law (WWIL). One of the goals was to encourage legal professionals to take action to improve their well-being. I’m here today to recognize the members of Vermont’s legal community who did exactly that.  And, sadly, I’m also here to self-report significant violations of the bread making code of conduct.

But first, I want to share a comment that, to me, perfectly captures the importance of tending to our own well-being.

Patty Turley is General Counsel for the Vermont State Colleges. I met Patty many years ago when we served together on the Board of Bar Examiners. Here’s part of Patty’s reply to the email I sent encouraging participation in WWIL:

  • “Hi Mike – This was such a good reminder for wellness!  It was a crazy busy week; they are all busy but this one was exceptionally crazy.   At first I thought: “It is such a busy week, I don’t have time to take this on.”  Then I decided to switch my thinking: “It is such a busy week, it is more important than ever to make time for wellness.”  It worked.  I often did 2-3 shorter activities (walks, yoga, strength-training, meditation, reading for pleasure) each day.”

Let me repeat Patty’s words:

  • “It is such a busy week, it is more important then ever to make time for wellness.”

Patty – you nailed it! Our new catchphrase should be “Busy? Then now’s the time to make time for wellness.”

Okay, turning to the bread.

During WWIL, Wednesday’s theme was Intellectual Wellbeing. The focus was on the importance of continually challenging ourselves to engage and grow intellectually. To mark the day, I shared this video of myself making bread.

The video ends before I sliced or tasted the bread. So, it fails to reveal that the final product was not fit for consumption. Therefore, this morning I recorded this video in which I self-report multiple violations of the culinary canons. In mitigation, and as this picture proves, my second attempt went much better than the first.

IMG_6838

Finally, here’s a list of the members of Vermont’s legal community who let me know that they participated in WWIL. If I forgot to include you, I apologize. Message me and I’ll update the list.

To wrap up Wellbeing Week in Law, here’s to hoping that our participation continues beyond the confines of the week itself.

Indeed, let’s make well-being a habit.

2022 Wellbeing Week in Law Participants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Each day focuses on a different aspect of wellness:

Each Day

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

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

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

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

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

Again, the participation guide is chock full of ideas.

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

Pick & Choose to Fit Your Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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P.S. – thank you Tammy!

APPLE WATCH TEAM CHALLENGE

”VT Attorney Well Being Team Challenge ”

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

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

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

APPLE WATCH INDIVIDUAL CHALLENGE

“VT Attorney Individual Challenge”

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

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

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

Related Resources

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

 

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

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

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

Good question.

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

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

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

wellness

Related Resources

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness Wednesday: Mentoring

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

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

wellness

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree!

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

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

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

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

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

For now, please consider one.

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

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

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

This post deals with suicide.  It is devastatingly sad.

Here is a picture of Attorney Cheslie Kryst:

Cheslie

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

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

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

Cheslie died on Sunday.

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

Cheslie was 30 years old.

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

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

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

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

May our efforts help to prevent a fourth blog post.

May Cheslie rest in peace.

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If you need help:

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

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Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

 Aiming for Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Aiming for Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not true.

As Jeena writes:

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

Great advice!  Thank you, Jeena.

Wellness

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

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

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

Wellness

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

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

I recommend the article.

Here is the opening paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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