Wellness Wednesday: Reach out, check in.

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

Speaking of spring and summer . . .

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

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

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

But not everyone feels the same.

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

Warning: it is a heavy read.

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

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

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

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

Back to my original thoughts.

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

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

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

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Wellness Wednesday: Mentor Someone

Last week, I used this space to celebrate Joan Wing.  The post generated a ton of feedback, mostly from lawyers grateful for Joan having mentored them.  The feedback got me thinking.

Then, I read this post in the ABA Journal.  The post references a survey of Florida’s young lawyers.  Per the survey, many of Florida’s young lawyers aren’t happy with their chosen profession.  The results got me thinking even more.

In my post on Joan, I suggested that we try to be more like her.  Mentoring a younger attorney presents an opportunity to do so.

I can hear you now: how’s that wellness?  The Vermonter that I am, I answer your question with my own: how’s it not?  Consider:

What if:

  • you showed a younger attorney that you cared enough to help her become a better attorney?
  • you helped a newer attorney avoid some of the mistakes you made as a younger attorney?
  • introduced an attorney who is brand new to Vermont to other attorneys who have established themselves here?
  • did nothing more than listen to a younger attorney who is frustrated, anxious and questioning whether he wants to continue in the profession?

It’d certainly help the younger attorney’s wellness, and likely would help yours as well.  Not only that, you might learn a thing or two from the younger attorney.  Umm, tech competence anyone?

And if that’s not enough, there’s CLE credit!

A few years ago, the Vermont Supreme Court adopted new Rules of Admission.  The rules did away with the “clerkship.”  Now, whether by exam or motion, new lawyers have one year to complete 15 hours of CLE in the basics of Vermont practice & procedure.  Additionally, attorneys admitted by exam have one year to complete a mentorship.  Mentors are eligible for up to 5 hours of CLE credit per reporting period.

We need mentors.  If interested, email me. I keep a list of those willing to serve.

Mentoring helps.  And, as Joan proved, helping is wellness.

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Wellness Wednesday: Joan Loring Wing

Attorney Wellness is a big tent.  A lot fits underneath:

Lawyer assistance programs.  Helping colleagues in need.  Mentoring attorneys. The connection between wellness and civility.  Making time for what matters: family, friends, interests outside the law.

Of all that’s under the tent, nobody did them better than Joan Loring Wing.

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Many of you knew Joan.  For those who did not, she was a titan of the Vermont legal community.  A figurative Giant.  All the good we’ve done on attorney wellness over the past few years?  It’s not as much us as it is that Joan lifted us up, put us on her shoulders, and showed us the way.

I knew Joan well.  She was on the Professional Conduct Board when I was hired as deputy disciplinary counsel in 1998.  To the extent that wellness includes having a job and being involved in the profession, Joan is why I’m well.

In 2000, it looked like my job would be cut.  Joan made sure it wasn’t.  I’m still here and, honestly, do not want to imagine how my career would’ve turned out if she hadn’t intervened.

In 2009, Liz Miller asked me to the run for a seat on the Vermont Bar Association’s Board of Managers.  Waffling, I turned to Joan for guidance.  As had her father and grandfather, Joan had served on the Board and become President.  She told me it’d be the best experience of my professional life.  Then, to make sure I didn’t chicken out, she showed up to the voting meeting and gave a speech nominating me. I remain convinced that many who voted for me did so only because Joan vouched for me.

Joan was right about the Board experience.  As with my day job, I don’t like to think how my career would’ve turned out had she not convinced me to run.

Tonight, I’m speaking at the meeting of the Joan Loring Wing Inn of Court.  About a week ago, I decided to mark the occasion by making today’s post about Joan.

Thinking about Joan and “wellness” can be funny.

  • She smoked constantly.  Even in her office.  I remember many a meeting having to look thru Lark smoke to see her across the desk.
  • She drank a ton of soda.  She brought a little cooler full of cans of Coke to every meeting or event that I remember.  Then asked the serving staff to bring her a cup of ice.
  • The soda chased the Cheetos and Thin Mints that she brought along with it.

Cigarettes & junk food.  And from what I recall, her work days began in the middle of the night.  But Joan would be at the forefront of Attorney Wellness.  How do I know?  Because she was all about Attorney Wellness even before it was a thing.

Joan died in a car accident on December 8, 2009.  Two days later, the Supreme Court held a swearing-in ceremony for new lawyers.  Chief Justice Reiber spoke.  He dedicated his words to Joan. The VBA Journal printed his speech here,  It tells the story of Joan, and what she meant to Vermont, far better than I can.

So can others.  In anticipation of this blog, I asked several who knew her to share thoughts on Joan and how she’d view the “attorney wellness” phenomenon.  Here are some responses:

  •  “Joan knew the benefits of social interaction, positive mentoring, and just plain support to the profession.  No matter the age, nor level of experience of the lawyer, she was always willing to provide unbiased and meaningful advice.    She promoted wellness among the bench and bar by encouraging personal best behaviors and openness for constructive criticism.    Joan knew that small gestures which invoked humor where absolutely necessary for the practice:  always having “settle” and “pay” M& Ms at mediation would bring some comedic relief to an otherwise stressful situation for both the parties and the lawyers.   While her methods of practicing “wellness” were non-traditional, they were effective to promote the best version of ourselves as lawyers, and deal with the stressors that come with an active practice.”  Attorney Bonnie Badgewick
  • “Joan Wing was like a sister to me.  I can hear her now delivering some irreverent tongue-in-cheek comment about what the legal profession was coming to if it actually needed to focus on ‘wellness’ and on teaching ourselves how to take care of ourselves.  But if someone were not well and she found out about it, she would have been one of the first to respond.  While never taking herself too seriously, she manifested for all of us a caring attitude toward her fellow attorneys, which in and of itself helped promote our collective wellness.” Honorable Peter Hall, United States Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
  • “You know for Joanie I think over all the years when she served as a leader in so many capacities, what she did and what she said was never about her. Her efforts were not designed to invite praise or attention to herself. I think the motivation was to push us all to be our best selves, not for our self-interest but for the betterment of the whole. The notion that we in the bar need to look after our own mental health and support our friends and colleagues, seems to me to be very much in concert with Joan’s strong sense of duty. Like her father who escaped a German prisoner of war camp in the winter in bare feet, Joanie was tough, with a single-minded devotion to the common good. I will never forget the moment I learned of her death. Through her memory she continues to be an inspiration.” Honorable Paul Reiber, Chief Justice, Vermont Supreme Court.
  • “She absolutely would have been on board with wellness, as long as there was no mandatory smoking cessation program. The first thing Joanie ever said to me was ‘well, are you a shrinking violet or what?’  I told her ‘or what.’  She always made sure to reach out to young women starting out in the RCBA to make sure we were introduced to our fellow RCBA lawyers and to make sure we knew that we weren’t alone in our experiences and could tap into the resources of those who had been there before us.  I am so thankful to her for helping me meet people and making me feel supported as a young lawyer starting out in Rutland County.  She was an endless source of historical information and quick wit, and I feel incredibly lucky to have known her.” Attorney Erin Gilmore.
  • As to wellness, I agree, she would be on board. Her heart was open as a shrine, and anyone could walk in and be welcomed.  A particular wellness initiative on the part of her and her family: ARC (Advocacy, Resources, Community). She had a special-needs brother who was beloved by his family — the original spark for ARC, which she supported throughout the years. On a personal wellness note, I was phobic about snakes, and eventually went through a course of exposure therapy to overcome my fear. When I finished, Joan was so pleased that she gave me an extraordinarily beautiful Venetian glass pendant in the shape of a snake. She supported my efforts and cheered my triumph.” Attorney Lisa Chalidze.
  • “One thing she told me when there were some issues at my firm was something akin to, ‘No matter how much work you have put into this profession, nobody can prevent what someone else might choose to do to you. Sometimes it is healthier to just walk away.  Being a lawyer is not more important than being healthy.'”  Matt Valerio, Vermont Defender General.
  • “I know she was defiinitely on board with wellness. I remember on a few different occasions her bringing some folks into the office (or she would go to them), who she was trying to help without posting their troubles for the whole world to see but at the same time letting them know that they needed to get their ** together! She was sympathetic but also wasn’t afraid to tell them what was unacceptable. Thank you for keeping her spirit alive, I still miss her each and every day.” Karen Poljacik, Joan’s long-time employee.
  • “Joan epitomized wellness, because she made everyone who encountered her feel great. It was impossible to feel stressed or anxious around Joan. You’d either be laughing too hard, or you’d be marveling at whatever her insight was about the topic of the day.  Plus, you knew that Joan would be the first to help any lawyer in need.  She was a lawyer’s assistance program before we had lawyer’s assistance programs!” Teri Corsones, Executive Director, Vermont Bar Association.
  • “And now we have this attempt to link Joan Loring Wing to ‘wellness’.  Another well-intentioned gesture to connect a cause to a person who did much to distance herself from it.  From the Classic Cokes she snuck into restaurants in her giant purse to the Larks that she and Harold Berger smoked with abandon in her office ‘back in the day’, Joan was the epitome of an unhealthy lifestyle.  Salt and Cheezypoofs were two of her main food groups and she even co-opted M&M’s into her mediation practice with her famously inscribed ‘settle’ and ‘pay’ candies.   But just as [her father] settled hundreds of cases in his own gruff style so did Joan encourage the big picture of ‘Wellness’ in her care for her fellow lawyers and her attitude towards life itself.   If Wellness means embracing life and living it to its fullest without concern for judgment and constraints, then mark Joan down as very well indeed.  Joan may have been a terrible patient but a great friend to all who had the privilege of knowing her.  Her concern for the wellbeing of the attorneys around her was legendary and that should surely entitle her to be enshrined in the Wellness hall of fame.”  Honorable Karl Anderson, Probate Judge, Rutland County.

Attorney Wellness is about improving the profession’s health.  Joan devoted herself to doing so.  May her star never fade from our collective memory or her example from our collective conduct.

I’ll leave you with words from my good friend Eric Johnson, another attorney who knew Joan.  Hootie captures how Joan would remind us to move forward:

  • Joan was one of the best people I have ever known.  She was appropriately old school, with a wicked sense of humor and a ton of common sense.  She gave a lot of her time and of herself to help others, both within and outside of the Vermont Bar.  It has been nearly ten years since we lost Joanie, and I still miss her.  I keep the card from her funeral in my office, which reads: 

Grieve not…
nor speak of me with tears…
but talk of me…
as though I were beside you.
I loved you so…

’twas Heaven here with you.

Indeed it was.

Wellness Wednesday: sleep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Game of Thrones.

Sometimes I post early, sometimes I post late.  I guess I’m the Nice & Smooth of legal ethics bloggers.

Today I meant to post early.  After all, it’s Wellness Wednesday, a huge day for this blog.

Alas, I didn’t.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about you! Indeed, this post has been on my mind nearly all day.

I went to bed early last night.  I anticipated being up later, but the Bruins game proved anti-climactic so I went to bed.  To me, it was PERFECT sleeping weather.  Meaning, I slept with the windows open and the covers drawn.

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re sleeping so well that you’re actually aware of how well you’re sleeping as you sleep?  I swear it happens to me.  Not often, but on occasion. And last night was one of those occasions.

Then I woke up.  Raring to go.  The birds were singing and I felt good.  Sure, it was still a bit dark, but that was probably just the clouds.

Except it wasn’t.  It was dark because it was 3:30 AM.

That NEVER happens to me.  Yes, I like to get up early, but I define “early” as 5:30.  As good as I felt, I wanted my 2 hours of sleep back!   Then, the irony struck me.

In response to last week’s Wellness Wednesday post, a friend/lawyer/reader sent me Americans aren’t getting enough sleep and it’s killing usIt’s an opinion piece that Dr. Jonathan Fielding contributed to The Hill.  I found it fascinating, but scary.

Give it a read.  It cites various studies that indicate that a lack of sleep causes health problems.  And, contrary to popular opinion, our bodies struggle to recover from sleep deprivation.  Meaning, “I’ll work all night tonight because I know I can sleep late Sunday” is not scientifically valid.  And, as Fielding writes, “All-nighters push anxiety to clinical levels and even modest sleep reductions are linked to increased feelings of social isolation and loneliness.”

Folks, that’s attorney wellness.  Get your sleep.  Let your associates get theirs.

Alas, this morning, I didn’t fall back asleep.  Rather, I made the mistake of checking scores, then email and –  yada yada yada – the next thing I knew the coffee was brewing.

There was, however, a silver lining.

When I checked my email, I saw a notification that Professor Bernabe had posted a new blog. Given that the post focused on two topics near & dear to my blog –  the duty of competence & fictional lawyers – it was a great way to start the day! Check it out.  (My favorite voir dire (fictional or real) of an expert witness begins at the 8:13 mark in the video.)

The post put me back in a good mood, the early wake-up banished to the dusty corners of a memory bank that seems to consist of nothing but corners.  In other words, reading the post increased my well-being. Thanks Professor! Further evidence of why you’re always on the #fiveforfriday Honor Roll!

Reading the post also got me thinking: I haven’t blogged about tv or movie lawyers in a while. And, for me, doing so is a source of wellness.  So, I started searching the dusty corners – have I watched any blog-worthy fictional lawyers lately?

Not really.   Recently, I’ve been into HBO.  I re-upped a few weeks ago to catch up on Game of Thrones. When not catching up, I watched a bunch of episodes of Barry and 1.5 episodes of Big Little Lies. 

The former?  I know it has won a ton of awards, but I don’t love it.  The latter, I loved the book. Despite its critical acclaim, I’m worried that the show won’t live up.  So, as with most of my relationships, I’m starting by showing the show a lot of lukewarmth.

Besides those two, I binged on Veep.  More accurately, re-binged, I LOVE that show.  JLD has long been a favorite.  Of course, I liked her in Seinfeld.  And, as should be obvious by her numerous appearances in my real-life and #fiveforfriday quizzes, I thought she was fantastic as the ethically-challenged prosecutor Maggie Lizer in Arrested Development. 

But she ROCKS as Selina Meyer.  (some of you can probably guess who she reminds me of)  And, Jonah, Gary, and Richard make me laugh out loud.

Alas, Veep provides no lawyers to write about.  Yes, Selina was a lawyer before entering politics.  And Richard holds a doctorate in constitutional law and is an expert on the electoral college.  Still, nothing inspired me to write about either.

That leaves Game of Thrones.  No, no character’s official profession is “lawyer.”  I submit, however, that Samwell Tarly is the show’s functional equivalent thereof.  If anything, he’s a veritable expert in parentage actions! Still, he’s nothing to blog home about.

So, having increased my wellness by using legal ethics as an excuse to write about tv shows, and having started to blather on even further than could be fairly described as “rambling,” I’ll get to the point.

I want to know what my readers think:  when it’s all said and done, who will sit on the Iron Throne?

The latest Vegas odds are here.  I can’t believe the line on Baelish. Intriguingly short!  And, my poll is here, with candidates listed in the same order as the betting odds. I was tired of typing, so I cut off the list after Brienne of Tarth (and actually left off a few between her and Varys).  Or, you can email me your theory/prediction.

I’m not sharing my vote.  I do have one prediction to share though: the Night King and his ice Dragon will not be at Winterfell Sunday night.  I predict they’ve headed south to attack King’s Landing.

Now, either vote, send me your prediction, or go to sleep.   It’s all wellness!  Even weller if you do all 3.

Hope you enjoyed your Wednesday.

P.S. if you can’t sleep, check out an old post on unethical lawyers from an HBO show: The Night Of:  Who Gets Disbarred First?

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Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what reminded me of the song.

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

It goes on:

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

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

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

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

Thanks Mom!

_________________________________________________________________________________________

** The posts:

(Wellness Wednesday Posts)

Wellness v. Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a great example.

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

Vermont

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

That’s well-being.

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

Go Cats Go!

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

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Molly Gray

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means!

I like to use the Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to members of the legal profession who make sure to make time for non-legal, non-lawyerly things. As the VBA’s Jennifer Emens-Butler says, “pursuits of happiness.”  Links to my prior posts on lawyers and their non-lawyerly interests appear at the end of today’s blog.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Molly Gray.

Molly Gray's Profile Photo, Image may contain: Molly Gray, smiling, standing

Molly is an assistant attorney general. She’s also a top-notch cross-country skier who grew up on a working farm. Molly was kind enough to agree to answer questions that are loosely related to her background, legal ethics, and attorney wellness.  All mistakes and typos are mine, not Molly’s.

MK:Thank you for doing this!  Like me, you grew up in Vermont. Unlike me, it wasn’t near the Burlington airport. Tell us a little about life as Molly Gray before you went to law school?

 MG: Thanks for reaching out!   Where to begin, I grew up on a farm. A real working vegetable, fruit and dairy farm in Newbury on the Connecticut River. I was born on the farm. Yes, in the farm house in the early 1980s. My parents retired from competitive ski racing and shifted all that competitive energy to farming. They have an indomitable love of labor, Vermont and being outside. The skiing, at least, was contagious. I attended Oxbow High School (that would be the Oxbow “Olympians”) and a ski academy in southern Vermont, the Stratton Mountain School. All the skiing and probably farming in those early years, led to a scholarship to ski for the University of Vermont. I am extremely fortunate. After four years of racing, a budding interest in government, law, and international relations drove me, like my parents, to zero in on something new; an eventual legal career. That being said, I was 22 and had never really left Vermont! Ultimately, I attended Vermont Law School, but there was quite the eye-opening journey in getting there several years later

 (MK Note:  in 2015, VTDigger featured Molly’s parents’ farm)

 

Molly & her parents

(Molly’s parents & her brother)

MK:  Very interesting!  So much information. But first things first.  I have roots in the Upper Valley.  My mom grew up in Bradford and was a Bradford Academy Admiral.  In my job, I often preach a lawyer’s duty of competence.  As a Newbury native, what is the only competent way to pronounce your home town?

MG:  You had mentioned the Upper Valley connection. You are aware then of the friendly rivalry between Bradford folks and the community in Newbury. Frank Bryan once said Newbury is the town that time forgot. That’s probably about right.   It is “New Bury.”  It’s an “ury” instead of an “erry” and the “B” is right there with the “New.” “NewBury”

MK:  Professor Bryan was my favorite professor at UVM!  Speaking of UVM, you skied for the Cats.  What were your events? Also, I don’t think people realize how amazing it is to receive a ski scholarship to UVM. Only 3 schools have won more national championships.  That means that UVM is to college skiing what Duke is to men’s college basketball. Was UVM your dream all along?

MG: What a great time to talk about skiing – the University of Vermont Ski Team just hosted NCAA’s and came in second behind Utah. Go Cats! I will quietly admit that there was a short-lived and naive dream of skiing for CU Boulder but the then Director of Skiing, Chip LaCasse, to his credit, was recruiting locally (rather than internationally) and gave a handful of Vermonters opportunities of a lifetime.

I can’t comment on Duke basketball, but UVM skiing is not for the faint of heart. The nordic ski team trained every day, some days twice per day, with the exception of Monday, from August to March and all summer long. Races ranged from 5kms to 20kms, both classic and skate, with the occasional relay or sprint relay. Although skiing is an individual sport, in college you race as a team. Each Thursday we would load up the vans and drive to races or “carnivals” hosted by colleges across New England. Alpine and nordic team results would be combined after two days of racing with one collegiate team coming out on top. As you might imagine, there were UVM traditions to be upheld and no shortage of rivalries.

I raced all four years (not always fast) and served as a captain. Above all my teammates became some of my closest friends and remain so to this day.

MK:  Colorado tries its best to beat UVM! That would’ve been a conflict of interest! #ThisIsVermont  The Buffs loss was our gain.

All kidding aside, great answer!  A few things.

First, the work required.  Your success as a skier didn’t come by accident.  The dedication to the training.   I can’t imagine the time commitment!  I suspect that growing up on a working farm was like skiing.  Both probably involved lots of hard work, at hours that most people weren’t up, in weather conditions that kept most people inside.  Did lessons you learned on the farm help with being a competitive skier?  Did both (or either) help you to tackle the workload that is the first year of law school?

MG: Thanks! Although I have to say this interview is making me sound super tough and disciplined. I’m not! I still struggle with an early morning workout. To answer your question though, I do think growing up on a farm instilled an inevitable attraction to hard work and being outside. Farming, and having parents who do not shy away from a little healthy competition, probably left me and my siblings constantly self-imposing physical challenges–why carry one flat of strawberries when you can carry 2 or 3 or by end of summer 4. Equal parts training and efficiency. Without question, managing school work while ski racing (or vice versa) at UVM was great preparation for law school. I also came to appreciate, as I am sure many in the legal community do, that the most productive, “clear-headed” work, comes in the hours after a good workout.

 MK: Clearing the head.  That’s wellness!  I’m with you though: as much as I love the idea of sunrise runs that I finish before work, those early wake ups are NOT fun.  But, speaking of wellness, do you still ski?  In legal ethics, I often talk about conflicts.  For some athletes, the conflict that exists between doing something for enjoyment vs. doing it as a competitor is too much to overcome.  So, once they stop competing, they give up the sport. Having competed at the highest levels, do you ever find it difficult to ski for the pure enjoyment of it??  Conversely, I still love to run even though I’m not as fast as I used to be. As much as I love it, there are times where what I wouldn’t give for just one more race as good as I once was.  So, even if you’re out enjoying a beautiful & relaxing day on the trails, does your mind ever wander to that feeling you used to have as you waited at the starting line in Green & Gold?

MG:  This is a great question! I’ll admit I still have the occasional racing dream. It normally starts out with feelings of incredible and surprising speed and “I’ve still got it” followed by profound and mortifying exasperation. When I was racing, I loved sprint races — 1km qualification, followed by the top 30 or so skiers racing in heats of 5 or 6 with 2 or 3 racers progressing from each heat to a final heat. It is a more tactical, high-energy and spectator-friendly race. In my dream, I can “fake it” for the qualification round.

Some athletes learn to ski in order to race. Although my parents were competitive ski racers, to his credit, my father taught us to ski for the love of skiing. Racing came later, and random sprint dreams aside, I crave a good ski far more than the competition.

 MKLove the dreams! Mine are often daydreams as I’m running.  The body & brain re-living the feeling of a PR or great race.  I want to go back to something you said earlier.  You mentioned the life-long friendships with your teammates.  There’s something about the shared experience that forges bonds – not only among teammates, but among competitors. My closest friends are people I met thru basketball.  My “attorney wellness” is nourished by those relationships outside the legal profession.  Do you feel the same?

MG: Absolutely. This is by no means a dig at our profession, I am happy to run or ski with fellow attorneys but sometimes you have to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing. Basketball, skiing, running, should be cathartic. Inviting colleagues does not always make it so. Inevitably, you start talking about work. There have to be some ground rules!

I recall the first winter I did not ski race and did not have teammates. It was 8 months after graduating from UVM, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for Rep. Peter Welch. I had not figured out the work-life balance and it was the first winter without racing or a true winter. My body was miserable and confused. On the advice of a friend, I joined a running club “Fleet Feet Sports” in Adams Morgan. A couple of the runners became close, non-work, running friends. We trained for the USMC marathon together and built a unique bond that was cathartic, supportive, competitive and limited to our non-work identities. It was terrific. I have lived in a lot of different places and try to forge these bonds.

IMG_1686 

(Molly, some of her UVM teammates, and Rally Cat)

MK: I like those bonds.  As lawyers, we seem to focus on discrete practice areas, tending to bond with others in the same area.  How’d you end up focusing on Nordic vs. Alpine?  Also, once we pick a practice area, we seem not to venture to another.  Do you downhill ski?

MG: I like the comparison to practice areas. I keep both sets of equipment in my car (just in case…). I learned to alpine ski at one of my favorite spots in Vermont, “Northeast Slopes” in East Corinth. It’s one of the oldest rope tows in the United States, and still operating today. One of Vermont’s hidden treasures. Why nordic? My mother was an alpine racer (an adrenaline chasing downhill racer) and my father was a nordic racer. Ultimately, nordic won over, but the practice areas are ever evolving.

MK:The T-Bar! We used to drive by the Slopes on our way to Bradford! Speaking of “ever evolving,” can we talk about training equipment for a moment? I often speak and blog about tech competence. A few years ago, I was running down Spear Street. The UVM ski team was coming other way. It was summer, so they were doing dry land training. They had these contraptions that looked like giant elliptical machines! I was fascinated.  Did you ever train on one of those?

MG: Roller skis! I haven’t put on a pair since 2006. Hundreds, likely thousands, of miles banked on those “contraptions”. I hope the design has improved. In my day they took a lot of balance, and although they were the closest thing to skiing (literally, short skis with wheels on them), they contributed to some pretty epic wipeouts. No breaks! While at UVM, we did an annual 50km or so fall training “ski” through Underhill, Cambridge and up to Fairfax. All told, roller skis do provide a unique way to see some beautiful parts of Vermont.

MK: Yikes!  Concrete ain’t exactly fresh powder!   I do not wear headphones on my runs, even the 20 milers.  Other runners think I’m nuts.  You are out for a long ski by yourself.  Headphones or not?

MG: Headphones? No. You’re out in the woods and its beautiful. Enough said.

 MK:Runners should take heed!  Ok, circling back for a moment. You mentioned an eye-opening journey from your last days at UVM to your first days at VLS.  Can you give us some highlights of the journey?

 MG: I really don’t want to bore your readers to death. In a nutshell, upon graduating from UVM in 2006, I worked as a Congressional campaign scheduler for longtime attorney and state senator Peter Welch. Over a 3-month period, Welch visited all 251 towns (and gores) in Vermont. Ultimately (and I would like to think the 251 “marathon” had something to do with it), Welch won that November and I was offered a job in Washington. A whole crew of Vermonters were hired. It was a tremendous honor to be part of that. Eventually, and because the world was calling, I went on to work for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As a Congressional Affairs advisor in the Washington office, I worked with US lawyers and policymakers on international law issues including those arising at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the emerging use of drones. I travelled a lot during that time and led missions to Haiti, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the former Yugoslavia and Georgia. It was eye-opening to say the least! A far cry from Vermont, and as they say, “you can take a girl out of Vermont, but …,” by 2011 I was ready to come home and get cracking on law school.

 MK: Wow! Traveling the world to help people. You did Vermont proud!  And we’re lucky to have you back.  Okay, who are the 2 or 3 other skiers, living or dead, who you’d pick to be on your “dream relay team?”

MG:

  •  Bill KochA Vermonter and the first American ever to win a medal at the Olympics (Innsbruck ’76) in cross-country skiing. For all intents and purposes, he also invented the “freestyle” or “skate” technique.
  • Jessie DigginsNot a native Vermonter (I’m all about inclusivity) but she trains here now, and second American ever to win a medal at the Olympics (PyeongChang ’18) in cross-country skiing. She is an awesome ambassador for the sport and role model for girls.
  • Bob GrayYep, going with my old man. I’ll be honest, there is not a person on the planet who loves the sport as much as he does. All heart.

MKGood job getting Dad in there!  I read in the Valley News that he’s still kicking butt!

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(Molly and her Dad)

MK: Earlier you mentioned classic vs skate skiing.  With the duty of competence in mind, do you have any thoughts on a lawyer who shows up at Trapp Outdoor Center, rents classic skis, then proceeds to try to skate ski all over the property?

MG: Oh, no. Such a brave lawyer. That would be comparable to arriving criminal court and attempting to litigate a civil claim.  I’m always happy to advise on equipment and better yet meet for a ski and especially at Trapp’s.

MK: Molly – that is the perfect closing argument in your case to disbar me from cross-country skiing: “Kennedy is no Bill Koch: it’s like he’s a lawyer who brought a civil claim to criminal court.”

Thank you Molly Gray! Hope some people are inspired to get out and enjoy these last few weeks on the trails!

Related posts:

Wellness Wednesday: Judge Garland & My Cousin Vinny

Today, three of my favorite topics collide:

  1. A lawyer’s duty of competence
  2. My Cousin Vinny
  3. Attorney Wellness

To me, attorney wellness is much more than the staggering rates at which behavioral health issues affect lawyers, their non-lawyer assistants, judges, and law students.  Well-being also includes enjoying the light moments whenever possible.

The very first rule in the Rules of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to provide clients with competent representation.  It’s widely recognized that Vincent Gambini’s cross-examinations in My Cousin Vinny more than satisfied the duty of competence.

As I’ve previously blogged:

  • “Many great legal minds have mentioned the movie.  For proof, scroll down to the “critical reception” section of the film’s Wikipedia page.  There, alongside references to Justice Scalia and Judge Posner, you’ll see a quote from Alberto Bernabe.  A frequent member of this blog’s #fiveforfriday Honor Roll, Professor Bernabe is also the author of My Cousin Vinny: a story about legal education.  The post links to a fantastic post on Abnormal Use that honored the movie’s 20th Anniversary and that includes other great links to articles on the movie and the legal ethics issues raised in it.”

Time to add another great legal mind to the list: Judge Merrick Garland.

Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuited issued this opinion.  Judge Garland opened the opinion as follows:

  • “In 1992, Vincent Gambini taught a master class in cross-examination.  Trial
    counsel for the National Labor Relations Board and the National Union of Healthcare Workers apparently paid attention.”

Keith Lee of LawyerSmack is one of the best follows on Twitter.  Yesterday, he commented on Judge Garland’s references to My Cousin Vinny.  Lee’s tweet thread is here.  AboveTheLaw blogged on both Judge Garland’s opinion and Lee’s tweets.

If you’re a fan of the movie, I recommend the opinion, Lee’s tweets, and the ATL blog.

Personally, I thank all three for contributing to my well-being, while also incorporating the duty of competence.

Image result for my cousin vinny

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Andrew Manitsky

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means!

I like to use the Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to members of the legal profession who make sure to make time for non-legal, non-lawyerly things. As the VBA’s Jennifer Emens-Butler says, “pursuits of happiness.”  Links to my prior posts on lawyers and their non-lawyerly interests appear at the end of today’s blog.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Andrew Manitsky.

Andrew is an attorney at Lynn, Lynn, Blackman and Manitsky.  He sits on one of the PRB’s hearing panels (our version of a trial court) and is a member of the VBA Board of Managers.  Andrew chairs the VBA’s Intellectual Property section.

None of that is wellness.  At least, not mind kind of wellness.  This is:  Andrew is in a band!

Andrew was kind enough to agree to answer questions directly related to his band & attorney wellness, and loosely related to professional responsibility.

MK: Thank you for doing this!  So, keeping in mind that Rule 7.1 prohibits lawyers from making false or misleading communications about their services, and there’s Vermont case law that holds that the rule prohibits advertisements that make qualitative comparisons to other lawyers, tell us about your band and how awesome it is.

AM: Thanks for asking me!  (I think.)  Well, I’m quite mindful of Rule 7.1, as well as comment 2, which prohibits “paltering” – statements that are true, but misleading.  But more to the point: my current band is McKenna Lee & The Microfixers.  Our set list is based on the Eva Cassidy songbook, but we also play a variety of classic soul and dance tunes. 

MK: Trust me, we will cover paltering later! For now, let’s lay a foundation:  which Microfixer are you and who are your band mates?  Other lawyers?

AM: I’m the keyboardist, and the music director.  The band is mostly folks who work at UVM Medical Center and are actively involved in the “Patient Safety Movement” to eliminate preventable medical errors.  In the United States alone, more than 200,000 people die in hospitals every year from things like not washing hands, bad hand-offs between doctors on shift changes, wrong medications, wrong dosage, infections, and the like.  These are mistakes that can be avoided, so the movement works on sharing data and establishing best practices.  Last month, the band played the annual world summit in Huntington Beach, California, and it was a great event.  Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker.

AM 3

MK: Bill Clinton! In some states, the advertising rules prohibit lawyers from paying famous people to endorse them. I saw you play once at The Lincoln Inn. Who is the most famous person you’ve ever spotted on the dance floor? Did President Clinton dance at your gig in Huntington Beach?

AM: No, I’m sorry to report that President Clinton didn’t dance.  Or sit in on sax, either, which would have been awesome.

MK: I guess that means that I remain the most famous to grace a McKenna Lee & The Microfixers dance floor!  From what I’ve read, the band is sort of the “house band” for the Patient Safety Movement. How’d that come about?

AM: I was playing in a band with Charlie Miceli, who is a VP at UVMMC.  He formed Microfixers.  Then they brought me in just to music direct (they had a keyboardist).  Then I joined them (we had two keyboardists at one point), and then the other keyboardist quit.  But right: we are kind of the house band.  Last year, a stripped down version went to London for the summit.  I didn’t go, but still ran the practices.

MK: By the way, what’s a “microfixer?”

AM: The idea behind the name “microfixers” is that very small fixes can make a big difference.  In fact, the band has an original song called “Little Things” which is about that concept, and it was inspired by the tragic story of Emily Jerry.  Emily was diagnosed with a tumor.  After multiple surgeries and treatment, an MRI showed that the tumor was gone.  She was undergoing a last round of chemotherapy, just to ensure that the cancer was truly gone, when the pharmacy technician decided not to use a standard prepared bag of sodium chloride (with less than 1% solution) but instead compounded a bag herself with a concentrate of 23.4%.  Emily died.  She was two years old.  Her father, Chris, is a leading patient safety advocate pushing for changes in the way IV drugs are compounded. 

AM 1

MK: Such a sad story, but what a great concept. I’m a big believer that the legal profession could accomplish a lot by doing “Little Things,” like saving one starfish at a time.  Anyhow, I digress.  As you know, conflicts of interest are huge in my world. As music director, do you run into conflicts with your band mates when, as keyboardist, there’s a particular song that you like to play, but maybe the rest of the band isn’t so high on?  Or, I noticed you answered “music director,” not “manager.”  Are there conflicts between music & management in a band?

AM: Good questions.  As for song choice, it routinely happens that a suggestion of mine isn’t embraced.  That’s ok.  If I can’t convince them that the song is a good choice, then that’s my fault.  And no, I’m not band manager.  My role is to help with arrangements and make sure it’s all working.  Frankly, the musicians are so good that I don’t need to do much at all.  But I like to be value-added, so each time we play through a song I listen for one or two minor adjustments that could be made to improve the overall mix.  Maybe it’s having a part drop out for a few bars to allow another part to shine, or maybe it’s tinkering with the effects on a guitar.

MK: I’m intrigued by your point that it’s your fault if you can’t convince the band that a song is a good choice. That’s a lot like legal advocacy.  I can recall struggling with how to shape my presentation prior to hearings or Supreme Court arguments. On the one hand, I want to capture the judge’s attention early, but on the other I know that I have to provide a reason to believe in my position. Is songwriting similar? I mean, simply, sometimes I stop listening to a new song after 10 seconds if I’m not into it.

AM: Absolutely.  Studies show that people decide whether they like a song in the first 5 or 6 seconds.  And I think oral arguments and briefs and other presentations are exactly the same.  You need to tell the judge why she is reading this, why she should care about it.  If you can’t do that in one or two sentences, you haven’t figured out your case yet.  

MK: The Hook by Blues Traveler! Set the hook early and, like Popper sang, it’s what brings ‘em back!  Another reason to make your point quickly with judges & juries, there aren’t “encores” in the law. Once you rest, you rest.  What’s the band’s go-to encore?

AM: It changes and depends on the crowd.  We have done everything from “Yeah!” by Usher to, yes, “Don’t Stop Believin.”

MK: A few weeks ago Jeff Messina joked that audiences always request “Free Bird!!”  Knowing that you can’t ever guarantee results for a new client, what song can you (almost) guarantee someone in the audience will request?

AM: I really enjoyed your interview with Jeff.  And I will note that he and I shared that drummer!  He happened to be a great cook who made wonderful curry.  Good drummer, great curry.  Anyway, the requests depend on the venue, but he’s absolutely right: “Free Bird” is a sure thing.  With my old band, I would sometimes introduce a song by saying: “This one is by special request.”  But the song request was from me.  I just felt like playing whatever song that was.  I guess that’s paltering.

MK:  Turn it up to 11.  Plus, I KNEW we’d find a way to work “paltering” in!  Great job!  By the way, I’m trying to teach myself how to play piano.  I’m barely a beginner and don’t really have the patience for the basics. So, instead, I focus on riffs from famous songs.  Right now I’m trying to master the intro to Don’t Stop Believin’.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds!

AM: It is!  And part of the problem is the “official” sheet music.  It’s wrong. 

MK: Damn them.  Not cooperating with bar counsel is an ethics violation in and of itself. Ok, so, I often talk about tech competence.  Some lawyers seem reluctant to adopt new technology.  I often hear grumbles that “this way has worked for ever, why change?”  Conversely, I doubt that you lug a string piano to your gigs. And, I’m guessing Mozart would be fascinated by a modern keyboard and its electronic & digital bells & whistles.  Thoughts?

AM: I love new technology, and how it enables us to better serve our clients.  As you have frequently pointed out, if you aren’t taking advantage of it, you run the risk of violating Rule 1.1 (Competence).  As for music, back in the 1980s I used to lug (with help from a band mate) a Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano to gigs.  It was 100 pounds.  But now, I use a Korg X-50, which is 9.5 pounds.  And I can get virtually any sound out of it, including a Rhodes sound!

AM 2

MK: Now that’s tech competence!  I confess, until you mentioned her, I’d never heard of Eva Cassidy. Now, I’ve learned that one of her more famous songs is her cover of “Over the Rainbow.” Your practice includes intellectual property.  You’re the Chair of the VBA’s Intellectual Property Section. You’re in a band that covers other artists.  Is a song intellectual property?

AM: Yes, songs are protected under the Copyright Act.  Copyright is a bundle of rights, and one of the rights is public performance.  When a band performs another artist’s song at a gig, the band is technically infringing the copyright — unless the band has a license.  Now, bar bands obviously don’t go around negotiating licenses, and the performance rights organizations (like ASCAP) that administer copyrights for artists don’t expect them to.  Instead, the organizations enter into licenses with the establishments, so that bands can play the covers.  Not so long ago, there was a bar in the Burlington area that only hired bands that played original music.  Why?  So they wouldn’t need to pay for the license for cover songs!

MK: Very interesting.  Have you ever cited the U.S. District Court opinion on the request for a preliminary injunction in Metallica v. Napster?

AM: Not specifically.  When advising clients, though, I point out that in peer-to-peer network cases, infringers have been found liable for substantial sums of money even when they aren’t charging for the songs (or movies or whatever).  Often, folks think that giving the work away for free means as a matter of law that there are no damages, or that it’s “fair use.”  Wrong.

MK: That case always makes me think of the movie The Italian Job.  But that’s a story for another blog.  Ok, a few final questions:  As a lawyer, I think it’s important to mentor and to have a mentor. A good mentorship can make both the mentor & mentee more competent.  I’m sure you’ve had some great legal mentors.  Who is a musician who has inspired you?

AM: Paul Simon is one.  And he’s inspired me not just musically, but in legal writing, too.  He begins the second verse of “Something So Right” with the line: “They got a wall in China, it’s a thousand miles long.”  I remember he once explained that part of the power of that line was credibility.  By saying something so obviously true, it helped lend credibility to the rest of what he’s saying.  That’s useful to keep in mind in legal writing, because credibility is everything. And on a related note, in my view, all songs are really just arguments.  The most persuasive songs climb to the top of the charts. 

MK: Nice! Too bad Kodak never hired you in an IP case.  You could’ve used the lyrics to “Kodachrome” in your brief.  How important is it to you to have the band as an outlet or alternative to the law?

 AM: I’ve been playing in local bands for the past 10 years actually, and it’s been great – except when I’m breaking down equipment and loading into the car on Saturday night at 2 a.m.  That part isn’t so fun.  But I love performing, and also writing and recording.  Doing music has certainly been a good “outlet,” and a break from the grind of the law.  I think everyone needs to find at least one thing like that.  At the same time, though, music isn’t so different from what I love about my law practice.  The focus, the analysis, the problem-solving, the crafting of the work product.  When you’re writing a brief, there needs to be a rhythm to it.  For example, if you have an unusually long sentence (which sometimes can’t be avoided), the next sentence needs to be super crisp.  You need to make it interesting.  You have to be sensitive to the reader and keep them engaged as best you can.  Same with a gig.  Of course, people rarely dance when I file a brief.

MK: People should dance more often no matter the occasion!  One last question: you’re both a food connoisseur and a member of one of the PRB’s hearing panels.  Imagine: at a restaurant, you order Wagyu steak.  The chef talks you into ordering it “medium rare.”  I’m not sure what the disciplinary terms are in the culinary world. Whatever they are, should the chef be sanctioned, perhaps disbarred, for suggesting that Wagyu should be served anything but rare?

AM: Ha!  Maybe not disbarred, but at least a public reprimand.  I was happy I sent that steak back.

Thank you Andrew!

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Related posts:

So far, the non-lawyerly pursuits that Wellness Wednesday has featured include:

Also, before I ever imagined this column, Elizabeth Kruska & Wesley Lawrence were kind enough to take the time to discuss their interest in horse racing, Scott Mapes talked soccer with me, and many lawyers & judges shared their marathon stories.

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Jeff Messina

I’d like to introduce you to Jeff Messina.  Jeff is a lawyer at Bergeron Paradis Fitzpatrick.  But that’s not why I’m introducing you to him.

I’m writing about Jeff because today is Wellness Wednesday!

I like to use the Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to members of the legal profession who make sure to make time for non-legal, non-lawyerly things. As the VBA’s Jennifer Emens-Butler says, “pursuits of happiness.”  Links to my prior posts on lawyers and their non-lawyerly interests appear at the end of today’s blog.

Back to Jeff.

He’s in a band!

messina

Let’s get to it!

Jeff – thanks for doing this! I like writing about lawyers who make sure to make time for non-lawyerly things.  Tell us about your band & its genesis. 

I’ve been playing the guitar for about 35 years.  I started with ‘80’s metal (I picked up a guitar after hearing Randy Rhoads play Crazy Train), and in high school found Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, The Doors, and, of course, The Grateful Dead.  So, I have played in many bands – middle school, high school, college, law school (played many nights at Dewey’s and Crossroads in SoRo), and made some money during and in between playing at small clubs in Boston, or at ski resorts in Vermont.  A big mix of venues and styles. Over the last several years I have enjoyed opening Burlington’s Jazzfest sitting in with Jenni Johnson at Leunig’s.  This current group is a four-piece offshoot of a previous five-piece GD cover band.  Regrettably, that one dissolved due to “creative differences.” (Other musicians will know what that means.) However, the bassist, keyboard player, and I moved on and reformed with a new drummer.  We play a lot of Grateful Dead, but not exclusively that material, which our name suggests: Dead Not Dead. According to our YouTube posts, we are a “Live, improvising, respectful, well-schooled rock band presenting tasteful Dead, and JGB -style not-Dead.”  What else is there?

Very interesting!  I’m struck by “creative differences.”  Maybe because this is an ethics blog that I should relate to the Rules of Professional Conduct. You’ve practiced (I think) in the family and criminal courts.  Lawyers in each practice area often contact me with inquiries on Rule 1.16 and withdrawal.  Any corollaries between the original 5-piece band’s break-up and the “irreconcilable differences” that often result in a motion to withdraw from representing a client? 

I’ve done some RFA work in the Family Division only as they relate to corresponding matters in the Criminal Division. Otherwise, I stay FAR away from the Family Division!!

In this case, I think the corollary to the Rules would be Rule 1.16(b)(4) – where at least one other member “insists upon taking action that [I] consider() repugnant or with which [I] ha[ve] a fundamental disagreement.”  Additionally, 1.16(b)(7) covers the rest because there was ample “other good cause for withdrawal…”

Good answer! Sounds like a conflict.  Conflicts of interests are tricky for lawyers. I imagine they can be tricky in a band too.  Creative conflicts over how to play a particular song; maybe even something as seemingly simple as the order of the set list at each gig.  Anything in your background as a lawyer that helps you to deal with any conflicts that arise within the band?

Interesting that you ask.  Yes, there are a lot of conflicts in a band: what to play; how to play it; when to play it; where to play; when to practice; who writes the set list; what’s on the set list – just to name a few! One significant reason that the band fell apart was my eventual reluctance to need to use my skills as an attorney to deal with band conflicts.  Lawyers have a very stressful, highly analytical, mainly left-brained job.  Frankly, I’m that way and a whole-bunch-of-Type-A in my natural state.  So, one of the reasons I have always played is that it allows me to settle into my right-brain. I’ve been doing it so long I act on instinct. To this day it is one of the few things that I don’t have to think about while I do it.   Music is my deep breath, my exhale; my meditation, if you will.  As you can imagine, then, when I was forced to act more mediator than meditator, it began to negate the very reason I was there – allowing me to decompress.  Playing for me is like taking my electrically-frazzled brain out and submersing it into calm blue water.  Ahhh…..  That stopped happening.  Herding cats is difficult.  Herding musicians is something else entirely.

The catch here is that attorneys are generally disinterested third parties in disputes.  That’s nearly impossible when it’s your band, because whether or not the specific issue matters to you, the outcome likely will.  So, I would go into “lawyer mode” and listen to the complaints, see where people agree and disagree, or try to interpret what one member is saying if another doesn’t get it.  Then, I would try to direct the conflict to facilitate the ultimate outcome, which usually most members are on the same page for, even if they don’t realize it.  And that’s the key – reading the personalities and finding the common ground, if any. But, it’s not the key if you just did it for 9 hours before you got to practice!

Speaking of practice . . . I preach competence.  A comment to Rule 1.1 says that the duty includes maintaining the skill necessary to provide competent representation.  In other words, CLE.  What’s the musical equivalent of maintaining competence? Do you have time to practice?  Or, are you able to show up at a gig and put on the show?

Practice; that’s the equivalent. But not just practicing what you already know. Learning new songs is equally important.  New songs challenge you – maybe not an individual, but the group as a whole. As an added benefit, sometimes you learn a trick or technique from a new song that can find its way into something you’ve played a thousand times.  That’s fun when that happens and it breathes new life into something that may feel rote.  Of course, it makes it easy to accept a last-minute gig opportunity if you’ve been playing with the same group of people for a while and have some well-established songs in your collective back pocket, but that is a fun thing to be able to pull off — it’s not a recipe for success.  Practice.

We generally practice weekly.  No, I don’t have the time, but I find it because this is one thing I do for me.  I’m also fortunate to own a lot of guitars, so there is one within reach wherever I am at home, and always one in the office.

I’m glad you find the time.  I’ve blogged on making time for what matters.  And music being your meditation really gets at the heart of attorney wellness. It’s fantastic that you have that outlet.

Which gets me to this:  your answers have touched on it, but do you feel like the band helps keep you grounded? Or, maybe stated differently, are you a better (or fresher) lawyer because you have an outside interest?

 I am a better lawyer because of the outside interest.  First – and this is the self-preservation aspect – it allows me to blow off steam, decompress, or whatever other applicable phrase captures the sentiment.  Then I am able to be more present and focused on client matters.  I was told early in my career by Bob Rachlin that I have to take care of myself to be able to take care of my clients.  I listened.

Outside interests are also a good icebreaker for initial meetings or tense circumstances.  Lawyers tend to see people at some of the worst times in their lives.  They just got arrested, they just got sued, lost their job, whatever.  Maybe they don’t understand the legal circumstance they find themselves in. That means they’re scared, angry, sad – the whole range of human emotion – and sometimes talking about anything other than what they are there to discuss helps them get comfortable enough to start getting into the substantive issues. Connecting on outside interests like music, vacation spots, cars, how horribly frustrating golf is, helps build trust; and trust facilitates candor.

Truth!  Bob’s a wise man who was ahead of the curve on this issue.

 Ok.  Nobody goes to law school because they’re looking for a career in trust account management.  But it’s essential.  Similarly, I’m guessing you didn’t get into music to haggle with club owners or haul equipment to & from your truck. But each is essential.  Any comparisons between law office management & band management? You know, the non-glamorous aspects of each that people almost never consider?

Like anything, you first determine your goals.  What kind of a band do you want to be – cover band or original work? (Boutique firm or JonesDay?) Get together to jam or actually try and play out?  Seems silly, but if you don’t know that, you’re not going to get together more than a handful of times before it falls apart.  Then, assuming something starts to come of the practices, is there a leadership hierarchy or is everyone on the same footing. (Partners, Associates, Staff?)  Also, a band needs equipment – speakers, P.A., microphones, etc. How much are we investing in the band, and to what amount – who owns the gear?  Also, putting aside the copyright issues (equity stake?) of song writing, how do we get gigs?  Is everyone out there trying, or is one or more persons better suited to do it? (Managing Director?)  In my experience, a band, perhaps like office management (of any kind) sees about 10% of the players doing about 80% of the metaphorical – and perhaps literal – lifting.

Well, when it comes to legal ethics, you’ve done some heavy lifting.  You often appear on the #fiveforfriday Honor Roll.  So does noted Dead Head, and Vermont attorney, Keith Kasper.  Keith has a great story related to where he was & what he was doing when he learned Jerry Garcia died.  What’s yours?

 I had just seen The Boys in High Gate about a month before the news and was working as a kitchen manager at a place called The Country Creemee in Weathersfield, VT. It’s a grease and sugar Mecca – burgers, fried clams, ice cream – all outdoor seating.  The perfect place for an early twenty-something to work, make some money, and meet girls.  Perfect. Anyway, I was doing prep and the news came over the radio.  Everyone there knew I was a Head and they just looked at me.  I was shocked. Speechless. I don’t think it’s still completely registered.

 Favorite song by a band other than the Dead that you cover:

Tough question because so much depends on the vibe at the time. If I have to pick only one, though, I have to say Small Axe by Bob Marley – we do it a bit more rock than the original, but certainly pay appropriate homage to The Lion.

 Favorite Dead song to play:

To quote from one of your favorite movies: “It’s a b***s**** question. It’s impossible to answer….It is a trick question.”

I love it!  This blog will always honor Mona Lisa Vito.

The Dead song most audiences clamor for as an encore:

 FreeBird!!! Just kidding. Sort of.  We do hear that a lot – there’s one in just about every crowd.  Once again, though, there’s not one song – not “the” song.  More often than not, however, it’s either Althea, Help/Slip/Franklins, Scarlet/Fire, or Brokedown Palace.

Last question:

Mr. Messina: do you ever play any songs by Loggins & Messina?

Ha!  I’m asked that often.  Out of principle, no.

Like the others, great answer!  Thanks Jeff!

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Related posts:

So far, the non-lawyerly pursuits that Wellness Wednesday has featured include:

Also, before I ever imagined this column, Elizabeth Kruska & Wesley Lawrence were kind enough to take the time to discuss their interest in horse racing, Scott Mapes talked soccer with me, and many lawyers & judges shared their marathon stories.