Wellness Wednesday: Schitt$ Creek & paddles.

Believe it or not, there are days when I do things that don’t involve running or bar counseling.  Usually those days involve binging.  Admittedly, the objects of my binges vary.  Alas, more often than not, it’s a streaming service.

Netflix’s Schitt$ Creek  is one of my favorite binges of the pandemic.

schitts creek

For the uninitiated, it’s a Canadian sitcom that ended a six-year run in April. After dominating the awards circuit north of the border for years, Schitt$ Creek went out in a blaze of glory, winning all seven major comedy awards at this year’s Primetime Emmys.  People who went to college and law school around the same time as I did will recognize the father from American Pie, the mother from Home Alone, and the cameraman from Groundhog Day.

Highly recommend.

But what’s this got to do with wellness, surveys, and paddles?

I’m glad you asked.

In an episode of Schitt$ Creeks that I watched last night, characters who are siblings each took a “How Electric Is Your Relationship Test” that ran in a magazine  The results? Each learned that their respective romantic relationship was “in need of a generator.”  Neither was happy.

I’m here to argue that survey results can be misleading.

Earlier this year, the International Bar Association launched a project to address the wellbeing of legal professionals.  The project includes a survey on wellbeing issues, including the extent to which COVID-19 has exacerbated the impact that we know anxiety, depression, stress, and addiction have on the profession.

The survey is here.  The IBA and others associated with the attorney wellness movement are urging lawyers and legal professionals to take it.  The more data, the better.  You do not need an IBA member to participate.  I completed the survey this morning. It took 6 minutes.

The VBA’s COVID-19 Committee recently put out a similar survey. It’s here. Please take that one too!

Back to my point.

I assume the results will paint a dreary picture, with many proclaiming that the profession is up Schitt$ Creek without a paddle.  If that happens, I will channel my inner Lieutenant Commander Galloway and object.  Strenuously.  Here’s why.

For starters, let’s not pretend that the staggering rates at which behavioral health issues impact the profession are new.  It has been more than 4 years since I first blogged on the topic.  In my opinion, there will be something positive to take from data showing that the numbers have increased.

Mike, wait?  What the hell are you talking about? Worse numbers are a positive?

Yes. Because it shows that those within the profession are more willing to admit to coping with behavioral health issues.  We can’t help those who claim not to need it.  For far too long, we ran our profession in such a way as to discourage honesty on survey’s like the IBA’s.  If that has changed, it’s a positive.

For instance, since July 1, I’ve received more calls and emails from lawyers who want help than I did in my first seven years as bar counsel.  And, for the naysayers, yes, I received those calls and emails from lawyers who knew full-well that I would screen any disciplinary complaint that might be filed against them.  Maybe it’s true that the 80s were more than 30 years ago.  But I digress.

My point is this: the profession began debilitating its members long before the Hazeldon Study was released in 2016.  We just never admitted it. Rather, we compounded it by stigmatizing help-seeking behavior.  The fact that lawyers are asking for help – from bar counsel no less – is a positive.  I’d argue that, given our past, acknowledging our own behavioral health issues – even anonymously – is as well.

Take the surveys.

Which brings me to another positive.

Even destigmatized, requests for help wouldn’t come if people didn’t realize that others are willing to, you know, help.   Most importantly, we’ve made clear that we’re willing to help without reporting you to disciplinary authorities and without jeopardizing your law license and livelihood.  To stick with the theme, some of us are adrift in the water.  In the old days, the profession left us in its wake.   Now, there are many of us willing to extend a paddle to help pull others back to the boat.  That’s a positive.

So, yes. In my view, there will be positives to take from survey results that, at first blush, appear anything but encouraging.

But let me be honest. It’s not going to be all rainbows and unicorns.  We are going to need to redouble our efforts to help.  We’re all going to have to paddle.

In the early stages of the pandemic, I referred to it as “rowing the boat.”  I blogged:

I let things slide over the past several days.  Not today.

This morning, I made my bed.  I picked up the clothes that had been lying on my bedroom floor for days, folded them, and put them where they belong.  As my coffee brewed, I washed the mugs that had up in the kitchen sink.

I call this “rowing the boat.”  For me, routine helps keep my mind & spirit well.  Completing one simple task leads to another, and so on.  Next thing I know, I’ve changed my focus, been productive, and find myself one day closer to the good days that surely will return.

In rough seas, all I can do is keep rowing the boat.

I love and admire how so many of you are striving to take care of your clients and colleagues during this crisis.  Take care of your own wellness too.

Note: due to letting things slide, I haven’t shaved in 13 days.  “Rowing the boat” doesn’t include removing the pandemic beard . . . at least not yet.

Next week I’m going to post a blog aimed at those who are coping with personal issues and urge you to keep paddling.  Today I’m going to focus on a different maritime analogy.

Yesterday I interviewed a lawyer against whom a disciplinary complaint had been filed. After we finished discussing the complaint, the lawyer shared a story about how stressful the lawyer’s practice area has become since the onset of the pandemic. Then, the lawyer thanked me for blog posts that continuously “nudge” lawyers to remember things like wellness and civility.  The lawyer likened getting the profession to focus on wellness to turning a battleship.  If you aren’t aware, battleships don’t exactly turn on a dime.

It got me thinking.  To turn this ship around, we need as many as possible on board, on the same side, helping to paddle. One way to help? Take the  IBA survey and the VBA’s COVID-19 Committee survey. Answer honestly.

In closing, I suspect I’ve lost my train of thought.  I apologize.  I’ll leave you with this:

We might be up Schitt$ Creek, but we aren’t without paddles.

Additional Resources

Lawyer Wellness & Lawyer Assistance

National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being:  The Path to Lawyer Well-Being, Practical Recommendations for Positive Change

Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal ProfessionState Action Plan

American Bar Association: Law Firm Pledge & 7 point framework to reduce substance abuse disorders and mental health distress in the legal profession.

American Bar Association: ABA Well-Being Toolkit in a Nutshell

The Virginia State Bar: The Occupational Risks of the Practice Law (with tips on prevention & risk reduction)

Blog Posts

Wellness Wednesday: Slow Down.

It’s okay to slow down.

Basketball coaches have a saying with their players: we want to play quick, but not fast.  The point being that, sometimes, players play too fast for their own good, trying to do too much at once.  It wasn’t uncommon to call timeout and tell the team “we’ll be fine, if we just slow down a bit. We aren’t going to score 40 points in the next 30 seconds. Let’s focus on getting 1 good shot the next time we have the ball.”

Today, I realized that the same goes for attorney wellness.  I didn’t come to the realization on my own.  Rather, I came across an interview that Law.Com did with Jennie Fagen Malloy, a wellness consultant whose clients include several large law firms.  The interview is here.

Referring to the stress and anxiety that comes with both the profession and the times, Malloy makes a great point: we can’t force our way out of it.  Often, working harder is our natural reaction.  As Malloy points out, working harder in response to anxiety is okay, up to a point. Referring to lawyers, Malloy notes:

  • “. . . anxiety makes them work hard. It allows them to anticipate worst-case scenarios and makes them good at their jobs. But when do you move from productive anxiety to crossing that line into too much anxiety, which is disruptive?”

The answer?  I think Malloy’s is terrific:

  • “I like to reframe ‘stressed,’ which can sound negative, to ‘moving too fast.’ This is more empowering. People can take ownership of moving too fast.’”

I suggest reading the entire interview.

Remembering not to move too fast is a great tip.  I’m not immune to stress and anxiety at work.  When it strikes, it typically builds to a point where I list the 10 things that need to be finished pronto, then resolve to complete them even more pronto than pronto. 

That’s not good.

A better approach is to “slow down.”  Identify one task, finish it, move to the next one.  In a blog I posted last spring, I referred to it as “make your bed.”  It’s a coping mechanism I used early in the pandemic.

I often found my mind racing with what felt like an overwhelming number of things to get done: complaints to screen, emails and phone calls to return, CLEs to prepare, blogs to post, training runs to fit in, toilet paper to horde.  Initially, I’d lie awake at night setting the next day’s schedule in such a way as to be caught up – on everything! – by 3:00 PM. 

Dumb. 

So, I changed my approach.

I slowed down and focused on starting each day by making my bed. 

Corny? Perhaps.  But it helped.

Throughout the profession, I sense anxiety rising again.  Maybe it’s best not to try to outpace it. 

Instead, slow down.

Wellness

Wellness Wednesday: A Stunning Opinion.

Over the past few years, I’ve argued that we must do whatever it takes to destigmatize behavioral health issues. We must encourage people to seek needed help. We must ensure that doing so will not cost them their law licenses.

Last Friday, a federal judge issued a decision in a case involving a challenge to questions that the Kentucky Bar asks of applicants about their behavioral health.  The opinion is here.  The ABA Journal and Volokh Conspiracy reported it.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a more scathing opinion.  It makes my point, albeit in a manner more forcefully than I have ever argued.  I imagine many will criticize the tone and analysis, but there’s no denying the message: no lawyer or law student should have to choose between help and licensure.

I suggest reading it.  For an appetizer, the final paragraphs:

“Law school is hard. The stress, rigor, and competition can lead to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Many students who start school healthy are far from it by the time they graduate. Some kill themselves.

Aspiring lawyers should seek the health care they need. But if Kentucky continues to punish people who get help, many won’t. And one day, a law student will die after choosing self-help over medical care because he worried a Character and Fitness Committee would use that medical treatment against him—as Kentucky’s did against Jane Doe.

It is not a matter of if, but when.”

wellness

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Attorney Justin Kolber Creates The Iron Llama Triathlon for National Suicide Prevention.

Justin Kolber is a Vermont attorney who has long believed in wellness, well-being, and work-life balance.  On Saturday, Justin will take on a personal challenge to benefit others’ wellness: the Iron Llama Triathlon for National Suicide Prevention.

  • Aside: since 2014, at least 6 licensed & active Vermont lawyers have taken their own lives. Data indicates that, in any given year, 108 licensed & active Vermont lawyers have serious thoughts of suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Odds are you’ve never heard of the Iron Llama.  Saturday’s will be the first.  And, Justin isn’t an ordinary participant.  Rather, the event is Justin’s brainchild, conceived earlier this year in response to a friend’s suicide and the pandemic’s cancellation of in-person events. The Iron Llama is based at Lake Elmore, a beautiful setting to get out to support Justin.  He’s even arranged to have some of Elmore’s famed Fire Tower Pizza available!

I could go on, but I’ll let Justin tell you more.  Yesterday, he was kind enough to (virtually) stop by the Garage Bar to talk about the Iron Llama and attorney wellness.  You can watch or listen below.  Links with even more information about the Iron Llama, attorney suicide, and suicide prevention follow the video link of my conversation with Justin.

Thank you, Justin!

Information & Related Posts:

Other Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness Wednesday: Finding the Starting Line.

I’ve been blogging and speaking about attorney wellness for years. A smattering of the posts appears at the end of this column.

wellness

Initially, there was resistance.  Thankfully, we’ve reached a point where most lawyers recognize and accept that wellness is an aspect of competence. Indeed, last summer – a time that feels decades ago – the Vermont Supreme Court adopted Comment 9 to V.R.Pr.C. 1.1:

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

Then, on February 10 of this year – a time that feels longer ago than last summer – the Court abrogated and replaced the Rules for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education.  Among other things, the new rules require lawyers to obtain at least 1 hour Wellness CLE per reporting cycle.

A question that’s not uncommon: “Mike, where do I start?”

An answer that tempts me: “Damned if I know. But once you find out, share! I could use a good starting point!”

I’d say I’m half-kidding . . .

Actually, there are resources. For instance, I’ve long been a fan of both the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers & Legal Employers and the ABA Well-Being Toolkit in a Nutshell.  Then, last week, the ABA Journal posted 10 Steps to identify irrational resistance to self-care.  It’s by Rosario Lozada.

I think it’s a great place to start.  Mainly because Professor Lozada points out that the starting line might not be where we think it is.  That is, self-care doesn’t necessarily begin with self-care. Rather, the beginning is to identify whether – and why – we’re reluctant or resistant to starting.

Professor Lozada shares 10 tips to identify the status of our own relationship with self-care.  The tips are not designed to “fix” anything.  Rather:

“For now, see whether you can appreciate yourself for taking these precious moments to open up to your needs and to care for yourself.

“And the next time you pull up your calendar or another to-do list, add a specific self-care duty. Pick an activity that renews and energizes you; make it a recurring, high-priority event. You may have just engaged in a courageous act of ‘self-preservation.’”

I wish each of us the courage to help ourselves

Other Wellness Wednesday Posts

 

Wellness Wednesday: Reruns

What’s Happening?!?!

Last week, I did a series of posts and videos for National Lawyer Well-Being Week.  I think it’s important to remember that wellness & well-being merit more than a week of attention.  In my view, we must remain committed and vigilant year-round. So, with that in mind:

This week, I’m busy with non-blog projects and, further, stumped as to blog topics. So, all you get today are links to other stuff!   That’s right: today you get Reruns:

What's Happening! | VPM

And since it’s Wednesday, each rerun is related to wellness.  Have a great day!

Fun Wellness Posts

I’ve profiles many legal professionals who engage in non-law related activities that, whether they know it or not, serve to assist their well-being.  The profiles are here:

Also, before I ever imagined a “Wellness Wednesday” 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.

National Lawyer Well-Being Week Videos

National Lawyer Well-Being Week Blog Posts

Finally, the Vermont Bar Asssoation and the ABA have published lists of COVID-19 practice management & mental health resources:

 

Engage intellectually. And, you are not an impostor.

Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following, it’s National Lawyer Well-Being Week.  Each day has a different theme.  Today’s is Engage & Grow.  The focus is to remind lawyers that wellness includes challenging ourselves to engage & grow intellectually.

Here’s today’s video message.  Note: it’s the first not done from the cozy confines of the Garage Bar Studio.  For those who prefer to read, my written words are below the logo.

Lawyer Well-being Week Activities

Intellectual engagement & growth for lawyers:

  1. Engage & grow outside the law: challenge yourself with an intellectual pursuit that has nothing to do with the law.  Learn a language or an instrument, read the book you’ve never read, watch those documentaries on the historical event that’s intrigued you, but for which you’ve  told yourself “I don’t have the time.”
  2. Engage & grow within the law: challenge your intellect by exploring a new practice area, even if it’s only via a single seminar.  Jennifer Emens-Butler has a series of high-quality webinars planned through the end of June.  You never know, one might pique your interest and provide an opportunity to spend a bit of time outside what might have become the monotony of your daily routine.  Or, get in touch with Mary Ashcroft or Sam Abel-Palmer.  The VBA and Legal Services Vermont have numerous pro & low bono opportunities that provide a perfect chance to challenge yourself in a new area of law while helping those in need.  The challenge might leave you refreshed and reenergized when you return to your day-to-day.

Intellectual growth improves confidence.  And, while some of you might not know this, many lawyers struggle with self-confidence.  Many consider themselves “impostors,” not good enough or skilled enough to belong. I can’t stress this enough.  Please read my post Wellness Wednesday: You’re not an impostorIt shares a heart-breaking story that should open our eyes to the threat that impostor syndrome imposes

Lawyers like Gabe aren’t impostors.  They’re people who, like all people, sometimes make mistakes, but who are valuable members of your team.  Support and encourage their growth and wellness.

In closing, engage yourself intellectually both inside and outside the law.  Also, be sure to encourage and support others to grow more confident in themselves.

 

 

Get ready! National Lawyer Well-Being Week is only 12 days away!

National Lawyer Well-Being Week begins May 4.  Now is the time to plan your involvement.

Here’s the key message from the organizers:

  • “Well-being is an institution-wide responsibility. When our professional and organizational 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. It is up to all of us to cultivate new professional norms and cultures that enable and encourage well-being.”

Each day has its own theme:

I can hear you now!!  “Great Mike, what am I supposed to do with an infographic??”

Not so fast my contrarian friends!

The organizers have made available a veritable plethora of resources on each day’s theme, resources that I’m here to share. Thus, much of the rest of this post will be a long list.  Intentionally so!  Like ordering soup on Planet Seinfeld, there will be no excuses for you!

But first, don’t limit wellness to a week.  Don’t limit a component of wellness to a single day.  Make wellness a habit.

For instance, imagine that today is “National Running Day!”  I’d easily find the motivation to get out to run with the enthusiasm and vigor of the event, eager to post my apres-run selfie with the obligatory hashtag.  But a Wednesday run won’t prepare me for October’s Vermont City Marathon.  Instead, I must make running a habit.

That’s wellness. Make it a habit.  Because life is a marathon.

Finally, like a marathon, wellness begins with a single step.  And there’s no reason to wait until National Lawyer Well-Being Week to take the first step.

Thanks for listening.  Get involved!

Here’s the promised list of resources. I am brazenly taking them from National Task Force’s Lawyer Well-Being Week site.

The Entire Week

Monday – Stay Strong 

Tuesday – Align

Wednesday – Engage & Grow

Thursday – Connect

Friday – Feel Well

Finally, the Task Force has also compiled a list of  wellness & well-being resources related to COVID-19

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Be Kind to Lawyers

Tomorrow is “International Be Kind to Lawyers Day.”

I’m not too conversant in legal phrases or the principles of statutory construction.  Yet, I’m generally aware of the maxim “inclusio uno (est) exclusio alterius.”

I’d be surprised if the creators of “Be Kind to Lawyers Day” intended to limit it to a single 24-hour span.  So, I hope that the Inclusio Uno Legion doesn’t intend to argue for such a restriction. If they do, here’s my rebuttal:

Why wait until tomorrow?  When it comes to being kind to lawyers, there’s no better time than now.  And, on that point, remember:

  • It’s always “now.”
  • For lawyers, being kind to a lawyer includes being kind to yourself.

Wellness

Below, I’ve pasted in my post from 2019’s Be Kind to Lawyers Day.  I’m re-posting because it’s consistent with Wellness Wednesday.

*****************************************

Originally Posted on April 9, 2019

Today is International Be Kind to Lawyers Day.

I’ve done some research on the day’s origins.  Meaning, I read this and this.  While each suggests we might debate the motivation behind the creation, #bekindtolawyersday is legit trending on social media.  So, it must be a real day.

Who is most likely to deal with a lawyer today?  Other lawyers.  Thus, to borrow a quote from JFK, here’s my request of my lawyer-readers:

  • Ask not who will be kind to you today.  Ask to whom you will be kind.

I’ve often mentioned that the Rules of Professional Conduct don’t require lawyers to be nice.

Still, why not try?

Indeed, as I mentioned here, I recently did a CLE on attorney wellness that segued into a discussion on whether a lack of civility within the profession contributes to the profession’s lack of wellness.

The VBA has adopted Guidelines for Professional Courtesy.  The last is my favorite:

  • “Effective advocacy does not require antagonistic or obnoxious behavior. Lawyers should adhere to the higher standard of conduct which judges, fellow attorneys, clients, and the public may rightfully expect.”

Today you will have many chances to be kind to another lawyer.

Take advantage of them all.

Wellness

 

Civility Matters. Especially now.

I consider civility one of the 7 Cs of Professional Responsibility & Legal Ethics.  In my opinion, conducting one’s practice in a civil manner is not inconsistent with the obligations imposed by the Rules of Professional Conduct.

A seminar at the VBA’s 2019 Midyear Meeting made me realize the connection between civility & wellness.  In this blog posted the morning after the seminar, I wrote:

Indeed, nothing in the rules is incompatible with civility.  As a comment to Rule 1.3 says:

 “[t]he lawyer’s duty to act with reasonable diligence does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved with courtesy and respect.”

Courtesy and respect.  We need more of each in the air.

For the duration of public health crisis, we need even more of each in the air.

My first post related to COVID-19 was on March 13.  In it, I urged “all lawyers to be accommodating when considering requests from opposing counsel that are related to COVID-19.”  I’m by far from the only one, with bar associations and courts making the same request.  The good news? I’ve not heard any Vermont stories like the two I’m about to share.  Let’s hope it remains that way.

Each story comes from the same federal court in South Florida.  The ABA Journal covered both.

In the first, also reported by Law360 , a federal magistrate had to intervene in a discovery dispute.  Here’s part of the magistrate’s order.

  • “If all the issues we are currently facing were to be organized on a ladder of importance, this deposition-scheduling dispute would not even reach the bottom rung of a 10-rung ladder. It is painfully obvious that counsel for both sides failed to keep their comparatively unimportant dispute in perspective. Would the world end if the corporate deposition did not occur next week? Obviously not.”

The rest of the order doesn’t reflect any better on the lawyer’s involved.

A few days later, the same magistrate issued an order in a different case. I’m not a fan of block quotes, but this order is better read than described.  As reproduced by the SDFLA Blog:

Given the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is hardly surprising that Plaintiff filed a motion to extend the mediation and discovery deadlines and all related deadlines and to reschedule the special set trial date.

Plaintiff’s motion represents that Defendant objected to the request. That’s right. Defendant objected to what appears to be a realistic and common sense motion to reschedule the trial and other deadlines. I had to read the certification twice in order to make sure that I was reading it correctly. 

If the motion is correct, then Defendant wants to push forward with the existing trial date and all trial-related deadlines even though no one has any idea when the Court will be able to safely resume jury trials (or when it will be safe to travel by air, to return to work or to get closer than ten feet to anyone).

Rather than guess at defense counsel’s motivation, the Undersigned requires defense counsel to by March 26, 2020 file a double-spaced memorandum explaining (1) whether he did, in fact, oppose the motion to reschedule the trial and enlarge trial-related deadlines and the mediation deadline, and (2) all the reasons justifying his opposition (assuming that he did actually advise Plaintiff’s counsel that he opposes the motion).

If defense counsel opposed the motion, then he is best advised to provide a comprehensive and rational explanation. Before filing this response, though, defense counsel may want to brush up on the concepts of karma, goodwill, grace, compassion, equity, charity, flexibility, respect, spirituality, selflessness, kindness, public spirit, social conscience, and empathy.

No reply absent further Court Order. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman on 3/25/2020.”

Again, I’ve not heard any Vermont stories on par with these.  Still, I blog as a reminder that there’s a line between acting reasonably to provide clients with competent & diligent representation and using the public health crisis to gain an advantage.

Where is that line?

I don’t know.

But, in searching for it, we could fare worse than to be guided by Judge Goodman’s words.  Whatever we do, let’s not forget “the concepts of karma, goodwill, grace, compassion, equity, charity, flexibility, respect, spirituality, selflessness, kindness, public spirit, social conscience, and empathy.”

That’s civility.  And civility is part of wellness.

Related posts:

wellness