Wellness Wednesday: Pro Bono Award Recipients

Having spent time at the bar exam the past two days, I was reminded of the Basic Skills Seminar that the VBA presents for new lawyers.  It occurs twice each year: the days before Mid-Year and Annual Meetings.

The agenda includes 2 hours on “Vermont Professionalism.”  I open by discussing professional responsibility, then Eileen Blackwood hones in on the pro bono opportunities.  Over the past few presentations, we’ve used “wellness” as segue from my presentation to Eileen’s.  Specifically, Eileen has made it a point to mention that one of the most rewarding cases of her career was one that she took pro bono.  While Eileen says it better than I can, the reward is the positive feelings that flow from helping someone who desperately needed it, for no other reason than because you could.

On the flip side, let’s leave no doubt: pro bono work is a form of giving that can improve another’s wellness.  To that end, on Wellness Wednesday, I’d like to call your attention to the recipients of the VBA’s 2020 Pro Bono Award: Tom French & Samantha Lednicky.

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I’ve pasted in the VBA’s official announcement.  The link is here.

The Vermont Bar Association is proud to announce that Attorneys Thomas M. French and Samantha V. Lednicky will both be this year’s recipients of VBA’s 2020 Pro Bono Service Awards.  The award is given annually to one or more attorneys who exemplify the best traditions of our profession by giving unselfishly of their time and skill to provide pro bono legal services to the poor and disadvantaged.

Thomas M. French is a pro bono emeritus attorney in Brattleboro who was nominated by attorneys James Valente and Thomas Costello for his work with military veterans.  Following military service himself as a JAG attorney, French worked as a general practitioner in Windham County for 50 years, often serving clients pro bono.  After retirement, Attorney French set up a pro bono program at his local American Legion post where he can be found every Tuesday and Thursday helping veterans obtain benefits they have been wrongfully denied.  In 4 years, Attorney French has won 14 out of the 15 actions he brought for his veteran clients, securing nearly $500,000 in benefits for them.  

Samantha V. Lednicky is with the firm of Murdoch Hughes Twarog and Tarnelli in Burlington.  She was nominated by Hon. Helen Toor and Frank Twarog, Esq. who recognized her work in the rent escrow clinic in Chittenden Civil Division.  Not only does Attorney Lednicky regularly volunteer to represent low income tenants at these clinics, but she frequently continues representation beyond the clinic to ensure that the tenants receive justice in the court process.  Attorney Twarog also praised Lednicky for her successful pro bono efforts to win parenting rights for a low income, homeless parent in a case to which she brought “a fresh prospective and her usual diligence.”

Attorneys French and Lednicky will be presented with the VBA’s Pro Bono Service Award at our mid-year meeting luncheon on March 27 in Burlington. 

Congratulations – and thank you – to Sam & Tom!

Related Posts:

 

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Parker Riehle

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I’ve often used Wellness Wednesday posts to introduce you to legal professionals who make time for interests outside the law and who are willing to share their thoughts on how those interests relate to lawyer well-being.  I’m thankful for each and every legal professional who has given of their time and humbly humored me throughout these e-terviews.

Today, I’m proud to introduce you to Parker Riehle.

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Parker is a Vermonter, a lawyer, and an avid skier.  His latest passion is Get On Snow, a project whose motto captures the essence of Wellness Wednesday:

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Get inspired. Be empowered.

Parker was kind enough to spend a day responding to my inanity.  All mistakes are mine.

MK:  Parker, thank you! Tell us about Get On Snow!  What is it? Where’d it come from?

Parker:  I came up with Get On Snow as a call-to-action public awareness campaign and website platform to promote and support the ski industry’s efforts at getting new people on skis and snowboards.  Only 3% of the US population skis or rides, but rather than pounding the “take a lesson and learn to ski” message that’s so often the focal point of the industry’s efforts, the premise for Get On Snow is to promote the lifestyle and health benefits of outdoor winter recreation – the adrenalin, romance, camaraderie, fun, family, friends and freedom of being on the slopes or on a soulful journey through the woods on snowshoes, and of course the après-snow day reward of a glass of wine by the fire or an IPA in the hot tub.

MK:  Great concept!  I like adrenalin, romance, camaraderie, fun, family, friends, IPAs and hot tubs!  Winter, I’m not so sold.  We’ll see how this goes.  Ok, where to start?  In law, it seems that the “general practitioner” has gone the way of the rope tow.  So many lawyers focus on a specific area of practice. What about Get On Snow?  Downhill, cross-country, or both?

Parker:  Getting more folks on downhill skis is the over-arching goal, but it’s important to give equal footing (pun intended) to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing as those are vastly more affordable, accessible and easier to learn for the never-evers so they can gain confidence on snow before getting them up to the slopes.

MK:  Never-evers! I’m one!  So, how do you get people like me out there?

Parker:  One approach I employ is to leverage pop culture to reach a broader audience where they already have affinity. For example, on the Get On Snow blog, my post 007 On Snow: Shredding, Not Stirred has a little fun with the best (and worst) James Bond movie moments on snow since we know there are hundreds of millions of James Bond fans out there, but only a very small percentage of them ski or ride. With those movies we know they must like action, romance and adventure, so they are perfect candidates to get on snow, and when it comes to après-ski and hot tubs, I think we can agree that, as Carly Simon sang in The Spy Who Loved Me, “nobody does it better” than James Bond!

MK:  Indeed! By the way, I know the advertising rules frown lawyers making qualitative comparisons, but I assume that “Shredding, Not Stirred” won best blog headline of 2019!  Ok . . . so many questions, but I think we were just summoned to the bench for a sidebar.

In legal ethics, conflicts of interest are a thing.  Lest anyone accuse us of not providing enough information to make an informed decision about continuing to read this interview, and to avoid even an appearance of impropriety, let’s disclose a potential conflict: we went to high school together.  It does not violate the lawyer advertising rules for us to say that we are two of South Burlington High School’s . . . . graduates.  Like 007, our adventures included action and failed romances.  Is there an adventure you can recall that’s fit to post?

Parker:  Though the statute of limitations has likely safely run on most of the shenanigans we might admit to, including a highly questionable Key Club junket to Hyannis, Massachusetts and summertime misadventures on Lake Champlain, the most notable actually involve blind-side collisions with different impacts; there was the new-driver, rookie-move lane change I made on our way to a party at Cliffside Park that crumpled the side of my Mom’s car – though we survived without a scratch I was sure she would kill me, but she was incredibly cool about it. The other event was the perfect crack block you laid on me that I never saw coming during football practice one day – I might have had 80 pounds on you but you knocked me right on my ass along with a significant blow to my ego!

MK:  I’d vote for our misadventure involving an evacuation by boat, but my mom reads this blog and her statute of limitations never runs.  So, I’ll go with that block at practice.  Now, back to Get On Snow.

In professional responsibility, the very first rule requires competence. Last year, the Court made it clear that well-being is an aspect of competence. As I mentioned, winter isn’t my jam.  One reason might be that I’m utterly incompetent at skiing.  It seems like Get On Snow is sort of the opposite of an attorney’s duty of competence.  That is, your message is that bumblers like me need to get out there and try, if only to improve our mindset and well-being.   Fair statement?

Parker: Absolutely – although “competence” isn’t typically used in conversation with me, the well-being benefits to the mind and body from getting outside in winter are endless. And just like easy walking and occasional jogging can be someone’s introduction to your world of marathon races, snow sports are also all about progression and aspiration. Anybody can try snowshoeing in a park or nearby golf course to get their footing on snow, followed by an introduction to cross-country skiing to get the feeling of something more slippery underfoot. Think of it as a closely supervised title search before moving on to a closely supervised jury selection. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to try the slopes, which is like moving up to the full-on nirvana experience of living an entire episode of Matlock or Bull.

MK:  What’s the reception been so far?

Parker:  Get On Snow is relatively new after launching publicly at the Boston Ski Show last November, but the reception and feedback from the industry and the public alike have been overwhelming because it’s all about pushing the lifestyle and bringing sexy back. Now, we certainly want newbies to take a lesson or, as in that epic South Park episode, “you’re gonna have a bad time,” but leading with that message isn’t exactly going to get folks excited – it sounds boring and intimidating and the human condition isn’t readily receptive to going back to school for anything.

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MK:  South Park & Bringing Sexy Back . . you weren’t kidding about pop culture.  I love it! By the way, I can totally relate to boring, intimidating, and the South Park instructor.  All three come to mind whenever I give a seminar on trust accounting: “Didn’t reconcile?  You’re gonna have a bad time!”  

You’ve had much success outside the traditional “lawyer track.”  What are some of the things you learned as a lawyer that have helped you in other jobs?

Parker: Because law school really forces you to ask the “why” and not just the “what” behind statutes and jurisprudence, it’s an incredibly invaluable education for public policy which has been the basis for most of my career since switching from insurance defense litigation to lobbying in 1998 when I was first hired by the Vermont Ski Areas Association as Governmental Affairs Director. Although you don’t need to be a lawyer to be a lobbyist, there’s no question that being a lawyer is a formidable advantage for working with legislative and regulatory issues, and I’ve always found it to be incredibly more enjoyable and rewarding to shape statutory law at the State House rather than case law at the courthouse. In addition, being a lawyer was invaluable for dealing with in-house legal issues at Ski Vermont like association bylaws and copyright & trademark issues and enabled me to have an expansive role with Governor Jim Douglas in his first term as policy advisor, legislative liaison and legal counsel.  It’s also been an advantage as a Commissioner on the Act 250 – District 4 Commission where I’ve proudly served since 2009.

MK:  Good stuff.  Plus, at the State House, you got to meet Vermonter and Olympic Medalist, Hannah Kearney.

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Let me flip the question:  are there any aspects of you that exist only by virtue of having been a lawyer and that make you think “damn! I wish I never knew this! I’d be so much better at what I do if I didn’t!”  (not that I’m saying you need to be better at what you do!)

Parker:  Although I’ve never wished for the Men In Black Neuralyzer flash pen for any of my legal education, I have always noticed that non-lawyers seem to assume that being a lawyer means you can’t possibly be creative since apparently all lawyers are passionless robots. So, when it came to the myriad creative decisions as President of Ski Vermont, I often downplayed the lawyer bit and put myself more in the mode of my creative writing major at Hamilton College.

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MK:  I’ve done the same! I downplay the “I’m a lawyer” angle and focus on letting non-lawyers know that I was a high school basketball coach. It’s sad that we do that. One of my goals in interviewing people like you is to show non-lawyers that “we are fun people too!”  Another is to convince lawyers that it’s ok to have fun doing non-lawyerly things, even if those things disabuse others of the notion that we’re passionless robots.

As for Men In Black, we won’t wipe your memory of your legal education.  But, if not the Neuralyzer, what’s the one fictional/pop culture prop that you wish you could use for yourself – whether now, or at any point since your first day of law school?

Parker:  Definitely the Star Trek transporter so I can beam myself wherever I want to go. Whether a cross-country flight, a four-hour drive or back to the top of the mountain, I’m an impatient traveler so that would be a nice way to go.

MK:  I like it! I once had a Supreme Court argument in which I argued that “unless we disbar this lawyer, we are no different than The Emperor With No Clothes.”  A justice asked “Mr. Kennedy, are you picturing us naked?”   Ummm, talk about trouble with tribbles and needing a transporter!  Was there ever a moment in your legal career that you desperately wanted to radio Scotty to beam you up?

Parker:  That question from the Supremes might give you grounds for an emotional distress claim!  Probably the most beam-me-up moments I’ve had were during my very first years in private practice in Los Angeles since I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and the legal scene there is incredibly intense – I mean judges who were spitting fire in anger over pretty mundane procedural matters and opposing counsel who were nothing like Jimmy Smits in L.A. Law. One day I had a court appearance in San Diego so I thought I’d be metro-hip and take the train, which of course broke down along the way. No cell phones yet but I was able to at least notify the Court with an onboard pay phone and spent the rest of the ordeal bracing for what would surely be instant disbarment or dismemberment at the hands of the waiting judge.

Well it turns out San Diego lawyers and judges are much less intense than the L.A. kind and the reception I got as I hurried into the courtroom couldn’t have been more welcoming and understanding – of course opposing counsel was getting paid by the hour so he was doubly cool with it, but the judge couldn’t have been nicer about it.

MK: Kudos to the San Diego County Bar Association! I blog & speak often on civility.  Like sexy, we need to bring civility back!

Your blog post First Chair (or T-bar) ’73 includes a fantastic picture of you skiing with your brother when you were very young.  So, you’ve always been a skier. When did you realize you wanted to go to law school?

Parker: I vividly recall making a very quick decision about it my senior spring at Hamilton College when one of my roommates got into Cornell Law School and I didn’t have any meaningful employment lined up at that point in the semester. I knew there was no way I’d get into business school with my very low mathematical acumen and I viewed law school as more of a business degree for creative writing majors who didn’t want to starve for a living and which would provide lots of employment options outside the traditional practice of law, as my career would later play out. I was very fortunate to get accepted to Vermont Law School where I had a great experience after working on the campaign trail and in Washington, D.C. for Vermont Congressman Peter Smith.

MK:  Sounds familiarMy dad, who you know, convinced me that employers would value a liberal arts degree more than a business degree.  So, like you, I ended up in law school.  Ok, I’ll start to wrap things up.  Not to put you on the spot, and knowing that you used to work at Ski Vermont, your 3 favorite places to ski are?

Parker: It’s virtually impossible to pick just three but I’ll go with Stowe, Sugarbush and Magic Mountain in Vermont; outside Vermont: Steamboat, Alta and Squaw Valley – but I love them all!

MK:  The paparazzi caught you in action on Perry Merrill at Stowe:

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MK:   I know you love to ski with your wife & kids.  However, not counting your family, if you could ski with any 3 skiers from history, who would you choose? (I’m not sure why I chose 3. I confess, I don’t know how many skiers can fit on a lift or in a gondola.)

Steamboat Fam Shot

Parker:  Great question! I’d rather go with the Jay Peak Tram to fit all my heroes, but joining me on the quad chair I’ll go with Billy Kidd, Stein Eriksen and Donna Weinbrecht, though there’s no way I’d keep up with Donna in the moguls!

 MK: Parker, thank you so much for doing this. You’re a shining example of an attorney who not only understands well-being, but who is working to improve the well-being of others.  The Get On Snow mission to inspire others to inspire and empower themselves is inspiring.  It might even get me out there!

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Get inspired. Be empowered.

 

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Related Wellness Wednesday “Meet ______” Posts:

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.

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Mentoring

At last week’s YLD Thaw in Montreal, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on attorney wellness.  Three lawyers shared personal & moving stories.  One described how substance abuse almost kept him from entering the profession, while two recounted experiences that nearly drove them from the profession.  Experiences inextricably linked to stress, anxiety and depression.

The presentation was well-received.  Several lawyers have contacted me since to express an interest in “the next step.”  That is, it seems we’ve arrived at a point where everyone agrees that wellness is an issue that is impacting the profession.  Now, it’s time to move beyond raising awareness.  It’s time to provide lawyers with tools and techniques to achieve and maintain well-being and wellness.  I received a few great ideas from the lawyers who reached out.  Today I’ll focus on one: mentoring.

This morning, a young lawyer sent me an email in which she thanked me for incorporating wellness into so many of the CLEs that I present.  She wrote that it “is important that we make space within the profession to raise awareness of issues such as those the panel brought up.”

It’s what she wrote next that struck me:

  • “I hope in the future we can have further discussion on how to be the change we wish to see in the profession…managers and mentors, in my opinion, need to lead the charge.”

She’s right.  We who’ve been around must help younger lawyers manage the stress that the profession brings.  And there’s no better time to do so than now.

January is National Mentoring Month.  I’ve previously urged lawyers to consider serving as mentors for new attorneys.  Indeed, it’s a concept that can be traced back to one of the original expressions of our professional duties.

Of course, mentoring need not be formal.  It can be as simple as checking in with the younger lawyer in your firm. The lawyer who, like you once were, is overwhelmed and reluctant to ask for help.

Be the help that we want the profession to provide. There might be no more important form of mentoring.

For more, check out the mentoring resources that the American Inns of Court made available on its site.   And, for more general information on creating a workplace that values well-being & wellness, don’t forget two incredibly helpful resources:

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Wellness Wednesday: Legal Acts of Kindness

Last night, I posted about a lawyer who engaged in disturbing conduct.  I hope that today’s post serves as an anti-dote of sorts.

2Civility is an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.  Its focus is to advance “the highest standards of conduct among lawyers to better serve clients and society.”

Last month, 2Civility’s deputy director, Stephanie Vilinski, posted Let’s Talk about Legal Acts of Kindness.  Stephanie’s post ran in conjunction with World Kindness Day.  I’m a bit late in calling attention to Stephanie’s message.

And it’s an important message.

Early on, Stephanie writes:

  • “Attorneys don’t typically talk about legal acts of kindness. So, let’s begin to change that.”

From there, Stephanie shares 5 ideas for change. I’ll list them, but the post itself is worth reading for the additional info that Stephanie provides with each idea.  The ideas:

  • “Be fair and empathetic.”
  • “Agree that it’s okay to disagree, but not to be mean.”
  • “Thank another attorney.”
  • “Take care of yourself.”
  • “Work for improved access to justice.”

Great ideas!

Implicit in the post – and, I think, in all 2Civility’s work – is that wellness and civility aren’t one-offs. Runners don’t increase their speed & distance by running once on a Wednesday.  They get faster & gain endurance by make running part of their routines.

Wellness and civility are no different.  Sure, it’d be nice if, on occasion, you mix-in to your day 1 of  Stephanie’s ideas.  It’d be nicer if you work to make them part of your routine.

Let’s begin.

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Wellness Wednesday: No obection to “no thank you.”

Another rerun, but with the holiday & office party season upon us, an important message.

Three years ago, I posted No Objection to “No, Thank You.”  The upshot: there’s no need to shame someone who doesn’t want a drink at a holiday party.

A regular reader responded to the post with a fantastic idea: when the reader hosts parties or dinners, the reader uses the same types of cups for all drinks, whether alcoholic or not.   That way, someone who isn’t drinking, but who is self-conscious about holding a glass that’s obviously soda, juice or water, need not feel uncomfortable.

(Now that I think about it, the reader might use tinted glasses.  Whatever the reader uses, you get the point.)

It’s a great tip.

Enjoy the season and the parties.  And let others do the same.

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Wellness Wednesday: Unplug

I confess: today’s topic isn’t much more than a regurgitation of a blog I posted this summer.  However:

  1. It’s important.
  2. I’m pressed for time and out of ideas.
  3. And it gives me an excuse to ask readers to share their favorite episodes of MTV Unplugged.  More on that later.

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In July – a time & place that seems so far away this morning – I posted Vacations, Devices and Vacations from Devices.  The post highlighted excerpts of this report issued by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.

I focused on the fact that the report identified “the pace of work” as one of 8 major issues affecting lawyer well-being.  In particular, that so many of the Steering Committee’s sub-committees urged legal employers to encourage lawyers to take vacations that include vacations from their devices.  For instance, the Massachusetts Bar Association Sub-Committee on Attorney Well-Being wrote:

  • “By far, the single most common cause of stress among all the disparate areas of legal practice was technology. The fact that technology allows attorneys to always be accessible to colleagues, partners, clients, and courts creates the expectation that they will always be accessible. Technology impacted the ability of attorneys to unwind, relax, and focus on the nonlegal aspects of their lives. They expressed concern that, if they do not respond to partners’ emails, texts or calls immediately, that they will lose their positions. They also believe that law firm culture demands that they remain accessible in order to meet billable hour requirements and to advance within the firm.”

And,

  • “Client expectations of full-time access with no boundaries is bolstered by the
    competitive nature of the practice of law. Attorneys reported that they fear that clients who demand immediate responses to emails and cellphone access, regardless of the date and time, will go elsewhere if the attorneys do not respond quickly enough. Reviewing work emails, text messages, and responding to work-related phone calls at all hours interferes with family time, social interactions, and self-care. A common issue among the responding attorneys is that they feel they never truly get away from work to recharge.”

In the end, the Steering Committee urged legal employers to “encourage vacations, set limits on client access, and allow attorneys to establish boundaries to them to devote time to self-care and family life, without fear of retribution.”

I’ve often mentioned Jeena Cho.  Jeena is a lawyer, author, and mindfulness instructor.  In my opinion, Jeena is one of the most important voices in the attorney wellness discussion.

Earlier this month, the ABA Journal’s On Well-Being column featured Jeena’s post Adults need screen time limits too.  It’s a great reminder that it’s perfectly okay to go more than a minute without checking your cell phone or work email.

I’m guilty of all the bad habits Jeena lists in her column.  Just last night I woke up around 1:00AM.  I was thirsty.  Inexplicably, before I walked to get a glass of water, I checked my cell phone – which was in my bed – to see how my NBA fantasy team did in last night’s games.  That is a problem!

Anyhow, this morning, I was struck by the “Intentionally Unplug” section of Jeena’s post:

When is the last time you intentionally ‘unplugged’ from your digital device? I’ve found that carving out regularly scheduled time where I give myself an opportunity to unplug is helpful in allowing me to better connect with my family as well as myself.

There are many pockets of time where you can institute ‘unplugged’ time. Some people observe the “digital sabbath” turning off the phone and laptop on Saturday evening and not turning them on again until Sunday evening, while others practice no screen time during meals.

If you’re like most lawyers and always eat lunch at your desk, looking at a screen, take yourself out to lunch once a week where you don’t look at your smartphone.”

Excellent advice!

It’s time for Wellness Wednesday to morph from a hashtag to action.  I’ll start.  Here’s how.

As many of you know, I love to run.  Among other things, whether I run 3 miles or 18, I love the time that goes by without checking my phone. I never bring it with me  . . .

. . .except on the rare occasions I run on a treadmill.  Then, I use my phone to listen to music or podcasts. Of course, at the same time, I find myself glancing at it to see if a text or email has popped in.  The intervals between glances grow shorter with every step.

That defeats the purpose of going for a run!

It’s so damn cold that today’s run will be on a treadmill at the gym.  I vow to leave my phone in my car.

Unplug. It’ll help you recharge.

Oh yeah, MTV Unplugged.  The interwebs are chock full o’ lists of the top performances ever.  My favorite? The Mariah Carey & Trey Lorenz cover of the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There.

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Wellness Wednesday: Judge McCaffrey Redux

Last Friday, the Rutland courthouse that houses the criminal and family units was renamed the Francis B. McCaffrey Courthouse.  Governor Scott marked the occasion with this executive proclamation, while the Rutland Herald covered the dedication ceremony.

Judge McCaffrey passed away in October 2018.  Shortly thereafter, I posted this blog about him and his unceasing efforts to promote wellness in each and every person he encountered.  The words I heard during the dedication ceremony spur me to write again on Judge McCaffrey and wellness.

A common theme emerged in the remarks delivered last Friday: Judge McCaffrey looked for the good in everyone.  Not as a part of a search to determine if it was there, but because he knew it was there, but might need help to be drawn out.  To me, Judge McCaffrey looked for the human in the being.

That’s part of attorney wellness.

Many attorneys are coping with behavioral health issues, often rooted in anxiety, stress, depression, and substance abuse.  As we work to de-stigmatize those issues within the profession, our task includes looking for the human in the attorney.

Long ago, I prosecuted a disciplinary case against a lawyer whose practice cratered as a result of significant mental health issues.  Deadlines were missed, clients were lied to, a lot of harm resulted.

During the case, I learned something that I’ve never forgotten: each and every day, that lawyer woke up fully intending on doing better than yesterday.  Intent on digging out of the hole into which the attorney had slipped.  In other words, the good in the attorney still existed and it fought valiantly to defeat the disease.  Alas, battles were lost along the way.  Perhaps because, back then, we weren’t providing much in the way of reinforcements.

I believe that the good exists in every attorney.  Our job with lawyer assistance is to help lawyers to keep it thriving, without making them fear that asking for help will affect their license to continue to do good.

If you or someone you know is like the lawyer who woke up intent to make each day different than the day before, let me know.  We will help the good in you.  Because, as Judge McCaffrey taught us, we know that it’s there.

Francis Bernard McCaffrey Jr. Obituary

Wellness Wednesday: Baseball & Civility

I’ve often mentioned that civility is an aspect of wellness.  Indeed, six months ago, shortly after the baseball season began, I posted Be Kind to a Lawyer Today.  Now, with the World Series upon us, I’d like to bookend the season with an example of civility among lawyers.

The story has been reported by several outlets, including the ABA Journal, Above The Law, and the Washington Post.

Jay Friedman is an attorney who lives in the D.C. area.  He represents organic food growers who are in litigation with the federal government.  Friedman had an October 18 deadline to file a motion for summary judgment.

Friedman and his 9-year old son are fans of the Washington Nationals.  On October 15, the Nationals hosted the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Friedman and his son wanted to watch the game.  Had the Nationals lost, the Friedmans had tickets to the game that was scheduled for the next day.  And, had the Nationals lost that one, another game was scheduled for the night of October 17.  Their nights were looking busy.

Left to choose between working on the motion and what might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with his son, Friedman asked the court to extend the deadline from October 18 to October 21.  The DOJ attorneys consented to the request and the court granted it.

BuzzFeed’s Zoe Tillman tweeted the motion:

Here’s what Friedman told the Washington Post about his counterpart at DOJ:

“Lawyers on TV fight over everything and act like it’s World War III, but my counterpart at the Department of Justice is a perfectly nice and respectful person,” Friedman said. “I told her [about the motion] and she’s fine with it. She sent me a note yesterday afternoon and she said, ‘Everybody here loves it. We’re showing it around the office.’ “

The Post went on to report that:

“With [opposing counsel’s] permission, Friedman included at the end of his motion, ‘With the consent of the parents and baseball fans at the Department of Justice, this request is unopposed.’”

The game? The Nationals won, clinching their first-ever trip to the World Series, and obviating the need for more games later that week.  Still, I love this story.

As I’ve blogged, my earliest sports memory is of my dad waking me up to watch the final out of the 1975 American League Championship Series.  I will never forget it.

Attorney Friedman’s 9-year old son strikes me as serious a Nationals fan as I was an 8-year old Red Sox fan.  I can attest that it’s likely that neither Friedman nor the DOJ attorneys who consented to his request will ever fully realize the impact of the decision not to work last Tuesday night.

Civility and wellness.  Small things can make a gigantic difference.

Oh, Attorney Friedman, DOJ attorneys, and Nats fans everywhere: great story, I love your stadium, and I’m rooting for the Nats.  Alas, as I cheered last night’s heroics from Soto & Scherzer, I couldn’t help but wish that I was cheering pour Les Expos.

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DC advisory opinion addresses duties when another lawyer is impaired.

In March 2016, I authored my first post on lawyer wellness.  In it, I mentioned that lawyers often inquire whether Rule 8.3, the mandatory reporting rule, requires them to report impaired lawyers.  I added:

  • “Maybe.  But how about this? How about coming it at from the perspective of helping another human being instead of analyzing whether another’s struggles trigger your duty to report? If a colleague, co-worker, or opposing counsel needs help, why not help them?”

I suggested contacting me or Josh Simonds at the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.

Somewhat ironically, a lawyer called me this morning, minutes before I began to draft this post.  The lawyer asked for help getting into a residential treatment program. It was my first call of that nature. I referred the lawyer to Josh and stand ready to assist if the lawyer enters treatment and steps need to be taken to protect the interests of the lawyer’s clients.

But I digress.  I write today because I suppose there are instances in which helping a colleague doesn’t work.  If so, when does the colleague’s level of impairment trigger the duty to report?

Earlier this week, the D.C. Bar issued Ethics Opinion 377: Duties When a Lawyer is Impaired.  I want to highlight the paragraph that I consider most important:

  • “Beyond the ethical obligations embodied in the D.C. Rules, a fundamental purpose of identifying and addressing lawyer impairment is to encourage individuals who are suffering from mental impairment to seek and obtain assistance and treatment.  This purpose should not be forgotten as lawyers, firm, and agencies seek to comply with the ethical mandates discussed herein.”

In other words, let’s help people and let’s not disincentivize seeking help.  That’s why assistance must be decoupled from discipline.

As for the guts of the opinion, I don’t want to regurgitate it here.  It’s worth reading on your own.  In sum, it recommends that lawyers in supervisory & managerial roles:

  • “seek to create a culture of compliance” within their firms & agencies;
  • promote an office culture that encourages those in need to seek assistance;
  • develop internal policies & procedures to encourage early reporting to appropriate personnel within the office;
  • develop internal policies & procedures with which an impaired lawyer will be expected to comply**;
  • keep in mind that the duties to clients might include removing an impaired lawyer from involvement with client matters; and,
  • keep in mind that the substantive law will inform the firm or office on how to deal with an impaired lawyer’s privacy and employment rights.

** On this point, last week I blogged about the ABA Well-Being Template for Legal Employers.

I understand that many lawyers will continue to view lawyer wellness through the lens of a duty to report.  Even if that’s your perspective, don’t forget the key line from the D.C. opinion:

  • “Beyond the ethical obligations embodied in the D.C. Rules, a fundamental purpose of identifying and addressing lawyer impairment is to encourage individuals who are suffering from mental impairment to seek and obtain assistance and treatment.”

Help because you can, not because you have to.

As always, if you or a legal profession you know needs help, contact me or Josh Simonds at the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.

wellness

 

Wellness Wednesday: Small Things

As many of you know, I’m a big believer that small things matter.

In my view, when working to address the larger challenges that face the legal profession, we too quickly write off suggestions that will help a little for no other reason than they won’t help enough.  With “help enough” often defined as “solve the entire problem.”  I’ve used the Starfish story to make my point.   I’ve also argued that while changing the world would be ideal, winning your 3-feet of influence is a great start.

Imagine if each of us did.

Wellness is one of the profession’s most significant challenges.  Fortunately, it appears that many within the profession are taking small steps to meet the challenge instead of searching for a non-existent magic cure.  Today, I’d like to share some examples with you.

  • every Friday in August, the workday at a large Vermont firm ended at 3:00 PM.
  • the lawyers who work in-house for a Vermont government agency recently created a Well-Being Committee whose first task was to develop a tool to allow lawyers and nonlawyer staff to weigh in on the office’s strengths & weaknesses on well-being issues.
  • the VBA now includes mindfulness & wellness programs for members at all its meetings.
  • practicing what it preaches, this summer, the VBA staff rotated thru 1/2-day Fridays.

Outside Vermont, and as reported by Law.Com’s Corporate Counsel section, legal departments within some of the nation’s largest businesses are making wellness part of their culture. For example:

    • law firms that bid for 3M’s outside legal work must disclose whether they’ve adopted the ABA Pledge on Lawyer Well-Being and the steps they’ve taken to promote well-being within their own firms.
    • Cummins is a Fortune 500 company that makes engines.  The in-house legal department has recently taken several steps aimed at wellness: health screenings, yoga instruction, and 20-minute breaks from meetings to go for a walk with someone you don’t know too well.
    • The in-house staff at Barclay’s must consider the effects that their requests will have on other lawyers.  For instance, unless absolutely necessary, supervising lawyers are discouraged from assigning work with a Monday deadline.

Finally, in July 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an order addressing issues related to work life balance. Among other things, the Court

    • changed the deadline to file most pleadings from 11:59 PM to 5:00 PM after concluding that the 11:59 PM deadline had “contributed to a culture
      of overwork that negatively impacts the quality of life for Delaware legal
      professionals without any corresponding increase in the quality of their work product or the functioning of the judiciary;” and,
    • ordered all lower courts to consider adopting policies that would disfavor (1) Monday deadlines; (2) issuing dispositive opinions on Friday afternoons; and (3) scheduling oral arguments and trials in August; and,
    • ordered all lower courts to consider anything else that would “improve the quality of professional practice by and quality of life of Delaware legal professionals.”

The Delaware Court’s order doesn’t preclude “small things.” Neither should you, your office, or your firm.  No matter how small, every improvement will make a difference to someone.  And that’s what matters.

For ideas, check out the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers (or the same tookit, but in a nutshell).

wellness

ps:   speaking of small things, with this blog on my brain, my personal wellness program will undoubtedly include blaring Blink-182 in the garage while I grill tonight.  Bad karaoke is better than a life without karaoke.