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

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

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

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

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

Let me repeat Patty’s words:

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

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

Okay, turning to the bread.

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

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

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

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

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

2022 Wellbeing Week in Law Participants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Mentoring

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

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

wellness

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree!

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

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

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

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

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

For now, please consider one.

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

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

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

This post deals with suicide.  It is devastatingly sad.

Here is a picture of Attorney Cheslie Kryst:

Cheslie

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

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

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

Cheslie died on Sunday.

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

Cheslie was 30 years old.

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

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

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

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

May our efforts help to prevent a fourth blog post.

May Cheslie rest in peace.

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If you need help:

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

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Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

 Aiming for Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Aiming for Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not true.

As Jeena writes:

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

Great advice!  Thank you, Jeena.

Wellness

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellnes Wednesday: yes, wellness includes the results of this blog’s first ever moot court competition.

Wellness is a big tent.

Does it include understanding that it’s okay to reach out to the Bar Assistance Program?  Does it include prioritizing wellness within the profession’s workplaces?  Does it include CLEs on recognizing the signs of burnout?

Yes.

It includes all the serious issues associated with making the profession healthier.  Issues that I’ve blogged and spoken about for years.

But, today, I need a break.  Because wellness is also personal.  And, personally, beating the drum isn’t always what’s best for me.  My wellness includes finding the occasional harmless fun at the intersection of the law, legal ethics, and pop culture.

There’s nothing about this blog (and my job) that I enjoy more than reader responses to the Friday columns and quizzes.  Last Friday, I shared the story of the man who joined a search party that was trying to find himself.  Upon realizing that he was the “missing” person for whom the searchers were calling, the man replied, “I am here.”  Among others, BBC News and Sky News reported the story.

Melding the story with Seinfeld, I created the following scenario:

  • Kramer is the “missing” person.
  • Newman organizes the search party and posts a reward for whoever finds the missing Kramer.
  • George joins the search party, dutifully hollers “Kramer,” and is the person to whom Kramer responds, “I am here.”
  • George claims the reward.
  • Newman refuses to pay, insisting that Kramer was never missing and found the search party.

Then, with Rule 3.1 of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct in mind, I challenged contestants to make their best non-frivolous arguments on behalf of either George or Newman.

Your replies made me smile and laugh.  So much so that as I drafted this post yesterday morning, I decided to save it for today, realizing that the smiles and laughs were wellness.

Many thanks to all who submitted replies!  Not one took more than a few seconds to read, but each made my day a brighter place. In reverse order of receipt and under headings that capture what made me a fan, here are my favorites.

Wellness

*****

I’m a sucker for Latin phrases – and even Newman deserves representation.

No contract was formed due to lack of a condition precedent—Kramer was never missing. Therefore, the contract is void ab initio. Neumann cannot pay any reward in this case.

I’m a huge fan of both honesty and brevity.

No time to do an argument for George, but I think he should get the reward.

The internal reference to an actual Seinfeld episode is gold!

I think George should get the reward.  Newman was clearly convinced that Kramer was missing or else he would not have formed a search party.  Once he reached that mental conclusion, in his mind he was prepared to issue the reward and his claiming that Kramer was never missing is disingenuous.  Although George knows Kramer, he had no role of interfering with Newman’s process and determination of concluding that Kramer was missing or that a reward should be issued for finding him.  George may have known that Kramer was in the search party by recognizing him (and he had no obligation to point that out if he did see him which maybe he didn’t) and it was his action that “found” Kramer.  Therefore, George is entitled to the reward.  George should not be rewarded for using the system as it was organized and established to work.  But then again, in a just world (although certainly which Seinfeld is not given their narcissism and selfishness), the entire search party would split the reward as they are really the ones that found him.  If they shared the reward, maybe Newman could buy some soup for everyone.  As long as he knows what he wants when it’s his turn to order.

Bonus for writing as a lawyer.  Infinity bonus for the disclaimer. As disciplinary counsel, I had occasion to represent lawyers who, sadly, should’ve made the disclaimer a permanent part of their signature line.

I represent George.  My client, in good faith and in reliance on Newman’s offer of a reward, participated in the search and, had he not called Kramer’s name, Kramer would not have called out “I am here” when he did.  Thus, George’s actions (joining the search party and calling Kramer’s name) were the actual cause of Kramer being found when he was.  But for George’s actions, Kramer would not have been found when he was.  Newman’s conditional offer was accepted and acted upon by George, who fully performed his side of the contract by locating Kramer.  Newman must pay my client the reward.  Newman’s refusal to pay and his claim that Kramer was never missing is frivolous, both in law and in fact, and his attorney is in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Counsel’s claim that Kramer was not lost because “Kramer found the search party” is a blatant misrepresentation of the fact that Kramer responded to George’s call.  Thus, counsel’s factual claim is frivolous.  And counsel cites to no legal support for this theory.  Indeed, the well-established concepts of contract law render it clear that an offer was accepted and my client performed his part of the contract.  If Newman’s counsel is arguing that the meaning of “find” was ambiguous, any ambiguity must be resolved against the offeror.

(Disclaimer: Of course, this is not based upon actual legal research! Thus, whether my argument is frivolous is certainly in question!)

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If you’re still reading, there’s nothing wrong with having taken a minute to inject a bit of humor and entertainment into the workday.

Anybody who disagrees needs a bigger tent.

Wellness for all!

 

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: Time to change our business model?

“BigLaw” refers to the nation’s largest law firms.  Contrary to popular stereotypes, BigLaw lawyers have been some of the most influential voices in the on-going discussion of attorney well-being.

Jana Cohen Barbe is a partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.  Last week, several outlets, including LawFuel and Law.Com, published an open letter in which Attorney Barbe argued that a root cause of the legal profession’s mental health crisis is, in fact, the profession’s business model.  As such, Attorney Barbe urged firms to re-think compensation systems, vacation packages, and “the almighty billable hour.”

I urge you to read Attorney Barbe’s letter.  Here’s the paragraph that resonated most with me, mainly because it reminded me of a blog I posted two weeks ago: Vacations, Devices & Vacations From Devices:

  • “What would happen if we de-emphasized the billable hour or did away with it completely, sizing our fees to projects undertaken and rewarding efficiency in performance? What would happen if we fostered a culture where vacations were mandatory and professionals were instructed not to check email while out of the office? I posit that our workforce would be happier, our clients would be happier (and also institutionalized to a far greater degree) and we could still pay the proverbial rent.”

Indeed, what would happen?  It’s time to find out.

(thank you Geoffrey Bok for the tip!)

Wellness