Connect & Contribute

It’s Well-Being Week in Law. Today’s theme is social well-being.  The focus is on connecting with others within our communities. Doing so fosters a sense of belonging and provides us with a reliable support network, critical components of social well-being.

Many of us are part of communities both in our work and personal lives.  Examples include practice areas and interests that we have outside the law. There are many ways to contribute to those communities.  As this activity guide makes clear, it can be as easy as expressing gratitude or doing something nice for someone.

I’ve been encouraging members of the Vermont legal community to do ONE thing to participate in Well-Being Week in Law. Imagine the result if a lot of us chose a random act of kindness? Or to thank someone?

I’ll start.

Judge Colleen Brown: thank you for all you did for the Vermont bar during your tenure as United States Bankruptcy Judge. I’m especially grateful for your support for wellness related initiatives within the profession.  Happy retirement!

Karen Allen, fellow member of both the legal and running communities: thank you for letting me know about the random acts of kindness you recently decided to make part of your daily runs!

Sarah Katz: thank you for suggesting that we honor Well-Being Week in Law by going for a run from the office yesterday morning.  It was great!

IMG_3075

Finally, mom.  Thank you for the wave as I was filming today’s video from my deck.  And thank you for the mint plant that is on the deck.  I forgot to include it in today’s video but look forward to enjoying a few of its crushed leaves during the Kentucky Derby!

IMG_6829

For anyone interested in 8 more minutes of social well-being, in today’s video, I eulogize my external camera, steal an idea from one of my basketball players, share one of my favorite things about United States Bankruptcy Judge Colleen Brown, and urge us to reach out to the members of our community who no longer feel connected.

I Made Bread

Happy Hump Day!  I have big news to report.

First, my sense is that many in the Vermont legal community are participating in Well-Being Week in Law.  And now I have proof!  Congratulations to the folks at Dunkiel Saunders!  Yesterday, Melinda Siel let me know that, over lunch, the firm had a lively game of Viking Chess on the lawn and that they’re doing something related to wellness each day this week.  This makes Dunkiel Saunders the first Vermont firm or office to reach out to me to confirm participation!  True to my word, I’m here to launch them to internet fame! If you or your office/firm is participating, let me know.  I’ll post the entire list on Saturday.

And that’s not the only big news!

I am here to report that, yesterday, I made bread.  The official video chronicling the endeavor is here:

Now, I know what you’re asking yourself.  “Self, why is it big news that Mike made bread?”  Fear not my friends! I have the answer.

Today’s theme is Intellectual Well-Being.  Continuing to grow intellectually is an important component of our overall well-being. We should strive to grow both at work and in our personal lives.

For instance, at work, you might resolve to wade into a new area of law. Or, take a pro bono case in an area that you don’t typically practice. Remember, even if the area is new to you, the person you’ll help is far better off with your assistance than they would be if left to their own devices.

Similarly, in your personal life, stagnation doesn’t do much for well-being. We need new interests and challenges.  To that end, on this day during last year’s Well-Being Week in Law, I resolved to learn how to make bread.  It took me 364 days to get around to it, but I did it!  Many thanks to the First Brother for his assistance, and to Nicole Killoran and Heather Devine for supporting this project from the start and checking-in, both periodically and gently, on my, umm, “progress.”

That’s the news for today. If you’re interested participating in Well-Being Week in Law, here’s an activity guide.  Or, like Dunkiel Saunders and me, find your own thing.  After all, and as we know, well-being is personal.

As always, be well and may the 4th be with you.

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

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

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

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

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

Each day focuses on a different aspect of wellness:

Each Day

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

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

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

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

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

Again, the participation guide is chock full of ideas.

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

Pick & Choose to Fit Your Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. – thank you Tammy!

APPLE WATCH TEAM CHALLENGE

”VT Attorney Well Being Team Challenge ”

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

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

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

APPLE WATCH INDIVIDUAL CHALLENGE

“VT Attorney Individual Challenge”

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

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

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

Related Resources

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

 

Wellness Wednesday: 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

On Wellness Wednesday, a lesson from my dad, Nandi and the Foo Fighters: find and experience awe.

One of the things I love the most about my dad is that he constantly finds awe. Meaning, he regularly remarks upon the people and things that amaze him.  Usually, I’ve not noticed these people and things, too busy going about my day with a laser-like focus on the unimportant.  When he prompts me, I’m not always as amazed as my dad.[1]  But I’m constantly in awe of his ability to observe the world with a child-like sense of wonder.  A wonder made readily apparent by the look in his eyes and tone of his voice.  It’s awesome!

Turns out, my dad is onto something.  “Awe” is healthy.

Tracy Kepler is a colleague who is as knowledgeable as anyone in the country on issues related to professional responsibility.  Tracy recently commented on a LinkedIn post that had shared this Washington Post article: Awe might be our most undervalued emotion. Here’s how to help children find it.  The article outlines the benefits of awe and shares tips on how to find and experience more of it. 

And it’s not just children who should be searching for awe. It’s all of us. Indeed, the article includes several comments from a psychologist who has “spent years studying the beneficial effects of awe on our physical, mental and emotional well-being.” 

The article makes clear that we find awe in different places. For some it’s in nature, for others in architecture & engineering, while others might experience it via human performance in sports and the arts. Per the article, noticing and allowing ourselves to experience awe is important to our well-being. In other words, while I might chuckle at some of the things that amaze my dad, it’s likely healthier to be more like my dad than to live a life unaware of the awesome that is all around me.

So, on Wellness Wednesday, remember that finding and experiencing awe can improve your well-being.

Again, to each their own awe.  But, to practice what I preach, I’ll share some awe that I experienced earlier this week as I wound down from a late practice by watching music videos.

This is Nandi Bushell:

Nandi

Nandi is 11.  Her wiki page is here. Please read it.  To summarize, Nandi is an incredibly talented drummer. Or, as Dave Grohl has said, Nandi is “the most badass drummer in the world.”  And if anyone would know, it’s Dave Grohl.

Grohl

For those who don’t know, Grohl was the drummer in Nirvana, one of America’s most iconic bands.  He went on to found, and continues to lead, the Foo Fighters, one of my favorite bands and one that is among the most popular and successful in U.S. history.  Keeping with today’s theme, I’m awed by Grohl’s talents and career.

Now, back to Nandi.

In 2019, Nandi posted a video of her version of Nirvana’s In Bloom. Grohl was among those who noticed.  Over the next year or so, Nandi and Grohl engaged in a virtual “drum off.”  Nandi won, with Grohl agreeing to let her play with the Foo Fighters on-stage during a concert. In August 2021, Nandi did exactly that. In front of more than 20,000 fans, Nandi sat in on drums as the Foo Fighters closed out a show with Everlong.  

Nandi crushed it.  It’s the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.

There are several videos of Nandi’s performance online.  My favorite is here.  From a music perspective, there are others of better sound quality.  The reason it’s my favorite, however, has nothing to do with listening to the song.  It’s my favorite because it has the best view of Grohl and Nandi.  And no matter how many times I watch, I’m awed by each. 

For one, Nandi’s performance is incredible. For another, I’m awed by the awe that Grohl and Nandi find and experience in each other and in the moment.  Their awe, joy, love and respect are evident throughout, especially in Grohl’s introduction of Nandi and the look in Nandi’s eyes and on her face as she plays.     

To borrow a Foo Fighter lyric, it’s times like these we’d all do well to try to be like my dad, Nandi, and Dave Grohl.  Let yourself find and experience awe.

Foo-Fighters-Nandi

[1] I’m sure it’s tasty, but I don’t think you needed to make a special stop to show Patrick the salad bar you found.  It’s in a Wendy’s.

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Ask the Question

Wellness Wednesday: Set communication boundaries with clients & opposing counsel

Yes, wellness includes the results of my first moot court competetion

Wellness Wednesday:  It’s okay to ask for help.  Bar Assistance will listen and support you

Wellness Wednesday: Set communication boundaries with clients and opposing counsel

Wellness Wednesday: Compassion Fatigue

Wellness Wednesday: A message from Justice Eaton

Jessica Burke: “Well People Do”

Wellness Wednesday: Schitt$ Creek and Paddles

Wellness Wednesday: Be Kind to Lawyers

Civility Matters. Especially Now.

Coping with COVID-19 Related Stress & Anxiety

Wellness Wednesday: Unplug

Well-Being is an Aspect of Competence

Wellness Wednesday: Survival Skills

Wellness Wednesday: Make time for what (and who) matters

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response (this one is about the report I mentioned from the Virginia State Bar)

Do summer your way

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Alison, Shireen, Samantha, and Alison

Reach Out, Check In

Wellness Wednesday: Mentor Someone

Wellness Wednesday: Joan Loring Wing

Wellness Wednesday: Law Day & Pro Bono

Get your sleep

Take a Chance on Being Nice

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

Be Kind to a Lawyer Today

Be Nice to Someone Today

Wellness v. Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Molly Gray

Wellness Wednesday: Judge Garland & My Cousin Vinny

Shakespeare, Pink Floyd and Wellness

Wellness Wednesday: You are not an impostor

Wellness Wednesday: “N O” is “O K”

Wellness Wednesday: Stop it!

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Jeff Messina

Lawyers Helping Lawyers Part 2

Lawyers Helping Lawyers: Keep it on the front burner

Lawyer Well-Being: a call to action

Anxiety, Stress & Work-Life Balance for Lawyers

Make time for what matters

Lawyer Wellness: resolve to find 6 minutes for yourself

108 is way too many

Workplace Happiness

Make Wellness a Habit

A pledge by legal employers to focus on lawyer well-being

Legal Ethics & the Water Cooler

Wellness Wednesday: Island Vines

Wellness Wednesday: on ponds, puffery and paltering

Wellness Wednesday: Neil Diamond, the Lock Screen, and National Mental Health Day for Law Students

 

Vermont’s Rules on Handling Flat Fees Paid in Advance of Services Being Provided. With some wellness thrown in.

This post will eventually address Vermont’s rules on handling flat fees that are paid in advance of any legal services being provided.  First, however, I’ll share some thoughts on billing and wellness.

I’ll say again what I’ve said before: I’m a fan of the recommendations made by the Legal Employers Committee in the State Action Plan that the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession issued in 2018.  Outlined on page 11 and beginning in full on page 68, the committee’s recommendations provide fantastic and prescient tips for legal employers, both public and private, interested in improving the profession’s wellness.  A few months ago, I posted this endorsement of the committee’s recommendation that employers allow staff to set communication boundaries with clients and opposing counsel.

Another of the committee’s recommendations addressed billable hours.

  • “In firms that impose billable hour quotas on attorneys, assess whether and how that quota system may be contributing to unproductive competition, excessive stress, and unhealthy work habits. In large firms, an anonymous survey may be the best way to assess this issue. In smaller firms, it can be done through simple observation. If a quota system appears to be encouraging unhealthy behavior and excessive stress, modify it, eliminate it, or consider alternatives.”

That the billable hour impacts wellness is not news. In 2011, the State Bar of Michigan posted The Billable Hour and Lawyer Wellness.  Responding to the argument that the billable hour is unhealthy in and of itself, the author wrote:

  • “It is not. At its root, the problem is one of wellness. Unhealthy lawyers create and perpetuate unhealthy systems. Put simply, the way a healthy lawyer relates to billable hours is much different from the way an unhealthy lawyer does.”

More recently, Law.Com addressed the billable hour’s impact on associates’ health, Above The Law highlighted one large law firm’s attempt to improve work-life balance by reducing the billable hour requirement, and Attorney At Law warned that encouraging/providing vacations means nothing absent a reduction in billable hours.

One alternative to hourly billing is a flat fee.

Again, today’s focus is on how to handle flat fees.  Still, for anyone considering the model, Clio has 5 Ways Flat Fee Attorneys More and How To Determine The Price Of Flat Fee Legal Services.  Meanwhile, Attorney at Work has Flat Fee or Hourly? Pros and Cons of Lawyer Billing Options.

So, you’ve decided to use flat fees.  Consider:

  • Mike Kennedy retains you. You agree to handle Mike’s matter for $ X. Prior to you doing any work, Mike advances $ X.

Now what?

At the beginning of this post, I promised eventually to address Vermont’s rule. Well, since then I got distracted and am only now back to fulfill my promise.  Alas, in the interests of time and needing to run to the store to get some half & half for this morning’s coffee[1], I’ll resort to an old blogger’s trick:  here’s my post on how to handle flat fees that are paid in advance of services being provided.

As always, be careful out there.

Dollar Sign

[1] Jennifer & Laura: the carton says “October 27.”  You know how I am.

Wellness Wednesday: It’s okay to reach out – BAP will listen and support you.

The Bar Assistance Program (BAP) began on April 1.  An aim of BAP is to assist lawyers and judges with behavioral health issues.

There haven’t been many referrals.  I suppose some might view that as a good thing.  Alas, given the informal inquiries I receive, it’s clear to me that many continue to struggle with stress, anxiety, and burnout.  If you are among the many, reach out.  We are here to help.

And, while I doubt you’ll ever find BAP on Yelp or Google, I’m here to share a positive review!

Through the end of August, I’d heard from a handful of lawyers who wanted guidance or resources, but not from any who wanted to participate in a more structured form of assistance.  Nor had Screening Counsel or Disciplinary Counsel referred to BAP a disciplinary complaint that revealed or was rooted in a behavioral health issue.

Then, in early September, a lawyer contacted me.  The lawyer reported levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout that had the lawyer considering whether to quit the profession. After I explained what BAP can and cannot do, the lawyer asked me to set up meeting with an assistance panel.  Three days later, the lawyer met via Zoom with me and two lawyers who volunteer in BAP.

I started the meeting by commending the lawyer for reaching out.  Each volunteer did the same. It takes a ton of courage to ask for help.

Then, the lawyer shared with us a perfect storm of personal and professional challenges that, over the past year, have relentlessly attacked the lawyer’s sense of self, self-worth, and worth as an attorney. To be very clear, challenges above and beyond those that are common to all practitioners, and challenges that I’m quite sure would’ve defeated me.  I found the lawyer’s strength inspiring: both in confronting the challenges and in expressing vulnerability to them.

In return, the panel members and I shared thoughts, experiences, and resources.  Our focus was that the lawyer is not alone, that it is okay to seek help, and that the lawyer is not an impostor.[1]  The lawyer intends to follow-up with one of the panel members to discuss a challenge common to their shared practice area.  In that sense, perhaps a mentorship was formed.

Today, I called the lawyer to check in.  Despite yet another setback that is outside the norm, the lawyer is doing okay. Challenges remain, but the lawyer is ready to take them on.  Then, the lawyer thanked me.  Specifically – and I have the lawyer’s permission to share this – the lawyer told me that mentors had often left the lawyer fearing “judgement,” a fear that caused the lawyer to engage in “approval seeking behavior” that wasn’t helpful or healthy. The lawyer told me the BAP experience wasn’t like that at all.  That it was supportive and “freeing.”

I shared the lawyer’s comments with one of the volunteer panel members.  The volunteer attorney said something that struck me. I don’t have the volunteer’s exact quote, but it was essentially this:  “sometimes people who are supposed to help think their job is to tell people what to do.  No.  Our role begins with listening.”

BAP is here.  It’s okay to reach out.

We will listen and we will support you.

wellness

[1] I have several posts and videos that touch upon “Impostor Syndrome.”  Including this post, this video, and this video.

Previous Wellness Wednesday Posts

Wellness Wednesday: Set communication boundaries with clients and opposing counsel

Wellness Wednesday: Compassion Fatigue

Wellness Wednesday: A message from Justice Eaton

Jessica Burke: “Well People Do”

Wellness Wednesday: Schitt$ Creek and Paddles

Wellness Wednesday: Be Kind to Lawyers

Civility Matters. Especially Now.

Coping with COVID-19 Related Stress & Anxiety

Wellness Wednesday: Unplug

Well-Being is an Aspect of Competence

Wellness Wednesday: Survival Skills

Wellness Wednesday: Make time for what (and who) matters

Wellness Wednesday: Risk & Response (this one is about the report I mentioned from the Virginia State Bar)

Do summer your way

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Alison, Shireen, Samantha, and Alison

Reach Out, Check In

Wellness Wednesday: Mentor Someone

Wellness Wednesday: Joan Loring Wing

Wellness Wednesday: Law Day & Pro Bono

Get your sleep

Take a Chance on Being Nice

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

Be Kind to a Lawyer Today

Be Nice to Someone Today

Wellness v. Well-Being

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Molly Gray

Wellness Wednesday: Judge Garland & My Cousin Vinny

Shakespeare, Pink Floyd and Wellness

Wellness Wednesday: You are not an impostor

Wellness Wednesday: “N O” is “O K”

Wellness Wednesday: Stop it!

Wellness Wednesday: Meet Jeff Messina

Lawyers Helping Lawyers Part 2

Lawyers Helping Lawyers: Keep it on the front burner

Lawyer Well-Being: a call to action

Anxiety, Stress & Work-Life Balance for Lawyers

Make time for what matters

Lawyer Wellness: resolve to find 6 minutes for yourself

108 is way too many

Workplace Happiness

Make Wellness a Habit

A pledge by legal employers to focus on lawyer well-being

Legal Ethics & the Water Cooler

Wellness Wednesday: Island Vines

Wellness Wednesday: on ponds, puffery and paltering

Wellness Wednesday: Neil Diamond, the Lock Screen, and National Mental Health Day for Law Students

Wellness Wednesday: might adopting some pandemic-related changes improve the profession’s well-being?

We know that the pandemic changed how, when, and where we work.  We also know that some of the changes will remain once the pandemic concludes.  Today, I write to share two developments that, to me, provide insight into pandemic-related changes that may prove beneficial to the profession’s well-being, thus warranting consideration as to whether they should become permanent aspects of how, when, and where we work.

wellness

The first development comes from Florida.

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court approved an advisory opinion issued by the Florida State Bar’s Standing Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.  The opinion concludes that a lawyer who is licensed in another state, but not in Florida, does not violate Florida’s rules on unauthorized practice by providing legal services to out-of-state clients on matters not involving Florida law while working remotely from Florida.  The Legal Profession Blog and ABA Journal reported the Court’s decision to approve the opinion.

The advisory opinion cites to similar conclusions reached by the ABA and the Utah State Bar.  Those of you who recall my post ABA issues common sense guidance on working remotely will not be surprised to learn that I’m a fan of the Florida opinion. It’s a post in which I used this hypo to introduce the ABA and Utah opinions:

“Imagine this:

  • You are a lawyer who is licensed in Other State but not in Vermont.
  • You live and work in Other State and own a condo in Vermont.
  • For various reasons, you move to the Vermont condo during the pandemic.
  • There, and thanks to technology, you continue to work on your clients’ legal matters.
  • You do not open an office in Vermont, advertise in Vermont, accept new clients in Vermont, or give advice on Vermont law.
  • Not one of your client matters has anything to do with Vermont or Vermont law.
  • But for the fact that you’re in your condo, your work is exactly what you’d be doing if you were working from your office in Other State.”

I remain of the opinion that the Utah State Bar nailed it:

  • “what interest does the Utah State Bar have in regulating an out-of-state lawyer’s practice for out-of-state clients simply because he has a private home in Utah? And the answer is the same—none.”

 Returning to the Florida opinion, I support it even independent of any connection to well-being. However, I’m interested by (and appreciative of) the fact that the Florida committee went out of its way to note a comment that an individual lawyer submitted in support of the proposed opinion.  The Committee wrote:

  • “In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Standing Committee finds the written testimony of Florida-licensed attorney, Salomé J. Zikakis, to be particularly persuasive: ‘I believe the future, if not the present, will involve more and more attorneys and other professionals working remotely, whether from second homes or a primary residence. Technology has enabled this to occur, and this flexibility can contribute to an improved work/life balance. It is not a practice to discourage.'”

No, it is not!

The second development is actually an older story.

In early May, Above The Law posted Ropes & Gray’s Reopening Plan Puts An End To The 5-Day, In-Person Office Work Week For Associates.  The post reports on the return-to-work plan announced by one of the nation’s largest law firms.  ATL applauded the firm’s phased re-opening and the flexibility associated with the “ramp-up time the firm is allowing [staff] to reacquaint themselves with office life.” In addition, ATL noted statements that the firm’s chair included in a memo to staff that announced the plan:

  • “No matter what phase we are in, we endorse flexibility post-pandemic. We don’t expect that we’ll ever mandate a five-day a week in-office environment.”

Here here.  Management’s endorsement of flexibility demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of both staff and the organization as a while.  Indeed, as the Florida lawyer noted in the comment above, flexibility contributes to a healthy work/life balance.

Making permanent some of the changes caused by the pandemic won’t be a bad thing.

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

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