Align.

Good morning!

It’s Day 2 of National Lawyer Well-Being Week.  If you missed Day 1, don’t sweat it, I’ve got your back.  My opening day thoughts are here.

Today’s theme is “Align.”  The focus is on spiritual well-being.  The aim is to provide lawyers with resources to align their professional and personal lives so as to find meaning in their work.  Why? Because the data shows that much of the burnout that impacts legal professionals is rooted in a sense that their work isn’t meaningful.

Confession: to say that I’m outside my lane delivering this message would be an understatement.  I’m no counselor or life coach, and I don’t even play one TV.  That being said, I’ll do my best.

Here’s the video message I recorded this morning.  I tried to make three points:

  1. Incivility leads to stress and burnout.  We need to call out the lawyers who are chronically and corrosively uncivil.
  2. Supervisors: find ways to make your younger/newer associates & employees feel meaningful.  Do you define their roles within the team? Do you acknowledge work done well even when it’s work that’s not the most revenue-producing or glamorous, but nevertheless important? Do you know anything about your co-workers’ personal interests? In short, do you make them feel meaningful?
  3. Younger/Newer lawyers: remember, even if today’s work isn’t what you envisioned in law school, it matters to someone.  Whether that’s the client, or, your co-workers’ interest in the office producing good work.  Also, years from now, you WILL find yourself in a better position to control whether and how your work aligns with your personal life.  Until then, do the best you can now.  If you do, each and every moment is an investment in Future You that will help Future You to align work more fully with your personal values.

Fortunately, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being has provided resources created by actual professionals who are well within their lanes:

 

Wellness Wednesday: Be Kind to Lawyers

Tomorrow is “International Be Kind to Lawyers Day.”

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

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

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

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

Wellness

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

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Originally Posted on April 9, 2019

Today is International Be Kind to Lawyers Day.

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

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

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

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

Still, why not try?

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

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

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

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

Take advantage of them all.

Wellness

 

Civility Matters. Especially now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is that line?

I don’t know.

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

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

Related posts:

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Wellness Wednesday: Lawyers Depression Project

A phrase that’s new to me has entered the public discourse in the past 24 hours: “social distancing.”  Coincidentally, shortly after hearing it for the first time, I stumbled across a tweet that’s the impetus for today’s post.  Here’s the backstory.

Brian Cuban is an attorney.  To me, he’s an invaluable resource on addiction, recovery and the legal profession’s response to each.  You can read more about Brian here.  I follow Brian on Twitter.

Today, Brian retweeted a link to a blog he posted last December.  Check out the comment that accompanied the retweet — it references “social distancing.”

The December post is one that I’d missed.  In it, Brian introduced his readers to the “Lawyers Depression Project.”  In Brian’s words, it’s a project that is “an incredible mental health resource that has been flying under the radar.”

I don’t want to block quote Brian’s post. So, read it.  Again, it’s here.  The link to the Lawyers Depression Project is here.  However, here’s something that’s

IMPORTANT!!! 

Some of you might be thinking “Thanks Mike. But this isn’t for me. It’s for people who’ve been diagnosed with depression.”

Wrong.

And now you’ve forced me to resort to a block quote.  From Brian’s post:

  • “The LDP consists of attorneys, law students, law school graduates pending bar exam results and/or admission, and others in the legal field who were diagnosed at one point or another in their lives, with major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder, or another mental illness.

“It is also for those who are suffering but not formally diagnosed or who simply feel that something ‘isn’t right’ but have not sought formal mental health help.”

Check it out.  Even if only because, every now and then, things don’t feel right.

wellness

Related Posts:

 

 

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.

 

Well-Being Is An Aspect Of Competence

Two years ago, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being published The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive ChangeThe report issued in response to two studies that revealed alarming statistics with respect to the well-being of the legal profession.

In their letter introducing the report, the Task Force’s co-chairs noted the report’s “five central themes:

  1. identifying stakeholders and the role each of us can play in reducing the level of toxicity in our profession,
  2. eliminating the stigma associated with helpseeking behaviors,
  3. emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence,
  4. educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer well-being issues, and
  5. taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession.”

Among other proposals aimed at furthering the third (bolded) theme, the report recommended modifying the Rules of Professional Conduct “to endorse well-being as part of a lawyer’s duty of competence.”

The Vermont Supreme Court has done exactly that.

Yesterday, the Court promulgated an amendment to Comment [9] to Rule 1.1.  The new comment reads:

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

Two questions jump to mind: what is well-being and how does a legal professional maintain it?

As to the former, the Task Force wrote:

  • “We define lawyer well-being as a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive in each of the following areas: emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, physical health, and social connections with others. Lawyer well-being is part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence. It includes lawyers’ ability to make healthy, positive work/life choices to assure not only a quality of life within their families and communities, but also to help them make responsible decisions for their clients. It includes maintaining their own long-term well-being. This definition highlights that complete health is not defined solely by the absence of illness; it includes a positive state of wellness.”

In addition, the Task Force noted that:

  • “The concept of well-being in social science research is multi-dimensional and includes, for example, engagement in interesting activities, having close relationships and a sense of belonging, developing confidence through mastery, achieving goals that matter to us, meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy and control, self-acceptance, and personal growth. This multi-dimensional approach underscores that a positive state of well-being is not synonymous with feeling happy or experiencing positive emotions. It is much broader.”

Finally, the Task Force explained that it:

  • “chose the term ‘well-being’ based on the view that the terms ‘health’ or ‘wellness’ connote only physical health or the absence of illness. Our definition of ‘lawyer well-being’ embraces the multi-dimensional concept of mental health and the importance of context to complete health.”

With the definition in mind, how does a legal professional maintain well-being?  It strikes me that the answer depends on the individual. A place for everyone to start, however, is the ABA’s Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers.  Its 99 pages are chock full o’ helpful tips and guidance.

I can hear you now:

  • “Ummm, what’s that you say Mike? 99 pages? I don’t have that much time to work on my well-being!”

Fear not!  Besides the full toolkit, and perhaps with my law school career in mind, the ABA also created the Well-Being Toolkit Nutshell: 80 Tips For Lawyer Thriving.  It’s only 2 pages.  No excuses!

Well-being is important.  Take the time to understand what it is, how to achieve it, and how to maintain it.  As you do, try not to get caught up in “I’m only doing this because the new comment says I should.”  Rather, get caught up in the first of the Well-Being Nutshell’s 3 reasons to care about well-being:

“It’s the right thing to do.”

 

Image result for images of lawyer well-being

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Survival Skills

One of the blogs I frequent is Attorney at Work.   Enshrined in the ABA Blawg 100 Hall of Fame,* its mission is as follows:

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One Really Good Idea Every Day for Enterprising Lawyers

At Attorney at Work, our goal is to give you the inspiration and information you need to create a law practice — and a life — you love.

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A lawyer named Link Christin contributes to Attorney at Work.  In February, he started a series on survival skills for lawyers. The posts to date:

I recommend each.  Christian identifies the more common aspects of lawyering that put attorneys at risk, then provides practical tips on how best to reduce and respond to the risk.

Proactive wellness is a good thing.

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* Hopefully I’m 101.

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

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 their practices and wellness.

Today, with the Stanley Cup finals in full-swing, I’m thrilled to introduce you to 4 of Vermont’s hockey-playing lawyers:  Alison Bell, Shireen Hart, Samantha Lednicky, and Alison Milbury Stone.

Alison J. Bell    Shireen T. Hart  Alison Milbury Stone

I started my interview by asking each to respond to this email:

  • So, you’re a hockey playing lawyer.  I don’t know about you, but I’m often asked, “why’d you go to law school?”  Tell us how you got into hockey & your involvement with the sport now.

The answers fascinate me.  So much so that I contemplated stopping there.  Nevertheless, Alison, Shireen, Sam, and Alison were kind enough to answer follow-up questions as well.

Thank you to this fantastic foursome!

Any and all typos are mine.  Enjoy!

Alison Bell – Langrock, Sperry & Wool

Alison J. Bell

I started playing (a version of) hockey when I was 16 (for those counting, I am now almost 62). I grew up in a skiing/ski racing family in Stowe, so had never really skated. But one winter, there was literally no snow, and a bunch of us decided to play broom ball. Unlike some versions of that game, we used skates. My parents owned a convenience store, so I ordered a box full of regular brooms, chopped them at an angle in my high school shop class, and dipped them in fiberglass (I was a white water kayaker, with access to fiberglass, but that is a different story). Needless to say, the “sticks” weighed a ton, and were dangerous weapons. But we chased that ball around the rink, and I (sort of) learned to skate.

I first went to college at Bowdoin, then a men’s hockey powerhouse. There was no women’s team, but there was something called “Powder Puff Hockey” (seriously!). Some male students volunteered to coach, and I learned a lot about the game. But I still could not really skate.

I transferred to Harvard for my junior year, and some first-year women, who had actually played in boarding school, were agitating for a team. We were granted club status for my junior year and then, thanks to Title IX and an imposed need for parity, we became a Division 1 varsity team my senior year. My claim to fame is that I was the first-ever captain of Harvard Women’s Hockey, now a women’s hockey powerhouse. The first ever coach – Joe Bertagna – is now the head of Hockey East, and still a dear friend. We get invited to alumnae events as the OG, and get to share the dais with various Olympians, which is a thrill. I was recently honored along with other original players at the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Beanpot tourney, also a thrill.

As to the actual quality of hockey, my Harvard team was awful; we once lost by “two touchdowns and a field goal,” as Coach said. But we worked hard, had fun, and my teammates remain my friends, which is the best part of hockey (more on that below).

After college, I played and coached in a girls’/women’s program in Stoneham, MA for many years, while I was in law school and working in Boston. That was when I really learned to play. I had a specific epiphany, when I realized that the edges on my skates were the same as the edges on my skis, and it all clicked. My women’s team won a national championship at the Senior A level (that would clearly be B or C level today), and I helped to coach a U12 team to a national championship in Lake Placid, where Sandra Whyte (who would later play for Harvard and score the game winning goal in that first Olympic gold medal game) scored the only, winning goal, in the fourth overtime. That was a high point!

Moving back to Vermont, my husband and I coached all three of our kids in youth hockey, much to their dissatisfaction with being the coaches’ kids. I also played a lot of pick up hockey, both with women and coed, and frankly grew to dislike it. It is frustrating when you have an idea how the game should really be played and others do not. I was thinking about quitting, when a new opportunity arose. A guy named Ian Smith – who had been D3 player of the year at Middlebury and who is a natural teacher – offered to coach a team of women. We put a team together, and actually had practices once or twice a week, in addition to games. We learned so much, by focusing on more technical skills, game strategies, mental aspects, etc.

Though we no longer have a coach, that team continues to exist and play in the VWHO league. It is the best group of people (our rule is no drama!), ranging in age from early 20s to me, and they are my closest friends. There is such joy in being able to play a team sport, at a decent level, at this stage in life. I can actually say that all of the best things in my life have been connected to hockey, as I met my husband playing in a law firm league in Boston!

Shireen Hart – Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer

Shireen T. Hart

About 10 years ago, I was spending a lot of time in the stands watching my son play. A friend who was in the stands with me reached out to Dan McFall (played for the Winnipeg Jets and runs Full Stride Hockey) to put together a women’s intro to hockey group. About 20-30 of us showed up – all “hockey moms.”  Most of us were brand new to the sport – and skating too. At the end of the two-month session, we had the temerity to break into 2 teams and join an existing women’s league.

Our first season was not pretty. We were playing against women who had been skating since the time when they could walk. I had somehow convinced myself that I would be safer in net than skating out – given that I hadn’t mastered the hockey stop yet. I also figured that my less than stellar skating would be less obvious between the pipes – even though goalies are supposed to be the best skaters on the ice.

Fast forward to today, where I play pickup twice a week with a co-ed group that has been playing together for decades. I have met some of the most interesting and entertaining people through hockey. It is rare when I go out these days and don’t run into someone, I have at some time met on the ice.

Perhaps the most surprising outcome from taking up this kind of endeavor mid-life is what it has done for my all-around confidence or moxie. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, and I still consider myself a baby goalie, I thankfully can’t remember the last time I had to use double digits to count the goals I let in.  Goalies don’t pay to play hockey, but, looking back, my teammates probably should have charged me to play for the first several years.

By the way, Sam can attest to this. She played D on one of my teams several years ago and could not have been more gracious about my utter lack of know-how. Always a smile and positivity.

Samantha Lednicky – Murdoch, Hughes, Twarog & Tarnelli

That’s a good question, I remember taking skating lessons when I was really young (with figure skates first!) and skating on my town outdoor rink in the winter. I didn’t get into hockey until my sister picked it up and played on CVU’s first women’s hockey team.  When she graduated (she’s 5 years older) I inherited her equipment and asked to play CSB (a youth team) and then join the high school team. It was in high school where I discovered I had a passion for the game.

Although I was far from the best skater on the ice, I was probably one of the most determined and fearless (often ending up in the penalty box because I didn’t know how to stop).  At UVM I joined the women’s club team, which started out playing in the local Full Stride League in the fall and traveling to New England colleges in the spring.  Since women’s hockey was still relatively new, most colleges didn’t have developed club teams yet, so we found ourselves playing against whoever would agree to play us.  Notably I remember traveling with the whole team up to Quebec and playing in a tournament against all male teams whose average ages were 20 years older than us.

Once I moved on to law school in Boston I stopped playing, but one of my internships in law school brought me to the Burlington US Attorney’s Office where I was introduced to Barb Masterson who happened to be the captain for the “Switchblades” (the jerseys were sponsored by Switchback Brewery) an all-women’s hockey team.  Then after graduating law school and moving back to Vermont I started playing with the DRM Sharks and Vermont Vixen.  At one point I was playing three times a week, now I’m down to twice a week.  Somehow I manage to get myself to late night games, even when they start at 10:05PM and I have to be in court at 8:30AM the next day!

Alison Milbury Stone – Assistant Attorney General

Alison Milbury Stone

I’d say I didn’t have a choice, but my rebellious younger sister proved otherwise by signing up for basketball. By then it was too late for me.

Hockey is part of the fabric of my family, and I can’t remember being introduced to it, only that it was always around. My dad played for, coached, and managed the Boston Bruins, and later coached and managed the New York Islanders. My mother was the leading scorer for the first Colgate University women’s hockey team. I grew up playing street hockey and pond hockey with my two older brothers. We spent a lot of time at the old Boston Garden, watching games and practices and playing in the bowels of the old building. I played on boys teams until I was about 11, when a regional girls team was formed (and then I played with both the boys and the girls).

Hockey has taken me many places. One of the first was Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire as a high school freshman (among other draws, they had a girls team and two sheets of ice).

Next was Brown University. There, the Bears (dubbed the Pandas) were ranked #1 in the country, and we were Ivy League champs but lost the national final in an upset to the University of Minnesota. As a junior and a French major, I decided to study abroad in France, but made sure to pick a city (Lyon) that had a women’s ice hockey team. Unfortunately, they cancelled the season after a few training sessions, but as a consolation I joined their roller hockey team and was able to travel around France – to the Alps, Bordeaux, and then Lille for the national championships, where we clinched second.

After graduating from college, I bought a backpack for a round-the-world adventure. But as chance would have it, I went with my dad to the NHL entry draft that summer (in Nashville, Tennessee, of all places), and found myself sitting between the New York Islanders’ Swedish talent scout and Finnish scout at dinner. Both spoke Swedish, a language I had studied my senior year. They quickly decided that as a Swedish-speaking hockey player, it was imperative that I do a stint in Scandinavia, and they made good on their word to facilitate that. A few months later I moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where I suited up for the Allmänna Idrottsklubben (AIK) women’s team. I also got a day job at the Stockholm offices of the American law firm White & Case – the start of my career in the law. My team won the Swedish national championship, and I still have a gold Jofa helmet to show for it (though now it is a bit dinged up from my family playing with it and using it as a bike helmet).

I subsequently moved to Washington, DC, where I adopted the Washington Capitals as my second team and joined a beer league (coed by virtue of my participation). When I was considering Vermont Law School, a colleague introduced me to a female hockey player there. It turned out the VLS Swans were playing in a tournament the weekend I was to visit, and because it was their spring break, they were short on players. So, I suited up for the Swans before even enrolling. I took it as a sign that the school was a good fit.

Though I am now well past my hockey prime, I still play on two Burlington-area teams, both with Sam Lednicky: a co-ed team, the DRM Sharks (Sam and I are both Downs Rachlin Martin alums) and a women’s team called the Vermont Vixen. We play against Alison Bell in the women’s league. This year I made my fourth appearance at the Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Tournament in Mallet’s Bay. I am now also a proud hockey mom as my oldest child, 4-year-old Ned, just finished his first season.

MK:  Fantastic stories! I’m in awe.  Do you remember what made you burn to be a lawyer? These days, I wonder if one of the challenges of “attorney wellness” is keeping that fire lit.  How do you as lawyers make sure that the drive that landed you in law school continues to push you? Are there lessons from hockey?

Alison Bell:  I did not have a burning desire to be a lawyer, but I knew I wasn’t going to medical school, and I didn’t know what else to do. I did work as an investigator under some superb lawyers after college and before law school, so that encouraged me to apply.  But I have always been driven by social justice issues, even since childhood, and that keeps me going as a lawyer. I am fortunate enough to work in a firm that supports such efforts, both in our own work and in involvement with other organizations and causes. As I look at “retirement” I am thinking about using my legal skills in the service of a cause. Not sure any of this relates to hockey, other than the general idea that sports teach perseverance.

Shireen Hart: I consider myself new to hockey (and probably always will), so I am still developing my skills. I tend to focus on one different skill or strategy over the course of several games until muscle memory kicks in. I then turn to another new skill or strategy.

In my law practice, I try to push myself in a similar way. While I can certainly continue to do the work I have been doing for more than 2 decades, I am making myself step out of my comfort zone to take on new types of cases within health law – the most recent being serving as a Patient Care Ombudsperson in bankruptcy cases and representing a court-appointed receiver for several long-term care facilities. This new work has not only rejuvenated my practice, but it has also offered me additional skills to apply throughout my health law practice.

Samantha Lednicky:  I started undergrad as a psychology major, got involved in various research projects and found myself interviewing juveniles at Woodside as a research assistant studying risk/reward deficits in youth.  It was then that I realized I was bound to be in a courtroom helping criminal defendants and not in a research lab. Every day that I’m in court or meeting directly with clients I am reminded why I became a lawyer.  The feeling I get with direct client contact and courtroom time is the same feeling I get on the ice—an excitement to be there and a determination to do well.

Life gets busy and client needs can be demanding.  It’s easy to put your head down just to get through the day, that’s when I think lawyers suffer the most and burn out.  If hockey has taught me anything it’s keep your head up and skate hard to the net.  Practicing law it’s equally as important to keep your head up and work hard towards your goal.  But you have to maintain a work life balance, just as in hockey, you can’t skate every day of the week you need a rest day.  I recently had a particularly tough day in terms of the subject matter of the cases I was working on, and I reminded myself that it’s okay to take a break and I took some time for myself by, you guessed it, playing hockey!

Alison Milbury Stone:  Same formula: do something you are passionate about, that plays to your strengths, and do it with good people. Also, leave room for other things in your life so you can have balance and not burn out!

I went to law school because I was concerned about environmental degradation and wanted to be part of the solution. I love reading and writing, am very detail-oriented, and enjoy some healthy competition, so I settled on environmental law and policy as a way to marry my strengths and interests. The environmental challenges and tensions that initially “lit that fire” still persist, and continue to motivate me to become the best advocate I can be.

The environmental field being a broad one, I’ve worked in a range of and the diversity of my work – in terms of substance areas as well as the mix of litigation and transactional matters – keeps things interesting. I still learn something new every day, and that’s very gratifying.

But equally important is that fact that I really like and respect my colleagues. In sport and at work, having strong leadership and supportive peers can make all the difference in the quality of the experience. In my current position at the Attorney General’s Office and in my most recent job in private practice, I’ve been lucky to work with skilled attorneys who are good team players and who I consider friends as well as colleagues. People who, before delving into work matters, ask how my weekend was and genuinely listen to the answer. And they elevate my game; just as a goal in hockey is made sweeter by a crisp set-up pass from a teammate, a brief that is improved by colleague’s adept edits is all the more satisfying.

Finally, I’ve been fortunate to work with people who value and promote wellness. When I worked with Leslie Cadwell, she would encourage me to walk my dog during conference calls on sunny days, and once surprised me by sending a NutriBullet to my house so my family and I could sneak vegetables into our morning smoothies. Attorney General T.J. Donovan still makes time for basketball, and Chief Assistant Attorney General Sarah London and Environmental Division Chief Rob McDougall do marathon training runs at lunch. That sets the tone for a culture where people feel they have the space to get out and exercise and come back to their desks refreshed and more focused (and it kind of feels like slacking if you don’t!).

MK:  Lately, I’ve spoken & blogged often on increasing reports that civility among lawyers is no longer a thing, so much so that it might be a cause of many lawyers’ anxiety & stress.

Bigger deterrent to lawyers who are rude & obnoxious: contempt of court, PRB disciplinary action, or an actual penalty box to which a judge might banish them for 2 minutes during a hearing.  Or, do the rest of us just keep on “killing ‘em with kindness?”

Samantha Lednicky: The great thing about hockey is you can get a penalty in the heat of the moment but at the end of the game you always go through and shake everyone’s hand.  As a lawyer, I think it should be required to look opposing counsel in the eyes at the end of a hearing, shake their hand, and thank them for their civility—maybe if we knew this was coming we would all be more civil.

Alison Milbury Stone: The genius of the penalty box is the shame that comes from sitting behind the glass in plain view, watching helplessly as your teammates play on short-handed due to your bad decision. We’d have to figure out how to do this without leaving the client high and dry during a hearing (a particular challenge if there is no co-counsel), but I think you’re on to something here.

Shireen Hart: I have not found player yet that can’t be broken down with some good locker room banter.

Alison Bell:  I love the image of a penalty box in the courtroom; it will never happen, but I bet it would work!

MK: There are 4 of you.  We need 2 more to fill out a team.  For each of you, who are the 2 “dream teammates” you’d add to fill out the team?

Shireen Hart: Both are women with whom I currently play. One plays D and is the kind of player who stands right next to me until everyone clears the area. I like to kid myself that I actually need that kind of protection. And, it doesn’t hurt that she is truly a fierce defender with a great slap shot – the kind of shot where everyone in the puck’s path dives away from it. The other is a woman who was apparently born with skates on her feet and a stick in her hand. I am truly awed watching her on the ice. She can put the puck wherever she wants and score on demand, but 9 times out of 10, she’s going to make the pass to set up a teammate instead.

Samantha Lednicky:  Kendall Coyne because she’s a badass. She’s on the US women’s hockey team and competed this year in the NHL (previously all male) skills competition, placing as one of the fastest skaters.

Cale Makar because he won the Hobey Baker this year and two days later played in his first NHL game and scored a goal.

Alison Milbury StoneOh, this is a tough one. Since Sam and I are both forwards, Alison B. plays defense, and Shireen is a goalie, I’ll be practical in terms of the lineup and pick one forward and one D.

With my first pick in the fictional draft, I select Bruins defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara. “Big Zee” is hands down the hardest worker I’ve ever met, a really nice guy, and an intimidating 6’9” before he even puts on his skates. You don’t want to be digging a puck out of the corner when he’s on the other team.

I also pick my former teammate Danijela Rundqvist, previously a member of the Swedish national team. She is a pure talent, a really positive and encouraging teammate, and fun in a mischievous kind of way, which is good for the atmosphere in the locker room.

Alison Bell: I would add my two daughters, both great players, because there is nothing better than playing with your kids.

MK:  Last question: Stanley Cup finals: Bruins, Blues, Don’t Care?

Alison Milbury Stone:  Bruins ALL THE WAY!

Alison Bell: Bruins. I have never worn socks in my skates, because I read Bobby Orr’s book as a kid, and wanted to be like him.

Shireen Hart: Bruins in 6.

Samantha Lednicky: BRUINS.

Thank you all again!  And let’s hope you’re right about the Bruins!

Boston Bruins Decal

Related Posts

Prior to today, Heather Moreau shared her Route 66 adventure, Jeff Messina and Andrew Manitsky talked about their respective bands, and Molly Gray reflected on her days as a competitive skier.

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.

Attorney Wellness: We’ve Only Just Begun

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what reminded me of the song.

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

It goes on:

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

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

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

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

Thanks Mom!

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** The posts:

(Wellness Wednesday Posts)

Wellness v. Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a great example.

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

Vermont

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

That’s well-being.

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

Go Cats Go!

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