Wellness Wednesday. Jessica Burke: “Well People Do.”

Jessica Burke is a Vermont lawyer who founded Burke Law.  I don’t remember how we first met. I assume it was at a CLE or via an ethics inquiry. Anyhow, I’ve known Jess for many years.

Oddly, I remember the last time I saw her. It was a beautiful day in March.  We bumped into each other on the sidewalk outside the Costello Courthouse.  We agreed that soon, Jess, me, and her significant other would grab beers after work. Then, you know, the pandemic.

Had we met for drinks, I have no idea what we’d have chatted about. I don’t doubt I‘d have learned something interesting or funny about Jess. Alas, I doubt I’d have learned anything to make me more proud of her than an experience she recently shared with me via email.

Jess Burke

I’ve long called for the legal profession to destigmatize help-seeking behavior. The process includes fostering an environment in which people are comfortable sharing the experiences that led them to seek help. I don’t think we’re there yet. That’s what makes me so proud of Jess: she just moved the needle.

A few weeks ago, Jess emailed me a link to a blog she’d posted on her website: Attorney Wellness In Vermont. Jess gave me permission to re-post it. Soon, I hope to interview Jess as a sort of follow-up. For now, read Jess’s post.

I’m serious. Read it.

It’s easy for me constantly to tell everyone that running helps me to de-stress.  Or for others to advocate for yoga, hiking, crocheting or whatever.  There’s no stigma attached to those activities.

Jess’s post is a courageous and brave step forward.

Moreover, Jess’s references to feeling numb and detached from her clients and environment are exactly what I was trying to get at in blog post last week, and again in a seminar I did the following day. Indeed, her post captures so many of the thoughts and feelings that, in my observation, are affecting more and more legal professionals with each passing week.  Simply, Jess nailed it.

Again, read the post.

Here’s my favorite of Jess’s thoughts.  Referring to her decision to try therapy, Jess wrote:

“Who takes two hours a week to have someone else help you process your thoughts? It turns out, well people do.”

Well people do.

Preach on Jess!

We must do everything we can to encourage legal professionals to do the things that well people do.

In the meantime, please join me in thanking Jessica Burke.

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Wellness Wednesday: A Stunning Opinion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not a matter of if, but when.”

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Wellness Wednesday: Finding the Starting Line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d say I’m half-kidding . . .

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

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

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

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

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

I wish each of us the courage to help ourselves

Other Wellness Wednesday Posts

 

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.