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.

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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.

Venue, the Electric Slide, and Impostor Syndrome: thoughts on intellectual engagement & growth.

Welcome to Wednesday of Well-Being Week in Law.

Today’s topic is Intellectual Well-Being, with the mantra “Engage and Grow.”  We’re focusing on striving for continuous intellectual engagement and growth in our work and personal lives.

Here’s a video in which I go into more detail.  The video ranges from my personal (and borderline frivolous) engagement and growth – venue in federal criminal cases and mastering the Electric Slide – to a serious discussion of Impostor Syndrome.

I’d love to learn your thoughts & strategies for intellectual growth.  Please consider joining this Zoom discussion at noon to share & listen as others share theirs!

 Links to material referenced in my video are below:

Engage & Grow!

  • An article in Elemental on the connection between curiosity and well-being.
  • An article in Courthouse News about a 9th Circuit opinion that involves an international arms dealer and proper venue in federal criminal cases.
  • Joanna Litt’s letter to The American Lawyer about her husband’s suicide.
  • Neha Sampat’s post in the ABA Journal calling on the profession to address Impostor Syndrome.

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Related Posts:

Wellness Wednesday & Bar Assistance: Quick Stress Relief Techniques

The Professional Responsibility Program’s new Bar Assistance Program (BAP) begins on April 1.  Set out in amendments to Administrative Order 9 that the Supreme Court adopted last November, BAP will be administered by bar counsel. My new role will:

  • continue to include responding to “traditional” inquiries. For example, questions on conflicts of interest, client confidences, whether to withdraw, and trust accounting.
  • continue to include presenting CLE seminars.
  • expand to include responding to and assisting legal professionals who are confronting behavioral health issues. For example, substance abuse, mental health challenges, chronic stress, or gambling addiction.
  • no longer include screening disciplinary complaints. That task will be assigned to Licensing Counsel Andy Strauss.
  • continue to include the #fiveforfriday legal ethics quiz.

In short, much like we should with behavioral health, my job will be decoupled from the disciplinary system. Having done nothing else since 1998, I’m both excited and apprehensive.

Anyhow, infused in BAP is a mandate for me to provide legal professionals with resources to assist with wellness and well-being.

Today, I’m sharing techniques to reduce stress.  These are not long-term strategies.  These are tools to use in the moment: whether immediately after the obnoxious email from opposing counsel, to help calm you after the phone call with the client who is never satisfied, or in response to any of the numerous interruptions inherent in working remotely.  Each comes from the American Psychological Association. Not one is longer than 50 seconds.

  1. Quick Ways to Manage Stress: Calm Yourself
  2. Quick Ways to Manage Stress: Relax Yourself
  3. Quick Ways to Manage Stress: Ground Yourself
  4. Quick Ways to Manage Stress: Celebrate Yourself
  5. Quick Ways to Manage Stress: Focus Yourself

Now that I think about it, these strategies shouldn’t be reserved for after your stress level rises.  I’ve been quite open recently: my conversations with lawyers around the state lead me to conclude, however anecdotally, that rising stress is causing increased incivility in the bar.  So, any of these techniques might be an appropriate appetizer to whatever uncomfortable communication you’re about to have.

You know, proactive wellness!

Oh, speaking of which, check out the flyer for the VBA’s upcoming Mid-Year Meeting.  The programming includes not one, but TWO wellness seminars.

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Lawyer Wellness & “Zoom Fatigue”

I’ve heard it often, I’m sure you have too: “I’m so tired of virtual meetings.” Turns out, the anecdotal might be true.  “Zoom Fatigue” is a thing.

I’ve worked in attorney regulation since 1998.  There’s no one in my line of work who I respect more than Tracy Kepler.  I first met Tracy through her work with the National Organization of Bar Counsel. More recently, she spent almost three years as the Director of the ABA’s Center for Professional Responsibility.  Now, Tracy is the Risk Control Director of Lawyers Professional Responsibility for CNA Insurance.  An expert in attorney ethics, Tracy is also a staunch advocate for lawyer wellness.

Oh, and I’m not positive, but I think Tracy and Vermont’s own Bob Paolini watched part of a Super Bowl together in Miami.

Alas, I digress.

I regularly scour Tracy’s LinkedIn feed for source material.  Yesterday, she shared a post from the American Psychological Association that linked to this article from the Stanford News. It’s an article that identifies the causes of and solutions to “Zoom Fatigue.”

I recommend it.

Strike that.

Channeling my inner Demi Moore, I highly (strenuously) recommend the article.

As someone who has both attended and presented countless virtual meetings, it resonated. The post provides helpful reassurance and guidance to anyone – including lawyers! – who feels burned out by virtual meetings.

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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: Start now.

My hamstring went on October 4.  It did so because my brain had just sprained itself and, as a result, decided that it’d be a good idea to have the rest of my body run the final 4 miles of a 14-mile run at speed even though I’d raced a 5K the day before.  I haven’t run much since.

The reason I haven’t run much is because my brain remains sprained.  I know what I need to do to run again: rest.  I haven’t.  Instead, I’ve biked, walked, and even tried to run.  As a result, my hamstring hasn’t healed.  What’s especially maddening is that had I rested – something I KNEW I should do – I’d likely be back out there.

And that’s today’s wellness point: everyone reading this post knows what they need to do to improve their wellness.  The trick is doing it.

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As usual, today’s message is not a product of my own. Rather, it’s inspired by Jeena Cho’s recent post in the ABA Journal.   In the post, Attorney Cho shares strategies to train our brains “to locate the positive instead of always focusing on the negative.”  One of the strategies refers to the so-called “G.I. Joe fallacy” and the idea that “having the knowledge of a desired action is not enough to make it happen or to get the desired benefit.”  Cho writes:

“I’ll often work with lawyers who know all the activities they should engage in to increase their well-being and happiness: get more exercise, eat more vegetables, practice meditation, get more sleep. However, they don’t actually prioritize and do the things they know are good for them.

“My advice is this: Start by asking yourself why increasing happiness and boosting your well-being is important. Next, commit to doing just one of the practices daily for at least 21 days. Doing something for only two minutes a day might feel too easy, but keep it simple. Remember, it’s not the duration but the compounding effects of a daily practice that matters.”

The moment my hamstring popped I knew what to do: rest.  I didn’t.  I consciously chose not to prioritize something that I knew was good for me.  As Cho notes, we do the same with wellness.  We know that we need to build time for non-lawyerly activities into our days.  But we don’t.

It’s time to start. 

Find a few minutes each day to do something that will make you happier, healthier, and more productive.  As I should have with my hamstring, you might consider doing nothing.  Prioritizing doing nothing – even for just 3 minutes a day – could be exactly what’s needed to kickstart your wellness.

Make wellness a habit.  And remember: no matter the habit, there was a first time.  Today could be yours.

PS – in 2010, my other hamstring cramped at Mile 18 of the Vermont City Marathon, right in front of one of my high school football teammate’s houses.  He made sure to document the occasion:

VCM Cramp

 

Related Posts:

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

 

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: Reach out, check in.

Granted, as a morning person and a creature of spring & summer, I’m biased. That being said, between the sun, the bluebird skies, and the temperature, it doesn’t get much better than this morning in Vermont.

Speaking of spring and summer . . .

. . . oh wait, before I go on: happy birthday Ben Traverse!  Ben has long contributed to others’ wellness, including mine. He was one of the earliest supporters of this blog, has a stellar record of providing pro bono services to clients unable to afford legal services, and, via his leadership role with the Young Lawyers Division, has served the past several years on the VBA’s Board of Managers.  If you know him, check in with him today to wish him well.

Speaking of checking in, back to our regularly scheduled blog.

If you’re at all like me, you associate spring and summer with an improved mood & outlook on life.  ‘specially ’round these parts, winter is long & dreary. So, as you enjoy a coffee on your porch with the only sounds being those of the birds, and as you revel in rolling the recycle bin to the curb without having to drag it thru slush, a morning like today’s lifts the spirits.  Spring, summer, and all the good that comes with each are finally here.

But not everyone feels the same.

Like Ben Traverse, Andrew Manitsky sits on the VBA Board of Managers and has long-supported this blog and the profession’s larger efforts on attorney wellness.  He’s a member of a PRB hearing panel and gets his wellness on by playing in a band.  Last weekend, Andrew sent me this opinion piece that ran in the New York Times.

Warning: it is a heavy read.

But it raises an important point: for some, spring is a time of despair.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

  • “It’s a popular and perhaps dangerous belief, reinforced by that inescapable Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that winter is the peak season for suicide. Yet experts have known since the late 1800s that it’s not true: More people take their own lives in the spring months than in other times of the year. No definitive explanations have emerged for why this is so.”

From there, the author shares a moving personal story. Then, concludes with a tip that all of us should consider.  Referring to spring, she writes:

  • It brings new pleasures by the week — asparagus in the farmers’ market, excitable toddlers in the playgrounds — and also a reminder to try to reach out to people who have lost someone recently, or those who seem withdrawn. They may need to be given a chance to talk about how they’re doing, and if things are very bad, encouraged to get the professional support they need. I can confirm that with time, help and love, things get better.”

Back to my original thoughts.

Speaking of spring and of checking in with someone, odds are that you know or work with an attorney who, if not struggling with significant behavioral health issues, is on the path towards the full-on struggle.  An attorney who has started to withdraw.

Reach out, check in.  As the author points out, sometimes that’s all it takes to make a difference for someone.

And, as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a big believer that we can make a difference, one person at a time.

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