Wellness Wednesday: an action plan

On March 3, 2016, I posted my first blog on attorney wellness: Lawyers Helping Lawyers.  Since, I’ve raised the issue as often as possible on this blog and at continuing legal education seminars.  Today, I’m pleased to report that the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession recently issued its State Action Plan.

The Vermont Supreme Court created the Commission in response to a report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  That report, The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, made a series of recommendations in response to a study that found staggering rates of behavioral health issues among lawyers.  Relevant to my job as bar counsel, the national report noted:

  • “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer.  Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.  The two studies referenced above reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse.  These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for many lawyers’ basic competence.”

Competence is the first professional duty set out in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Again, Vermont’s state action plan is here.  When you have time, give it a read.  Here’s the concluding paragraph from the introduction:

  • “Our profession has a duty to deliver competent legal and judicial services that will serve to uphold the integrity of the justice system. We recognize that the recommendations that follow may impose costs on the profession. We are certain, however, that the benefits of these proposals outweigh the modest cost of implementing them. Neglecting the truths of the national report that issued and its focus on the elevated risks for mental illness and substance abuse will, we believe, impose greater, more damaging costs—both on our profession, the public and its confidence in the rule of law. We hope that these proposals will be recognized as responsibilities fundamental to the privilege of practicing law.”

I agree 100%  We cannot neglect the issue.  As a profession, we must follow-up on the action items.  We cannot congratulate ourselves on the Commission’s fantastic work only to relegate the plan to the digital equivalent of a shelf where it collects electronic dust until that long-off day when someone finds an archived version and says “Wow.  Great ideas. I wonder what ever became of them?”

Wellness

If you’re new to this topic, here are my various posts:

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: You’re not an impostor.

Regular readers know that I find it difficult to embrace winter.  As a card-carrying member of No Shoes Nation, the season does little for my “wellness.”

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Indeed, my favorite winter was 2016.  It’s the year I ran the Surf City Marathon, collected this swag

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then spent a few days with this view.

San Diego

Last weekend, however, I decided to give winter a try.  So, on a fantastically sunny Saturday, I ventured to Trapp Family Lodge for my first attempt at cross-country skiing in nearly 30 years.

Let’s leave it at this: it’ll be quite a while until I’m mistaken for a competent skier.

I ran into Liz & Eric Miller in the parking lot. I should have hired them on the spot.  That way, my follies that followed would forever remain confidential & privileged.

Which gets me to the point of today’s post.

On the trails, I’m an impostor.  In the law, you are not.

Attorney Gabe MacConnaill took his own life in October.  He was married to Joanna Litt.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about Joanna’s heartbreaking letter in response Gabe’s suicide.  Joanna’s letter mentioned that her husband:

  • “felt like a phony who had everyone fooled about his abilities as a lawyer and thought after this case was over, he was going to be fired—despite having won honors for his work.”

There’s a name for what Gabe was feeling: impostor syndrome.

Last week, the ABA Journal posted Neha’s Sampat’s response to Joanna’s letter.  In it, Attorney Sampat challenged lawyers, firms and the profession to address the syndrome, referring to it as a “hidden source of attorney distress.”  Give it a read.

Some of the saddest cases I prosecuted as disciplinary counsel involved lawyers whose practices had cratered.  More often than not, those lawyers seemed, in a sense, relieved.  The gig was finally up.  They no longer had to pretend to be someone who, in their minds, they were not.

We need to discourage that mindset.

Summary judgment motions get denied.  Hearings don’t go exactly as planned.  People  – a group that includes the subset known as “lawyers” – make mistakes.

These are not signs that you don’t belong.

I’m no expert on how to address impostor syndrome.  Some resources”

To me, it comes down to this: be kind to yourself.  Nobody is perfect.  And not only that, we don’t expect you to be.

Keep on keeping on.  Sometimes the trail to this view includes stumbles along the way.

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Wellness Wednesday: Meet Heather Moreau

I’d like to introduce you to Heather Moreau.

Heather Moreau

Heather is the firm manager and a senior paralegal at Maley and Maley.  She’s also a legal professional who understands the importance of work-life balance and makes wellness a habit. For that, I’m focusing on Heather in this week’s installment of Wellness Wednesday!

I don’t remember how I met Heather, but there’s one thing in particular that I’ll never forget about her.

A few years ago, Heather decided to run a marathon.  She dedicated herself to the requisite training and was ready to accept the challenge.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate.  You see, for her first marathon, Heather had chosen the 2016 Vermont City Marathon.  That was the year that extreme heat forced organizers to halt the race. Heather was among those who were forced to leave the course without finishing.

Knowing how much effort and sacrifice goes into training for a marathon, I couldn’t imagine her disappointment. It’s Heather’s response to that disappointment that I’ll always remember about her.  As you’ll see, she didn’t let it beat her.

Last Saturday, Heather completed the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa.  It’s part of her #halfcrazy50 goal.  On her way home, she was kind enough to answer some questions for today’s post.  Here are excerpts from our exchange.

MK:   Since I’ve known you, I’ve followed your running hobby. What stands out to me the most is how you bounced back from what must have been a horribly disappointing experience in your first marathon – the year they stopped it because of the heat.  Talk to me about your path since then, mainly how you went from that to #halfcrazy50.  Also what is “ #halfcrazy50” ?

Heather:  Ahhhh, the race that “wasn’t to be” for me was the Vermont City Marathon in May of 2016.  I had been doing half marathons up until that point and had a handful under my belt.  My daughter found my motivation sweet spot for attempting my first half marathon back in 2013, when I mentioned that I might like to sign up for the Disney Wine & Dine Half.  She was a high school junior and at that time in her life, everyone was “old.”  She didn’t hesitate to express that I was probably “too old” to start running, especially for 13.1 miles.  That’s all it took for me to train hard enough to beat my 3-sport high school athlete daughter in the Disney half and inspire a new lifelong love for running.  About three years later, Karen Allen* very convincingly encouraged me to step up my game and sign up for a full marathon.   Of course, after months of training for the 26.2 miles, the Vermont City Marathon  course closed because of heat – just as I was passing through mile 16.

Not having met the goal, I signed up for another full marathon.  It was about a year later in Newport, Rhode Island.  I found that the time commitment to full marathon training, the second time around, changed my love for running. In the weeks before the race, I realized I was only half trained.  Switching my registration to a half marathon felt like smart choice, yet I felt like I had failed somehow.  I told myself that I had to keep training and keep running.  A few weeks after Rhode Island, I signed up for another half. This time the race was in Austin, Texas where my daughter lives (what better excuse for a visit?).  Running Newport’s ocean course was an amazing experience and Austin in January of this year was a personal record.  The goal of completing a half marathon in every state, which combines my love for running with my love for travel was born during that Austin race. The hashtag #halfcrazy50 was also born.

  • Karen Allen is the same Karen Allen who is a regular member of this blog’s #fiveforfriday Honor Roll in Legal Ethics!

MK:  Every state! That’s awesome! I have the same goal for marathons, but I’m only up to 8!  So, this past weekend, you completed the Route 66 Half.  From your Facebook posts, it looks like it was a fantastically fun race.  Tell us about not only the race, but the earlier trip that you and your daughter took on Route 66.  In my mind, it’s a trip that is exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about wellness.

Heather: I’m all about working hard and then playing hard.  Quality time with my daughter is at the top of my priority list.  There is no one that can make me belly laugh like she can. A few years ago, we did a 15-day mother-daughter road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway and at the end of the trip, she asked me what was on deck for our next trip.  When your adult daughter wants to “hang” with Mom, there are no second thoughts.  After two years of planning, last July we ventured out for 18 days of experiencing the approximately 2,500 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica along Route 66. We biked along Lake Michigan in Chicago, did a running tour under the Arch in St. Louis, and hiked in three national parks – Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.  I can tell you that there’s nothing like listening to the Joshua Tree U2 soundtrack while trekking through the National Park. Why do I run?  Because saying “I’m in” has to trump “I can’t” when she asks, “Mom can you… “

“Fantastically fun” is a perfect description for the Route 66 race last Sunday.  I signed up for this Tulsa race seeking the chance to set foot along the Mother Road again.  The race was billed as a “party race” and sounded different than what I had done previously.  I had no idea what I was in for during the course.  At mile 2.5 I was offered my first beer.  I knew at that moment it was decision time:  do I run this race for time like I’ve always done or do I throw caution to the wind and accept the beer?  I opted for a little fun and took the beer.  Then at mile 6, there was a table of red and blue Jell-O shots.  Mile 7 held fireball.  Mile 8 tempted me with a mimosa.  Mile 9 presented a Tiki Bar.  And the list went on.  Sure there was a point when I questioned if sipping a mimosa while running a half was completely crazy, but (as you can imagine) there was also a point when I just didn’t care and was living in the moment of each mile.  The Route 66 half was one of the best “cocktail tours” I’ve ever been part of and as I crossed the finishing line, I was disappointed the race was over. Trust me, when I say – I’m always glad a race is over.  Regrets? Not one.  The sense of accomplishment was there.  I survived 13.1 miles and a tequila shot to boot.

Image may contain: Heather Moreau, smiling, standing

MK:  You are inspiring me to “let go!” I can remember being when UVM students used to pass out small cups of beer at Mile 25 in VCM. I was too “into my time” to stop and enjoy the moment.  Next time I get the chance, I will!  Ok, so it looks like you’re up to 13 half marathons.  What’s next on the list?

Heather:  Type A people always have a plan, so yes, I’m signed up for race number 14.  Three of my best friends are heading down to Delaware with me in the spring to run in the Coastal Delaware Running Festival in Rehoboth Beach.  Running is a perfect excuse for a girls’ weekend.  Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville and Zion National Park halves are on my bucket list, but this year I’ll likely end up going to places I would not otherwise go and that’s among the best parts of this goal.

MK: I agree! Running has given me an excuse to travel to places I’d not otherwise visit. Now, speaking of places I’d not otherwise visit, if I had my choice, I’d never see the inside of a health club.  Running is my “wellness” activity, but I prefer it to be outside.  The past week has been a challenge.  And I can’t stand the treadmill! How do you stick with it in the dark & the cold?

Heather: I can’t stand the treadmill either and the alternative experience means I’ve had my water bottle freeze and my phone die from the cold on long winter runs.  It’s tough. There is no way around it.  I have a map of the 50 states in my house that holds spaces where I can insert photos of the races I’ve completed.  Near the map is a hand painted sign that I bought after a race in New Orleans.  It says: “Live More, Worry Less.”  I know that my #halfcrazy50 goal is not really about running in 50 different cities.  It’s really about staying healthy, meeting new people, experiencing unique places, and fully living life.  It’s pretty strong motivation.

MK: “Live more, worry less, stay healthy.” It’s like you’ve read my blog! It strikes me that your firm does a great job incorporating wellness. For example: time off for your trip with your daughter; you and Carie run;  Chris plays basketball and swims.  Are those nonlawyerly things an important part of the firm culture/attitude?

Heather: Working very hard goes without saying, but our firm culture provides the flexibility to fit in what’s important outside of work.  Beyond what you said, John works out everyday during the lunch hour.  Come to our office at 11:50 and you can bet you will see him leaving with his gym bag.  Lizzie (our legal assistant), Carie and I make it a point to run together.  Trudging up the College Street hill is something that is better done in a group.  I’d also bet on us to compete in the Vermont City Marathon relay again this year. Last year we competed as the “Maley and Maley – In It For the Long Run” team and Carie made sure I had the last leg so that I could finally run through the VCM finish line.  So much team building happens when you are out sweating miles together.

It’s also part of our culture to celebrate individual and firm successes.  The whole Maley and Maley crew steps out of the office every now and again.  You may spot us laughing and toasting one thing or another.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Heather Moreau, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

MK:  The glory leg! Very kind of Carie! Last question – and speaking of Route 66 – I’ve run in Chicago and I’ve run in Santa Monica.  I love both.  But, let’s imagine there’s a rule that says you can only run ONE 13.1 mile section of Route 66. What section do you choose and why?

Heather: You saved the toughest question for last.  Choosing one 13.1 mile segment of 2,448 phenomenal miles is quite a conundrum.  Each section is unique and an experience in American history and culture.  “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” is a coined phrase for a reason.  It was surreal to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona** and would be pretty awesome to do a race down Route 66 that started on that corner.  I can also imagine running along 66 in the Painted Desert that’s part of the Petrified Forest or the views while running the hilly curves of Sitgreaves Pass as Route 66 leaves Arizona and enters California.

But for only one stretch of 13.1 miles, I’d run through Tucumcari, New Mexico for an iconic Route 66 experience.  Running down this strip would mean seeing the heart of the Mother Road up close. Tucumcari is a great example of the prosperity that was granted to a town when Route 66 was formed and the devastation that was left when Interstate 40 was built, bypassing all the neon signs, motor courts, gas stations, mom & pop diners, and cheesy touristy draws. Traveling Route 66 is a lesson in the human impacts of progress.  Running through Tucumcari in the Land of Enchantment would bring that point home all too well.  For me, interacting with locals and seeking an understanding of an area is what travel is all about and my “half crazy 50” plans are serving that goal while allowing me to keep pace with my 26 year old daughter when she says “Mom, can we…”

**MK:  Thank you Heather! And nice Eagles reference Heather! I’d definitely like to run a race and notice a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me.

Anyhow,  I’m most struck by Heather’s final words: “mom, can we . . .”  My guess is that whether your child is 26 years old or 26 months old, you might hear the same question.  For those of who don’t have kids, there’s still plenty of people in our lives who ask if we can make time to do something.

Next time you’re asked, think about Heather Moreau.  Lawyer Wellness includes answering “yes, of course we can.”

Thank you Heather!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Jennifer O’Connor

Welcome to Wednesday!

So far, Wellness Wednesday has featured:

This week, I’d like to introduce Jennifer O’Connor.

Jennifer is a 3L at Vermont Law School.  At VLS, Jennifer chairs the Mental Health Committee.  The Committee is doing great work.  Per Jennifer, the Committee’s

  • “mission is to lay the groundwork to strike the stigma of mental health issues.  Our goal is to provide services and resources to students to maximize their mental health throughout the academic year.”

In addition, Jennifer is a 3L representative to the Law School Committee of the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  Last but not least, Jennifer is the 3L rep to the VLS Fitness Advisory Board.  In that capacity, Jennifer practices what she preaches.

Ten days ago, Jennifer finished her first running race.  And it wasn’t just any old race: it was the Chicago Marathon!

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In the process, she conquered weather conditions – rain & wind – that I’m sure exacerbated the mental & physical challenges that marathoners face even in the best of weather.

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Jennifer ran Chicago on behalf of a friend who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.  Jennifer used the marathon to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association.

Not only does she practice wellness, Jennifer chooses to help.

For all she does for wellness in the profession, Jennifer is this week’s focus of Wellness Wednesday.

Thank you Jennifer!  You’re doing great stuff!

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