Path to Well-Being in Law
Path to Well-Being in Law – Episode 22: Lia Dorsey

Path to Well-Being in Law – Episode 22: Lia Dorsey

May 18, 2022

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, well-being friends, and welcome to The Path To Well-Being in Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your co-host Chris Newbold, executive vice president of Alps Malpractice Insurance and most of our listeners know that our goal is pretty straightforward. We want to introduce you to thought leaders doing meaningful work in the wellbeing space and within the legal profession. In the process we want to build and nurture a national network of wellbeing advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. I am always pleased to introduce my co-host Bree Buchanan. Bree, how's it going?

BREE BUCHANAN:

It's going great, Chris. How is your spring starting off?

CHRIS:

It's a little colder in Montana than I would like, but the warm weather is on the way. So I'm certainly looking forward to that. So a lot going on, obviously, in the wellbeing world and super excited to continue with kind of thoughtful discussion here on the podcast. We're going to continue. I think our series here on diversity, equity and inclusion and the intersection of DEI with well-being and super excited to be welcoming Lia Dorsey to the podcast. Bree, would you be so kind to introduce Lia to our listeners?

BREE:

I would love to. So we are so delighted to bring to you Lia Dorsey today, and she is a thought leader in the movement to advanced diversity and a driver for inclusive change. As the chief diversity equity and inclusion officer at Ogletree Deakins, she's responsible for the development and execution of the firm's diversity equity and inclusion strategy. Ms. Dorsey collaborates with firm leadership, practice group leaders and business resource groups to expand in advance efforts in the recruitment development promotion and retention of diverse talent.

BREE:

Ms. Dorsey previously served as the head of diversity and inclusion at Denton's, U.S. There she was responsible for the strategic oversight, design and implementation of this very large terms, diversity and inclusion initiatives. Before that she served as the director of diversity and inclusion at Eversheds Sutherland and has also held senior positions at DLA Piper and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. All of those names that many of us know. Lia's also president emeritus, I told her the best place, best position to have, of the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals. She's a sought after presenter in panelist on a broad range of topics covering diversity, equity, and inclusion at conferences across the country. Lia, welcome. We are so glad you're here with us today.

LIA DORSEY:

Thank you, Bree. Thank you, Chris, for having me. I am thrilled. Thrilled to be here.

BREE:

Yeah. Thank you so much. So Lia, I'm going to ask you the question that we ask all of our guests, because I think it just is well, so interesting. So what are some of your experiences in your life that are drivers behind your very clear passion for the work around DEI?

LIA DORSEY:

Great, great question. I like to start by saying that I've always been an inclusionist, if you will, although it didn't have a term back in the day as I was growing up and I'll just kind of share just a really funny story. I used to get in trouble a lot as a child, because I would give away my toys to my friends who didn't have them. So I would always just share, I would always just give. I was always that compassionate person and I think my parents appreciated it until I gave away my brand new pink and white huffy bike with the [inaudible 00:03:54] and then I think after that, it's "Okay, I think we need to kind of reign this in and pray." But all jokes aside I've always been a giver. I've always been a giver and I live by the verse, "To whom much is given, much will be required," and I seriously take that to heart.

LIA DORSEY:

I've long supported those from different backgrounds and environments. I've been a volunteer for a long time. I mentor, especially now in my role, I think it's very, very important for me to reach back and pull others forward. But for me, this was just what you did as a good person, right, it was never about shine or the accolades. You helped people who need it. I'm still an inclusionist, but now I like to refer to myself as a disruptor for good.

BREE:

All right.

LIA DORSEY:

Just today I heard someone else describe herself as a professional troublemaker, and I think I'm going to borrow that one as well, because at the end of the day to do this work, you have to be brave and you have to be bold. I'm also clear that it's not for everyone, that this is by far the hardest job that I've ever had, but it's also the most rewarding and I honestly can't see myself doing anything else.

BREE:

Yeah. I hope that I can be a professional disruptor at some point, but it does take a lot of courage. Absolutely. So good for you.

CHRIS:

It does. Lia, tell us a little bit about... One of the things I was impressed about kind of how your professional journey has kind of taken shape, is you've had the ability to move in and out of different cultures within the legal profession, which I just find is really fascinating. Tell us about your journey in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion and in the time that you have been a disruptor for good, how have things changed over that time?

LIA DORSEY:

Yeah, so I have been in law firms for a very, very, very long time. Although, I didn't start out in DE&I. I actually started out on the business side of the law firm for years and at one particular firm, we didn't have anyone at that time leading DE&I in an official capacity. So I raised my hand, again, I would love to volunteer and that's a reoccurring theme with me. But two years later, I found myself with almost two full time jobs. So the job that I was hired to do and the job that I was meant to do, and that was the DE&I role. So that same firm really saw how passionate I was about DE&I work and just how happy I was doing it. They actually created a role for me as the director of DE&I at that firm and as they say the rest was history.

LIA DORSEY:

But when we think about what changed over time, I think we've seen DE&I become more of a strategic focus in priority for firms. Even before the events of 2020, I think, we started to see firms dedicate more resources to DE&I, like creating full time positions, moving away from DE&I being embedded in HR or being seen as a compliance requirement from the GCs office. So we had really started to see kind of an elevation of DE&I and the role. Then 2020 happened and we'll talk about that a little bit more, but what we saw was even more of a cohesion around DE&I. We saw leaders speaking up, stepping up. We saw a heightened level of awareness.

LIA DORSEY:

People became aware of issues that weren't on their radar in the past. I think the murder of George Floyd was a pivotal moment. I'm often asked how that moment was so different because sadly George Floyd, wasn't the first Black man to be murdered at the hands of police and sadly he wasn't the last, but I think the difference that the world was at home, watching it happen and people who thought things like this didn't happen were now outraged, right. But that rage led to empowerment. We have to do something. We have to say something.

LIA DORSEY:

So we're seeing a lot of folks speaking up more because they aren't afraid and they're making demands for change. All of that is great and that is a big change, because I would say before 2020, I don't think that you would've seen people speaking up and standing up the way that we're seeing it now. I think all of that is great, but I also think that we're in an inflection point, right, because there are forces in this world who don't want things to change. The thought is the system has worked in one way for so long, so why change it? But the only way to move forward successfully is to change and I'm one of those change agents that's working to try to make this world a better place.

BREE:

Absolutely. Wow, absolutely. That's so wonderful. So [inaudible 00:08:48], I've seen you... Lia, I'm sorry, seen or heard you talk about your experience over time here. What have you seen now that legal employers are doing right in this area? What are some good examples and we'll get to weaving in the intersectionality of well-being, but right now let's stick with the DEI work. What do you see as going right here?

LIA DORSEY:

Absolutely. I think there's much more focus and intention being put around the advancement and retention of diverse talent, specifically minority talent. Recruiting is still a focus of course, but we realize that diverse talent need meaningful support once they join the firm. So for the listeners, I just challenge them to ask themselves, how are you investing in your diverse talent? Are you having real conversations around the development of your talent because we really need to make serious and meaningful investments. I've always said that the talent is there, but the opportunities aren't always there and the opportunities that I'm talking about are things like introductions to key clients and the ability to develop client relationships. It's getting the high value work. It's being able to tap into the resources for business development and the list goes on, because we all know that these are the types of things that can really impact someone's career.

LIA DORSEY:

So with that as the backdrop here, a few things that I'm kind of seeing that are having a meaningful impact today. We're seeing the creation of formal DE&I sponsorship programs. So we know the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, right. So a mentor talks to you and a sponsor talks about you and the best DE&I sponsorship programs that I've seen have leaders of the firms and that's the board, it's the managing partner, the executive committee and what I like to call the front page of the [inaudible 00:10:36] sheet lawyers. But that group of people are actually the ones serving as the sponsors. That has two great benefits. One is that it shows the stakeholders that the leaders are invested in the diverse attorney's development and they aren't pushing it off on someone else to do. So we know that law firms are top down organizations, right, but having those at the top who are actively engaged in the DE&I work has a profound impact.

LIA DORSEY:

The second thing is that that group of people are in a position to make sure that the lawyers are getting those opportunities that are referenced, right. So they actually have the work and they can make those key introductions. So I think sponsorship programs are definitely on the rise and I think that they can be very, very effective and can lead to retention.

LIA DORSEY:

The second thing that I'm seeing is kind of a focus on culture overall, because we know that culture is a differentiator, right. It's the reason people stay or go. A survey by McKenzie found that the majority of employees have considered the inclusiveness of companies when they're making career decisions. I like to say this, if you ask the people at the top of the organization to describe the culture, I'm sure that what they would say is probably different than what those who aren't at the top would say. I mean, and this is what we like to call that perception gap that often exists between the leaders and the employees and it's how do we get everyone to kind of experience the culture in the same way? So just think about it and ask yourself is your culture by default or by design.

BREE:

Wow.

LIA DORSEY:

Right. So we've been talking a lot about the great resignation and the she session, but now we're... I love that term. I mean, it's sad, but it's still a good term.

BREE:

I love it. I hadn't heard it before.

CHRIS:

I hadn't either. That's a good one.

BREE:

She session. Yeah.

LIA DORSEY:

The she session. Yeah. But now we're talking about the great reboot or the great realization and the reality is that the world is different since the start of the pandemic. People are expecting to work differently and they want companies to kind of meet more in their needs. So this is really an opportunity for firms to reimagine their workplace and their culture. Then the last thing I would say here is the inclusion of staff, right. Inclusion really is inclusion for all and not for some, but we know that law firms typically focus on the benefits of the lawyers and now we're seeing staff being introduced into that conversation, which is long overdue, but it's definitely necessary. If I can just touch just quickly on the things that don't work.

BREE:

Yeah. Please, please.

CHRIS:

Yeah. For sure. Lessons learned.

LIA DORSEY:

When companies don't make DE&I a priority. So when they still think it's just a nice to do, or if the efforts are just performative and they're doing it because their clients are kind of forcing them to do it. So you have to make it a priority. It has to be part of the overall firm strategy. And then if your leaders aren't engaged, and I'll talk a little bit more later about the difference between commitment and engagement, if they aren't engaged, then you're probably not going to have a lot of success.

BREE:

Right, right. So important.

CHRIS:

It seems Lia that you're, I feel like in your tone that you are optimistic that the level of engagement and particularly leadership leaning in, is increasing. Is that fair?

LIA DORSEY:

It is. It is definitely increasing. There were people who just because they could have been checked out of this conversation for such a long time, and now they are checking into the conversation. But I'll also say that just because you're checking in it doesn't always mean that you know what to do and know what to say and that's where folks like me and people who do this kind of work can really help with that. But I am definitely encouraged and I like to look at life as glass, half full with the way that things are progressing and the level of interest by certain stakeholders. It's really encouraging.

CHRIS:

Yeah. Because I know we're going to talk about this a little bit more, but I just think it's so fascinating how, as you know, even in the work that Bree and I do on the well-being front, so much of what maybe I'm going to say, not the easy part, but building awareness and educating others is one element to it. But ultimately action and taking on systemic barriers become probably the harder part of advancing social change and being a catalyst for cultural shifts, right. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes decades, right, to effectively be able to do that. But I find such interesting similarities in the efforts to advance both one DEI on a track, one well-being on a track and then the intersection of the two, which I think is even more interesting because some of the challenges are obviously unique and differentiated that... Really interesting.

CHRIS:

You said earlier in the podcast, Lia, that the hardest job that you've had, and that a lot of this has to do with, is the fact that you are trying to get people to change, right, and evolve their thinking and ultimately act in appropriate and effective ways. What works here and how do you get people to not necessarily... Well, I would call it evolve their attitudes and actions as they think about what the right work culture is and what ultimately is the right thing to do. But also, advances kind of where the firm is as a business entity.

LIA DORSEY:

Yeah. That's such a great question. You can't do this work thinking that you will be able to get people to change, right. There's a great cartoon clip of someone addressing a crowd of people asking who wants to change and everyone raises their hand and then they ask, who wants to change and then all the hands go down, right. That graphic perfectly sums up what it's like doing this work. A lot of people are committed to DE&I and they care and they have good intentions, but not many folks are actively engaged and I said I would talk about the difference between the two.

LIA DORSEY:

I think right now you'd be hard pressed to find a leader who would actively come out and say that they aren't committed to DE&I, but it's more difficult to get them to actually engage in the work. It's hard to get folks to willingly use their influence and internal capital to help someone else, especially if that individual isn't like them. So they don't look like them and you're not part of my in group, but that said, if we won't change, we cannot sit on the sidelines, right. So I believe that in action or neutrality is complicity. Action is courage and courage is a habit. It's a muscle that you build over time. It's consistently committing to something, knowing that at times you may get it wrong or you may be uncomfortable. I mean, look, sometimes I still get it wrong and I do this for a living, but-

BREE:

Thank you for saying that, Lia, thank you for saying that. Oh, my gosh.

LIA DORSEY:

It's just, it's continually showing up and engaging and if you get it wrong, you get up and you continue to try again. So, we spent a lot of times educating our stakeholders and raising awareness around DE&I. What does it mean to really be an ally or an upstander? What do those terms mean, right. What does equity really look like in a law firm? How do you work across difference? How do you have courageous and meaningful conversations with others who are not like you, right. What is bias? How does it show up in your interaction with others?

LIA DORSEY:

So once you understand some of these issues, hopefully that'll lead to greater empathy and then hopefully that will lead to action. Just in closing, I'll say, so instead of focusing solely on changing minds, focus on changing your systems and changing your processes and changing your policies, because that's also where a lot of this bias breeds, which sometimes folks don't want to change their minds because they're set on something. As my friend, Michelle Silverthorne, she is a popular DE&I and culture consultant says, if you change the system, you'll change the world. So I spend a lot more of my time focusing on changing the systems and then the hearts and minds will follow.

BREE:

Absolutely. That's just absolutely brilliant. Yeah. I've always thought that if you get the right form in place, things will follow. You ask the right questions on the right forms-

LIA DORSEY:

Absolutely.

BREE:

... And that starts to shift the culture. Yeah. Yeah. So important. So Lia, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit, we're going to take a break here in just a second, but you are just coming off as president of the association of law firm, diversity professionals, and I can really hear the polish of your message, which I'm sure that you honed over the time as president. What has that group been focusing on? What are you guys focusing on now?

LIA DORSEY:

Oh, absolutely. So, for those who may not know, ALFDP is an association of law firm professionals working in the DE&I space in the United States, Canada, and in the U.S. I'm sorry, UK. The association is around what, 16 years old at this point. As you mentioned, I served as president for two years. I served as VP before that. I'm technically still on the board and it is just an absolutely amazing organization just to be able to connect with people who are trying to solve the same problems, right, and achieve the same goals. So let's try to put our heads together and solve it together. But essentially we equip our members with the tools, tips, and talking points that they need to advance DE&I within their own firms and to help get the buy in and the resources that they need and resources is sometimes talent and then sometimes it's money.

LIA DORSEY:

Another great thing that we do is to collaborate with other DE&I focused organizations as well. Last year, we collaborated with Thompson Reuters and the ACC Foundation on a white paper called the Pandemic Nation: Understanding its impact on lawyers from underrepresented communities. It was a great white paper. I encourage your listeners to download it. It essentially was an in depth look at the impact of the pandemic on the careers and lawyers from underrepresented communities. What's great about that research even now is that it really points out the challenges and the opportunities of those historically excluded lawyers, which is really, really important. Particularly the opportunities part as all of us are slowly returning to the office.

LIA DORSEY:

There are things that organizations can keep in mind and I'm cleared about saying returning to the office and not returning to work because trust and believe for the past two years, we have been working hard, harder than we ever have. So I really want to remind people, we're talking about returning to the office, but ALFDP keeps on top of the primary issues that everybody is dealing with and then we try to find resources and give tips and tools to help solve some of those challenges. So great, great association and I'm so glad and honored to have been able to lead it.

BREE:

So, Lia, what is the web address for that in case our listeners are interested in checking it out?

LIA DORSEY:

Absolutely, www.alfdp.com.

CHRIS:

Lia, I have to imagine that, and this would be an encouraging sign that your membership has expanded significantly of late. Is that the case?

LIA DORSEY:

Oh, my gosh. Yes.

CHRIS:

Right. I mean that's a sign that, again, people are leaning in, that they're looking for a community that can provide national resources to be able to aid them. I mean, this is an organization that I wasn't aware of, but again, gives me cause for optimism that there are change agents that are coming together and sharing best practices that are ultimately going to advance our profession.

LIA DORSEY:

Absolutely. The membership grows every day and a lot of that is because a lot of these firms are creating a lot of DE&I roles and positions and sometimes they're elevating existing people. So the interest in DE&I overall, and in ALFDP, specifically, is just amazing.

CHRIS:

Awesome. Well, this is a great place... Let's take a quick break and hear from one of our sponsors and then we'll come back and I'm really excited to kind of start to talk about the intersection of DEI and well-being. So we'll be right back.

 

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CHRIS:

All right, we are back with Lia Dorsey, chief diversity equity and inclusion officer at Ogletree Deakins. This is an area that I've been just very excited to delve into, because I know that our board at the Institute for Well-being in Law, you can't talk about well-being unless you're integrating and considering elements of diversity, equity and inclusion as well. Lia, I'd love just to hear more about in your experience, how do they intersect, right, and how do we think about them, I guess not as two tracks, but two tracks, obviously intertwined.

LIA DORSEY:

Yeah. Mental health and DE&I are definitely closely connected. I would say right now, mental health and wellness and burnout, are very common topics in the workplace today and I think it's great that we're starting to normalize conversations around those topics. Asking for help now is not seen as a weakness and people are having dialogues and they're willing to talk about their personal experiences and their struggles. When we talk about DE&I, diversity, equity and inclusion, there's also another letter that's joining that and that's the B for belonging and that's really the psychological safety that folks feel. Honestly, we weren't talking about these things before, but it is just so important that we're having these conversations now and the fact that all of us spend the majority of our time at work, prioritizing mental health in the workplace is really, really a must.

LIA DORSEY:

Many of us are managing work related stress and experiencing diminished mental health because of the pandemic and the racial injustice crisis. This is, it's taken a toll on people and more so for those from diverse backgrounds in communities. We talked about, since 2020, there's been a much needed spotlight on racial justice, but it's also highlighted the serious lack of dialogue, addressing specific mental health needs and challenges for those from underrepresented communities. I think just kind of navigating and adapting to those challenges is really important because there's a lot of stress that that community is experiencing because of what's going on and that stress can worsen and it can cause health problems, it can lead to increased mental health conditions and so much more.

LIA DORSEY:

On the diversity piece of it, folks from diverse backgrounds often face increased bias and microaggressions and other stressors that impact their mental health and that psychological safety. So I think for the intersection between the two, it's really important to focus on that sense of belonging, because it's critical for overall mental health and well-being, because the more we feel like we belong, the more we feel like we can be ourselves, right.

BREE:

Absolutely.

LIA DORSEY:

[inaudible 00:27:16] like we have that support, then we can cope effectively with the stress and the difficulties in our lives. So firms and companies really need to prioritize creating this type of culture that supports, not only just mental health and wellness, but that inclusion and that belonging piece as well. I think another way that they intersect, and it's a way that a lot of people don't think about often is when you think about benefits. So really, evaluate the benefits that you are offering at your company. Are they inclusive? Are your wellness benefits available to everyone, or just... And now that we're talking about possibly, returning back to the office, look at your flexible working policies. Who gets to continue to work a hybrid schedule, who's asked to come back into the office, and when you examine that, you'll see how that too impacts diversity. So as we're trying to all come up with these solutions around mental health and wellbeing, it's really important to keep some key DE&I concepts in mind, as well.

BREE:

Absolutely. I just love what you're saying there around inclusion and belonging. One of the things that I teach about when I talk is also the idea, and this is where I touch upon the intersectionality here, and I talk about the impact on mental health outcomes of what's called thwarted belongingness. I don't know if you've heard that phrase before, but it's also something that's been studied in a precursor or predictor or suicidality. I mean, it's really serious. I think about, I use the example of, if you can't think of anything else, remember what it's like to be a little kid and everybody's being chosen for the basketball team and you're the last one, that was my experience, [inaudible 00:29:04], and just how awful that feels. Can you try to touch into that and have some empathy or compassion? So, yeah. That's brilliant.

LIA DORSEY:

Absolutely. If I may, there's one thing when you just shared that story and I was the person who got picked last too, I don't have any [inaudible 00:29:19]. But it just made me think about this amazing quote and I'm sure a lot of folks have heard at this point, but it's by Bernie Myers, and it says, "Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance." It's that last part that is just so important, right, because it's not good enough just to be seen, right. It's also about being included, being involved, feeling that sense of belonging and so that made me think of that quote, as you just shared [inaudible 00:29:48].

BREE:

Yeah, that's great. I'm afraid I also the person [inaudible 00:29:51] not being asked to dance, but anyway, that's another story. So Lia, I really want to dig to hear a little bit about a theme that has run through our conversations here, is about the role of leaders in the profession. Of course there are the CEOs of the big law firms, some of the ones that you have worked for. There's other leaders of the profession that I think really have a responsibility here are the judges and the state bar presidents, people that really are at the forefront of the profession. So what thoughts do you have about how we influence these leaders, that if you care about wellbeing, you have to care about diversity, equity, inclusion, and vice versa. How do you get them to pay attention and to take action to become, I think you were saying, it's not commitment, it's engagement.

LIA DORSEY:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Deloitte conducted a survey. I believe it was last year, which found that DE&I and employment health and well-being are top priorities for CEOs. I thought that was very, very telling, right. So leaders really need to prioritize their employees total well-being, and that includes their physical, mental, emotional health and it also includes work life balance. But in order to do that leaders must understand and address the unique challenges that their underrepresented employees face. We talked about this a little earlier, so that's the bias, the microaggression, it's the health disparities potentially, it's different mental health treatment and outcomes. Sadly I think that list goes on. So I think you can influence and encourage them, if you will, by just making sure that they understand that this is really important for every single employee, right, and some of the current support programs that they have in place, it's just not enough.

LIA DORSEY:

Firms have to really take a strategic and a holistic approach to mental health and wellness because there isn't one solution to the problem or silver bullet, but it's really a series of actions that they need to take. Then you need to tie this some kind of way to retention and culture, because we talked about this at the top, culture plays a big role in mental health, right it's about those safe spaces. It's about inclusion, because we know that inclusive workspace are more engaged and productive, but if you can really help your employees feel like they truly, truly belong, then you can help them achieve that greater sense of satisfaction in health and wellness and that can impact retention.

LIA DORSEY:

So just to kind of sum this up, leaders really need to prioritize their people and they need to create a workplace that fully supports every single employee, even the one from historically excluded groups and they must address those needs. If they want to create connected and inclusive workplaces, they have to address mental health because it's not an option to continue to ignore it.

BREE:

That's right.

CHRIS:

Yeah. Well, said. Let's look forward a decade and if we were to do a good job around evolving and changing attitudes and encouraging engagement and affecting hearts and minds, Lia, how will the legal profession be different?

LIA DORSEY:

Well, for starters, I hope the profession will be more diverse 10 years from now. It's a shame that after all these efforts and initiatives and research and data that the legal profession is still struggling with diversity. I want to see more of this diversity at the top as well. We all know that representation matters and I'd also like to see more accountability, right. How do we hold our leaders to account? I would love to see firms and I'm sure a lot of people are not going to like this, but I would love to see firms link the compensation to the advancement of DE&I, because our corporate partners are already doing this, right. I always say that diversity isn't black and white, it's green, because when you start talking about money, people listen. [inaudible 00:34:10]. So I would love to see that link because I think that will get us more change faster and sooner.

BREE:

Right.

LIA DORSEY:

So that's what I would say.

CHRIS:

Okay, and I'm just curious as we think about one thing, law schools obviously have a role here to play as a kind of a pathway into the profession. I'm just curious on your impressions on how they're doing relative to some of these challenges. Obviously, a lot of our work on the well-being front kind of starts with how folks come into the profession. I got to think that there's some direct corollaries there.

LIA DORSEY:

It is. One of the things that I've seen, which I think is great, is that our law schools are talking about DE&I earlier in the process or period, because it was a time when they weren't. So the fact that they're introducing and they're talking about these topics in law school, I think is great. Then we're also seeing a connection with some of the law school offerings and partnering with firms and other diversity associations that are out there, NCCA, the DFA and LCLD are three that come to mind. They're really just trying to make sure that particularly the diverse students are well prepared for a full enriched career in a law firm and really looking at how do we make sure that they know what to do and to make sure that they can ask the right questions and to find that mentor early and all of the things that come with that. So I'm really encouraged to see that type of partnering with some of the law schools and some of the other associations that are out there and with some law firms, as well

CHRIS:

As you said earlier, evolution here or progress I think has been slower than almost all of us believe could have been achieved. Are you optimistic about the future, and if so, what are some of the accelerator drivers that have you particularly excited for what's on the horizon?

LIA DORSEY:

Oh, Chris, I have to stay optimistic because if I don't, I'll go in my room, sit in the ball and cry. I just think it's really just my outlook. If I think about when I started in this field, not that long ago really, but when I started, we weren't even talking about some of the stuff that we're talking about even now and we were not as bold then as we are now. So, that definitely gives me hope. Some of the people that I see who are starting to do this work gives me hope. The fact that we're seeing managing partners and CEOs who are standing up and speaking up and actually putting that capital and using it to help advance it, all of that gives me hope.

LIA DORSEY:

I don't think that we will get there in my lifetime, but I am happy to be a person right now and a change agent who's really trying to plant the seeds that hopefully folks will continue to water. I tell people, this is a marathon. It didn't take us overnight to get into this and it's not going to take us overnight to get out of it. It's going to take some time, but I am very, very hopeful.

CHRIS:

Awesome. Well again, thank you so much for joining us. Whenever we can have a disruptor for good or a professional troublemaker on the podcast, we are all in and Lia, we certainly commend you for your longtime commitment, the impact that you're having, the willingness to serve and leadership structures and challenging the status quo, improving cultures, right. I mean, you are doing critical work, not just for your firm in particular, but well beyond in terms of improving this profession and the ability for this profession to ultimately serve the legal needs of the country, all of the legal needs of the country, right, not just certain legal needs of our country. So again, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.

BREE:

Thank you. Wonderful. Wonderful.

LIA DORSEY:

Thank you, Bree. Thank you, Chris. I have enjoyed my time immensely and I would be happy to come back if ever you would have me. This has been great and I love this so much. I can talk about this all day. I feel like our time just flew by. So thank you. Thank you again for having me.

CHRIS:

It certainly did and we will be back in a couple weeks with one final installment of kind of our series on the intersection of diversity, equity, inclusion, and well-being. Thanks to all of our friends out there for listening in and if you have ideas, continue to reach out to Bree or I for suggestions on future speakers.

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

So everyone be well out there. Thank you.

BREE:

Take good care everyone. Bye-bye.

 

Path to Well-Being in Law - Episode 21: Lindsey Draper

Path to Well-Being in Law - Episode 21: Lindsey Draper

May 3, 2022

In this special episode of the Path to Well-Being in Law podcast to celebrate Well-Being Week in Law, Chris and Bree sit down with Institute for Well-being in Law VP of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Lindsay Draper.

Transcript:

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello Well-being friends and welcome to the first podcast of 2022. This is the Path To Well-Being In Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your co-host Chris Newbold, executive vice president of ALPS malpractice insurance. And boy, we've had a lot of fun on the podcast over the course of the last year. I think we just hit our 20th episode and, as most of our listeners know, our goal is to introduce you to thought leaders in the well-being movement doing meaningful work within the legal profession and in the process, we're really working hard to build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. And as always, Bree, we have been together from the beginning. We've done all of our podcasts together. We've not had to had a guest co-host yet. So I'm certainly thankful as we begin the new year to embark on what's really the year three because I think we got started late in-

BREE BUCHANAN:

That's right.

CHRIS:

... 2019, right?

BREE:

Yeah.

CHRIS:

And Bree, how are you doing? How were your holidays?

BREE:

Absolutely wonderful. And yeah, it's just amazing that we are starting our third year of the podcast and I've had so many great guests. I hope the listeners can go back and see the different really thought leaders in the well-being and law space. And the idea of trying to sort of capture what they're thinking, capture trends, and be able to share that among what we really see with the institute is a growing body of people throughout the legal profession who are really passionate about addressing these issues and promoting well-being across the board. And so, we see this as an opportunity to cross-pollinate with ideas and share what's going on. So delighted to be here again and happy new year, everybody.

CHRIS:

Yeah. What I'm excited about... One of the things I'm excited about is just how our movement has grown in terms of the people that have been welcomed into the movement over the course of the last year. I think that's going to really prove to be exciting from a speaker perspective, as we bring on more guests in 2022. And one of the things... Super excited to kick off 2022 with a three part series in an area that frankly is probably overdue, but something that's critically important as we've thought about where well-being ultimately goes. And that's the intersection of diversity, equity and inclusion with well-being. And so, this will mark the first of three episodes that we focus specifically on that issue because, again, I don't know that you can really differentiate one from the other. And as we all know, if you've met one lawyer, you've met one lawyer and we're all on our individual journey as human beings, right? And there are some really, I think, interesting intersections with diversity, equity and inclusion. I know that we're very excited to kick off the new year with our friend Lindsey Draper to the podcast. If you would take a couple minutes and introduce Lindsey, I know that we're just thrilled to have him as our first guest.

BREE:

Absolutely. And I love working with Lindsey. I think the most important thing on his bio is that he's on our board of directors. And so, Lindsey has been pulling a major laboring oar with us over the past year plus to really get the institute off the ground and running. And so, Lindsey serves on our board of directors. He is the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. And so, just a little bit of background for Lindsey. This is where we make him blush a little bit, but as the Milwaukee County Court Circuit Court Commissioner, he oversaw Wisconsin's adherence to the mandates of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act as a state's disproportionate minority contact coordinator and compliance monitor. And that was just the day job. And then he retires and goes on to serve in a variety of leadership roles.

He served as chair of the ABA standing committee on client protection, which is how I originally met Lindsey and his work in that role. He's currently the chair of the board of directors of the St. Charles Youth and Family Services in Milwaukee. He's been in the past a director at large of the National Client Protection Organization, and as a liaison to the Wisconsin Task Force on Lawyer well-being. And not just a liaison, I'm looking at his bio understates his involvement. Lindsey was really key in the efforts to get that work up and moving.

So, Lindsey welcome today. And I'm going to start off by asking you a question we all ask all of our guests at the very beginning to talk to us about... To say hi, but then also talk to us, what are the experience in your life that may be a driver behind your passion for the work that we're doing here at the institute? And I just want to hear a little bit about that. So, Lindsey, welcome to the podcast.

LINDSEY DRAPER:

Well, first off, Bree and Chris, thank you very much for having me. I'm excited to be here and I want to start with... And part of why I'm excited is that I don't want anyone to miss how much the institute has made diversity, equity and inclusion a focus of the work that is done. One of the things that I recall from the first moment that I was asked about possibly serving in the role of vice president for DEI, one of the things I recall was at the point that I indicated that it was going to be a learning curve for me, because most of my work had been local. It had been in the state of Wisconsin. I was a government employee most of that early part of my career. And then the part that was on the national basis was with the National Client Protection Organization. I needed to learn a lot about what the well-being work involved. Obviously, I saw that the report that the task force did, I initially was the liaison from the National Client Protection Organization.

And the reason I had to start with all of that talk was in the work with the National Client Protection Organization, I got the chance to see what happens when lawyers are not healthy. We were involved in trying to make good to people who trusted lawyers. And a large part of that involved clients who were people of color, people who were immigrants, people who were frankly underserved by the legal community. And as I got the chance to see who the victims were and the people who lost, I also came to understand that a number of the lawyers, who frankly messed up, weren't ill intentioned. Many of them had struggles. So, it was having had a number of years working with the standing committee on client protection, working with Wisconsin's committee, that I got the chance to see how important it is for clients that lawyers be healthy. And obviously starting with having been in law school, I've been a part of the legal community.

So just watching those areas meant a lot to me. And frankly, by virtue of being African-American, I've seen what difference it makes in various places, whether it's having people in law school assume that I got in as part of an affirmative action outreach. Having people in various parts of the legal community make some assumptions over time that there were limited abilities, I guess. I got the chance to see the impact that, excuse me, underrepresented communities have in the profession and how long term micro and macro-aggressions can have impact on well-being. So, those were all of the things that contributed to why I'm so excited about being part of this.

CHRIS:

Great perspective. And Lindsey, as you know, diversity, equity and inclusion is such a, I think, vital issue now at the forefront of our profession and frankly, the country at the moment. And even when you go back to our originating report that served as a catalyst to the movement, it's interesting in retrospect to go back and see that there really wasn't a lot of discussion in that report about diversity, equity and inclusion. And obviously as events in society in the summer of 2020 brought this to the forefront, we really can't now put well-being and law in a silo without considering how diversity. equity and inclusion intersects that. And I'm just kind of curious in your mind, how do they intersect and how do you look at that?

LINDSEY:

Well, there's several pieces. And I think you start with... The question you just asked is a huge part of the answer to the question. There are a number of incredibly well-meaning people who when you point out, "By the way, this didn't get addressed or not a lot of attention got paid to this," are surprised because it didn't occur that the issue of diversity, equity, inclusion played nearly the role that it does. That I don't think a lot of times we are aware. And I frankly need to include myself in part of this discussion.

Very early in the role that I had as DEI vice president, I talked with other members of the board, and after having explained what it was that I saw as the goals and after having talked about some of the paths that I would like to see the institute take, I got asked, "Lindsey, do you see this as mainly an issue for people of color?" And it was a whole matter of, "You do know that you never talked about gender in what you were saying." As time has passed, and as I have gotten more and more personally aware of how big the conversation needs to be, it's also become much more important that this not just be a matter of bringing people to the table, but also a continuing dynamic discussion of how do we make sure that the people we have brought to the table stay there, but also feel valued and included as part of the discussion?

BREE:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that it's incumbent upon all of us to pay attention to that. I think about making it where people can stay there and people feel comfortable, valued, welcome in the profession, and that's for everyone. And I also think about it. The issue in regards to particularly well-being, the issue of sustainability in that, how do you make this a profession that everybody can be a part of for a long time because... And I am presented as a white, cisgendered woman, so I have to listen a lot and try to learn, but what I hear and I can certainly understand is the incessant microaggressions that occur in our society and in our profession wears one down. Of course, it would. And it impacts that ability to stay, to work, to make this a sustainable profession for people. Is that something that you see too, Lindsey?

LINDSEY:

That's a very large part of the conversation. One of the things that I think gets missed sometimes in looking at how people can rise in the profession or how people can stay, is what happens. And the example that was brought to my attention by an attorney in Madison, Wisconsin, had to do with how often he walked into the courtroom, and the very first thing that got said sometimes by bailiffs, sometimes by clerks was as he approached the bench to register or sign in, was wait till your lawyer gets here. The automatic assumption, "You've got to be the defendant. You have to have a lawyer." No opportunity for anybody to learn who this person was. And that's a common experience. The reason that it came up was this was a person who was leaving the legal profession, just simply feeling, "I can't take this anymore."

BREE:

Wow.

LINDSEY:

One of the things that happens and depending... My career for the most part was in the juvenile justice system and sometime part of it in criminal justice system, but one of the things that happens there is over time, people learn who you are. If you are in a different part of the system where people don't know who you are, it becomes that much easier for people to make assumptions simply based on having seen you. That, "Oh, you must be the defendant. You must have a lawyer coming to help you out."

The other part that... I know people do and say things meaning to be complimentary, but there's a point that you get tired of hearing how well spoken you are or how well you put together a brief.

BREE:

Oh my Lord.

LINDSEY:

Where people are surprised that you're competent. And if you stop to think about how over time that regularly occurring beats you down, then you understand why sometimes when you start the discussions that say, "Let's work on DEI," you have some lawyers who say, "I'm tired of educating people. Why are we not talking about making sure I'm healthy?"

BREE:

Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things too, also Lindsey, I was thinking in preparation for this podcast, I'm talking to you today is when I go out and do... Because I have a day job and I do speaking on just lawyer well-being issues. And I've really tried to... Have started in the past year and a half to include some discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion. And the piece that I folded into is around kind of unpacking the eye of DEI, the inclusion piece. And the idea of that there's a tremendous amount of scientific research that for people who are excluded and there's a phrase called thwarted belongingness, that that has documented real negative mental health outcomes. And it's really striking to me to hear that. And I think there's nothing for me, personally, that I think is more painful as the idea of being excluded of being kept out of the circle of where things happen.

LINDSEY:

Yes.

BREE:

And what an incredibly painful place that is. And I just remember in an early conversation, Lindsey, you and I had, and you talked a little bit about just putting it in very real basic terms about being able to feel welcome in a space. Are you made to feel welcome? And that's a real basic phrase that any human can understand and to not have that... I mean, that just... When you talked about that, I just remembered it cracked my heart open because... And was a real just light bulb for me because I felt I got it on a feeling level. It was just really powerful. Anyway, just thinking about the idea around inclusion, exclusion, and how painful that can be and the damage it can cause over time.

LINDSEY:

So one of my favorite slides whenever I get the chance to do a presentation is the inclusion slide that says equity is being invited to a party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. That one of the things that's important is not only to be present because you can be present in a whole bunch of places where you're not particularly welcome, frankly, or where people don't necessarily respect what you've got to say. Being marginalized is, I think, the term that for a long time was used to describe what happens. That is that if the discussions at the meeting rarely include any opportunity for what you have to say or what you may think or how certain policies may impact, not just you, but others who have some of the same views than you over time... Well, first off, you start looking, why am I here? Because there's a point that the good salary or, I don't know, the window in your office doesn't carry nearly the weight as, "Oh good Lord. I don't want to go to work today."

And so, that's an important piece. Let me go back to something though, Bree. And I want to be sure we talk about one other issue that was part of the inclusion part. And that's the piece that says we have to recognize that all of the issues, and this is part of what I was starting on when I mentioned having had the gender issue brought to my attention. When we're talking about inclusion, there are some parts that we really do see a lot more now than we always did. And for instance, the LGBTQ+ community is one that we at least recognize a bit more. Disabilities are one of the areas that we have to be careful on because part of what... Disabilities, sometimes, they're not just physical. That in the Wisconsin task force, I was reminded that some mental health issues, people who have certain diagnoses who are able to function quite well as lawyers and to be really good lawyers, but sometimes there are some assumptions that get made if in fact anyone knows that I'm being treated for the following.

So, I do want to be sure that when we are having this conversation, and that's why the marginalized part of this discussion is important to me, we also recognize that we as lawyers, and frankly, we as people who are trying to be sensitive to the issue, have to be open to the fact that we still don't see everybody at times and don't see the impact of some decisions we make... The open bar, for instance, at state bar conferences is an example that I think we all think of.

We sometimes forget the number of golf outings that accompany our events and the bonding time. Not everybody can go to the golf outing or not everybody has interest in it. Sometimes the lack of wanting to drink isn't just a matter of having concerns about substance abuse. Sometimes it has to do with religious reasons. Sometimes it's just health related. So, there are a lot of things that... And the reason that I say the whole well-being issue and DEI issue has to be dynamic, has to be continuous.

CHRIS:

Well, Lindsey, I think that's a good transition to kind of this. How do we influence leaders and all of our brethren, I guess, in the profession that if you care about well-being, you have to care about diversity, equity and inclusion? And it is about this dynamic continuousness that kind of goes hand in hand. I'd love to hear your perspective on why these are inextricably linked if we're really searching for progress.

LINDSEY:

Well, first of all, we have to bear in mind that lawyers have clients. We have people that we serve and many of those are people from underrepresented or diverse communities. And it's important to know the perspectives, to know the lives, to know the interest, to know the... I don't know, the well-being and what is in the best interest of the people we serve.

Secondly, there's a huge amount of information and perspective that comes. That sometimes there are ways of approaching problems, ways of approaching issues, ways of looking at how do we grow as a profession, how do we improve as a profession that can be better off if we hear different voices. And I think one of the things that at times we forget is that as much as we and the profession may have succeeded because we have a certain outlook and a certain determination, we might have done better if we had included others and if we had looked to what others had to say. The notion that we are a healthy profession, but we don't take into account the well-being of some of our members is one that pretty much contributes to things like the aging of the profession.

CHRIS:

Let's do this. Let's take a quick break here from one of our sponsors and we're joined by Lindsey Draper out of Wisconsin. And let's take a quick break and we'll be right back.

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BREE:

Welcome back everybody to our podcast. And today we have Lindsey Draper of Wisconsin who is, among many other things, the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion on our board of directors for the institute. And so, we've been having some really meaningful conversation here in the first half, and I want to... For me, it's been really sort of an interior reflection type of comments and discussion. And I want to move a little bit externally. And so, Lindsey, have you seen out in a legal profession, diversity initiatives that you think are making an impact and any that, quite frankly, aren't?

LINDSEY:

Okay. So, it's possible to give you a short answer, and that would be yes, but what I want to talk about... And I've mentioned earlier that a lot of what has happened since I've been a part of, first, the task force, and then the institute has been the learning curve for me. And so, one of the pieces that I want to talk about comes from having worked with the Wisconsin task force. And that is when we started looking at who are the people who contribute to the profession and what roles they play. The reason I wanted to start with that is because wonderful work has been being done at law schools. And considering how very much law schools not only have to work with people who are under stress anyway, trying to get into the profession, worried about the fitness question that's going to get examined when they try and get admitted, worried about the interviews for placement.

That if you bring to those communities also issues where they're confronted with the questions, do you really belong here? Do you fit in? That I have been just really incredibly impressed with some of the work that law schools have done to recognize that not only do we have students under stress that just as lawyers under stress sometimes resort to some ways that involve unhealthy habits. Law students do as well. And those law students have a great reluctance to ask for help. We're supposed to be the type A achiever. And to admit the need for help is to admit a weakness that most don't want to admit.

So what I've seen in schools, and I got the chance to see both what, for instance, the University of Wisconsin did and what Marquette did. Marquette, actually, had a law student who had some substance abuse problems who made not only public his fight, but also the things that he did. And that same story can be replicated at a number of law schools. Some of the members of our committee are actually from law schools. So, I want to start with, I have been extremely impressed with the work that a number of law schools have, including recognizing that it would be important to bring people from those governmental entities that will decide if you get admitted to the bar to say, "You need to address what will keep you healthy. We will work with you. We want you to be a healthy lawyer." As opposed to, "We're looking for reasons to not let you in."

That's such a critical message for law schools to get across early is, do not be afraid to seek help. Get it before you hurt yourself, your client, and the profession. So that would be one of the things that I think is important on a governmental area. We at the institute have the incredible benefit of having service from representative from Massachusetts. Looking at the work that they have. Looking at people who have developed not only an interest and a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and well-being, but also embedded in their work. People who have this focus.

So, I look to the state of Massachusetts because, frankly, a lot of what I personally have been able to learn and do came from patterning after a lot of what they did. So, there are a number of places. There are a number of states that were leaders. You can't overlook the work that Virginia did, but in looking at DEI, those would be two things. One is a huge amount of respect for law schools. Secondly, looking at states like Massachusetts.

CHRIS:

Lindsey, is that because of the advancements made in welcoming conversation around challenges that those individuals in law school or in states ultimately feel? I mean, is it a cultural component because, obviously, there's admission related issues as well and other areas? So, it kind of feels to me that... Again, going back to this feeling welcomed in the space of becoming a lawyer, being licensed as a lawyer, being welcomed into the courtroom, how you're perceived. It seems to go back to that notion of how we start the process is critically important to a cultural evolution that if it continues can only benefit both the profession and the way that the profession is seen.

LINDSEY:

So, I think my answer to that would be, again, sort of twofold. And just sort of bear in mind that there is... And I touched on it a second ago. There is no single African-American lawyer, African-American female lawyer, gay African-American female lawyer. I mean, that there are so many different parts of who people are. And one of the things that happens over the course of life is you develop sensitivities to things. And there are frankly people who look for aggression, but there are also people who recognize when it's happening.

Well, if you just start with that, and then you realize that you've got a culture in the legal profession, and you've got some decisions that people have to make. And where I'm going with this is if, for instance, you have a law firm that welcomes a member of an underrepresented group into the firm and decides we want you here, and here's your case. And that person ends up getting treatment for substance abuse, for instance. Does the firm run the risk in not letting the client know? Have you shared some information you weren't supposed to share? If you don't, have you not done the right thing by your client?

And then if the attorney hears or feels that he or she is being undercut, I think the normal first response is going to be because I'm African-American or because... And you think about how many different questions arise under the circumstances. That's why the commitment to the whole "D", the whole "E", and the whole "I" is critical. Because there are a lot of questions that are going to arise and a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made all the way along. You can't be human without having some things happen in your life. You're not going to be perfect your whole life. And you just need to be sure that when we take a look at the decisions that get made, they're made in a comfortable environment.

CHRIS:

Lindsey, as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for the institute, talk a little bit about... Again, it's been a journey thus far, right, in terms of including more perspectives. And I'd love for you to expand on some of the areas that you see the group kind of laying out part of its strategic plan to ensure that there again is a connectedness between these two issues that we know is real and only if we work on them in conjunction, will we see even stronger progress.

LINDSEY:

Well, you actually raised a significant part there when talking about the strategic plan because among the things that happens, the more people you have on a committee, the more different ideas you have, the more different areas of focus that you're going to have. But one of the things that's been really critical... And I really do have to say how proud I am to be part of the institute, and the institute has made a conscious effort to say, "We may have messed up in not looking at some things from the beginning," but we want to do that. The committee has made a big point of saying, "We can help the other parts of the institute if we know what they're doing before everybody's way down the road, if we can be part of helping frame the questions get asked." And an example of what I am discussing, one of the things the committee has said is, I've looked at the panels presenting at various entities or various programs, I don't see a whole lot of underrepresented people on these panels.

Part of what the committee has is the ability to help the institute because the institute has said, "Give us some names. Help identify people who are very capable, who are very knowledgeable, but who haven't had the opportunity to show that." That's why, for instance, where you've had members who've been active in presenting conferences, they know some speakers that maybe others don't know. They know some people who've done research that maybe others haven't seen. So, not only making sure that there are diverse voices in the decisions of the institute and in the work of the institute, but also making sure that we are looking for other capable, accomplished people who can bring not just a different perspective, but also an incredible expertise to the work that we're all doing.

CHRIS:

Bree, you might be on mute.

BREE:

Oh.

CHRIS:

There you go.

BREE:

So I think we may have just found our first time when we have to edit. [inaudible 00:39:37].

CHRIS:

[inaudible 00:39:39]. Let's just keep going. Let's keep going, Bree. We're good.

BREE:

Sorry. My voice has given out. [inaudible 00:39:47] just take a moment here. I was thinking that we would move towards sort of wrapping up just because of the time.

CHRIS:

Lindsey, I'd love for our final question to be just, I guess, a reflection point, right, of you've seen a lot of activity in this arena, right. We're clearly not where we need to be. Although I think in some respects we are more readily talking about some of the challenges in a much more robust way than ever before, but I'd love for you to just give your perspective on your outlook for the future. Are you optimistic? Is the tenor of the discussion moving in ways that has you excited, cautiously optimistic, fearful, right? So, I would just love for you to kind of give us as we kind of conclude this podcast, your perspective, as we think about well-being, as we think about challenges of diversity, equity and inclusion, as we see those kind of coming together, what do you think? What's your sense of where we currently stand and where we're going?

LINDSEY:

We have to start with, I'm incredibly optimistic. There's a part of me that's incredibly grateful that we're having this conversation, that there was a time when we were not. That as more and more people become aware that well-being, which everybody seems to be comfortable with, that's an important piece, affects different people differently, and it's important that well-being go across the board, that all lawyers be able to address well-being and the way that they address it isn't the same. We're talking about that, but more than just talking about it, the fact that there is an effort being made to identify, not just that there's a problem, but to offer steps that people can take to try and address the problem. I carefully avoided the word "solutions" because that's hard to say. Our profession is constantly evolving. There are things from left field, the pandemic, for example, that no one would anticipate that have impact on well-being of lots of people, affect some communities more than others and in different ways.

So, I feel really good that we are having the discussion. I am somewhat worried that DEI is a term that sometimes people say, "Okay. We have to do that. Everybody's got to have that discussion. Everybody's got to have that committee." I worry a bit that just like the assumptions got made about affirmative action a half century ago that DEI may become the... Oh, yes. We have to have that conversation. But that's why I've been really thrilled to be part of the institute where, "No, this is not item seven on the agenda," and we'll talk about it after we get all the business of the day taken care of. That it's been something that from the very beginning, the institute has said, this is a priority. And the fact that there's an effort made to keep it there. So, be cautiously optimistic, but also really pleased that we're having the conversation and that we've been able to identify so many, very talented, valuable, committed people who are working on the area.

CHRIS:

Yeah. And I think that's a great way to end, I think, this podcast is again, how influential you, your committee has been at looking to shape the perspectives that are coming in to ultimately building the movement and setting the tone for the culture shift that I think that we are all yearning for, which is to make well-being a centerpiece of professional success in the profession. From my own perspective, we all have to be more sensitive to some of the challenges. And as we allocate resource bandwidth as an institute, just being mindful that... Again, going back to... If you met one lawyer, you've met one lawyer and we're all on our own individual journeys as human beings. And some of those challenges are markedly, markedly different for some relative to others.

Lindsey, a heartfelt thank you for, again, your leadership, your work, your vision, your vulnerability, in terms of being able to say, "I don't know at all, but I'm certainly going to lean in with my perspectives and I'm going to learn along the way," because I know that you're in a learning journey, I'm in a learning journey, Bree's in a learning journey, right, of-

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

... betterment, right. Of again, having a passion for making a better profession, and one that's more responsive to not just the needs of the lawyers that compose it, but ultimately the people that we serve who depend on us to be solution makers for the betterment of society. So, Lindsey-

BREE:

And I just wanted to throw in here too. I really appreciate the conversations that we have. I've had multiple conversations with Lindsey and that this is an ongoing conversation, an ongoing discussion. And one that we continue to pick back up again and again and again throughout our work. And that's been a delightful aspect, Lindsey, working with you is that we can have these conversations and really honest ones. And so, thank you. Thank you for that.

CHRIS:

For sure.

BREE:

I thank you and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the institute and its work, but also for the incredibly talented people with whom I've had the opportunity to serve.

CHRIS:

Yeah. And we will be back with more perspectives around this particular issue in our next couple of episodes. And again, for those of you who are new to the podcast, just some really insightful conversations with all different types of leaders of our movement in our first 20 episodes. I would encourage you to go back and look at the synopsis on our website.

One of the things I'll also conclude with is, I think we will include our diversity, equity and inclusion policy that was adopted by our board of directors. Actually, our first action as a governing board. We'll post that in conjunction with this podcast as well. So, signing off. Be well out there, friends, and we will be back in a couple weeks. Thanks.

 

Path to Well-Being in Law - Episode 20: Terry Maroney

Path to Well-Being in Law - Episode 20: Terry Maroney

December 8, 2021

Chris Newbold:

Hello, Well-Being friends. Welcome to the Path to Well-Being in Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your co-host, Chris Newbold, executive vice-president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. As you know, our goal here on the podcast is to introduce you to though† leaders doing meaningful work in the well-being space within the legal profession and in the process, build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. I'm very excited to be welcomed by my co-host, Bree Buchanan. Bree, how are you today?

Bree Buchanan:

I'm doing great, Chris. It's great to be back with you. We've taken a little break.

Chris Newbold:

It is. We are heading into the holidays here. Bree, I think you and I have been on almost a three-month hiatus from the podcast, but that does not mean that we have not been busy and active on the well-being front. I thought we'd take a couple minutes here in the beginning, just to talk about some of the things, Bree, that are happening at the national level, particularly with respect to the Institute for Well-Being and Law.

Bree Buchanan:

Absolutely, Chris. Yeah, the absence of us from the podcast actually indicates that we've been very busy in the kitchen cooking up and creating this new national think tank. So over the past couple of months, we have done amazing things. We've constituted and oriented a 21-member advisory board of some of the best minds around the country and the well-being movement. We've also opened up applications for our committee structure and God, we had so much interest. It was amazing that there were actually people that we had to turn away, and we now have over 110 people on our committees. So we have really filled out the people that are working on this movement and it's exciting to have so many new folks on board and a little scary, too.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. I think it's fair to say that, again, as the topic of well-being continues to take on, it's been in the national forefront for quite a while, but I think one of the things as leaders that we've been looking to do is to welcome more leaders and ambassadors into the movement. Boy, I know it was heartwarming for me to see the level of individuals out there around the country and oftentimes, worldwide, who are saying, "I want to be a part of this. I want to engage in it." When you put out a call for volunteers to join the movement, the fact that we had over 100 responses certainly, to me, indicated that, again, there are folks that really want to work on this issue and we are certainly, encouraging both them to do that and for us to continue to join the movement and there's lots of different ways to be able to do that.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah. Absolutely. Another thing that's an indicator of what's going on our first annual conference, which is going to be virtual, is coming-

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. Big deal, huh? Big deal.

Bree Buchanan:

It is January 19th through the 21st, three days, three tracks, pricing, so people can pick a day or pick the whole thing. Again, just like with the committees, we put out the RFP and we got so many people wanting to be a presenter at the conference. I know it was incredibly difficult to choose, and so I think that bodes well also just for the quality of what we're going to end up having. So if people are listening to this, please go check out our website at lawyerwellbeing.net and register because it's coming up. By the time you're hearing this, it's around the corner.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. Let's say that one more time, so lawyerwellbeing.net. I think that is really the welcoming mat to the movement. Again, there's still opportunities in there to fill out and join the movement to learn more about news and resources going on around the country. The conference that's coming up in January, many of the folks and listeners of this podcast are also very actively involved in Well-Being Week in Law, which was another great success back in May. So as we, Bree and I very much take pride in the fact that we're a little bit facilitating and being dot connectors of the movement. I think that is the glue that still keeps this movement together.

Bree Buchanan:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Chris Newbold:

So, well, let's get into the podcast today. Today, I want to circle back to the influence of research and scholarship in the real realm of well-being. We're really excited to welcome Professor Terry Maroney from Vanderbilt University, who specifically has explored, I'm super excited to be able to hear about the intersection of law, emotion and the judiciary, which I don't think we've had a conversation about those particular intersections. Bree, would you be so kind to introduce Professor Maroney to the listeners?

Bree Buchanan:

Absolutely. I've worked with Terry on a variety projects in the past, so I have the honor of also a part of her introduction is saying that she's a friend and a colleague. So the official introduction is that Terry Maroney is a professor of law and a professor of medicine, health, and society, and the Robert S. and Teresa L. Reder Chair of Law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. She's been a fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and she researches the interaction of emotion and law with a focus on the role of emotion and judicial experience and behavior, which I just find fascinating. As a leader in state and federal judicial education on these topics, she graduated from Oberlin College and NYU School of Law, summa cum laude; clerked for Honorable Amalya Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and was a litigator at the and are Urban Justice Center and at Global Firm, WilmerHale. So Terry, welcome. So glad you're here with us today.

Terry Maroney:

Thank you. It's really wonderful to be here.

Bree Buchanan:

So just before we get started, the idea of judges and their emotions and I think who is listening to this and those phrases who's been in a courtroom, probably has a story to share about the emotional regulation or that lack thereof in the judiciary. But it's not something you hear discussed, and so I'm delighted that we're going to really talk about this today, but Terry, I'm going to start you off with a question that we start all of our guests off, just to give us its view and to our guests and their background. So are there, were there experiences in your life that's really a driver of the passion you have for this work in general, and particularly, in the Well-Being and Law Movement?

Terry Maroney:

Absolutely. Before I became a lawyer, I was a social services professional, and also worked in community activism in New York City in the early '90s, almost all around the HIV-Aids crisis at that time. Clearly, my passion for people and their experiences and what can make their lives better didn't originate during that era of my life, but it certainly solidified during that era of my life. When I faced a bit of crossroads professionally, when I knew I'd reached a level where I wanted to go to grad school and pursue some different kind of work I really was choosing between, say, a public health career or a social work psychology career or law.

Terry Maroney:

Really, I could have gone in any those ways, so what I have done is I chose law, but I've circled my way back to all of those things. So I've managed to do them all at once in some way. So I was always very, very interested in psychology and counseling and what makes people tick, how I can, again, be an agent for positive change in people's lives, and in communities then and after a very satisfying career as a litigator, and then also, as a law professor have found a way, I think, to weave all those interests together.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. I enjoyed reading your career arc, which was law student to law clerk, law clerk to litigator, litigator supplemented with teaching and then to academia. I'm just curious what your reflections on that and the impact that you're having, and from there, researching the judiciary, how did you get into that particular area?

Terry Maroney:

Yeah, those are all good questions. Again, the arc of one's life always looks quite tidy and in the rear view mirror it never looks like that in the living of it. But I've described to you one crossroads I took, which result to me going into law at all. A second crossroads was once I was a number of years into my litigation career, I really needed to decide was that what I wanted to stay in for the foreseeable future, or did I want to move into academia? Pardon me, and I chose to go into academia for a number of reasons. One is that I found myself always being intrigued by the big issues and litigation provided me many wonderful opportunities to engage with big issues. I was very lucky in the kind of practice I had, but I found that that's where I was happiest. I thought, "Well, if I go into academia, I can do that all the time." I also love teaching and wanted to be able to build that into my day-to-day life, so that's the choice I made.

Terry Maroney:

I have to say, just like my first choice was actually a difficult one, because there are aspects of legal practice that I quite miss, and I miss, again, the human element of it, the human stories. So that gets to how I got to researching the judiciary. So there's a long story and there's a short story. I shall endeavor to tell you the short story. When I was still in practice, I had the privilege of working on an insanely interesting case involving a white-collar criminal defendant, who, as we had discovered had suffered a very serious form of brain injury from a medical incident. This brain injury from this medical incident had seriously impaired some of the emotional processing aspects of her brain function. So she was cognitively and intellectually intact, but emotionally, extremely disabled in a way that actually directly contributed to the behavior for which she been [inaudible 00:11:35] a very small part of a very, very large Ponzi scheme, exactly the kind of scheme that somebody [inaudible 00:11:45]

Terry Maroney:

So working on that case, I became absolutely fascinated by the interaction at the psychological and at the neurological level between emotion and reason. I became very puzzled about why law, unlike the fields I had been in before, for example, psychology and social work, why law had this very entrenched, very strange idea that emotions and rationality are separable and opposing forces and that law existed for the purpose of privileging one at the expense of the other. I thought that was weird. I thought, to use a technical term, it didn't match up with anything I knew about human behavior and human life and what creates a good and flourishing human life. The more I read about the science, I realized that I wasn't alone in that, and if anything was alone, it was law that held onto this very irrational idea about the role of emotion.

Terry Maroney:

So when I went into academia, that was the first thing I started writing about and it's like a minor hits of vein. I hit vein and I've literally just never left it, and as I've gotten deeper and deeper into it, just because it's such an incredibly rich vein to say, "What are all the implications for the legal system, for legal theory, for legal practice of us believing some version of a big lie about the way humans function? What are all the implications of that?" That's the work of many lifetimes for many people, I'm just doing my bit. As I continued on that vein, the bit that I found that has been the most personally satisfying has been judges that I realized that if there's a big lie going around about emotion and reason being separable and emotion being the enemy of reason, nowhere is that stronger than with judges and judging. They are what historically have been thought of as the paragons of should be emotionless, or what I've called 'the cultural script of judicial dispassion.'

Terry Maroney:

That's a very definition of a good judge is a judge who has eradicated all emotions in the course of his or her work, and that just can't be right. So there you go. That was the medium-size story, but again, I've hit that sub-vein probably about 10 years ago and, again, just never left it. It has led me into an incredibly satisfying research agenda, but even more importantly, into a very satisfying work with individual judges and with the judiciary, which has just really deepened my regard and affection for the profession and my commitment to trying to make them live happier, healthier lives. So, Bree, you'll appreciate this, but shortly after the presentation that you and I were both a part of at a circuit court conference recently, a judge came up to me and said, "You know what? I'm glad we're talking about this, because healthy judges make for healthy courts and healthy courts make for a healthy, fair society." I said, "That's it, in a nutshell. That's my life. There you go."

Chris Newbold:

There you go.

Terry Maroney:

Right? Really, I felt seen and heard. I said, "Exactly."

Bree Buchanan:

Oh, wow.

Terry Maroney:

Yeah.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah, and it is really meaningful. Just, again, going back to my days as a litigator, there were so many times when I was in the courtroom where I saw the exact opposite going on of what you would expect or would want. You just really have to worry about the impact that it has on people, the litigants, who were there and saying, "This is what the civil justice or the criminal justice system is about." But I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Let's continue laying things out here, Terry. Talk to us some more about the research you've conducted of the judiciary. What has been your [crosstalk 00:15:58]

Terry Maroney:

Absolutely. [crosstalk 00:15:59] Yeah. So for a long time, I was just trying to set the theoretical foundation and just trying to bring into legal theory the idea that is so prominent in virtually every other discipline these days, which is that you can't understand human behavior without understanding emotion, and the end goal is not emotional eradication. That's actually not a sensible or possible or productive target to aim for. So this big lie or the cultural script of dispassion is not something that, of course we can't ever get there, but the trying to get there will do good things for us. The trying to get there actually does bad things for us. It does bad things for judges. It does bad things for the court. It does bad things for society because what I bring in my research and research of primarily from affective science and from the sociology of emotion shows is that the effort it takes for judges to try to divest themselves of a normal range of human emotion is itself, counterproductive.

Terry Maroney:

So I could have a much longer conversation with you about that, but the core message is the most important thing that judges can do is to notice, name, and understand their work-related emotions and not assume that they're a bad thing. Assume that they're a relevant and interesting thing that should be interrogated so you can decide what to do with them. Some you're going to want to try to set aside some, you're going to follow, some you're going to try to morph in some way, again, much longer conversations, but that's the core message. So what I have done in addition to just bringing in research, again, primarily from affective psychology and sociology and showing how it sheds light on judges and judging about how we should encourage judges to notice, name, and understand their emotions.

Terry Maroney:

In the more recent years, I've moved on from that theoretical foundation and started doing empirical research of my own, and that has two, well, I guess at this point, I should say three main prongs. So the largest prong is that for a number of years now, I have been conducting a national purposive sample qualitative interview study with federal judges, both districts, judges, and judges in the courts of appeal, where I go and I talk to a diversity of judges from all over the country with different geographies, different types of dockets, different number of years on the bench, a diversity in terms of gender, race, political party of the appointed president, et cetera, and just invite them to educate me about their work-related emotions; what they are, why they think they have them, what impact they think they have, but in a very biologic way, trying to get past the party line or generalities and get very, very specific like, "Let's talk through an instance in which you are unhappy with how you handled a particular situation, for example."

Terry Maroney:

So these are very deep, and I dare say, intimate conversations and I feel extremely privileged to have had so many of them. So that is prong number one, which is a serious qualitative deep dive, just into the mental maps that judges have of the kinds of emotional experiences they have at work, what they think they're about, how they try to manage them and why, and what impact they have on them and their families. So that's prong one. Prong two is more squarely about wellness, and I see these things as quite intertwined. In fact, I came to the wellness game a little late. I was very much about emotion and emotion regulation in judges. I found that I kept going to judicial conferences and being put in the wellness programming section of the conference. I'd be like, "No, no, no, I don't do wellness work. I do high-level theoretical work about the interplay of cognition emotion."

Terry Maroney:

Then after a few years of that, I was like, "Oh no, wait. I am doing all this work," and that's a good thing. So I'll just give you one snippet about why I think this is such an important connection is I've focused for a long time on the ways in which judges try to regulate their emotions at work, which means why are they motivated to do so? How are they trying to do it? Are they using regulation strategies that have been shown to be productive to decision making or that cause undue cognitive load or are counterproductive, et cetera. It turns out that one of the biggest predictors of burnout, for example, in workers, and I think of judges as a species of worker, is basically how well or how poorly they do with their emotion regulation. So I'm drawing on work on the concept of emotional labor, for example. I started to see that all these things are intertwined.

Terry Maroney:

So if judges can notice, name, and understand their work related emotions and treat them with a curiosity and a value-neutral perspective that enables to figure out again, what are they about? Are they appropriate? What should I do with them? Why? If they can do that, not only is there judging better because it's a factor that if unacknowledged could have impact that you're not conscious of, right? It gives judges more tools with which to choose what they do and do not incorporate into their behavior and decision making. It allows emotion to enrich that decision making in some instances and it allows them to space and time to set them aside in others, if they can do that, in my view, then they're at far lesser risk of some of the well-being impacts that we worry about such as burnout, compassion fatigue, right? People who are more granular with their emotions are better at emotion regulation. People who are more granular with their emotions have better health outcomes. These things are interconnected. They drink less when they're upset. So again, I've stopped resisting the wellness pull.

Bree Buchanan:

Good. Good.

Terry Maroney:

Okay. I've forgotten, I lost track now. I'm in prong number two or three? It doesn't really matter. Here's the wellness prong. So what I've started doing most recently is literally to study the judicial wellness movement. I have had a small army of really wonderful research assistants and some great colleagues in the qualitative research core at Vanderbilt. We have been, basically, trying to figure out what is this quote/unquote movement? Why now? Why are we focusing on not just lawyer wellness, but specifically now judicial wellness? What do we think the problem is? Why do we think that and what are we trying to do about it and why? So we've literally just been scrubbing the internet for any and all evidence of pamphlets, conferences, articles, YouTube videos, judicial education seminars about judicial wellness and also interviewing judicial wellness leaders and are trying to figure out what is this movement? What's it trying to do and why? And mapping that data onto wellness research to see if there are obvious gaps or areas of growth. So that's been a lot of fun.

Bree Buchanan:

Wow. That's fascinating. Awesome. Listen, I wanted to ask you, Terry, just a little bit digging down in the specific area around compassion fatigue, which is also known as secondary PTSD [crosstalk 00:24:43].

Terry Maroney:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), or secondary trauma. Yeah.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah, in my work with a judiciary in education, et cetera, that seems to be a really big topic. Can you unpack that a little bit about a little bit what it is and what you are seeing within the judiciary these days?

Terry Maroney:

Yeah. Absolutely. I don't want to make any grand claims about where the judiciary, in general, is with compassion fatigue, but I definitely believe it to be a problem for many, and a severe problem for some. So the way I think about it is very similar to what you just said, Bree. It's a secondary form of trauma, it like a contact trauma and those sorts of things that I hear judges talk to me about that are relevant to this, I think are, for example, a lot of them talk about being exposed to really traumatic evidence. Think about the role of a judge. Let's think for a moment about trial judges in cases at might involve traumatic evidence, which could be in a civil case, like with a gruesome injury, or it could be in a criminal case. For example, a lot of judges are exposed to direct evidence of extreme child sexual abuse and child pornography.

Terry Maroney:

So the role of a trial judge is to look at all that stuff and figure out what can and can't go to the jury, and part of that determination is how traumatic is this going to be for the jury? Is it going to be so, so overwhelming that they can't get whatever the intended informational value is out of it? Well, in order to make that determination, the judge has to look at it herself. Then she has to guess, based on her own level of shock and trauma, what the average juror's level of shock and trauma is going to be. That's just one example, but it's a job that literally requires you to become traumatized so that you can do your job. That's a really hard thing to put on normal human beings. So that's just one example, but a lot of judges say the hardest thing about what they do, and this goes for trial and appellate judges is just being exposed to how broken the world is.

Terry Maroney:

They often say things like "I see people at their worst. I never hear a good story. Federal judges love doing naturalization ceremonies, because it's such a happy day. State court judges love to do adoption, consent adoption because they finally get to do something good." It can be a real grind. I hear judges say, "I basically process evictions all day and I can't do anything about it." So it's that combination of requiring the judge to have emotionally difficult experiences. It's being exposed to a very disproportionately negative account of human reality because most reasons why people are in court are not good reasons. Somebody's usually very unhappy, and then the sense frustration that can be the nail in that coffin I think, and that, "I can't really do anything about it. I can't solve the problem of child pornography. I can just handle this one case. I can't really solve the housing crisis. All I do is inflict pain by processing evictions and I have no choice."

Terry Maroney:

So I think that's the danger zone for judges is that if they're getting those negative inputs without any opportunities to feel elevated or to feel a sense of agency, I think that's when you get into compassion fatigue and that can just make people shut down. One judge who was interviewed by some colleagues of mine in Australia at one point said, "You have a choice of remaining open to it all, which you can't do because then your emotions are essentially too raw at all times, or just growing a skin on you thick as a rhino," and this judge's words, in which case you can't be a good judge because he lost the feeling for humanity. So there's this feeling of a rock and hard place, and I'm interested in the third way, what's not the rock and what's not the hard place? How can you notice them even understand the things that are hard and process them and think about them and work through them in a way that allows you to be healthy and to do your job well, but also take care of yourself.

Chris Newbold:

All right. Let's take a quick break right here. Terry, I think you've done a wonderful job setting the table about all the different areas that you've been involved with. I'd love to continue to drill down in the second half about where do we go and what you've found and what you advise, as we think about the confidence in the legal system is so important in terms of the wellness of our judges is to the public's confidence and its effectiveness. I just love the work that you're doing. I got to imagine that there's not a lot of people doing what you do, which is, I think another really interesting part of-

Terry Maroney:

That is true. [crosstalk 00:30:15]

Chris Newbold:

... who you are and [crosstalk 00:30:15].

Terry Maroney:

I wish there were more. Maybe they'll hear this podcast.

Chris Newbold:

That's right. That's right. So let's take a quick break.

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Chris Newbold:

All right. Welcome back. We are joined by Professor Terry Maroney from Vanderbilt University, and we are exploring law and emotion and the judiciary. Terry, I want to pick up a little bit about just how you see your own personal role. Obviously, you've done a lot of work as you've done, you're working to understand the forces that are affecting judicial effectiveness, and ultimately, confidence in the system. Do you see yourself as an insider or outsider to the wellness movement as you've observed? Do you see yourself as an advocate after you've conducted the research? Are you building the trail map to a better judicial outcome and a better way of going about the work from the bench? I just love the fact of what got you involved in this movement, that's to help people. I certainly can see that the way that you're going about it is a very interesting one, in which there can't be many others in your space who are actually doing what you're doing.

Terry Maroney:

Yes, that's true. Again, I wasn't joking when I said I hope some people join me after hearing this podcast, because we need more people in this strange, little world that I inhabit. But so to answer your question, though, Chris, can I just choose all of the above? There's not a thing you said that I don't identify with in some way. I am an insider to both the lawyer/judge Well-Being Movement, and I'm an insider, to some degree, within the judiciary because I think I've earned their trust and they've earned my respect. I work directly with courts and with judges on trying to strengthen capacity for judges to be able to notice, name, and understand their emotions and service of being better judges and more satisfied people.

Terry Maroney:

Sometimes, I'm a bit like an embedded anthropologist, but I think one benefit of being a scholar in addition to all those of other things, is I'm very, very committed to correct paths, which sounds perhaps a little opaque, so let me say what I mean. I do not want to be in a position of advocating well-being practices, for example, that are not productive in the way judges need them to be productive, or I'm not interested in forcing a particular account of how judges' emotions ought to infuse their work and their work product. I think it's very important to actually have that academic distance to follow the evidence and to follow the stories and try to see what's true.

Terry Maroney:

I think that's something that scholars can really bring to this field is saying, "Let's not assume, for example," I'll pick a random example," that conventional anger management sessions "work," or that they're going to work for judges with anger regulation problems in the way that will be most productive for them, and best for the courts, and best for public trust in the judiciary. Do we know that?" I don't think we know that, so I would like to know that. I'd like to know what works, and in order to know what works you have to know what you're aiming for, right? What do we see as the new model of the good judge if it's not the person who's divested of all emotion, but a person who is conscious of his or her emotions then uses them in certain ways and not in others?

Terry Maroney:

That's a more complicated view, and it's not completely obvious what it is. So I'm giving a long answer to a short-ish question, which is, "Who am I in these spaces?" I think I'm, I'm a fellow traveler. I think I'm an advocate for things that increase the public's face in the courts, because the courts deserve it. I'm not interested in artificial inflation of their brand, but I am absolutely in favor of helping the public, see what it is that they do and what they do well and help them do it better. But I'm also just an academic who wants to make sure that we're collectively not just following well worn paths, assuming that certain things are or are not true, certain things will or will not "help" in a certain way, just to bring that of discipline and some distance to it. So yes, all of the above.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. But based upon your research, though, it certainly feels like you would be at the potential epicenter of also being helpful in writing the prescription. Is that fair to say?

Terry Maroney:

I hope that's true. Again, this is where it's an all of the above answer. I do you work specifically with courts to help them implement real changes and real things. I talk to real judges in groups about how, for example, to help their appellate court achieve a higher level of productive collegiality, which requires a lot of emotion regulation in a group, and avoiding toxic behavior patterns, et cetera. So not all academics make that journey into helping to write and implement the solution, but I do. Again, as long as I always can feel comfortable that I haven't talked myself into something without adequate basis or that I'm not pushing an agenda without real things behind it, as long as I'm not crossing that line, I think that's really, the best and highest use of that scholarly set of skills, the discipline and the distance. What are we all here on earth to do really, if not to try to help our fellow human beings do a better job for each other. Right?

Chris Newbold:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Terry Maroney:

So that is my somewhat grandiose hope for this research is that I have this little sticky note on my computer monitor that I scratched out a little while ago that said, "Strengthening democracy, one judge at a time." It's a little silly, but in some ways that that's how I like to think of myself.

Bree Buchanan:

That's wonderful. So when you're talking to judges around the country, and it sounds like you do talk to them about what to do for themselves individually to support their staff, maybe the lawyers that come in their courts, what do you talk to them about and how are those messages received?

Terry Maroney:

So I definitely want to make clear that I'm not a therapist. I'm not a judge whisperer, and that's not what I'm trying to do here, but I am somebody who sits at the center of a Venn diagram, that again, not that many people have, which is I really, really understand legal culture and I really, really understand courts and judging to some degree, and I understand affective science and sociology of emotion. So it's translational, I guess, what I do. What I try to do when I'm working specifically with judges or with groups of judges, which is, of course, more are common, is try to take lessons, for example, about productive and non-productive forms of emotion regulation. For example, the difference between learning to think about things differently, which leads one to feel differently about them. That's called cognitive appraisal.

Terry Maroney:

The difference between cognitive appraisal or reappraisal, which is a very high order, intellectually-challenging, but very productive emotion regulation. It tends to, again, buy a person a whole lot of perspective on what their emotion is about. It gives them room to work with. It helps them distinguish good reasons and bad reasons. It can elevate positive emotion, minimize negative emotion. It's an all-around really great emotion regulation tool. Contrast that with suppression and denial, which is actually what we encourage judges to do through our cultural narrative, which are disasters. They don't work very well. They don't actually minimize the emotions you want and minimize, and they backfire and they eat up all sorts of your cognitive glue. One of my good friends, James Gross, an affective psychologist at Stanford once quipped, "Suppression and denial make you temporarily stupider," and it's true.

Terry Maroney:

We don't want our judges to be the temporarily stupider, nor do they, right? They don't either. So I think what I try to do at my core is I try to take these lessons from the sciences, including the social sciences and I translate them into the context that judges understand, which is the context of their daily work. So we try to work towards identifying moments of work- related emotion that they're experiencing, identifying the kinds of emotion regulation tools that a person can throw at such a thing, educating them about what these different tools are, and giving them the data on, basically, what's going to work out well for them in the long run and why, and how can they practice those things? Hopefully that gives a sense of what I do.

Chris Newbold:

Terry, what are you seeing in terms of judicial involvement in terms of leaning into the Well-Being and Law Movement? Are you seeing barriers, and if so, how do you think that we can overcome some of those and are there generational elements to that?

Terry Maroney:

Yeah, that's a great question. Actually, it makes me realize it's connected to the last part of your last question, which I didn't quite answer, which is, how are these messages being received? So I think, in my experience, judges overwhelmingly have been very hungry for this kind of information and this kind of recognition. It's a weird thing to walk through a very, very important job as a human being and yet, be treated as if you're not really supposed to be a human being. I think it really stifles a lot of judges' ability to interact productively with peers, to reach past the isolation inherent in the job. We're not doing judges any favor by treating them as some like super beings that are supposed to pull off something that no ordinary human being can pull off.

Terry Maroney:

So judges, I have been very surprised, well, I'm not surprised anymore, when I started, I was very surprised just how excited they would get about it. It wasn't particularly breaking down along any demographics, like judges that I might have predicted would not be open to the message have been open to the message, because it reflects the reality. Who doesn't crave having their lived experience seen and recognized, and given the space to actually talk about it in a non-judgmental way and give tools to try to do a better job, be a better judge, be a happier person? So the reception has been great. That said, that's the sunny part. That said, there are very real barriers. So I would not be telling the truth if I didn't say that there's also a very significant element of pushback. Though, again, I don't personally experience a lot of it.

Terry Maroney:

The people who come to my workshops, for example, either choose to be there, so there are self-selected groups, or they're forced to be there and they just don't say anything about it, and they just walk out of the room and think, "Well, that was a lot of bunk, great?" So I'm often not exposed to the pushback personally, but judges tell me about it. So I'll give you a couple for examples. Once I was doing a very small workshop with a particular court. So I was, basically, at a court retreat and I was doing an emotional granularity session, basically, and presenting data on the kinds of work-related emotional experiences that judges, have giving a lot of examples and stories, and it could get pretty sad. It's like "Here are the things that are making people sad. Here's what disgusts them. Here's why they're angry. This is when they feel hopeless," et cetera.

Terry Maroney:

At one point in the granularity session, one of the judges, now keep in mind is this small group I think is fewer than 20 people, all of whom know each other very well, just shouts right in the middle of me saying something shouts, "What is the point of all of this?" Just yells it out. He just could not tolerate it for one single second. I took it in stride and I treated it as an interesting moment. I said, "You know what? That's a good question. What is the point of this, folks?" What happened then, was what I thought was one of the best discussions that we could possibly have had, because the other judges were so mortified that he had done that, that they were like, "Here's why this is important because we really need to notice what we're feeling," and they taught themselves what I was trying to teach them. So that was a very dramatic moment of pushback.

Terry Maroney:

More broadly, judges talk to me about, there are a lot of their judicial peers, well, I'll tell you, one said to me once, "I would talk to you," meaning me, this is in an interview, "I'll tell you all these things, but I'm never going to tell the judge down the hall. I just wouldn't do it. I don't want to be perceived as weak or as squishy or as flawed," or like, "I'll talk to you, but I won't talk to them." That's, I think, the deepest form of pushback is when you don't feel like you can have honest, supportive conversations with your peers who are the only other humans on the planet who know what your job is like, right?

Bree Buchanan:

Right.

Terry Maroney:

That's, I think, the deepest barrier that I'd like eventually to see completely dismantled.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. Well, we certainly appreciate it. We just a couple minutes remaining, terry. Do you feel like the judiciary understands the impact and the role that they have had and can continue to have on this movement as a whole? Obviously, Bree was at the forefront of getting our report in front of The Conference of Chief Justices, which I think was-

Terry Maroney:

Right.

Chris Newbold:

A really big deal in terms of catapulting-

Terry Maroney:

It is.

Chris Newbold:

... this movement.

Terry Maroney:

Yep.

Chris Newbold:

Do think that they, as a collective group, understand how important this is to the future of the profession.?

Terry Maroney:

Yes and no. One, it's hard to say anything about the judiciary as a whole, especially in a Federalist system like we have. We have so many different types of judges spread out and so many different types of judging. So I'm always slow to group together judges with wildly different jobs who work in wildly different places, and we're talking tens and tens and tens of thousands of people. So that's my huge caveat, as I would never say the judiciary block. That said, I have definitely seen change among both the state and the federal judiciary, that there is absolutely an increased awareness of, pardon me, the need for a wellness programming and the need for a broad range of wellness supports. I think that's because of not just the amazing work that y'all have done with building up awareness of lawyer well-being, but also just pioneers within the judiciary.

Terry Maroney:

So I would be remiss. For example, not to call out the Wellness Committee of the U.S. Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit, which in the federal system is really the pinnacle of a court that got it early and leaned in early and has continued to do just terrific work and people look at them as a model, and that's starting to proliferate. It hasn't proliferated completely through the federal judiciary, of course not, but you don't hear anybody making fun of it anymore, which you would have as recently as five, 10 years ago. On the state level, again, I have seen even more movement in this direction often as an outgrowth of what started as, say, a Lawyer Assistance Program, or a LAP, and is now a Judges and Lawyer's Assistant Program, or a JLAP, which is a really important move.

Terry Maroney:

Again, there have been some states that have really been leaders in this space, some that are still catching up, but absolutely. I think, especially as public attention just continues to be focused on the courts, more and more court proceedings are being recorded. It's so easy to find evidence of, for example, anger displayed by judges on YouTube. I wrote this article years ago called Angry Judges and had these research assistants who I basically said, "Go on the internet and find me salient examples of judges losing their temper." We couldn't even keep up with the volume of it, because our culture loves that stuff, and it's terrible for the image of the judiciary, that we love that stuff. So I feel like there is more attention now to the human beings in these positions and a recognition that when they're regulating their emotions poorly it has very negative impacts, not just on them, but also on justice and on the fairness of our court system.

Terry Maroney:

I think courts live in some fear of having such an incident within their system because, again, it's obviously bad for the litigants, but it's just bad, generally. I think there have also been quite a lot of cases, of course, have had to confront colleagues who are experiencing, say, severe cognitive decline, but aren't realizing it and really shouldn't be hearing cases anymore, but they are, it's a very delicate situation. So yes, the short answer is yes, judges and judicial leaders see this and they want to make sure that judges are being given every single opportunity and encouragement to live the longest, happiest, healthiest lives they possibly can because their individual flourishing is crucial to the court flourishing, which is crucial to our societal flourishing. These things cannot be separated. The one grows from the other.

Chris Newbold:

Excellent. Excellent. Well, we've been joined today by professor Terry Maroney. Terry, we, again, thank you so much for your insights and your research and the work that you're doing in the judicial environment. Obviously, when you go to work every day and your professional mission statement is, "Strengthening democracy one judge at a time," that's a pretty cool lifelong pursuit, for sure. So again, Terry, thanks for joining us. That wraps up a three-part series on the research and scholarship side of well-being, and I think Bree and I are talking about moving into the diversity, equity, and inclusion side of well-being as we head into the new year. So again, thanks everyone for joining us and thank you, Terry.

Terry Maroney:

Thank you so much for having me.

Chris Newbold:

All right. Thanks.

 

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 19 – Matt Thiese

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 19 – Matt Thiese

August 31, 2021

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, Well-being friends. Welcome to the Path to Well-Being in Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. Obviously, Chris Newbold here, executive vice president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. We've been very clear on what our hope is for this podcast and that's to introduce you to people doing awesome stuff in the well-being space as we work to build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. I am joined once again by my fantastic co-host, Bree Buchanan. Bree, how are you?

BREE BUCHANAN:

I'm doing great, Chris. And when you started, just there was a little bit of introduction of yourself, I realized we're well into our 17th or 18th episode of the podcast, which is really exciting. And I just want to let everybody know who we are a little bit again and why we're doing this if people didn't listen to the first episode. And Chris is a great podcast host, he's also an integral part of the Institute for Well-Being in Law, which is who is bringing you this podcast series. He's our vice president of governance and I have the great privilege of being the board president of the Institute. And so just giving you a message from that and the progress that we're doing is it's really exciting to be able to host this podcast, get more involved in communications and spreading the word about the work of the Institute and the well-being movement and getting ready for our annual conference in January of 2022. Lots is happening in regards to the Institute. And so, just a little message for our listeners there.

CHRIS:

And it's been a wonderful five to seven years since this movement started and there's been one constant in the development of this movement and it's been Bree Buchanan. In terms of being the original co-chair on the national task force on lawyer well-being, Bree has just invested countless hours to give back to the profession through this work and Bree, we're just so fortunate to have you and to continue to have your leadership of this movement. It's important and I just want you to know how much we all appreciate it.

BREE:

Thank you. I'm glad this is a podcast and not a video because I'm a redhead and I blush easy so I'm flaming red right now. Anyway, to our guest.

CHRIS:

Let's get to it. Let's get to our guest. Again, we love our guests because our guests are bringing interesting angles and I think it's so important that we think about the collective holistic sense of well-being. And one of the areas that I think really catapulted the movement was the fact that we could actually for the first time, based upon a couple of groundbreaking studies, that we could rely on data to drive the well-being movement. And again, we are an evidence based profession, so the ability for us to really kind of put some numbers behind and some statistics and some scientific nature to the well-being movement, I think it's been really critical in terms of catapulting what we've been working to do to engineer the culture shift. This is again, part two of our, kind of our research focus. We had Larry Krieger on previously and are really excited to introduce you and our listeners today to Matt Thiese. And so Bree, why don't I pass the baton to you to introduce Matt and kick off the podcast?

BREE:

Sure. Matt, Professor Thiese is really, I think the key position that he holds in the movement right now is to be a lead researcher and looking at what's happening with lawyers today in regards to their well-being and really assisting us getting that data so we know what to do, where to go, what to work on. Matt is an associate professor in the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Utah. One of 18 centers funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention across the US. He's deputy director for the center, director of the occupational injury prevention program and director of the targeted research training program. Matt has a PhD in occupational epidemiology, a Master's of science in public health and is a prolific writer, having co-authored 99 peer reviewed articles, 46 practice guidelines and 19 book chapters. Whew. Matt, welcome.

CHRIS:

Busy. Busy guy.

MATT THIESE:

Thank you very much. Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

BREE:

Yeah. I warned you a little bit, we have this question, first question we ask all our listeners about what brings you to this work because we found everybody has something that's driving their passion and for you, it's interesting because you're not a lawyer. You come out of the sort of the field of occupational health, which is a new kind of construct for me to think about all of this work that we're doing. Let me ask you the question, what in your life are the drivers behind the passion, your passion for this work?

MATT:

Sure. I'll start sort of broadly and then get into a little more specifics related to lawyer well-being but just generally occupational health and safety for me is really important. One of my first jobs was working as a mover. I worked as a mover for one day and working there it was during the summer between high school and college. And when you have people in the profession telling you, "Get out, go do something else. This will just tear you apart," it really makes you look and think and say, "Well, you're here, you're 50 years old. You've been doing this for 35 years. Why are you here?" And it's got to be able to be better. There needs to be a way to improve it. That's what got me into occupational health and safety originally and I've just really, really enjoyed it.

MATT:

We all spend so much time at work, whether we like it or not. And I think any way that you can make that healthier and safer is good for you as an individual but then it's also good for those around you, whether it's your business or your family or both. In terms of law specific, all of my interactions with lawyers have been really positive. And I know a bunch of lawyers. I know a lot of people who went to law school and decided not to actually go practice law and a lot of reasons that they cited were because of the mental challenges, the stress, the depression, that type of stuff. And then I have a neighbor across the street who was really involved and said, "Hey, we would like to be able to have some data to help guide decisions." And I said, "Hey, that's actually something that I know about. What can I do to help?" And that was in 2019 and we've just been off to the races since then.

BREE:

Wonderful.

CHRIS:

Again, thank you for your work. We're excited to kind of talk about some of your findings and your first foray into the legal space. Professor Thiese, talk to us about, you're an occupational epidemiologist. That's something that I certainly don't have on my resume. What sorts of things do you study? What's the goal of your work?

MATT:

Sure. And please call me Matt, unless I'm in trouble, then call me Matthew. And so as an occupational epidemiologist, before the pandemic, epidemiology, I'd say I'm an epidemiologist to people and they say, "Oh, so you study skin diseases? Or what exactly do you do?" The pandemic has been good in that sense, if there's any type of the silver lining, it has really helped highlight the importance of individual health and having data to make these types of decisions. I've done all sorts of different things. Another area of interest for me is transportation health and safety. Truck drivers have all sorts of different challenges. Some of them are oddly somewhat parallel to law professionals but there's all sorts of other things going on with them too. I do all sorts of stuff. Really anywhere your job overlaps with your health, whether that's physical, mental, looking at different types of exposures, chemical hazards, electrocution, slips, trips and falls, automobile crashes, interactions with clients and violence, all of that type of stuff.

BREE:

Yeah. Matt, you started to intersect with the legal community. I think it came about with the Utah Supreme Court's lawyer well-being task force and made a recommendation that there needed to be a study of their lawyers in their state to see what is sort of the condition of their well-being. And so how did you come to become a part of that? And what happened with that process?

MATT:

Sure. I don't think actually I am the person who came up with a recommendation. I think that really was the committee had the foresight to say, "Look, we don't even know where our attorneys are on the spectrum. How are we doing? Are there pockets of attorneys that are doing better or worse than others? Are there other individual factors, personal factors? Where do we stand? Basically, let's get a metric at the beginning and then can use that data to make informed decisions." And then I knew some lawyers who were on the committee and they came to me and said, "Hey, can you just come talk with us about this?" And I said, "Absolutely that's right up my alley." We started having a discussion about doing a baseline assessment piece of all lawyers, which then expanded to lawyers and law students and other law professionals like paralegals and legal secretaries to get a baseline.

MATT:

And then the plan was to do a subsequent followup or a series of follow-ups with those same individuals. In epidemiology terms, that's called a prospective cohort study. You're getting a group of people and then following them through time, that's better than just taking a snapshot at time at different time points of just a random representative sample. It's better to have the individual people. That was the plan. That was 2019. And then the pandemic hit and everything sort of went sideways in terms of being able to contact people in research and everyone's mental health. And now that we're sort of coming back out of that, we're planning on doing our first followup of the same group and then we're actually probably going to end up using that as our new sort of baseline data element, just because so many things have changed due to the pandemic.

BREE:

Yeah. And just to follow up, so it was the Utah state bar that actually commissioned for you to do the research, is that right?

MATT:

Correct. Correct.

BREE:

Okay, great.

CHRIS:

Matt, what was the lawyer study? Explain for our listeners, what was the objective?

MATT:

Sure. The objective was to identify, there were a couple. The first was to try and get as representative an assessment as we can of lawyers in Utah, practicing lawyers and in a whole range of areas. We have in our, and it was just a one time survey. It was done online at baseline. We asked about the big ones. Obviously depression, anxiety, burnout, alcohol use, other substance use and abuse. But then we also wanted to ask questions about other aspects of an individual's well-being. We asked about engagement, satisfaction with life, physical activity levels, chronic pain and chronic medical conditions, family life. And we wanted our goal was to keep it short so that we can get a lot of participants. And then also really once we have that baseline, look both within the lawyer population to see if we can identify pockets of individuals, whether that's the type of law they practice or their practice setting. One of the big questions that we had was is there a difference between urban and rural lawyers? That was one.

MATT:

And then we also used a lot of nationally validated questions and questions that are used nationally so that we could also compare Utah lawyers to general working populations or other large groups. It wasn't just sort of an echo chamber of saying, "Oh well, within Utah lawyers, this is what we see." But really be able to say, "Okay, Utah lawyers compared with general working population other lawyers in other states, what are the differences or what are similarities?" And then ideally, and we've been able to do this highlight sort of some of the challenges statistically to say, "Okay, this random chance? Or is this actually something that in epidemiology is statistically significant and that is beyond what we would expect just by random chance?"

CHRIS:

And what were your response rates just in terms of again, the scientific validity is always important in your field. I'm just kind of curious on what level of engagement you had from Utah legal professionals.

MATT:

Absolutely. I'm going to answer that in that sort of a three stage approach. Our first way of recruiting participants was to do a stratified random sample. We got the entire list of active bar members and randomly selected 200 who are rural and 200 who were urban. Send them email invitations asking them to participate. Our participation rate from just those email invitations was surprisingly high. Traditionally, if you were doing this type of a thing, you could get it participation rates in 20 or 30% would be great. We were upwards of 68% from all of those participants. We got a lot of participants that way. We also went to bar conventions and just set up a booth. I have a team of research assistants who were armed with iPads and during breaks or before meetings started and stuff, we just asked if people would be willing to participate, if they have not participated already. It took about our survey was only about five or six minutes long. We had a fair amount of people participating that way.

MATT:

And then our third route was actually having entire law firms come to us and say, "We would like to know where our firm stands. And not only that, we would like to know where everyone in our firm stands, not just our attorneys." We have 13 different firms of all varying sizes, who we invited to participate. And participation rate for that, depending on the firm was between, I think our lowest was 83% and our highest was 97 and change. Great participation rate. Being a scientist I said, "Okay, is there meaningful differences between these three groups?" Is there in an epidemiological term, is there a self selection bias? Are the people who were at the conferences more likely to participate? Or the people who were in the firms more likely to participate and vice versa? Looking at it, all three groups were statistically equal on almost every metric that I assessed. Not just not statistically different but statistically equal, so interchangeable from a statistical sense. I was nicely relieved and confident that this actually is a pretty good representation of what we have going on here in Utah.

CHRIS:

You can see you get commissioned, you want to be able to survey the Utah lawyer community. You want to figure out why this is happening and how they can best address the issue. You get great response rates. What did you find from the study?

MATT:

We're still analyzing stuff. Like any good researcher you want to, one, answering one question begets gets three more. But we're looking at several different things right now. One was looking at comparisons between amounts of depression and among Utah lawyers at compared with the general working population in the United States. We're comparing with individuals who are at least employed three-quarter time in the United States, compared with our attorneys and found that our attorneys are not doing very well. We're calculating odds ratios. An odds ratio of two, for example, means that you're twice as likely to have whatever outcome if you're part of that group. For us looking at depression, the diagnosis and I'm getting a little bit into the weeds here so I apologize, but likely having a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, our attorneys in Utah were five and a quarter times more likely to have that level of depression as compared with the general working population.

BREE:

Wow, that's really significant. Just to underscore that, over five times the rate of depression of the general working population, is that right?

MATT:

Yeah, as compared to the general working population. And that was even after controlling for different, we call them confounders. Other factors that may play a role in that. Age differences or gender differences, other chronic medical conditions, that type of stuff.

BREE:

Yeah. Did you dig into gender differences? Is that something you are able to talk about at this point, a difference in depressive issues between men and women?

MATT:

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. In our data, lawyers were about, they were more likely. In general, our lawyers were more likely to be depressed. However, women were more likely to be depressed than men, which also parallels what you see in the general working population or in any other subsets of population. And I'm actually trying to find the exact number because being a scientist, I like to give you that full number. But it was meaningful. We also had our older attorneys were less likely to be depressed compared with the older general working population, which actually is also something that you would expect. It's called the healthy worker effect. And so people who are depressed tend to go try and figure out and solve their depression. Try and get into a better situation. Because everyone's spends so much of their time working, that's one of the common things is people choose a different profession or a different subset of their profession. That healthy worker effect also suggested that what we have here probably actually is a really solid data sample from which to draw some conclusions.

CHRIS:

Go ahead, Bree.

BREE:

Well, I know that this has been written up, there was an article in the Utah Bar Journal and then there was another peer reviewed article that I had read. And how has this been received? Do you have a sense that the bar people are surprised at the rate of sort of distress among their members?

MATT:

I'm going to say yes and no. I think that directionally, there was not a lot of surprise. Looking at ABA report and other research that's out there, it's yes, there is increased rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol abuse. Those are really the big ones. And I think generally everyone on the committee, in the Utah bar and probably most practicing attorneys say, "Yeah, that's totally believable." I think the part that really was most moving was the magnitude of that relationship. More than five times more likely to be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder but then it gets even worse when you look at the severe group. Our metric that we use is one that's commonly used, it's called the Patient Health Questionnaire 9, it's a nine question battery. It's been well validated to be related to more than 90% accurate for diagnosis of depression and major depressive disorder. The severe people are those who are contemplating suicide or have had suicidal attempts that they're at the far end of the spectrum. Our Utah attorneys were more than 18 times more likely to be in that category as compared to the general working population.

BREE:

Wow.

MATT:

Those magnitudes of numbers, when you think about, okay, relationship between things like smoking and lung cancer, you're about two and a half times more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke. We're talking 18 times more likely to be severely depressed if you're a Utah practicing attorney as compared to the general working population.

BREE:

Wow.

CHRIS:

Matt, on the front end, did either you or the task force go in with any kind of hypothesis to begin with? Or was this more designed as a kind of compare and contrast national data with state based data?

MATT:

Yeah, so I definitely did have some hypotheses going into it. One thing that was really great about this relationship with the state bar and the well-being committee was, they said, "This is your domain. These are things that we're curious about but you come up with your hypotheses, you develop the questionnaire." It was completely under my purview, which I think also helped with the recruitment aspect in that it was a recruiting effort done by me through the University of Utah. We used our institutional review board. Everything is strictly confidential, even going through, even with the firms, none of the firms received any individualized data or any potentially identifiable data. The bar does not get any of that. There's some benefits to that but in terms of actual hypotheses, yes.

MATT:

I mentioned that there potential relationship between the urban and the rural to see if there's differences in well-being there. Looking at different types of practice, whether criminal litigator or transactional law, so on and so forth, as well as looking at the size of the firm. Whether people are solo practitioners or part of a larger firm and trying to actually take all of that into account at once. If someone is a sole practitioner in criminal law in a rural setting, is that sort of just an additive effect in terms of challenges there? Or is it compounded? Or is it sort of somewhat mitigated? Being able to gather enough data to be able to identify some of those relationships was where we were going from the onset.

MATT:

And then also in my previous work in terms of other working populations and their mental well-being, I knew that things like physical activity, social support, both in the workplace as well as outside of the workplace can have a very positive aspect on both prevention, as well as treatment of mental challenges, mental health challenges. Those are some of the hypotheses that I had created going into this and was able to then tailor the questionnaire to address all of those, both like I said, internal comparisons, as well as comparing with other external groups like general working population.

BREE:

One of the things, Matt, that we are trying to do with the podcast is to sort of spread the word about strategies, ideas, policies, et cetera, that other state well-being taskforces can pick up and run with. And so a question, just how replicable is this process? You are doing this with Utah lawyers but say there is a task force in Colorado or another state that wanted to do this. Could they pick this up and deploy the same sort of survey for their bar members?

MATT:

Absolutely. I think not only the same survey, similar methods but then I've also, I've had some conversations with other states and other states have different challenges too. Being able to modify this and ask some other scientifically valid questions to address some of their sort of conceptual questions or anecdotal information that they may have. But it can easily be rolled out and it's something that I think is actually a lot of fun to do.

BREE:

Good.

CHRIS:

It feels like there'd be some benefit of actually having again, some standardization across the states that allow us to kind of compare states, yet providing them the ability to be able to narrowly tailor some questions that are specific to our state. Like for instance, I live in Montana, the plight of the solo rural practitioner is something that maybe kind of critically important to look at it relative to a state like Delaware where all the lawyers are kind of more concentrated. But yet it certainly feels like there'd be some benefit there.

MATT:

Yep. Absolutely. I wouldn't go as far necessarily as benchmarking. But I think that being able to have similarities as well as differences pointed out to say, and one thing, another thing that I've found in doing this research is that a lot of attention is paid to the negative side of things. Depression and anxiety, what are the big risk factors there? But there's the other side of the coin about, okay, who's being really successful? What are the people who are mentally healthy? What do they have in common? And then how can we help to reinforce that? And then, so being able to look within sort of some of those subsets too, can help provide more information. But I absolutely agree, having some similarities across different states would be able to sort of say, it answers that question, how systemic is this? Is this something that's more isolated to our bar? Or is this something that's more of a systemic question across the entire United States? And then how those may have different potential solutions, both on the positive and the negative side of the fence.

CHRIS:

Yeah. I think this is a good time for a quick break here from one of our sponsors. I would like to kind of come back, I think maybe after the break and maybe talk about whether all the data is grim. And whether there were some nuggets that you picked out of the Utah study. And then talking a little bit more about just kind of barriers to thriving in work in law firm environments and other legal environments. Let's take a quick break and we'll be back.

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BREE:

Welcome back, everybody. And we are here today with Professor Matt Thiese and talking about his study of the Utah bar population and also the potential of replicating that around the country. One of the things I saw, Matt, in the write up of your research that you got some information of barriers that were identified by your survey participants to thriving in their work. And I think that's really instructive for the rest of us. Could you talk a little bit about that?

MATT:

Sure, absolutely. In the survey we asked both, what are some things that help you thrive and enable you to be able to thrive in your work? As well as your barriers. And there were some consistent answers across all the different domains, regardless of age, gender, type of law practice, practice setting in terms of small firm, large firm, rural, urban. Challenges were actions of other attorneys at their firm or frustrations with opposing counsel. Those were two different obviously responses but talking about individual, other attorneys that they work with. Whether in an adversarial role or in a complimentary role. Others were billable hour requirements, client stress and or pressure. Just external pressure from clients and then inflexible court deadlines. Those were the big five sort of umbrella categories that prevented them from doing well or thriving in their job.

CHRIS:

And Matt, I think the other thing that I think is interesting about kind of going about a data driven approach, I think sometimes the fear is we get the data and then the data sits on the shelf. One of the things I love about what's happening in Utah is, the Utah state bar's well-being committee is now looking at really kind of more actionable plans to be able to kind of advance the well-being dialogue. And I know one of the things that they have you doing at this point is assessments for legal employers. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

MATT:

Sure. That was sort of an organic thing that happened, that came about from this project with the state bar. The bar said, "Let's just get a sample of practicing attorneys in Utah and then go from there." Throughout that process though, we had several managing partners who came and said, "I would love my entire firm to take this and be a part of this." I was able to expand this to use firms, we have like I said, 13 different firms right now who are participating and we invited everyone in their firm to participate. Again, it went through the university so the firm doesn't get any individual information but we are providing information back in a aggregate form to be able to say, "This is where your firm stands and this is how your firm compares with other firms." And these other firms are de-identified. Your firm versus firm A, B, C and D who are comparative in size or that type of stuff, as well as the larger general population that we have participating.

MATT:

It's been really great. It's been well received. I think firms who are participating are sort of those firms that really want to do something better. They either have something in place and they want to assess how is this making a difference? Or they're thinking of getting something in place, and saying, "Where can we get the largest bang for our buck really?" And they're concerned about making sure that their lawyers are happier and healthier and therefore more productive, more likely to stay with the firm. And really it's a winning situation if you can identify those aspects where people in your firm need more help and then go to the evidence for what's out there to actually provide that. Does that make sense?

BREE:

Yeah. Yeah. Matt, you've got this background just sort of general long, wide view around occupational health. And so here you come to the specific part of the working population. You've got a little bit of data around lawyers. You're starting to hear some feedback around what's happening with legal employers. Just imagine we've got in your audience, some law firm managers, human resources staff for law firms, based on what you've learned so far do you have any advice to give them, to help them have thriving, successful lawyers? And as a result of that, a more profitable and successful firm?

MATT:

Right. Yes, in terms of based on what we've seen so far, there's definitely some things that can be done to improve. Taking a step back and saying, all right, I'm going to take an even bigger step back. We're generally have been focusing here on this discussion on depression, but there's a lot of other issues, burnout, anxiety. Looking at the evidence though, for those for prevention and treatment for those, there's some big things like individual therapy, medication, but there are challenges with those as well. There's cost barriers, the time for those both in terms of needed, if you're going to a therapist but then also medication takes, SSRIs, anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication takes three weeks to kick in. If you have someone who's depressed, three weeks can be an awfully long time.

MATT:

But some of the other treatments out there are actually really easy to implement and there's very little side effects. Two that I would highlight would be physical activity and we have data that's not published yet but found that if you're physically active meeting the standard of most days a week for at least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, so getting your heart rate up enough that you can't carry on a solid conversation, you have to sort of catch your breath, lawyers who were that level of physical activity, so four or five days a week, we're about a third, three times less likely we'll say it that way, three times less likely to have depression or anxiety. If they worked out six days or seven days, they were about between five times and seven times less likely to have depression and anxiety.

MATT:

Implementing some, and then there's all of the other benefits. Implementing some type of workout, moderate or vigorous workout activity is something that has demonstrated efficacy in other domains. And these preliminary data look like they would help. And then there's the cardiovascular benefits and all those that go along with it, as well as increased productivity after the physical activity, that's a whole other domain that we could talk about maybe at a different podcast. And then another thing is cognitive behavioral therapy and that's a treatment that sounds large and onerous but it's really just being able to approach problems differently and being able to think about things and it can be self directed or you can work with a therapist on it but it's pretty immediate in terms of results like physical activity but it's easy to do and it can help people, whether you're severely depressed, actually, if you're severely depressed, you should probably be seeking additional help beyond just cognitive behavioral therapy and physical activity but all the way to minimal or no depression. People are reporting better engagement, better focus after both physical activity and cognitive behavioral therapy.

MATT:

Those are two very specific. Maybe they're a little too specific for what you were going for. Other evidence out there in terms of mindfulness and meditation is somewhat mixed. Mindfulness, meditation, psychological capital, those all in general populations have been mixed efficacy but in attorneys, they may be more efficacious.

CHRIS:

And I'd love to kind of spend the final few minutes talking just a little bit about the replicability of what you've done in Utah in other, not just states, but either state bars, local bars, county bars, specialty bars. There are so many opportunities for us to continue to utilize survey techniques as a way to not just to engage and learn more about the constituencies that we serve. But as you know, surveys can also be great educational tools at the same time. And I just would love your perspective. If again, a lot of our listeners are members of task forces, they're advocates for well-being in their local communities, just how easy is it to kind of execute on a survey tool? Can anybody do it? Just your recommendations for the time, the cost, the structure, obviously when individuals like you have done it before, others have kind of learned on your dime, so to speak. And so I'd just love your perspective about the replicability of utilizing survey tools as part of our well-being strategy map.

MATT:

Absolutely. Ours was done almost exclusively online, so it's super easy to do. You can implement it. You can have actionable data in a matter of weeks. Ours was all done online and with a few exceptions, we had a couple of opportunities where individuals wanted to talk on the phone or do a paper copy. Email invitations, online data collection aspects in terms of even returning results, a lot of that has also been done online through video conferences and that type of stuff. The whole thing from soup to nuts I think is relatively easy to actually implement.

MATT:

One of the cautions that I do have though is making sure that it's scientific. Anyone can come up and create a questionnaire but to actually come up with a scientific question, a scientific survey that's using questions that have some validity and comparability is important. And then also your sampling technique. That's always a challenge in that when you're enrolling people, are there biases? Is there a selection bias like I mentioned earlier, where only people who are healthy enough to be participating, mentally healthy enough to be participating are participating? You therefore have a biased sample and any results from that would be either deeply discounted or practically useless.

CHRIS:

And are you interested in continuing to aid either institutions, entities, taskforces? I know that you've had limited work in the legal space but it sounds like you've enjoyed what you've done thus far.

MATT:

Yes. Short answer is absolutely yes. Can I give my email address and say reach out?

CHRIS:

Sure you can.

MATT:

Please, I would love to participate and help in any way I can, whether that's running the entire thing or anything sort of that. My email address is matt.thiese M-A-T-T dot T-H-I-E-S-E@hsc, for Health Sciences Center, .utah.edu. And I would love to help in any way that I can. Like I said, this is a career focus for me. I've done a lot of work in terms of mental well-being and psychosocial health in other domains. But I really, really enjoyed working with attorneys. I think that it's very, very important. And I think that there's a lot of opportunity here to actually do good.

MATT:

One of the things that you asked me before was how I fell into this. I was actually planning on going to medical school, was accepted in medical school and in talking with some of my mentors, they said, "You're great at science, you're great at epidemiology and you can actually do more good doing scientific research in epidemiology than seeing patients on a one on one basis and trying to get them to change their behavior." This is absolutely something that is my career focus and I want to help. Can I be more emphatic about it than that?

CHRIS:

This guy wants work. This guy wants work.

MATT:

No, and that's the thing, it's not necessarily work. I have a bunch of other stuff going on but in academia I have some of the ability because I'm not out, this is not a business, a profit making business for me. I obviously need to cover my time but I want to be able to help out. And so whatever.

CHRIS:

Well, I think it's interesting, Matt, and again, I think we should always try to end these on a high note that you've also tried to look at it in your Utah findings, what aspects of their job help them do well or improve their well-being. And I think it was, and I think these are tips for really any work environment, which is if you work in an environment in which you enjoy working with others, in which you're intellectually challenged, in which you have flexibility in your work schedule to some degree and that you know that your contributions are both recognized and valued, that that's a recipe to drive well-being higher.

MATT:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

And those are things that anybody who sets the tone for a culture, anybody who's in HR, anybody who's in management, those are tips that go across industry. They're not unique to the legal environment but it is important in terms of just the notion of how we treat people ultimately drives whether they find their contributions and their commitment worthwhile and whether they will actually want to stay there or not. And those who don't generally then go down one path and those who do you generally have higher productivity, better results. All the reasons why corporate America has kind of I think generally leaned in on well-being as a creative to the bottom line. There's an economic element to it but also frankly, the right thing to do.

MATT:

Absolutely correct. All of those things that you listed really speak to engagement. And even in the data that we're seeing, you said, it generally leads to better productivity or generally leads to less turnover. I would say most of the data that's out there says it does. There's very few exceptions to that and it's just a matter of the magnitude of that relationship. Having people stay engaged and really that creativity, intellectual challenge, I think is one of the things that came up often helped and reduces, it sort of tempers the negative aspects of things and makes people more resilient and able to handle, less likely to burn out, less likely to be depressed, more likely to be productive. All of that great stuff.

CHRIS:

Matt, one final question, on the Utah study you've cited a couple times preliminary data. Is there a point in time in which preliminary goes to final data and something is released?

MATT:

Yes. The depression versus the general working population that we've talked about, those are final. We've looked at those, we're confident in those. In terms of preliminary data, we're looking at burnout and engagement. We're looking at substance abuse, alcohol abuse issues. We're looking at physical activity and then we're also doing similar things with students. The challenges with those are just being able to make sure that we're dotting all of our I's and crossing all of our T's from a scientific standpoint and making sure that we're taking everything into consideration there. And then it goes through a peer review process. We have three separate papers right now that are undergoing the peer review process and then several others that are nearly ready for that. And then dissemination, I would love to help have you guys help disseminate some of these findings and be able to continue to have a positive impact on attorney well-being.

BREE:

Absolutely. Matt, I'm so glad that you are on our team. Really important piece of this. Well, a wonderful 45 minutes or so with you, Matt. Thank you for spending your time today and dedicating so much of your energy and your expertise to helping us lawyers have to be more likely to thrive in our profession. And for our listeners, please join us again in the next couple of weeks, we'll be continuing our miniseries on those who are doing research and scholarship in the area of lawyer well-being. Thank you, everybody. Stay safe, be well.

CHRIS:

Thanks for joining us, Matt.

MATT:

Thank you. My pleasure.

 

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 18: Janet Stearns

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 18: Janet Stearns

August 10, 2021

Transcript:

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, well-being friends and welcome to the Path to Well-Being in Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your co-host, Chris Newbold, Executive Vice President of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. Most of you are listeners. For those of you who are new to the podcast, our goal is pretty simple. It's to introduce you to thought leaders doing meaningful work in the well-being space within the legal profession and in the process to build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. I want to introduce my co-host, Bree Buchanan. Bree, how have you been doing?

BREE BUCHANAN:

Wonderful, Chris. Great to be here. How are you?

CHRIS:

Bree, I think I heard that you had just come off some vacation doing some bicycling in my neck of the woods. Tell us a little bit more about where you went and why.

BREE:

Yeah. So I got to go with a group of friends out over to your neck of the woods in Montana, the Trail of the Hiawatha and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and got to get some cycling in, which was just really wonderful.

CHRIS:

Awesome, awesome. Glad to hear you get off the grid and that's such an important part. My vacation is next week where I'll be with my family on a lake, just relaxing, and we all know that, that's an important part of recharging and being our best selves.

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

Yeah, so we are again, super excited for today's podcast. We are wrapping up a three-part series looking at the interconnection of well-being in law schools. We have had Linda Sugin from Fordham Law School, we have had Jennifer Leonard from Penn Law, and today we are so excited to welcome Janet Stearns from the Miami School of Law. Bree, I know that you have a personal relationship with Janet, a friendship. I would love it if you could introduce Janet to our listeners.

BREE:

Absolutely. I'm delighted that we've got Janet here today. I'll give you the official introduction to Janet, but from a personal standpoint, Janet and I have been sort of on the front lines of working in this area, gosh, Janet, I don't know, six, seven years starting back with the ABA's Commission on Lawyer's Assistance Programs. Janet has been a true leader in that space. So let me give you the full introduction, and then we'll go ahead and hear more from Janet.

BREE:

Janet Stearns is the Dean of Students and a lecturer in law at the University of Miami Law School. Has been there since October 1999. In 2007, she was appointed Dean of Students. Since 2011, she's regularly taught professional responsibility. Last year, she received NALSAP's CORE Four Annual Award recognizing the competencies, values and ethics of the very best law student affairs professionals, and I absolutely agree with that. She is the immediate past chair for the AALS Student Services Section, and as I know her, a member of ABA CoLAP, and not only an advocate for wellness programming in the law schools, but has also been the Chair of the Law School Committee and has led all of those efforts for, I'd say at least five years. Since she became the Dean of Students, she has been passionate about wellness initiatives there at Miami, including the Fall Wellness Week, Spring Mental Health Day, and a weekly Dean of Students constitutional walk around the campus. Finally, I'm proud to say that she won the CoLAP Meritorious Service Award in November 2020. So Janet, so glad to have you here. How are you doing today?

JANET STEARNS:

Well, Bree, that's such a generous introduction. So I'm blushing a little now, but I am delighted to be here with you and Chris and looking forward to chatting.

BREE:

Great. So Janet, because I know you, and I know how dedicated you are to this, I think that you've probably got a really good answer to this question that we ask all of our guests because we know that people that are committed to the well-being movement often have a real passion for the work. So what experiences in your life are the drivers behind your passion for being such a leader in the well-being movement in law?

JANET:

Well, Bree, I think I've often, for a long time been really interested in my own personal well-being. As I think back on my own experience in law school, a classmate of mine, we decided to decaffeinate together in law school. Not many people do that, but we did. We went off coffee cold turkey and really just recognized it made us less jittery and that we could actually feel better and be more present for what was happening around us. I tell students that's just one example of how we can actually use the law school experience to think about our own well-being.

JANET:

But I think that certainly my work here at the University of Miami has brought me into a space where I have had to work and counsel way too many students who have been struggling. Struggling with drugs and alcohol and suicide.

JANET:

I have spoken many times about a student of ours, Katie Corlett, who died just shortly after her graduation, really, I think about the week before the bar results came out. In a time, many of us can remember and relate to of incredible and stress, and she died of a drug overdose, and it had a huge impact on me because I had worked so hard with her to get her through law school. I had gotten to know her parents so well, and the time that we spent shortly after the overdose visiting her in the hospital and just thinking of the huge opportunity that was lost for her and for us. That has stayed with me. I often do say, as I talk to other law schools about our programming and our more institutional initiatives, we do not want to have any more Katies.

BREE:

Right.

JANET:

We want to do everything possible so that we can see our students graduate and be happy and not have any more Katies.

BREE:

Yeah, absolutely. Wow. That's powerful.

CHRIS:

Yeah. I mean, as the Dean of Students, you certainly get a window into some of those challenges. Janet, tell us a little bit about ... We're all creatures of our own experience and we all recall our own law school days ... Give us a little flavor of Miami Law. The location and the size, the focus, anything that you find particularly unique about the culture that you've worked to build at Miami Law.

JANET:

Okay, Chris. Well, Miami Law, we are actually in Coral Gables. We are not in Miami. But Coral Gables is a suburb of Miami, and the University of Miami Law School has typically been on the larger side of law schools. This year we're probably going to be welcoming just under 400 students, 1L new students to our law school, but we have about 1,300 students. So we have JD students, and we also have a very large population of LLM students in many different programs, but our international LLM is bringing students from all over the world with a particularly large focus on Latin America. So it is a school where we have a lot of international diversity. Miami is just a very, at its nature, multilingual community, but there is a lot of Spanish that is spoken and Portuguese and other languages.

JANET:

We have a lot of first-generation students, Chris, and working families, first-generation students from our community. As we know, Miami has been all over the news for various reasons. But it is certainly a very dynamic community with a lot of temptations, cultural temptations, drug, alcohol, late-night partying. Miami Beach goes around the clock. It's against that backdrop that we are trying to encourage people to really both focus on their studies and focus on their well-being.

BREE:

Yeah. So over the time ... You've been at Miami Law a little bit over 20 years ... What are some of the mental health and well-being issues you've seen your students face? I mean, certainly Katie that you talked about is the worst case scenario, but just from my experience, I imagine you've seen a lot of other things that don't lead up to such a tragic end.

JANET:

Right. Well, Bree, I do think that Miami is a community where there is a lot of opportunity to focus on well-being, the good and the bad, as I said. There are, I think a lot of stresses and temptations, but I think there also are a lot of an incredible amount of natural beauty here. Beaches and opportunities to get into the outdoors and enjoy the tropical climate, the Everglades when people take advantage of that. We really work hard to model that for our students.

JANET:

I think that we have gone through certainly over time, our students face a lot of challenges. I do think that being in such an active and vibrant place and such a, from my perspective, a city that never sleeps, we have to work really, really, really hard from the beginning of orientation to try to model limits. Limits on your time, learning how to say no, learning the value of sleeping, learning the value of focus. The fact is that you're not going to be at every single event or movie or social or networking opportunity. There's just too much. So I think learning how to set limits from the very beginning is actually one of the things I talk about in our orientation message.

JANET:

I do think another well-being issue and one we were just discussing some, it is an expensive city. There is a lot of opportunities to go out and spend a lot of money. There's a lot of variation in housing that's expensive. So we have to work very early to try to help people to understand their financial budget and how to plan for their law school years in a way that will make sense and leave them where they still can feel in control as they graduate and move into the legal profession. So financial literacy is another important aspect of well-being and one that we try to also talk to our students about from the very beginning.

BREE:

Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up because that's not something that we really talked about. There's the six dimensions of well-being, but that financial piece of it, that financial dimension, can be such a heavy burden for the students. Sure.

JANET:

Right. Right. Then of course, I mean, Miami Law and the whole world has had the opportunity, I would say through this pandemic, to even talk more about well-being. Right, Bree. I know that when I was sent home in March 2020, the first thing that I brought home from my office with me was I have a framed copy of The Serenity Prayer next to my desk.

BREE:

Right. Wonderful.

JANET:

In March, there were many, many calls with deans and faculty and students, "What about this? And what about this?" I just said, "We're going to say our Serenity Prayer. We are going to try to figure out what we can control here and what we cannot and how to distinguish those things." I think actually as we model that, because our students and people around us see our own process of trying to figure those things out and yet trying to stay calm and make decisions through the pandemic, I think we've really taught some valuable lessons.

BREE:

I think The Serenity Prayer should be standard issue with your law school diploma.

JANET:

Absolutely.

BREE:

That would be helpful.

JANET:

It always does the trick for me.

CHRIS:

Janet, I'm curious, as you think about kind of the state of well-being in your law school, has it become more challenging? Has it improved? I mean, you have the context of kind of stability and seeing it over a longer period of time, but just curious on your reflections on at least within your school what kind of trends that you're seeing as it relates to well-being.

JANET:

That's such a great question, Chris. I think what's interesting if we go back, I don't know ... I think when I started to work with Bree with the CoLAP but I would say we've been involved in planning ... I probably have done a Fall Wellness Week since I first became Dean of Students in 2007. I had been working with the ABA CoLAP and the ABA Law Student Division on the Mental Health Day Initiative now for, I don't know, five, six, seven years.

JANET:

There was a point I think when we would announce Mental Health Day and everybody would be like, "What is that? Why?" I would say in the last few years, what I'm noticing is I have a lot of people around the country, deans of students at other schools, they're like, "When are you going to announce the Mental Health Day plans? When is it coming? What's the theme this year because we're putting it on our calendars." I think people are very, very eager to talk about this right now, Chris, at some level. Of course, then we just have to reflect on the events of the last week of the Olympics. I mean, it just feels like we are truly having a national conversation, thanks to the courage of Michael Phelps and Simone Biles and others.

BREE:

Absolutely.

JANET:

We are having a national conversation, and people are eager to have this conversation with us. So there is a level of attention and focus that can only be a good thing right now for the work that we're doing.

CHRIS:

Yeah, for sure. Talk to us about some of the well-being initiatives at Miami Law that you're most proud of. I mean, you talked about Fall Wellness Week. Talk to our listeners about some of the things that you have initiated and instituted there that you think are actually driving results.

JANET:

So I do think that the Fall Wellness Week has become a great catalyst, and we try to have a very intentional conversation ... I was actually talking with some CoLAP colleagues yesterday about this, about when. When is the most effective time to raise these issues? My view has been orientation is not always the best time. I think your students are a little bit deer in headlights and it's a little bit too early, but we have been doing ... Recently we moved the National Mental Health Day to October. Now we try to program around October 10th. So for many of us, that's about six weeks into the school year, give or take. I think people are really receptive. They're starting to feel the stress. They're starting to feel some of the anxiety and self-doubt as they're trying to work their way through, and it's a really good time to come in and try to do some positive programming.

JANET:

We try to both do some national programming, but many schools are also using that to do school-based programming, often in partnership with the LAP in the state, everything from healthy smoothie happy hours, constitutional walks, yoga, physical fitness, and sometimes some actual conversations with thought leaders around the value of sleep as something that actually promotes your learning or the worries of study steroids. So we have used the Fall Wellness Week, I think, to maximum effect for a lot of programming.

CHRIS:

Do you keep that programming broader in terms of different areas of focus or do you actually look at kind of a 1L track, a 2L track, a 3L track? I'm just kind of curious on the structure of how you do that.

JANET:

Well, that's a great question. I would say right now the Fall Wellness Week has been broader for everybody.

CHRIS:

Okay.

JANET:

I think that we are actually starting to have some more conversations. We have been doing some 3L specific sort of pathway to the bar exam kinds of programming. I actually think there's a lot more that we can be doing in that regard. I think the ABA Law Student Division is also interested as we think about bar success and wellness. I think that there is some 3L targeted work that we have been doing, but I think that we could be doing more around that Chris, from my own perspective.

JANET:

But I think that point is well taken. I do think that we find by and large that if we were to hold a program either around suicide or around study steroids, or pick your topic, depression, and we just said, "Show up for a program," law students by and large are not going to show up for that program. They don't want to walk into a room and be identified and tagged as the person who's thinking about suicide. But if you can market your program, and I think we've thought hard about this, whether it has to do more broadly with mindfulness, well-being, success in law school, happiness in the profession, I think if you can market that program, you can deliver the same content, but you can get people in the room and then get the buy-in and really get much broader participation. So I feel very strongly about that.

JANET:

I just also wanted to highlight that I think over this last year, we have also tried to be a lot more intentional ... I'm not sure we weren't doing it before ... But about the crossover between the struggles over racial injustice that we are all experiencing, and certainly that some of our students in various affinity groups are experiencing with well-being. Last year's Mental Health Day highlighted my colleague, Rhonda Magee, who spoke about her fabulous book, The Inner Work of Racial Justice. We then had several follow-up programs that students found really, really impactful, where we were really focusing on the impact of well-being on targeted communities of color.

JANET:

We've had a lot of, I think, requests for some more programming targeted with our first-generation students around well-being. I think there is a huge outcry for doing more programming of this sort as we move forward.

BREE:

What advice do you have for others who may be working at a law school and are listening to this? Maybe they're faculty or administration and who want to enact some of their own initiatives. Do you have some advice for them? How to get it started and how to make sure it's successful?

JANET:

Well, Bree, I think, as you know, because you and I have talked about this a lot, I do feel that right now the vast majority of law schools in the country are doing positive things around well-being. Many want to do more. Some of us are doing it differently. Some have more resources than others to do this kind of programming. But I think there's a huge interest, and in fact, I think a demand to have well-being programming in law schools right now and to really connect this for our law students. This is one of the things I say to students all the time, "You're coming to us not only to learn about contracts and torts, you're coming to learn how to become a future professional. Some of the skills that we can teach and model for you about your personal well-being and learning to set limits and finding balance between yourself and your work, these are some of the most important skills and probably the most important skills we can teach you in law school."

BREE:

I think of sort of the fancy word for that, professional identity formation. Is that?

JANET:

We are all talking about professional identity formation. Exactly. Exactly. And this is a critical element of this. I think that the well-being community and the professional identity community have found a great partnership and shared interest. These are things that we are working together to message, and we're messaging them in all parts of the law school. We're messaging them in clinics and in externship programs. We are messaging this in all kinds of core courses, including professional responsibility. This is all a part of our shared mission right now.

CHRIS:

Janet, it's great to hear that. I mean, again, with your perspective. When I think of law schools and well-being, I think of you because I think that you've been kind of at the epicenter of kind of looking at what's been going on in the law school environment. It's encouraging to hear that your sense is that the vast majority of law schools have kind of leaned in on this particular subject. I'm just curious about maybe the why. Why we find ourselves in a significantly better position today than say we did 10 years ago?

JANET:

Well, I think first of all, I do believe as I both talk to people at Miami Law but people around the country, in fact, Chris many of us are experiencing issues or challenges around mental health and substances with our own families, with our friends. We have faculty ... In fact, I was on the phone the other day with a faculty member and she said, "My child is in the process of being hospitalized." So I think we are actually at a point where ... I have another faculty colleague ... Fabulous, very, very smart person who lost his wife to suicide. I'm coming to the world at this point. I think this it's not a Democratic issue, it's not a Republican issue. This is an issue that affects all of our families and things that we hold near and dear to us. I think people are being a little more open about that.

JANET:

I think as all of the work and certainly, Bree, all of the anti-stigma work that you and others have been doing for so long, I think this is seeping in, and I think people are coming forward and saying, "This affected my family. This affected my child. This affected my brother." I think faculty are also a little more willing, and I'm not saying everybody, but to be a little more vulnerable themselves with their students. I think some of this happened during the pandemic. I think there was something very equalizing about all of us being on Zoom.

BREE:

That's a great point.

JANET:

Struggling with Zoom, and I saw some faculty members, and then I heard about it from students who said, "I'm really struggling here. I haven't been able to see my parents. I'm divorced and I haven't been able to visit my child. And this really sucks right now. So I appreciate that this is really a confusing time for all of you as students and the faculty. Where it's like, "Oh my gosh, that torts professor's a real person."

JANET:

I view this as some of the, I like to call it the gifts of the pandemic, but I think that there were people who became a lot more real with each other. And that includes faculty members becoming a little more real with students as well.

CHRIS:

That's such a great observation. I've always been prone to say that we are obviously human beings before we are a law student, a lawyer, a professor, a judge. It feels like we're kind of getting more back to some of those kinds of basic levels of empathy and kind of all on the same trajectory of just kind of trying to live our best life.

JANET:

Right. Absolutely.

CHRIS:

Let's take a quick break here. We'll hear from one of our sponsors, and we'll be right back.

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BREE:

Welcome back everybody, and we're here with Dean Janet Stearns from the University of Miami School of Law. Janet, so one of the things that I really want to dig into with you because you sit at such a unique position of this nationally, and that is some of the policy initiatives that are occurring across the country to really try to change this circumstances for law students. I want to hear, and this is particularly in your spot as Chair of CoLAP's Law School Committee, could you tell us about some of the initiatives that you all are working on? In particular, I'm thinking about the whole character and fitness process, which has had such a detrimental impact on students' willingness to ask for help. And then also to dig into some of the changes you guys are seeking for the ABA standards.

JANET:

Well, thank you, Bree. I have to say, I think it has been a tremendous honor for me to be able to be involved with the American Bar Association CoLAP because you really feel the capacity to make change, to be in a room with people who are not only passionate about these issues, but who actually have some policy vision and the power to then act upon that vision.

JANET:

So we have been working through the CoLAP on several national projects that we think can really shift the conversation on health and well-being for students. As you mentioned, the first has to do with character and fitness. Why is this so important? Because in surveys that have been done and the preeminent survey by Jerry Organ, David Jaffe and Kate bender, looking at law student well-being, we learned the very scary high numbers of students who are experiencing depression, suicidality, substance use/abuse. We also learned that a very small percentage of those students were willing to come forward and ask for help from deans of students like myself. And the primary number one reason they told us they would not come ask for help is because they were afraid that they would have to disclose it on their bar application.

JANET:

So this became a huge cultural issue for us. How can we shift that culture so that people understand that when they need help, they actually indeed must ask for help, that we are here to help them, and that the bar character fitness doesn't become a barrier to that. So we have been working on trying to both evaluate what states are doing around the country and advocating for change, and specifically trying to either eliminate questions in the character and fitness process asking about mental health history or history of substance use disorders or narrowing those questions in time and scope so that people understand that their first duty is to take care of themselves and get help, and it will not stand in their way of ultimately being able to become a lawyer.

JANET:

We have had, I think we both, there has been, I think some policy conversations, we've been able to do some writing in this field, but as we know, in 2020, one of the great gifts of the pandemic was that early on the State of New York removed their questions relating to substance use mental health. Anything outside of conduct is no longer asked by New York.

BREE:

That was huge.

JANET:

That was huge. It was huge. So many people came together including great advocates in Massachusetts, which had been doing this for a long time that made possible the change in New York. Shortly after New York, I think in March, literally as we were moving into the pandemic, Michigan removed its questions. Again, thanks to a lot of great advocacy by Tish Vincent and others involved with the LAP in Michigan, the law schools in Michigan, and a month later, Indiana followed Michigan's suit just after the pandemic had started.

JANET:

The Chief Justice in Indiana, who I just think is one of ... My Ruth Bader Ginsburg I tell her ... Justice Rush, who really was so eloquent in recognizing the importance of this issue. The Supreme Court took very quick action under her leadership to remove the problematic character and fitness questions in Indiana. Then by the summer, New Hampshire also followed suit. So those were four states all in 2020. I feel like there's a great momentum there, Bree, and I continue to remain hopeful that we can continue to make progress in other states, particularly where we have some matching of an active law school community, an active bar well-being community, a judiciary, and we know that there are other State Supreme Court justices that are very, very enlightened on these issues, that we can work together to have more states implement reform in the character and fitness process.

JANET:

I feel strongly also where we can, if we can get either frequently asked questions or preambles, things that we can use as educational materials with students as they enter law school, as we talk about bar admission, so that they are very clearly told that this should not in any way keep you from accessing mental health or other counseling resources when you need it.

BREE:

Right. I mean, that's one of the things also is to include very explicit language in the introduction to the questions of the application process or somewhere, we want you to get help. That can be helpful too. I know that the Institute for Well-Being in Law is going to be joining in the policy efforts there too around trying to bring about state by state change on those character and fitness questions. So we're going to have a good group of advocates working on this around the country.

BREE:

I know another thing that CoLAP has been doing, and you've been a leader on really, and I can't imagine how many, maybe hundreds of hours that you've spent writing and working on this, Janet, but that is around the ABA standards for law schools. Can you talk a little bit about that? What you've been working on and the progress that's been made?

JANET:

Well, thank you, Bree, and this truly has been a labor of love. So the CoLAP Law School Committee, hand-in-hand with the ABA Law Student Division, has been seeking changes in the ABA accreditation rules to recognize the integral role of well-being in law schools, student services, and law school curriculum. As you know, all accredited schools are subject to the ABA accreditation standard. These standards are voted through the Council on Legal Education, through the ABA, and then ultimately approved by the House of Delegates.

JANET:

And so we have asked for several years for some language on well-being. We didn't get very far the first two years, but this year, I think again, another gift of the pandemic has been the incredible focus and importance of well-being. The Council in fact, did put out some draft language. It was not all that we wanted, but it did include a recognition that every law school needed to provide some well-being resources to its students, either directly or in collaboration with university resources, LAP resources, looking as well at financial well-being, emergency funds, and other essential resources that every law school must do. So the ABA Council recommended this language. We then had a large comment period. We are currently in the middle of a second comment period on proposed language. We hope to hear more in this month of August as to whether or not the package of proposals will be pushing forward by February to the House of Delegates.

JANET:

I will note that the package right now also has some other very significant changes on professional identity education in law schools, and it also has a large package of proposals that have to do with diversity and inclusion and core curricula requirements in law schools around diversity inclusion initiatives. There is a very rich package of proposed revisions to the standards. We are going to remain hopeful that these can get to the House of Delegates this year. But I think the fact that we finally have well-being in a draft proposal as an essential part of every accredited law school, that is institutional change, and I'm very proud of how far we've come with this so far.

BREE:

Absolutely. And Janet, if our listeners, if somebody wanted to dig in further and learn more about that, can they go to the ABA website or how could they learn more or track what's going on in that area?

JANET:

All of the proposed changes and indeed all of the comments that have been received are all on the website for the ABA Section on Legal Education, as well as the notices of ... There will be a meeting as we're recording this, we are in the week of the ABA Annual Meeting ... But my understanding is August 19th and 20th, the Section on Legal Education will meet again, we understand, to discuss next steps on these standards. Of course, if that is a problem, anybody is free to email me at the University of Miami. We have a large community of friends across the country who are in a very close conversation about continuing to advocate for these changes to the standards. Please join us.

CHRIS:

Let's talk a little bit about the future as we kind of look ahead. Obviously we've made a lot of progress through the efforts of you and other folks who are keeping a close eye on this. You talked about the fact that there's more awareness, more eagerness, more focus, but we also know that culture shifts in our profession, they don't happen overnight. I'm just kind of curious on your perspective of what's on the horizon. What things do you see in the future being done by law schools to continue to move the needle on improving the well-being of law students? Because we obviously know that you're preparing the next generation in some respects. There are general generational aspects to the improvement of the profession. So I'd love for you to break out the crystal ball, so to speak, and kind of talk about what you see kind of coming down the road as we continue to maintain an emphasis on this issue in the law school environment.

JANET:

Well, thank you, Chris. I'm not very good with a crystal ball, but let me try here. So I do believe, and I think at the CoLAP level, first of all, I believe that we need to work hard to make sure that not just student services folks, but faculty and administration do need to be trained on mental health first aid, which is a course, i an eight-hour course, to make sure that they have basic skills to be prepared to have conversations with people. This course, this mental health first aid course is not only for law schools, this is being done in law firms, it's being done with police, it's being done all over the country right now so that people are more equipped when they come in contact with a client or a patient or a student or a colleague or a child that they have some more basic skills to be able to triage the situation and feel prepared to understand what somebody is going through. So I do think we need to continue to push that course out, number one.

JANET:

I think number two, that we need to have some more institutional structure for keeping these conversations going, as you've said, Chris. I would say at the University of Miami, I have formed some great partnerships with other people at our university. I would include the people, my friends at the medical school. I think that our medical education and legal education in our student populations, there're strengths and there're weaknesses. There's a lot of overlap. So I've tried to partner closely with the medical school, our counseling center, other people at the university so we have some institutional structure for continuing a conversation. I think that's incredibly important because me, one person, I get busy and distracted by other things. But when you know that people are coming together at regular intervals to have a conversation that is empowering. That creates accountability,

JANET:

I think we also get a lot of accountability by working with the LAPs in our state. We just, this summer, just last month, the Florida LAP got all of the law schools in Florida together for a program. I know that these regional meetings are taking place right now in other states. That also creates a catalyst for change. Also when you're working with the State Supreme Court on the character and fitness topic. I think there is a strength in numbers when we can bring people together, whether it's under the auspices of a well-being committee or whether it's just again, a time of coming together to support one another, share, and then try to again, begin to imagine ways that we can work together to create change.

BREE:

Absolutely. I've always felt that in regards to these policy initiatives and the work around the well-being movement, get passionate people together sitting around a table, you have a bunch of lawyers, they're brilliant, they're creative, they're solution-focused. We can figure this out. And so Janet, thank you for being there at the head of the table in these discussions, in this work around law school.

BREE:

I want to thank our listeners for joining us. This is the third and the final of our miniseries on initiatives and innovations in law school space. Please join us for our research miniseries, where we'll have three episodes digging in and talking with some of the lead researchers and thought leaders in the lawyer and well-being space movement. So want to thank everybody for joining us again today. We will be back with you in the next couple of weeks with more episodes. In the meantime, be well. Take care. Thank you all.

 

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 17 - Jennifer Leonard

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 17 - Jennifer Leonard

July 13, 2021

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, well-being friends and welcome to the Path to Well-Being in Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your cohost CHRIS:, Executive Vice President of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And again, most of, I think, our listeners know what our goal is but let me reiterate that we love bringing on to the podcast thought leaders in the well-being space doing meaningful work to advance the profession and to in the process build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession.

CHRIS:

Let me introduce my cohost Bree Buchanan. Bree, how are you doing? And how has your summer been?

BREE BUCHANAN:

Hey Chris, it has been wonderful. I get to be here in Eugene, Oregon so it's just beautiful and getting to do a lot of fun things. I'm really blessed with that. And I just wanted to say, Chris, you're talking about thought leaders and as regards to our guest today, Jen really is, she's not only a thought leader in this space but she's also a teacher of future thought leaders. So we're really glad that we got Jen with us today.

CHRIS:

Yeah. We got a great guest today. And we are in the midst right now of spending a three-part miniseries within the podcast of really looking in terms of what's going on in the law schools. We know that they are training the next generation in our profession and we know that these issues are becoming much more acutely aware in the environment. We started off our law school series with Linda Sugin from Fordham Law School and we will be followed in our next podcast by Janet Stearns who comes to us from the Miami School of Law.

CHRIS:

But today's about Penn Law and introducing our, we're really excited to have Jennifer Leonard join us on the podcast. Bree, will you do the honors of introducing Jen.

BREE:

I'd be delighted. So Jen Leonard is Penn Law's, get this title, I love this, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Future of the Profession Initiative. Jen's work at Penn Law focuses on developing a deep understanding of what legal professionals need to be successful in the face of constant transformation. Isn't that true? Working with a collaborative group of colleagues across the law school in the profession, Jen designs ways to educate new law students about changes in the profession and the skills they need to thrive in the future.

BREE:

Before assuming her current role, she served as Associate Dean for Professional Engagement and Director of the Center of Professionalism at Penn Law. And prior to that, she was Chief of Staff to the City Solicitor of Philadelphia and a Litigation Associate with a Center City law firm, and a Judicial Law Clerk. And then Jen went home when she went to work at Penn Law because she's a graduate from there in 2004 from the law school and Penn State University with high honors. Jen's also a frequent writer and speaker on the issues that include lawyer and law student well-being. So Jen, thank you for being here today and welcome.

JENNIFER LEONARD:

Wow. Thank you so much, Chris and Bree. I'm so excited to be here. And thank you for that lovely introduction.

BREE:

You bet. So Jen, one of the things we always ask our guests because it provides such interesting information and background and insight into the people that we have with us, tell us what brought you into the lawyer/law student well-being movement. The people that work in this space and really care about it, they have a passion for the work. And typically, there's something that's driving that. So tell us a little bit about that, what that means for you.

JENNIFER:

Yeah. First of all, I'm so excited that there is an actual movement now around attorney well-being and law student well-being.

BREE:

Right.

JENNIFER:

That's an exciting development and a recent development, which I think many law students don't fully understand because they have arrived at law school at a time when the movement is accelerating and is growing which is fantastic.

JENNIFER:

I have first-hand experience being a law student who really struggled with well-being issues including depression and anxiety and also some of the really common things that law students experience, imposter syndrome, not fully understanding that I wasn't expected to know how to be a skilled attorney on day one. Most attorneys, hopefully, if they've had a really great practice will retire still growing and still learning new things. And I did not understand as a very confused and disoriented OneL that I was just at the beginning of a journey and I felt very isolated and very sort of inept in the environment and that was stunning to me because I had spent my whole life just absolutely loving school from being four years old and pretending to be a teacher in my basement with my friends all the way through graduating from college, it was just the place I felt most alive and most comfortable.

JENNIFER:

And law school was a completely different experience. I felt very uncomfortable from day one. My involvement in the well-being movement, I would say, is sort of an accident that followed from that experience which followed me into practice and I certainly experienced many of the challenges that the research shows around depression and anxiety in private practice. When I moved over to government work, because of the constraints of resources, you're just sort of thrown into the fire and forced to grow on your own. And that was actually really helpful for me for building confidence and learning that I actually had the capacity to do amazing things if I really gave myself the time to develop and the opportunity to develop.

JENNIFER:

So when I came to the law school in 2013 and started counseling law students, it was sort of a revelation to me as I sat across from younger versions of myself that they were saying to me the exact same things that I was saying in my own head as a OneL. And that was the first time even 10 years after law school that it occurred to me that I was not the only person who had this experience. And I really wanted to prevent future generations of law students from making the mistake and thinking they weren't capable and not allowing themselves to live up to their potential and contribute to society in the profession.

JENNIFER:

So I started building some programming, co curricular programming at first, and then programming that eventually became woven into our formal curriculum after the National Task Force report came out. And so I was just thrilled to see the movement grow over time and now to have part in leading some of those initiatives at the law school.

CHRIS:

Jen, today we're going to talk about the work of you and your colleagues at Penn Law. Let's set the stage a little bit. Tell us about Penn Law, your location, size, focus, types of students, and give us a flavor for the type of law school that you work within.

JENNIFER:

Well, I have the great pleasure of working at a phenomenal law school. The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School which is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We draw students from all over the world, approximately 250 incoming first-year JDs every year from all over the country and 115 LLM students from around the world who contribute just such a diversity and complexity of perspectives to our experience that we really are a global leader in legal education. And I'm excited to work at Penn as a broader university because its founder Benjamin Franklin really focused on two elements of education that I think are critical to our success.

JENNIFER:

One is a real focus on interdisciplinarity and learning across different disciplines about how to solve problems and that is a lot of what my work entails, building connections with our colleagues in innovation spaces across Penn's campus. And the second element is really bringing a blend of high-minded intellectual research and academic efforts in translating that work into things that can really have impact in the real world. And so it's the perfect place to be developing innovative projects including some of our work in the well-being space and seeing how that work translates in our profession.

BREE:

So speaking of innovation, I just think that you have the coolest job title I've ever seen. Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Future of the Profession Initiative. Tell us about that. How did all that come about? And tell us about that initiative.

JENNIFER:

Oh, thank you. I love my job. I do get to have the coolest title. And I think if I were to make a long story short, I think it's that I chirped enough about all the changes I'd love to see in legal education and in the profession that somebody finally gave me the opportunity to focus just on that. And the longer story is that our dean was really interested in thinking about all the changes happening in the legal profession and how a leading law school really has both an obligation and an opportunity to respond to that change so that our students are entering the profession prepared with the skills they need to thrive and to also lead the profession into the next phase of its existence.

JENNIFER:

So I had the chance to work with colleagues across the law school and then through our advisory board of alumni all across the profession to iterate and refine the vision for what ultimately became the future of the profession initiative, which I now have the great honor and privilege of leading.

CHRIS:

Tell me about the scope of that initiative. I'm just curious what you're looking at and what you're hoping to poke and prod around into.

JENNIFER:

Sure. We have three different buckets of projects that we work on. And I'm part of a day-to-day team of three people, two of my colleagues Jim Sandman who is President Emeritus of Legal Services Corporation and now's our senior consultant and Miguel Willis who is the Executive Director of Access to Justice Tech Fellows which is now formally affiliated with FPI. And Jim, Miguel, and I and our colleagues work on developing new curricular and co curricular offerings that are responsive to the changing conditions in the legal profession. So Jim teaches courses on leadership in law, Miguel and our advisory board member Claudia Johnson teaches courses on law, technology, and access to justice, I teach courses on user center design for the better delivery of legal services.

JENNIFER:

And so we focus on teaching students about the skills that they need to respond to future conditions. We also focus on leading conversations across the profession of leaders who are doing really interesting things in legal. And those conversations take the form of a podcast, the Law 2030 podcast, a monthly newsletter where we bring in voices not only from the legal profession but from across Penn's campus, across other fields to help us navigate change, to teach us what they're doing in their respective environments that we can draw lessons from. And then finally, we're building out projects for impact, things that we can do from the unique position of being a research university that can have real-world impact. So Jim is working on a variety of projects related to regulatory reform, finding new ways to connect people with legal systems. Jim's focused also on court simplification and form simplification so that it's easier for individuals and small businesses to access the legal profession.

JENNIFER:

So we teach, we lead conversations and we do it all within the goal of transforming the way we deliver legal services to our clients.

CHRIS:

That sounds like pretty cool work.

JENNIFER:

It's so much fun-

BREE:

I know.

JENNIFER:

And really, really engaging and worthwhile and so lucky to do it.

BREE:

I just think you must be so excited to go to work every day.

JENNIFER:

Totally.

CHRIS:

Anyone who gets to put the word future in their job description, I think that's pretty fun to be able to look out at.

JENNIFER:

Oh, it's so fun.

CHRIS:

So Jen, you've been back now at Penn Law I think in a professional capacity for about eight years. Let's talk a little bit about what you're seeing in the law school environment. Share with our listeners some of the well-being issues you've seen coming out of the student body, issues that students are facing. And how have those issues affected their law school and, in many cases, their post law school experience?

JENNIFER:

Yeah. So I think, again, to draw from my own experience both as a law student who struggled with these issues and also as somebody who had the chance to counsel students in a career counseling capacity early on in my time at the law school, I would say the biggest thing that I saw and see among students is the idea of imposter syndrome. When you are in an environment where you're surrounded by really talented people who come from all different backgrounds, all different educational degrees, you look around and you think, "How can I be here with all of these smart people around me?" And then you have the opportunity to engage in Socratic dialogue with learned professors and legal scholars at the top of their fields.

JENNIFER:

And I found it to be, and in my experience talking with first-year law students, some of them also find it to be very overwhelming. And I think that helping them adopt a mindset, a learner's mindset, that you are here because you deserve to be here is a rigorous process for admission. And our admission's office doesn't make mistakes. You should be here. And you are here at the very beginning of what will be a very long journey where you will grow a significant amount over the course of your life. So expecting yourself to understand the complexities of law in the first couple months, I think, is unrealistic. And so helping students understand that all lawyers have been in their shoes, that the people around them who seem the most confident are frequently the ones who are struggling the most and sometimes that manifests as overconfidence or projection of overconfidence which can feed into that imposter syndrome.

JENNIFER:

And I think just helping students adopt a growth mindset that will allow them to, I don't like to use the word fail, I like to use the word learn, learn from missteps, learn from early misunderstandings of the law, learn even in their Socratic dialogue which was particularly challenging for me. I'm introverted by nature. And I viewed everything as a judgment on me and if I wasn't doing it perfectly, that meant I wasn't capable of doing it. And so supporting students in understanding that they are in a developmental process that is rigorous and at the end will benefit them tremendously if they can adopt that learner's mindset.

BREE:

I just love how you framed that and that must be so incredibly helpful for the students that you talk to. I definitely dealt with imposter syndrome. I know that a lot of people have but I didn't have the language for it. Do you talk to the students about, do you name it? Do you tell them what imposter syndrome is?

JENNIFER:

Yeah. I would say most students now coming in are familiar with it from their undergrad work or other graduate work, which is fantastic. As you know, Bree, there was no language when we were in law school for imposter syndrome. It didn't even exist. So we're already starting at a more advanced point. And also the concept of growth mindset is something that people are learning about at a younger and younger age. My kids are in daycare and kindergarten and are already learning about growth mindset. So in 20 years, we'll be admitting people to law school who either they don't need to learn learner's mindset and they don't need to learn the importance of growth mindset. We will be much more ahead of the game.

JENNIFER:

Now, I think we're in this exciting chapter where we're finally opening up the conversation and naming the issues as you're saying. And students are much more comfortable, I think, than our generation was at being open about the challenges, which is really, really not only helpful for advancing the conversation but helpful for your own mental health to be engaged with other people who are experiencing the same thing.

CHRIS:

Talk to us about some of the well-being initiatives that make you most proud. You've obviously put a lot of time and attention into creating a culture where people's issues are respected and there's vulnerability and empathy. Talk to us about what are some of the things that you are most proud of in terms of what it does and some of the things that you've been doing.

JENNIFER:

It's funny, Chris, because I will talk about the thing that we've done that I'm most proud of and on behalf of my colleagues because these are really collaborative efforts across the law school, not just from FPI. But also, what I'm most excited about for the future, but I would say that I'm most proud of our leadership at our school led by our dean really embracing the recommendations of the National Task Force report and developing the opportunity to come into all of our upper level professional responsibility courses which are the only courses that are required after the first year of law school. So it's the only course where we will reach every student before they graduate outside of what is a very challenging and jampacked first year curriculum and talk to the students about these issues and talk to them about what the task force revealed, the current state of the research, some of the potential causes for the challenges we see in the legal profession, why those challenges relate to the provision of legal services.

JENNIFER:

One thing that I've learned in doing this programming over the years to the great credit of the students is sometimes they don't want to focus as much on these issues just for their own benefit. And even though there are great benefits to doing that, what they really want to know is what does this have to do with being a lawyer? How does this impact my lawyering and my clients? And our solution to that was really to talk to them about exactly that. How does this impact the provision of service to your clients? How can you give the best legal counsel you're capable of if you're not well? How are the ways that we can elevate our well-being? And bringing in experts, I am not a mental health expert, I have the experience of being somebody who was challenged with these issues, but we bring in voices from the mental health community who are trained professionals to talk with the students about some of the challenges that professionals face.

JENNIFER:

And so I have been the most proud to work with my colleague John Hollway as well to deliver those lessons and guide those discussions in our professional responsibility courses. I'll also say that I was most excited, our dean offered the opportunity to all of the faculty who teach professional responsibility in the upper levels, this is not a mandate by any stretch of the imagination, it was just a chance for them to do it if they wanted. Every single professional responsibility faculty member welcomed us in, has repeatedly welcomed us to come back, and they were really excited to see the law school doing this. So that is what I would say I'm most proud of to date, and again, with my colleagues developing this.

JENNIFER:

What I'm most proud of in the future is moving into the next phase of that conversation and having a more unified discussion between law schools and legal employers and law firms so that we're not having one conversation at the law school level and helping students develop responsive coping behaviors to respond to stress that work in a law school environment but maybe don't work in practice to thinking about the environments and the systems within which we practice and seeing how we can transform those environments so that it's a shared responsibility between schools and employers and individual students and lawyers to really lift all boats and be sure that we can practice at the highest level. So that is the next phase of our work and we're actively thinking about how we can do that in the best possible way.

CHRIS:

Yeah. There's no doubt that the work that you are doing and, again, lots of folks in law schools are doing, if we prepare them for a profession that ultimately is very different than what we just did to create those senses of what practicing law's going to be like and if it's very different there's going to be a disconnect, as you mentioned.

JENNIFER:

Exactly. And we want to teach them skills that they're able to deploy over their entire career, not just skills that will work for the next year or two. How can we bring in more collaborative partners from practice so that we're bridging that gap, bridging that divide more? And how are we thinking about redeveloping systems so that people can have more balance in their life and really be healthier, happier lawyers who are better serving their clients?

CHRIS:

Yeah.

JENNIFER:

It's a huge task but one that-

CHRIS:

It is a huge task and maybe we can come back and touch on this coming back from the break. It feels like to be able to do that, you're going to have to bring those thought leaders in the legal environments into the law school though, almost have them go through their own reflection points about how they think about culture and how they value the attorneys within the firm from a well-being perspective.

JENNIFER:

And I think that's where we have the real ability to do that is our convening ability and we can do that and we can also bring in our colleagues from Penn Medicine and Penn Engineering. And what are their students and professionals experiencing? And then some of our psychology partners across campus to come in and talk about the complex interplay among professional satisfaction, finance, and some of these mental health conditions that elite professionals experience and how can we work together to come up with some new solutions to the problems. And I think that a law school is the perfect place to do that.

CHRIS:

Yeah.

JENNIFER:

And I would love to involve the students because I think that they would be really interested in having the conversation as well and having some agency and some involvement in driving that change.

BREE:

No doubt.

CHRIS:

Yeah. So let's take a quick break here because, again, I think we're getting into the meat and potatoes, so to speak, of what you're working to do and why it's going to be, I think, so important in terms of the future of our professionals. Let's take a short break.

JENNIFER:

Sounds great.

 


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BREE:

So welcome back, everybody. And we have with us today Jen Leonard who is one of the, I'll say, one of the leading thought leaders around well-being for law students. She is joining us today from Penn Law. And continue in the conversation, Jenn, I think what I'd really like for us to talk about now is focus in on what advice you can give to our listeners out there who are with a law school who are thinking about how to implement some programs, maybe something you've mentioned, something that they have decided they want to pursue on their own. And one of the biggest things within a large school is to get buy in from leadership and I heard you say earlier on that you do have buy in from your top leadership. How did that happen with the administration? And how did you get buy in from the faculty?

JENNIFER:

So amazing question. Yes. I would say the biggest driver of our success is really the leadership of our dean who is very interested in these topics and interested in supporting our students in developing into the best attorneys they can be. And I can't overstate how much that matters. Our faculty, I would say, are similarly supportive and the culture at our school is, we joke that people talk about it as a collegial culture all the time, but it really is this Quaker-based culture of collegiality and collaboration. So I feel very, very fortunate and maybe uniquely situated as compared with some of your listeners who might be trying to build these programs at other schools.

JENNIFER:

But what I would say is even if you don't have those conditions, I would not be discouraged. What I would do is I would be strategic. If you want to start well-being initiatives at your own law school, I would say start small and find the people who will be the cheerleaders for you who have voices that people will listen to. One group of voices that are really compelling to faculty and administrators alike are students. So if you have students coming to you who are interested in these topics, and as I said, I think students coming into law school now are so much more well-versed in these issues from their undergrad and other experiences that the movement is growing even among students. So being able to channel those voices and respond to them as an administration is really important. If you can find a faculty member who is really interested or who has had experience with students in their classes who have been challenged around some of these issues and would like to help you build a program, that's fantastic.

JENNIFER:

But you can build co curricular offerings, I would say that's the best way to start is to offer programs, maybe a brown bag lunch from students at lunchtime, bring in some alumni who are interested in this. I find in my experience that alumni who are practicing law and who are experiencing the stresses of practicing law are really, really interested in reaching back and supporting new law students and they're also really well-respected among the student body. And it also doesn't cost a lot of money usually to bring in an alum to have lunch with students and especially now that we do so many things on Zoom, have some of your alumni Zoom in and talk about things they wish they'd known when they were law students and how they've grown over time. As I said, it doesn't have to be expensive. But if you start small and you're willing to learn and you're willing to get feedback from students on how to improve and iterate the programming over time, then you can start building from there.

CHRIS:

Jen, it feels like what you're also inferring, correct me if I'm misstating it, is that you are in your effort to nurture the culture within the law school itself, there certainly is a student centric approach to that and just trying to understand where they're at, why they're there, again, how we can assist them on the journey, not just from a law knowledge perspective but also the mental approach to preparing them to become a lawyer down the road?

JENNIFER:

That's absolutely right. And I love that you say a student centric approach. In our sort of general innovation programming outside of well-being, we're really focused on human centered design. So if you apply that lens to the law student experience, what are we as administrators providing to our students and what is that provision of education and experience like from their perspective? And the way to do that is to really have conversations with student groups, maybe you have a student group in your building that you don't even know about that is focused on well-being. We have a wellness committee of students who are interested in these topics, so meeting with them and learning about what they would find really helpful and building support from there, I would say. Bringing the student voice in is critical though.

CHRIS:

Yeah. And I know, again, I graduated from a law school class that had 75 students which is significantly less than your incoming classes. And it certainly feels like the faster that you create communities of students together or feeling that you can find people that you can relate to within the law school environment, the more that you got people that just feel more comfortable, avoid the imposter syndrome, and then hopefully we're preparing them for an opportunity to prosper as they go through the law school journey.

JENNIFER:

That's right. And I think also one other tip could be maybe if you feel that the environment's not receptive to well-being programming or you're having trouble gaining traction, there are programs that you can create that are not explicitly well-being programs but that have the corollary benefit of creating enhanced well-being in your institution. And those programs can be about team building and collaboration and legal practice skills and how those interpersonal impact skills are really being deployed in practice. And they have the benefit of building community among the students, as my colleague John talks about it. He talks about it like fluoride in the water, that you don't really know that it's there but in the end it has the impact of building a healthier environment around you.

BREE:

Let's talk about getting to the nitty gritty, which is the cost of some of these programs which could be another barrier for somebody to implement. What is, I guess, the fiscal impact of the programs that you put together? And do you have any suggestions for people about that?

JENNIFER:

I would say that most of the programming we have done costs virtually nothing to do aside from maybe the cost of providing lunch, if you're providing lunch to your students. Having alumni come in and do a panel discussion about some of these issues, if you're at a law school that's connected with a broader university that has a counseling and psychological services group where you can have trained mental health professionals come in and have a conversation with students will cost nothing. Even the professional responsibility module we built out costs nothing to do, other than the energy investment in building the program and engaging our professors and getting their buy in. It is a lot of sweat equity that you will put into these programs but the actual cost of running them is minimal, I would say.

JENNIFER:

So I would say no matter what your law school's budget is, not to be deterred around having these conversations of building a community that is supportive of them.

CHRIS:

Bree knows that one of the, I sit in a management role at an insurance company, so we're always data geeks about trying to figure out how do we measure success. And again, the well-being space is such an interesting one in terms of how do you know that you're, so to speak, advancing the ball? How do you feel like you're making an impact in terms of, again, preparing students for the practice of law? And as you think about your work on a day-to-day basis, are there certain metrics that you look at or is it a little bit more instinctual and you just know that you're making an impact but in small and significant ways?

JENNIFER:

Yeah. I would say our return on investment are the qualitative reports that we have from students and alumni versus more hard data. We've certainly used research from other places to guide our efforts so some of the research that Sheldon and [Krieger 00:34:20] have done about the shift from intrinsic motivation to extrinsic motivation in the first year we fold into our conversations with students. But in terms of measuring outcomes, I think professional skill development is notoriously difficult to measure impact around but I talk with alumni who are five or six years now who seem to me to be very healthy and happy and thriving and really happy with their law school experience because of the community, and it's not because of the well-being programs in particular, but because of the community that we've been able to cultivate here and the support that we provide to our students.

JENNIFER:

And we take a tremendous amount of feedback and we have been careful about measuring the feedback from students in the PR modules and finding ways to pivot and iterate and adjust to student feedback. And one of the pieces of feedback that I referenced earlier or the place where we want to move next is thinking about these systems. So students are curious about how our environment's adapting to the research that people in the profession are doing around some of these challenges and how can we be a part of that as well. So it's more qualitative admittedly than quantitative but it's certainly I can feel a shift. I know that it's a different environment from when I was a student there and I can only say from the students to whom I have said, "You are not alone in this," those of us in the building have experienced this that the look of relief and sometimes surprise is really significant feedback to me.

BREE:

Yeah. Jen, just before we wrap up I just have to acknowledge the time we're in and the context of this podcast which is coming up on a year and a half in the pandemic. So can you talk a little bit about the impact of that on your student body and what you guys at Penn Law have done to address that?

JENNIFER:

So what I can talk about, Bree, is how we adapted the module that we present to the students and the professional responsibility course. We adapted it pretty significantly over the last year and a half in response to all of the things that happened in 2020, the pandemic, the dislocation, the disconnection in our communities, the social uprising around racial injustice across the globe, the political polarization that we're all experiencing. It's been a lot to process and then to sit and talk with law students about their well-being, the conversation had to be different than the conversation we were having with them in December of 2019.

BREE:

Absolutely.

JENNIFER:

Some of the adjustments that we made were bringing in more voices from our counseling and psychological services offices, particularly counselors that are trained on racial identity coming in to talk with students about the experience of being historically under represented person or group in a majority institution at a time when we're going through everything that we're going through. So we brought in that element to our conversations.

JENNIFER:

We also brought in junior alumni who are in practice to share some of their experiences on the ground, which was a response to student feedback that they really wanted to hear from our recent graduates about specifically some of the things that they're dealing with in practice and how they're responding to them. We talked a lot about toxic positivity. So there have been articles about the idea that telling people they should be adopting positive mindsets in the face of everything that's happening is not helpful and that it's okay right now not to feel okay. And I would say that our approach really was much more student led this year. We really wanted to hear from students how they were responding to the stressful conditions, what had been helpful to them, what were their anxieties and concerns, and then having a trained mental health professional in the room with us to respond to that, and also some people who were dealing with the issues in practice. It was a much more team-oriented approach I think to having these conversations. And I hope it was a more supportive experience for the students and gave them the opportunity to process some of the things they were dealing with.

CHRIS:

Jen, I want to ask maybe one more question. I have to imagine that as you've visualized where a student starts and where a student walks across the podium and receives that diploma is a journey in the law school. When you look at that journey, are you visualizing what does first year look like, what does second year look like, what does third year look like from a wellness perspective and how you're trying to nurture that as a complement to the curriculum?

JENNIFER:

Yeah. I think as the programming has evolved, we have definitely adjusted the programming to be more developmentally appropriate depending on the level of experience of the student. So to your point, there are very specific times during the first year of law school that are different in nature than the stressors that our second and third-year students face. So thinking about how stressful it is about a month in advance of your first set of law school exams and how are we helping students feel supported there versus when they're getting close to practice and we're having more contextualized conversations about the rigors of practice itself and some of the stressors that they face in client representation. And that was how we evolved into having a more upper level approach that is also combined with our still ongoing and fantastic professionalism program that is offered in the first year which is co curricular.

JENNIFER:

So we have been thoughtful about adjusting depending on where the student is. I would say another hallmark of our dean's leadership and our current approach to legal education is really taking a lifelong view of the formation of a lawyer. So you referenced the podium which is a perfect visual, Chris, for thinking about where you are at that point and what is to come and how we as a law school can continue to be your partner. And we've done alumni programming on attorney well-being that is a more advanced version of the PR module that we do and the reception to that is different because, of course, our alumni are actually in practice and have different contexts than our students have. And we have even deeper conversations with them about what it's like to be in practice and what some of the well-being challenges are there.

JENNIFER:

So we are definitely taking a, no pun intended, a graduated approach to the way that we talk with students about well-being. And I would also say too, I wanted to go back to the question about tips for people developing these programs in their schools. I would say too if the sense is or if you anticipate pushback being that it's too warm and fuzzy or it's diluting the rigor of the program, something to that effect. What I would say is that when I think about the way that we're supporting students, it should be a really intense physical workout. You don't want somebody who's leading a really rigorous exercise session to go easy on you because at the end you're not going to feel like you grew at all. What you do want is a coach to help you work through the really tough parts which is where the transformation happens and I think the analogy works for lawyer formation.

JENNIFER:

There are really, really tough parts where as a student I didn't feel that supported and I felt very alone. And I think I probably did not push through and grow in the way that I could have had I had a bit more coaching and get more support and that's how I think about the service that we're providing by implementing well-being programming along the way.

CHRIS:

Yeah. And I think it's interesting that the firms that are likely hiring your students are also now talking a little bit more about the wellness components associated with, in the talent acquisition process. And I'm wondering whether you're doing something similar. You're a highly-respected law school, whether your commitment to this particular issue of well-being and wellness of the student body as part of the experience is also coming into play as you think about the recruitment and the admissions process.

JENNIFER:

I haven't actively thought about how it would be appealing to applicants to law school. I think as a school, again, our collegial nature is our hallmark and what we think makes us a very strong community where ideally people would want to come and learn. But I think you're right in the sense that increasingly students and aspiring professionals are looking to be in environments where they can grow and learn and be tested and challenged but also supported and develop really strong connections along the way and feel great about what they're doing. And so to the extent that that is a secondary benefit, that's fantastic. I think savvy legal employers are thinking about how to better support their attorneys so that they are not losing that talent.

JENNIFER:

I think one of the really undesirable outcomes of our failure to pay attention to these issues for so long is the hemorrhaging of enormous amounts of talent from the profession.

BREE:

Absolutely.

JENNIFER:

And imagine what we can accomplish together if we just adjusted and had deeper conversations and develop new solutions so that we keep all that brilliant talent working to support the health of society.

BREE:

Wow.

CHRIS:

What a great way to end the podcast. I think that's exactly right and indicative, Jen, of again why we see you and your experience at Penn Law as being so much a part of, again, realizing the potential of our profession and how important it is that we focus on these particular areas. Any closing comments, Jen, before we close it out?

JENNIFER:

Thank you so much for having me on. And again, I really just want to give credit to the entire Penn Law community, alumni, students, colleagues, faculty, staff, administration. This is a team effort and I have the honor of being a spokesperson today but it is far from a solo mission.

CHRIS:

Well Jen, we certainly are very thankful and grateful for all of your contributions and, again, I think there's a lot of takeaways in your experience at Penn Law that I think can really have ... If our goal ultimately is to engineer a culture shift in the profession, it starts with individuals like you and we thank you so much for your work and your leadership.

BREE:

We have much to learn.

JENNIFER:

Thank you so much.

BREE:

Yeah.

JENNIFER:

Thank you both so much for what you do to drive this conversation and lead thoughts and conversations like this. So grateful.

CHRIS:

Yeah. That was Jennifer Leonard of Penn Law School. And again, we'll be back in a couple weeks with Janet Stearns of the Miami School of Law as we continue and close out our law school focus. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you in a couple weeks.

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 16 - Linda Sugin

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 16 - Linda Sugin

June 30, 2021

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, well-being friends. And welcome to The Path to Well-Being in law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your co-host Chris Newbold, executive vice-president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And again, you all know now that what we are really excited about in this podcast is to introduce you to thought leaders doing meaningful work in the well-being space.

                And we know that in the process that this army of well-being advocates is growing, and our goal is also to build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. And I'm really excited for today's podcast because so much of what the future of our profession ultimately starts with how we're training the next generation of law students. And so we're on the cusp here of starting a three-part kind of mini series and really focusing in on well-being and law schools.

                And we are super excited to be welcoming I think one of really the kind of showcased law schools in the country when we think about kind of focusing on well-being as part of the culture within the law school environment. We are excited to welcome Linda Sugin to the podcast. And Bree, would you introduce Linda for us?

BREE BUCHANAN:

Absolutely. And hello everybody. Professor Sugin, and we're just going to call you Linda really is you can see, and we have not met before, but looking at your just history, it's clear that you have so much passion for the well-being of the students and that your bio, you've been a part of the Fordham Law faculty since 1994 and moved into the associate dean for academic affairs in 2017. And it seems like that you just sort of took the school by storm in a way and putting in amazingly new, innovative programs to address what I imagine you were seeing, which was at least a lot of dis ease among the student population there.

                And so it's just really clear that you saw that problem and you got to work. Professor Sugin's scholarly interests focus on issues of distributive justice in taxation and the governance of nonprofit organizations. She was the 2021 recipient of the dean's medal of achievement, well-deserved, and the 2007 recipient of Fordham Law School's Teacher of the Year Award. So Linda, thank you so much for being here today.

                I'm not going to go through the details of your bio because we're going to kind of pull that out as we go through this podcast today. But I want to start off with the question that we always begin with. I think it's one of the most interesting pieces that we get from our guests, which is to hear about what brought you to what is now a movement, the well-being in law of movement. And we found that typically people have some passion or experience in their life that drives their work. So tell us what brought you to this work and welcome to our podcast.

LINDA SUGIN:

Thank you so much. And thank you for that kind introduction. And thank you, Bree and Chris for inviting me to this podcast today. So I have to admit that I actually came to this pretty late in my career, that I spent more than 20 years as a law professor without really being focused or aware of this at all. In my career as a professor, I've always loved my students and I've tried to nurture them as best as I can, but I never really questioned the basic way that law school is structured and the way that students traditionally learn in law school environments.

                But when I became the associate dean in 2017, the first thing I did was convene a student advisory board to hear what students wanted and needed most from the law school. And I was kind of surprised that what I heard was a lot of frustration, a lot of disappointment, a lot of shame, and a lot of anger. And I really saw how much pain so many students were feeling because of what was happening within the law school, with their classmates, with their teachers.

                And so it was really that experience that led me to committing myself to improving the student experience by trying to better understand the emotional reality of students. I realized that we could never succeed with our academic mission if we continue to ignore the emotional toll that law school was taking on so many students. And so that's what really brought me to it.

BREE:

Wow. I love those words. Just when you talked about the power of those emotions that you were hearing about the shame and anger just those are powerful things. And I also was really impressed when you were talking about the emotional reality of students, and I'll tell you to hear what I would think a stereotypical tax professor, my experience with tax professors to talk about the emotional reality of their students and focusing on that, that's just amazing so I can see why you're so good at what you do.

CHRIS:

Linda, it sounds like your student advisory group, I'm guessing that your impressions surprised you a bit from that early group discussion.

LINDA:

They did, they did because I had never really taken such a broad view of what was going on in the law school, that I had my own classes, that I had sort of total control over. But I really wasn't aware of a lot of the dynamic that was happening throughout the law school both in and out of the classroom. And I think that that's what's really important, is to understand that law school is a really immersive experience for students and the culture of law school is very challenging for many students coming in.

CHRIS:

Well, let's set the stage a little bit. Can you just give us some context for Fordham Law School, right? Location, size, focus, types of students, kind of what the existing culture was maybe before you kind of more kind of deliberately started to focus on it. We'd just kind of love to set the stage on kind of learning a little bit more about the law school itself.

LINDA:

Okay, great. Yeah. So Fordham Law School actually is a really great place and always has been a great place. It's a Jesuit school, and we have a tradition of public service that really stems from that. And Fordham has historically welcomed students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession. So the first black woman to practice law in New York state was a 1924 graduate of Fordham Law School. And so we go way back in our institutional commitment to inclusion, community and holistic learning.

                But at the same time, we are one of the largest law schools in the country within the top 10 and we have over 400 students who come in every year. The good part of that is it makes a very vibrant academic life. There's tons going on all the time. But it also presents a challenge for creating connection. It's very easy for students to feel invisible in that crowd and so it's really important to find smaller communities within the law school where people really find what they're passionate about and where they can really excel.

                We are also smack in the middle of New York city. Our students come from all over the country and all over the world actually, but most of them want to stay and work in New York when they graduate. We are right next door to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, down the block from the Time Warner Center, which is all fantastic, but we don't have much housing for students on campus. And so many of our students commute from a long distance because our neighborhood is very expensive.

                And actually over the 25 years that I've been at Fordham Law School, the neighborhood has become increasingly expensive. And that physical distance and being in the middle of the city with all of the excitement and stimulation of the city makes community building even more challenging. And so there are many wonderful things about Fordham Law School, but also challenges connected to the kind of issues that we're focusing on today.

BREE:

So Linda, tell me, I was looking at your bio and the work that you've done there at Fordham, and it looks like a real area of focus that you've been developing is around the professionalism for students. And I want to ask you what were you seeing among the students? I know that you had the focus group, but what are some of the areas that you're trying to address when you're focusing on students' professionalism and what does that mean? We've got that word there and it's easy to assign a meeting, but what do you mean when you talk about professionalism for your students?

LINDA:

Yes. Thank you for asking that question because I do think that people have different ideas of what professionalism is. I see professionalism as really a very broad category of all the different kinds of capabilities that individuals need to succeed in the legal profession. So mental health and wellness is certainly one important part of it, but I focused on other aspects under that umbrella as well. And I think they're all connected to each other.

                One of the things that I was seeing when I started thinking about doing this kind of work was that depending on where students worked before coming to law school or other experiences that they had in their backgrounds, some students didn't know the expectations that other people might have for lawyers, people like judges, for example. And so we developed some programming around that, what the expectation is going to be, and I call that the integrity programming, right?

                Nothing is more important for lawyers than integrity. But I felt like some students had a more developed understanding and some students just needed more education in what that meant as lawyers. And then in addition, there are lots of professional skills that are not really part of what we think of as the traditional professional skills curriculum that we have in law schools. So every law school has a curriculum that includes interviewing, counseling, negotiation.

                But the skills that I really have focused on are little mushier, skills like effective listening, empathy, self-awareness, giving and getting feedback, growth mindset, understanding cognitive biases. I'm really committed to lawyering as a service profession, a helping profession and that drives a lot of this for me. We need to orient ourselves so that we can really be a helping profession. I sometimes think about former students that I've had and one who comes to mind is I once had a truly brilliant student who would critique his classmates' arguments in the most devastating way. And I tried to teach him how to have a more productive disagreement.

                So I think that it's really important that lawyers recognize the humanity in every person and learn how to advocate, defend and disagree with respect and compassion. And I feel like that's a huge piece of professional education as well. In our polarized times, this is really hard for people to do.

BREE:

Right.

LINDA:

But I think that it's a really important part of the project because it's essential, I think for what lawyers really care about, which is justice.

CHRIS:

That's awesome because, I mean, it feels like we hear a lot about emotional intelligence, right? And it feels like in some respects, you're focusing, again, some of your efforts intentionally on the emotional readiness of lawyers as they enter the profession, which again, I'm not certain a lot of peer institutions in the law schools, they may talk about it, but it seems like you're going at it with some notion of intentionality.

LINDA:

Yeah. And so we don't think that our students will know everything about the law when they get out, but the idea is that we give them the tools so they can learn what they need to learn when they get out into the real world. And I feel like these are crucial tools to enable them to navigate all the spaces that they're going to be in after they graduate.

CHRIS:

What a worthy investment. And then it feels like there's a couple of other foundational building blocks in your program, namely the peer mentorship program and the house program. Can you describe those programs and how they work and what they're designed to do for students?

LINDA:

Yeah. So those are our two biggest initiatives that come under this professionalism umbrella and the key design feature of both of these programs is institutional infrastructure. The students being served are at the center, but there is a whole web of support that we've built around them. And that support includes faculty, it includes administrators, it also includes other students. A really big and important part of our professionals in programming is leadership development.

                And we have been thoughtful about where we use leadership and where we use professionalism because they're related but I don't think that they're entirely the same. So it's key in these programs that we support the students who participate in these programs as the leadership. So the house system we developed primarily for the first year students and it's organized by sections. So law school is still the same as it was when I went where all first year students, or at least at Fordham it is, all first-year students have all their classes with the same cohort, and so we call that cohort a house.

                But what we did within that structure is three things. So the first thing is that we used the house to connect students with faculty and administrators. So there's a faculty house leader who runs programs and the students can turn to with problems and questions. Usually that's a person who's not one of their teachers and the idea is that this is sort of a neutral faculty member who understands the institution, understands where these students are going and what their needs might be.

                In addition, there are librarians, student affairs counselors, career planning counselors, and other people assigned to each house so that students know people in all the administrative offices that they're going to need to work with. And we think that this really eases the entree to looking for a job, getting academic support when you need it. In addition, there are alumni mentors, mostly recent graduates for each house.

                So the house is really designed to create connections for students with people in all these different ways who will be essential to their development as lawyers. The second thing the house does is it's the place where we do a lot of programming around professionalism. So programs on choosing career paths and thinking about co-curricular activities, mental health, equity and inclusion. We have specific programs on a lot of different things.

                Some of them are more formal, some of them are more casual, but the idea is that the students get together for house meeting every week. There is a real curriculum and so it deserves to be treated as part of the academic program. And that has been great in many ways because there were so many random programs that students had to or should take part in and this was a way to organize it and to really rationalize the curriculum as a whole.

                And the third thing is that house is social. It gives students an opportunity to interact with each other in a context other than class. So this was a little hard in the pandemic, but we did the best we could, we hope it'll grow more when we're back in person. But the idea being that there are house parties, there are inter-house competitions, pro bono projects that the houses do, really giving students a way to interact with each other that's outside of the strict confines of their classes in which students seem so one-dimensional to each other.

                And so we think that the community of students that we create the first year is really key to the continued success of students throughout their law school career. The peer mentorship program is really my passion project. It grew directly out of the student advisory board that I mentioned and it's designed for second year students.

                And what I learned in talking to students was that we kind of had been ignoring students starting their second year, but that that's a point of tremendous vulnerability for a lot of students, that the first year we decide everything for them, they don't get to choose any of their classes, it's the rigid schedule and then they have their first summer, some students will be disappointed with their first year grades, some will have had failed job searches, most students will not have made law view.

                And so the beginning of the second year, it turns out, is a really tough time for a lot of students. And after taking care of all decisions for them in the first year, at the beginning of the second year we're like, "Okay, go. Now, do what you want." And so that is an easy moment for students to feel overwhelmed, to feel isolated. But really the law school never recognized how precarious students can be at the start of their second year.

                And so what we did in the peer mentorship program is that we created a system where there would be third year mentors for second year mentees. And the key aspect of the program is that all mentors must take a class that focuses on mentoring skills. There are three of us who teach the program. So the director of professionalism who we hired in 2019 teaches with me as does an additional adjunct who is a 2018 graduate of the law school.

                But the idea is that the teachers support the mentors who support the mentees. And of course, the skills that we teach in the class are skills that are not only useful for being a good mentor, they are useful for being effective lawyers and good professionals after graduation as well. So the program is voluntary for both the second and the third years, but it has grown exponentially since it started in 2018. And I hope that eventually all students will choose to participate because I think it can be a really enriching experience no matter what the students' experiences are.

BREE:

Wonderful. Linda, when I was thinking about a common theme for both of those programs, and it looks like a lot of your work is to help create connection, which is so vital to a sense of well-being and to break through the sense of isolation. There's a research that came out in the last year or so that showed that lawyers are the loneliest of all professionals. And I think a lot of that can start in law school with the inherent sense of being in competition with everyone that you're there with. I wanted to ask you also going back to the very beginning of the law school experience, and you've done a lot around the orientation process. Could you talk to us about what changes you ushered in for the August orientation for everyone and what issues you were trying to address?

LINDA:

Yeah, sure. So I'm a tax professor and some years ago I spearheaded a project to teach students some basic quantitative skills that lawyers need. Of course, people come to law school because they never want to do anything quantitative again. But of course, when you become a lawyer, you realize that you actually need to have some quantitative skills. So we put it in orientation because we saw that as part of a toolbox really for students beginning their law school journey.

                You have to learn how to brief a case and you have to have some other basic tools also. So when I became associate dean, it occurred to me that we should do the same thing for professional tools, that we should make sure that students have what they need so that they can better succeed in law school and as lawyers. And so we added a module to orientation that focuses on personal values and developing a professional identity. From day one, we want students to think about how they can be lawyers while also being their authentic best selves.

                In their first days of law school, we talk about implicit bias and anti-racism, growth mindset, vulnerability and empathy, and character strengths. The idea being you came here for a reason and we want you to remember what that reason was and be the kind of lawyer that you want to be. And so we sort of start that message in orientation, all the things you do in orientation, you have to keep doing it again. And of course, it's worth revisiting so many of the things that we do in orientation later on. But our ongoing development of the professionalism curriculum is about building competencies throughout these areas.

                In addition, one of the big things that we did with orientation is that we added an orientation in the middle of the first year in January. So before the students come back for their second semester, they spend a day, this coming year we'll make it a two day program but the idea was that there were some things that we couldn't do in August because the students hadn't yet built the trust that they would need to have certain kinds of conversations. So we wanted to do a deeper dive into anti-racism and engage students in more sensitive conversations.

                And it seemed that students would be better prepared to do that after a semester and it would really be too early to do that in August. And so we made that a full day program in January all about equity and inclusion. And last year, we were able to hire a director of diversity who has been fantastic designing and leading this program. Next year, we're planning to build out the January orientation into a two day program so that students can also reflect on their strengths, values and commitments as they start on their second semester and really dig deep into growth mindset, which is so important to their continued success in law school.

BREE:

Wow. That's profound. I really am particularly impressed listing to adding in that January orientation and being really thoughtful about where do we place basically this curriculum for our students. And that is just fabulous. Linda, we're going to take a break to hear from our sponsor right now and then when we get back, we're going to get to hear more about what you're working on. So thank you, and we'll be right back. Welcome back everybody. And we have with us today, Professor Linda Sugin, the associate dean for academic affairs at Fordham Law School.

                And Linda, we were just talking about the orientation programs and all of these ideas of really around helping students feel connected and breaking through some of the isolation. Could you just talk generally about these programs we just discussed? How do you see them helping the students maintain, I guess, their mental health and the best place to be able to learn as students and benefit from their law school experience?

LINDA:

Yes. Thank you. So what we have seen in looking at the success of our students after they graduate is that connection in law school is the most important indicator of success. And so we were very, very purposeful in trying to figure out ways that could find their home, their connections within the law school. And a lot of students do it organically. The students who are on a competition team or on a journal, they often find their smaller cohort that really supports them but there are always some students who fall through those cracks.

                And so those are the students that we are trying to help find connection. And so let me focus a little bit more on the peer mentorship program because that's one of the biggest initiatives that we have. I mentioned it before, but I'll tell you a little bit more about how it's organized. So we have it so that all students are part of a group with more than one mentor. Last year, we had a lot of mentees so most groups had two or three mentors and five or six mentees. And so that gives you a little community within the law school that you can work out any way that it works for you.

                And some of the groups really click as a whole, and that's like a little team there of seven or eight students. Some of the groups end up pairing off in various ways and individuals find connections between mentors and mentees on different issues or for different reasons. And it's all good, we feel like it really works out. I'm going to stick my neck out here a little bit and say I think all students feel isolation, self-doubt and fear, even the strongest students feel those things.

                And it really breaks my heart that so many of them think that they're the only ones having these feelings because that's what they think. And if they could just be a little bit more vulnerable with each other, they would find so much shared experience and mutual reassurance. So having a person or a group to share your insecurities with is really important. The peer mentors are only one year ahead of the mentees.

                So they have just a little bit of knowledge that the mentees don't have, but they are really in the same place as the mentees in so many ways. So lots of the mentors are still looking for jobs, they're questioning whether they want to be lawyers, they're still struggling to finish their homework on time, right? So they're feeling a lot of the same feelings and they can really understand what the second year mentees are going through.

                There's just enough distance there and enough closeness that they can really provide crucial support that I think nobody else can. The faculty can't do that, their families who don't understand what's happening in law school can't really do that. And so that was really why the program was designed. But my greatest surprise pleasure of the peer mentorship program has been seeing the mentors grow. So because they take this class with me, I watch them and I can see how they grow in confidence and well-being over the course of the semester.

                The course that the peer mentors take focuses on skills like teamwork, cross-cultural communication, cultivating growth mindset, right? All the topics that we cover are important to professional success. And the mentors keep journals every week that I read. And what I see is that so many of them get so much gratification from the mentoring work. Helping others, as we know from lots of research, is good for our own mental health. And so the program has been really helpful for both the mentees and the mentors. I guess I just want to mention the one other big leadership program that we have, we call it the professionalism fellows program and it's connected to the house system.

                We just finished the first year of the program and it was a great success in ways that I hadn't really anticipated. Because at the beginning, the fellows started out somewhat timidly, but by the end, the most striking thing I noticed was that the fellows have really developed into partners with the administration in problem solving and program development. And so there was tremendous growth in both the peer mentors and in the professionalism fellows over the time of working with them. And so I think that this is really key to maintaining their mental health as well as setting them up to be successful lawyers.

CHRIS:

Linda, as I mentioned at the top, this podcast kicks off a three-part mini series on the connection between well-being and law schools. I'm hoping that we can pivot a little bit right now and kind of talk a little bit about again, best practices and what are... I think we really would enjoy packaging this up and making sure that we can get this into the hands as to as many law school leaders as possible.

                So to that end, what suggestions do you have for others who may be interested in developing similar programs? Again, it seems like you've been very progressive, thoughtful and intentional about what you're trying to do with your student body. So what worked, what would you do differently, what advice would you offer others listening in?

LINDA:

Okay. Yeah, great. So I guess that there were two things that I would advise other schools. So the first one is student leadership. I'm really a huge fan of student leadership. I really believe in the peer mentorship model for all the reasons I was just describing. But you need to be prepared to provide a lot of institutional support. You can't expect student leaders to feel confident without backing them up with training and encouragement.

                I agreed to take on this work in the first place on the condition that we hire someone who would report directly to me and work on these issues full time. And I had the great fortune to be blessed with the most talented and committed person for the job and Jordana Confino has been an amazing partner to me in this work since 2019. So get students involved, give them... empower them to really do important things, but make sure that you're backing them up, supporting them and helping them at every step of the way.

                And then I guess the second thing, and this sort of goes to, we've made a lot of mistakes too as well as our successes, I just don't like to talk about them as much, but I would suggest that people turn to experts if they can. We were lucky at Fordham to get some philanthropic gifts to support our diversity equity and inclusion programming. And it allowed us to hire people with experience and training doing the kind of work that we wanted to do. So I feel like once we did that, it really, really helped a lot of the programming that we have been trying to do without that support which was not going as well and was really challenging.

                So now after three years, I guess I can say I have a lot of expertise in creating a peer mentorship program, but at the beginning it would have been really helpful to have worked with a consultant and I may have made fewer mistakes if I had been able to turn to more expert support. Of course, that takes money. And I hope that one of the things like this podcast will do is really convince the community that it's worth it to invest in these kinds of programs, that they're really meaningful for the students who benefit for them and they can really be transformational for the student experience.

                And that I hope that we can really make them a fundamental part of what law school is. rather than something that's just icing on the cake that we do if we can get some outside support for it. So that's kind of my next challenge, is to try to really bring these kinds of programs into the core of what legal education is.

BREE:

And I've spent some time as a clinical professor at a law school and my experience in sort of looking around there, that who holds the most power in the law school and who in some ways are the gatekeepers are trying to put on a new program such as this, and that's my experience was the tenured faculty, that block of individuals and the law school administration, particularly the office of the dean. How did you get those two groups on board with these initiatives?

LINDA:

Well, I was really lucky that the dean was basically on board all along. We had done a strategic plan shortly before I became associate dean and the strategic plan had some sort of general intention to improve the student experience. And so I felt like that gave me the go ahead to sort of figure out what the content of that would be. And so I've had tremendous support from the dean from the beginning, and he's really done a lot of fundraising around this work, which has been tremendous.

                The faculty is always more varied and you get a lot of different views on the faculty. I would say that there were a core group of faculty members who were very enthusiastic, particularly about the house system and they have worked incredibly hard from the beginning to collaborate with the administration to turn the house system idea into reality. And I think that some of it is that other faculty who maybe were a little bit more skeptical were kind of waiting and looking and seeing, but I think that now that the house system is up and running, people see how good it is for the students.

                Now, there are some new people who are getting involved, which is also really gratifying. But I do think that it's important not to pressure people into doing anything they don't want to do. I think that as these things prove themselves to be useful and meaningful, things will be easier going forward. I think that law schools are pretty slow moving institutions in general and making big changes take time. And I don't feel like I need to be in a huge rush because I see that this is a long-term goal that will have really long-term benefits that are worth waiting for.

CHRIS:

Linda, are you seeing anything on your commitment to well-being in terms of playing out in terms of your strategies on recruiting new students into Fordham? Because it certainly feels like again, there's a more societal recognition of how important this is and I'm wondering whether you're playing that into recruitment strategies in what we know is a very competitive landscape and it comes to recruiting law students into the institution.

LINDA:

Absolutely. So in our admitted student days, we always talk about our professionalism initiatives. The professionalism office gets a lot of inquiries from admitted students. So there's no question that students are looking for these kinds of programs. I think that students are looking for law schools that understand that students have needs and are prepared to address those needs. And so I think that our students are pretty picky consumers when it comes to what the culture of the law school is and what the approach of the administration is. And I hope that we show ourselves to be the kind of welcoming, caring community that we are because we really are.

CHRIS:

Yeah, that's great. Well, let's spend the last couple of minutes that we have. I mean, obviously Fordham sits at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, right? And the pandemic. I'd just be curious, Linda, of what impact the pandemic had on your student body, what some of your concerns were and how you're working in the constraints set by the pandemic to continue to support student well-being in what's otherwise been a very uncertain time.

LINDA:

Yeah. So it has been a brutal 15 months, I admit that. And the losses that people have suffered are real and varied in our community. And I think that right now we need to focus on recovery. Things are much, much better here in New York now and it seems like things are coming back to life and we are hoping that in the fall we will be back to what we traditionally know as law school.

                The pandemic was really extra hard for the kinds of things that we've been focused on in the professionalism program, so really hard for community building. But I think that our programs were crucial in getting everybody through the pandemic. If you rely only on organic community building, people making friends in their classes, people might not be able to do it in a pandemic. But I think a lot of our students really needed to connect with each other and with their teachers.

                And so I worked with a lot of the faculty throughout the pandemic to help support them in creating welcoming and warm learning communities within their classes. So we had student faculty conversations on all sorts of current issues. We encouraged faculty to make space for more casual student interactions. So faculty did things like they held happy hours and game nights and cooked dinner together virtually with their students and I think all of these things really did make a difference.

                We saw in the peer mentorship program that the mentoring groups that would meet weekly really treated it as a gem of a moment that they could get together and have some social interaction with other students when they really had so few opportunities to do that kind of thing. So I'm not going to say that it was good, it was really, really hard for everybody. And it was hard financially and there were a lot of people who got sick and who had a lot of illness in their family so it was definitely challenging.

                But I do always try to look for the silver lining. And so when we're back in the fall, the plan is that we will continue to use some of the remote tools that we learned how to use that I think that some of them can really enrich the support structure of the law school. We have to strike a balance between flexibility, convenience, and immersion and I think we'll be calibrating that when we get back. But for our fall academic program, I scheduled some online classes in the curriculum even though mostly we're going to be back in person. So I hope that what we'll take from this year of disruption will be some tools that we can use to make a richer learning environment that includes everything.

BREE:

Linda, this has been fascinating and inspiring too, and we're coming to the end of our time together. But just finally, if one of our listeners was interested in learning more about these innovative programs at Fordham, could you give them some advice on how to learn more?

LINDA:

Yeah. So we have a page on the Fordham Law School website for the office of professionalism that has lots of information on the programs that we're doing. Even better, I love to talk about what we're doing and so does our director of professionalism. So people should feel free to reach out to me and to her Jordana Confino. Our contact information is on the office of professionalism page. We are really hoping to help other schools replicate particularly our peer mentorship program because we believe it can be really transformational. And so next year when we sort of take this to the next level, that's one of the things that I'm going to be focusing on, is how is it that we help other schools to incorporate some of these things that I think have made a really big difference for us.

CHRIS:

Well, yeah. What important work that you're doing. I mean, I just love the fact that you've invested so much time and energy into the emotional readiness of the law school experience and I think that that's going to obviously pay dividends for the culture that you're building within the law school itself. But if I'm an employer and I'm thinking about what type of students I ultimately want to hire into my firm, knowing that I have a student who's kind of emotionally ready for the practice of law seems to be a really wise investment from a hiring decision. So any final closing thoughts on that Linda or anything else that you want to raise to our listeners?

LINDA:

Just that I hope in addition to helping them work more effectively, I hope that all of this will really make our students happier lawyers. And so it's really important that the work that lawyers do to our society, and I think it's really important that we care for lawyers so that they can do that work and have gratifying and happy lives.

CHRIS:

All right. Professor Linda Sugin, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. And again, for our listeners, our next two podcasts will also be focused on law schools' culture and some of the advancements going on. But again, what a great way to kick off this mini series to talk about the Fordham experience. And thank you listeners for joining and we'll be back in a couple of weeks. Thanks.

LINDA:

Thanks you so much for having me.

CHRIS:

Thanks, Linda.

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 15 - Larry Krieger

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 15 - Larry Krieger

June 16, 2021

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, Well-Being friends, welcome to The Path to Well-Being in Law Podcast, an initiative of The Institute for Well-Being in Law. I'm your co-host, Chris Newbold, Executive Vice President of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And, boy, how exciting is it that we're actually moving into the summer months? I always feel like well-being takes a natural elevated state in the summer months. We're also coming off of a really exciting Well-Being in Law week, and I'm joined by my co-host, Bree Buchanan. Bree, I'd just love to hear your reflections on, again, a May event that's really become a foundational element in the well-being horizon, as we think about bringing people together and shining a light on well-being. What were your reflections on this year's Well-Being Week in Law?

BREE BUCHANAN:

Good morning. Hey, Chris. So that was just... It's such an amazing event, and it's really become a signature event for The Institute for Well-Being in Law. This is our second year to do it. We didn't necessarily have people sign up, but we were able to look at things like the analytics, the people coming to our website, all of that doubled over last year. We had so much energy and excitement around that, and many people involved. We had the actual... the whole week for the Well-Being Week in Law, every day programming. And then this year, we added the after-party, which two weeks later, we did another full week of programming around the different dimensions of well-being for the professionals in this space, the people who are tasked with law firms, with... coming up with well-being programming. That's really an area that the institute is focused on, and supporting the movement and all the people that are out there that are part of this movement. So, it was a great event. What did you think?

CHRIS:

Yeah, I thought was fantastic, again. One of our goals on the podcast is to build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates. I think one of the great results of the week was just, again, a mobilization an army of folks who are really interested in this particular issue. We would be remiss without recognizing one of our colleagues, Bree, Anne Bradford, and all of the work that she did to really both initiate, and has really been building some significant momentum in building this community through events like Well-Being Week in Law.

BREE:

Absolutely. The community and just the partnerships that she's helping us create, really valuable.

CHRIS:

I think the folks interested in receiving mailings and communications from the institute, I think went up to like 1,400. Again, just a testament to the number of folks who are really passionate about this issue and want to see it remain at the forefront as we look to improve the profession. So that's awesome. Let's move into our podcast today. We're, again, super excited. We've taken a little bit of a pivot. In our first 10 to 12, 15 podcasts, we really focused on some individuals in the movement. We've been moving to a little bit of a mini series format. We started with law schools, and now we're really excited to delve into the intersection of well-being and research, and research into the well-being cause.

There's been, in a lot of professions, probably a lot more empirical research. We certainly are moving into that space in terms of specifically looking at lawyers, research, well-being, happiness. I know, Bree, we are super excited about our guest today, who's going to kick off our research miniseries, Larry Krieger from Florida State University. Bree, I know that you've known Larry for a lot of years, I'm going to give you the honors of introducing Larry. But we are really excited about our podcast today in the intersection of well-being and the happiness of lawyers, which is, again, something I've been really excited to get into.

BREE:

Right. I am delighted Larry is somebody I've looked up to and look to as such a real expert in this space ever since I started working in this area, which was 2009. So, let me just give everybody an introduction. Professor Larry Krieger is a widely-recognized expert in lawyer well-being, and particularly, I think, he's known for his study and work around What Makes Lawyers Happy? And we'll get to hear more about that. That study, in particular, was research on 6,200 lawyers, and identified the specific factors that are required for lawyer wellness and satisfaction and basically, happiness. The New York Times report article on that study was the most shared article in The Times for the following two days. So a lot of buzz about that when it came out in 2015.

Larry was the founding Chair of the section on balance and legal education for the Association of American Law Schools. He was a litigator for 11 years, so he knows what it's like to be in the trenches. Part of that was Chief Trial Counsel for the Florida Controller, and he now teaches litigation skills and professionalism at the Florida State University College of Law. He is rightly-so recognized as one of the 25 teachers in the Harvard Press Book, entitled, What the Best Law Teachers Do.

Finally, I got to meet Larry in person when I presented to him in 2018 at CoLAP Meritorious Service Award, which is given, really, for a lifetime distinction in the work that addresses mental health and substance abuse issues in the profession. That is a small introduction to all that Larry has done in this space. So, Larry, welcome. We're so glad you're here. I want to ask you a question of what we ask for all of our guests. We start off with asking, what brought you to the well-being movement? We have found that just about for all of our guests, and certainly for all of us who are involved in the institute, there's some sort of personal life experience, something that drives our passion for this work. So, what can you tell us about your experience? And welcome, Larry.

LARRY KRIEGER:

Well, first, thank you so much. It really is a pleasure and an honor to get to talk to you both, and thank you for the amazing work that you both are doing them and all the people out there. Funny story. So what brought me to it was my first wife, who... way back then, she had actually been dating Mike Love, the lead singer for the Beach Boys, when the Beach Boys learned meditation.

BREE:

Okay.

LARRY:

Remember [inaudible 00:07:27] back in the late '60s or something. So we're going back a little ways here. I've been around. So I was in law school at the time, actually, I was miserable, and we heard that this meditation teacher, Transcendental Meditation, at the time, was coming to town. And she said, "Oh, let's go." And I said [inaudible 00:07:50]. And so she dragged me in there. I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever heard. We walked out, she was glowing. Like, this is fabulous, thought [inaudible 00:07:59], brother. They wanted 35 bucks for you to learn this technique, I thought this is for the birds. So she learned it, and she changed within two weeks. She was a different person.

BREE:

Wow.

LARRY:

So I said, "Okay, I want to learn it, too." Then it took me months to get into it, because the teacher didn't come back for three months. So it was just really good luck. It transcended my own ignorance, honestly. And then I was unhappy in law school, and actually quit law school. It took me eight years to get through law school, which I love telling students when they're discouraged.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

I just didn't like it. The reason I didn't like it is everybody there was so unhappy. I had already been in the Air Force through the Vietnam War, and I was a little older and stuff going to law school, and I thought, everybody is so serious. Oh, my God. Nobody's got their leg shot off.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

I just kept quitting law school, because I just didn't like being around. It was so serious and negative. So yeah, that was on me. I've learned to have better boundaries. But that's how I got involved. Then when I finally became a lawyer, I noticed how unhappy the lawyers were.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

[inaudible 00:09:14]. Come on, guys. Even the super successful ones were just ramped up, tense, pushy, on edge all the time. Of course, by then I had been meditating for a while, and so I it was keeping me chilled out. I was prosecuting in West Palm. We had the sixth highest crime rate in the country at the time. So it's not like it was... I was dodging the bullets and avoiding the trenches, like you say. But just, do your job and then go home and have a nice life. So what got me involved was good luck, certainly not my own intelligence, and then just seeing what was going on in front of me.

BREE:

Right, right. Absolutely.

CHRIS:

Well, Larry, you've... Certainly, when you look back on your research and scholarship, it now goes back almost 20 years. I know that you've been thinking about it even longer than that. In some respects, you've been a disruptor in our space before it was even a thing. If you look back on some of your titles, I just I marvel at the fact that you saw so much of this so early, that even though the movement is where it is today, again, you were talking about a two decades ago. Some of your titles included Institutional Denial About the Dark Side of Law, and I think that was published in 2002. Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students, again, 2002. Does Legal Education Have Undermining Effects on Law Students? 2004. What were you seeing among your students that brought you to engage in this type of research and scholarship?

LARRY:

Yeah, thanks. Let me just say [inaudible 00:10:55] just like me starting meditation and getting a bigger picture on life than what I had up to that point. I got lucky and got this job. I wasn't looking for a job, I had a marvelous job of chasing Ponzi schemes out of the State of Florida for the state comptroller, like Bree already mentioned. But I just got lucky and got into this job through happenstance, and it gave me time to start thinking. What I saw immediately was... I think I started this job in '91. I just passed 30 years. Yay. Had a little lunch with the dean, and it was really sweet.

So it was a good ways after I had been in law school all those years, and seeing all the unhappiness there. When I got into teaching, I realized nothing has changed. Nothing. And I thought, "Okay, well, I've got some time here. I'm going to try to write about it." Actually, the first article I wrote was in '99. I'm not on tenure track, so writing all that negative stuff is a little tricky for me, but I figured, honestly, what the hell? I wouldn't mind going back to being a prosecutor or a lawyer. If they don't like me, they can just get rid of me, but I'm not going to keep my mouth shut. But the first one I wrote was in '99, and it was called What We're Not Telling Law Students - And Lawyers - That They Really Need to Know. In that article, I was just going from my experience, but I was saying we really need to research this. And then shortly after that, just, again, through happenstance, I ran into a fabulous empirical psychologist who was willing to work with me, Ken Sheldon. So, off we went.

BREE:

There you go. I really relate to what you're saying. I graduated from law school in 1989, and then had the opportunity, about 15 years later, to go back and lead a clinical program there, and it was the same thing. I saw students were still unhappy, stressed out, everything happened around a keg, alcohol flowed through every event. And then actually, when I got to the lawyers Assistance Program and went back to law schools talking, 10 or so years later, it was the same thing, there just hadn't been any shift.

I want to talk to you a little bit. My experience with you, my first Larry Krieger encounter... When I started working at the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program in 2009, I came across your booklet that spoke to me so loudly, it was The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress, in which you openly wrote about the dark side of the law school experience, and it just rang so true for me. I was so impacted by that. Tell me what it was like during that period of time to write about these things. It's like sort of the emperor has no clothes, you were going out proclaiming. Just the same truth at the heart of the matter in the profession. How was that received?

LARRY:

Well, good question. That book's been a thrill for me and me. It turned out that half the law schools in the country and also in Australia and Canada, more than half of them have used the book with their students in bulk. So, that was a thrill. I'm writing a new one now. I'll explain why I decided to take a new tack. But hopefully, that'll be out at the end of the summer for fall students, if I'm lucky. The first thing I started doing before I wrote that is I started talking to clinical conferences, because I'm a clinical teacher, I teach litigation skills. And every time I would give a talk on this well-being, I never saw any other talks on it. It's so wonderful to see the movement now. When I started doing this, it was weird. But rooms would always fill up. There were so many teachers that would say, "This is so important. I wish I'd heard this when I was in law school." And I would say, "I wish I'd heard it law school."

BREE:

Me too.

LARRY:

Right. So somebody needed to start saying it. So that was really good. And then our dean of student asked me to give a talk to an early orientation group one summer here, that came pre [inaudible 00:15:49] law school, and I gave this little talk, and it really went well. What I did is I... This is where the booklet came from. I asked them, "So what are you worried about? Let's list everything you're worried about on the board, everything you're afraid of." And then we're going to shoot it all down, one at a time. So they listed it on the board, I explained why they shouldn't stress about it, and then I woke up the next morning [inaudible 00:16:14] you know that was really a lot of good things. And it all came from them, I thought I had to write this down.

So I sent out a little summary to this listserv that I had started by then on humanizing legal education, and people wrote back and said, "Oh, can I use it? Can I use it? Can I use it?" And I said, "Okay, I got to put this into a publication." So I was already getting a lot of positive feedback from my community, which was the community of people who actually care about the well-being and happiness of... and sanity, really, of law students and lawyers. I've learned to focus on the people that are supportive, I just don't focus on the other people. [crosstalk 00:16:56].

BREE:

Words of wisdom.

CHRIS:

Well, Larry, obviously, we're shifting a little bit in the podcast here to a three-part series focusing on research, and we just would really enjoy focusing now on your 2015 seminal work that really helped set the stage for the entire well-being movement. Your work, What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success Redefine Professional Success was really at the forefront. It was a large research project that you conducted with Ken Sheldon. Tell us about the survey, what inspired you to do it, who you surveyed, just setting the stage for what you ultimately found.

LARRY:

Sure, Thanks, Chris. That came out so well, too. I was shocked at how well... After we publish that, I had a lot of people from different journals and the press [inaudible 00:17:54] and they asked me if there are any surprises in there. Really, the main surprise was that we were right. Everything we predicted came out, and even stronger than I would have imagined. I really encourage folks who are listening to this, take a look at this study, because there's a graph in there of the results, and you can see it in a picture. It's so striking. It's on SSRN, Social Science Research Network, ssrn.com, and it's called What Makes Lawyers Happy?. But what came out of it was that success does not make lawyers happy. That's why The New York Times had such a buzz with it.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

We were actually able to quantify exactly what's making lawyers happy, and we were able to show, with numbers, it's not the money, it's not the partnership, the junior partners were not any happier than the senior associates in the big firms, not even a bit. Even though they were making 70% more money, and they were partners now, nothing changed. The idea came from because we started researching law students before that, and we were in some of those journals you mentioned with the institutional denial and understanding the negative effects, all that business. I wanted to be sure that what we found in law students actually was going in the direction that the studies predicted, and that lawyers were suffering from the same exact problems.

So it really took seven years to get that study done, because I had to get bar associations. Five state bar associations agreed to participate and put their bar members through this survey. I got CLE credit assigned to the lawyers-

BREE:

Wow.

LARRY:

... who were willing do it because it was a long survey. And then one of the states backed out at the last minute, a really big one. So otherwise, we'd have had 10,000 lawyers instead of 6,000, but results would have been identical. But I think they thought it's going to be too hot politically.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

I think they were afraid that we were going to show what we ended up showing, which is everything that the profession thinks is important, actually isn't important, other than helping clients, and everything that the profession thinks isn't important, like spending time with your family and taking care of yourself, actually is important, and those are the things that's going to make you happy. So, it took years to get that research in but, but we pulled it off.

BREE:

I see it was just sort of... The findings are just bombshell findings for me. I actually printed out, and I'm looking right now at that graph, and it is so incredibly demonstrative. When you're looking at what really moves the dial on subjective well-being or happiness, are things like autonomy, relatedness, internal motivation, the intrinsic values. So those are long bars on the graph. And then you get to income, class rank, making partner, Law Review, and the bars on that graph drop by like 75% or something. It is just striking visually to see this. Can you talk just briefly a little bit about this divide between the extrinsic and intrinsic values, sort of digging into the secret of happiness?

LARRY:

Yeah, great point. Thanks for bringing that up. I'm actually looking at it. I did a follow-up booklet to that, Hidden Sources of Law School Stress, that extended out to lawyers too, after this study came out. I have a few of those left. I'm trying not to sell them much anymore, and I'll tell you why at the end here. But it also has that chart in it. It's called The Hidden Stresses of Law School and Law Practice, because they really are hidden stresses. They're mis-assumptions. What these bars mean, is basically, that the human connections that we make, if I could put it in a nutshell, the human connections that we make are everything for the happiness of a lawyer or a judge. They are everything. What these buyers stand for is our connection to ourself, autonomy. Really, the way we measure it is integrity or authenticity. Are you a whole person? Are you true to what you say? Do you follow your own values, or are you two-faced? The negative stereotype of lawyers would be anti-autonomy and anti-integrity.

So that's the number one factor, are you well-connected with yourself? And who is, in modern society? What is ourself, even? [inaudible 00:23:00]. And then the next one's obvious, relatedness to other people. Are you closely connected with other people? Not are you around them? Not, do you tell them what to do? But do you feel a close intimate connection with them? The third one and the fourth one have to do with work, do you feel competent at your work, and are you motivated to do your work because you care about it? In other words, is-

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

... are you connected to it? Not just, are you doing it to pay the bills, but does it give you meaning and purpose in your life? Does it give you joy? So those are the top four, and then autonomy, support, relationship to supervisor. So those are the things. They're way up there as far as predicting well-being. If you don't have those, you're not going to be happy.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

These numbers are so huge. And then when you get down to made partner, like I said, it's .00. It had no effect on the lawyers, at all, being on Law Review, what all the law students get the most depressed about. .00 and for the layers, it had no effect. Income is very modest, it's .19. These others are .65.

BREE:

I mean, you just turned it all on its head, Larry. First, when I would see these, I would think I... I would question the validity of the study, almost, because it's so striking against what we're taught and inculcated to believe. But it's a huge set of people that you surveyed, so I'm a believer. It also resonates with me. There's what we've been told, but it resonates with me because it's my lived experience. I believe it, because that's... what I experienced is true, what you found. So, anyway.

LARRY:

Yeah, thanks for that. If you look at scriptures since time began, in any culture, whatever, they all say the same thing.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

Right?

BREE:

Yeah.

LARRY:

All the music that sells tons and all the movies that are so popular, it's all about love, not money. We actually did a factor analysis. Again, I got lucky. My brother's a math genius, PhD type neuroscience person, and when he saw these results, he said, "Oh, you should do a factor analysis." I said, "What's a factor analysis?" He said, "Well, tell Ken Sheldon. He'll know." You can see I've been led by the nose all the way through my life in this. So we did a factor analysis, [inaudible 00:25:35] in a nutshell, looks at all these top factors for well-being and what my brother said, and it turned out to be true. So those are so big and so close in numbers, that it's going to turn out that they're really saying the same thing. They're not actually five different things, they're going to be one. One thing that's more fundamental.

So Sheldon, it took them five minutes when I emailed him, and he said, "Yeah, he's right. There is one thing that's accounting for most of this variability in all of them." He said, "Good luck. Now you have to figure out what it is. I'm just a psychologist, you're the lawyer, because Matthew won't tell you that." Over the years, I did, I think, figure it out, and I've already explained it to you, it's the feeling of connectedness. I tried to think, what is it that makes me feel good when I tell the truth, or when I do what I think is important to me, or when I hug someone, or when I do work that matters, or when I look at a sunset and I feel joy? What is it that they all have in common? It's feeling connected to life. More or life?

So I think that's the key to everything going forward, is how do we get lawyers to think bigger, make the box bigger. Because the box we grew up with, that we assumed was going to work does not work. This research shows it so clearly with numbers. We have to get outside that box and think bigger for ourselves.

CHRIS:

Larry, you've obviously studied this in the context of lawyers, but I just... It's hard not to think about this and say what you've learned about lawyers is really the fact that we are human beings before we are lawyers, and if we take care of ourselves and the relationship and the connectedness... In your study, you talk about what a profile of a happy lawyer is. You could probably replace that with a profile of what a happy person is, and it's going to be equally applicable.

LARRY:

No question. Actually, that's how we set up the study, is we had all these hypotheses based on research on "normal people", or regular people, not lawyers. That's how we had set up our studies of law students to start with, is using self-determination theory, which had never really been tested on lawyers. That's what I meant when I said, I was just surprised how well it all bore out. These numbers are enormous. Correlations with happiness for each of these factors is like two thirds of a perfect correlation. If you have any one of those five, you're way up there already. But if you're missing any one of the five, you're really missing a lot. So, yeah.

Actually, toward the end of the study itself, again, on ssrn.com, I talk about how lawyers are normal people. This is exactly what we would get with normal people. I got to say, I'm a little bit proud about this study because I don't think there's another one that quantifies it like this. This was a another bold step. Once we were getting these results, I asked Ken, I said, "Sir, is there any way we can actually measure these out, not just with P values, which is a probability?" Because they were all highly significant, so they all looked the same. But to show which ones are the strongest. He said, "Yeah, there's these Pearson correlations, these standardized correlation." So he sent me some articles to read about that. And I said, "Let's do that." That's how you actually get these numbers.

Because you can't really compare... Bree, you mentioned, you can't really compare how much money you make with how close you feel to your children. They're on two different scales, one's in dollars, and one is in subjective warm and fuzzy feelings. So we were able to do those comparisons and show, for example, that earning more money is a .19 correlation with happiness, whereas having integrity, what we're always pushing lawyers about, is a .66. It's three and a half times as strong. We had to do that with the mathematical conversion into standard. So he was able to do that. Like you said, Bree, I expected to get just hammered once this study came out by people saying, this is garbage, and your methodology is garbage and this and that.

Haven't had a single complaint about it, I think partly because every single thing we looked at in the study... And there's probably 50 or 60 correlations in here that people will be interested in like, what about having children? What about being married or a long term relationship? What about how many vacation days you take? What about how big a city you live in? What about the rank of your law school? We were able to compare all those, and everything came out consistently. So each of the findings confirmed each of the other findings.

BREE:

Right.

CHRIS:

Larry, first of all, you should be proud of your study. Again, I think it was more, ultimately, reaffirming than anything else, what many of us suspected. So, hey, let's take time to take a quick break. We certainly want to come back after the break and talk about implications of the study, some advice that you have, and then where you're going on the research front from here. So let's take a short break, and we'll be right back.

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CHRIS:

Okay. Welcome back to the podcast. We have Larry Krieger here, who published a seminal study, What Makes Lawyers Happy?. Larry, I'm curious, if you had an audience of a group of big law CEOs, HR officers, based on what you've learned, what words of advice would you give to them about having and nurturing successful lawyers? Because obviously, successful lawyers are the key to a successful firm and are, I think, the foundation of, ultimately, serving society as problem solvers. What advice would you have?

LARRY:

It'd probably be what I'm telling you two. You're CEOs of your organization. [inaudible 00:32:42] being proud of the study. I'm really smiling here so big while I'm talking to you all, because I'm really happy that it came out the way it did. It's wonderful, because I think it's helpful for people, if they take a look at it. I've already intimated what I would want to tell people, is we have to think bigger. Look, when I went to law school, this all started for me. I guess I was somewhat instrumental in getting it going in other circles and in legal education in particular. It started for me because I came with a different perspective. I came from outside the legal perspective.

I had gone to college, I'd gone into the military, I'd seen some serious life-threatening situations, and some soldiers who didn't make it that I was transporting here and there. I lived in different countries. I not only took meditation, but I actually taught meditation. So I came with an outside-the-box perspective. And then when I came to law school, I said, "Oh, this box is too small. We have to think bigger. People are not coming to law school expecting to be happy. You've got to think bigger about your life." It was like a merit badge to be so stressed and stay up and be studying and having big circles on your eyes. I don't even want to be around this. This is just bad thinking.

The more powerful you are, the more you know what it takes to be happy, usually. Now, that may not be true in our political system anymore. Those people are not happy, I don't care what party you're in. But as you become more successful, you should be becoming more happy. If you're not happy, you're not successful. There are great quotes from great philosophers that happiness is the highest form of success, and that has to be true. So first of all, I would tell CEOs, and I also tell law students the same thing, the highest form of success you can have is to really be deeply, consistently happy. If something sad happens, be sad, be in touch with your feelings.

Everything you're doing, you went to law school, why? To become happy. You're making money. Why? To make you happy. You got married. Why? So you'd be happy. You had children. Why? Right? You're going to retire. Why? You'll be happier. Everything is for that, but we put it aside and get lost in the details.

BREE:

I want to ask you about your current research, and we'll make sure we have time to talk about that. It sounds like you're doing a bit of a pivot in your focus. Tell us about that.

LARRY:

I think is that the research is so helpful, it will challenge people. Because they may think, "Oh, my gosh, I've spent all my time doing this, and now I need to shift." You just need to make an internal shift, keep doing what you're doing, because you're good at it, but stop thinking that winning or being the greatest is going to make you happy. Just keep doing it because you're good at it and you're competent at it, and you can help people. That will make you happy. So it's this connectedness to self, to others, and to purpose that shows up in the study as being so strong for making people happy. If you don't have it, you're simply not going to be happy. That's what these numbers mean.

So once we get there and we accept that, then I started thinking, "Well, how can I really teach my litigation students? Because they're stressed out, they're trying to learn this high pressure stuff, and they're going to lose lots of cases, just like I did. And I need to get them ready for that." So I started thinking, "Well, what's the most important connection that we could have?" And it comes right from that factor analysis, it's really our connection to life. Our connection to life. When we first got this research, and then the analysis, I thought, "Well, what's the difference between me feeling well-connected to you and caring about you guys, and the difference with me making lots of money and feeling well-connected to my money?" Why isn't that so satisfying? The answer is, there's no life in it. There's no life in it.

I mentioned this to my minister, my little church I go to, and he told me this great quote from Thomas Merton, that love is an intensification of life. Love is an intensification of life, a wholeness. I looked it up. And I realized, yeah, that's what's making these lawyers happy. They're connecting with their own self, which is life, they're connecting with the life of other people that they care about. So life is connecting to life and reverberating back and forth. In my slideshows, in my PowerPoints, I use an image of a power cord that's plugging in at both ends, and you see electricity going. That's our life. So the more you plug into life and connect to it, the happier you're going to be.

So that's one big piece of it. I'm trying to actually get Ken to do another study with me on spirituality and religion, showing that people who feel connected to whatever they believe, might be God or a higher authority, or this or that, if they feel connected and close to it, they're happier people than if they feel a fear of it, or like it's judgmental and this and that. So far I haven't got him there, but I will. I'll keep after him. But I think there's another area of science now that's so important for lawyers, which is the old power of positive thinking from the 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale. But it's turning out to be scientifically really true. Epigenetics, neuroscience, neurobiology, biochemistry.

There's a huge body of science now that when you think positively, you feel good, and when you think negatively or you have a negative belief, you feel bad. You can think of the optimism and pessimism research. Same thing. Optimist is just somebody with a mindset that everything is good, even if it sucks. "I got a flat tire. Well, that sucks, but I'll go have a cup of coffee. I got AAA. I'm lucky, I'll call AAA. I'll call and tell them I'm going to be late," and they're fine. Whereas a pessimist has the same flat tire, but has a different mindset and decides now life sucks. Not just this sucks, but life sucks, I suck, and it's never going to get better.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

So it's the exact same flat tire, it's the exact same client that got convicted of a DUI or got custody, whatever it is, but people frame it in different ways. The way they frame it makes about a 2,000-point difference in your biochemistry. 2,000 different chemicals in your brain and your body, depending on if you have a positive thought or a negative thought. And then that structures how you feel, how you work, how much inflammation you have, whether you're depressed, whether you age, or stay young, and whether you get the raise and the promotion or not, because people actually like being around you, and so forth. So really pushing that now, that people, we need to basically... We have two big things we need to do. First of all, we need to locate our life, and we need to connect to it. Of course, this is a lot of mindfulness and meditation stuff. But that first research shows how important it is to find life in what you're doing. If it doesn't have life, don't do it. [inaudible 00:41:01]. And then both inside and outside. And then the second thing is manage your thoughts proactively. We're so smart, but we have a tendency to think negatively. [inaudible 00:41:16] pessimistic way of thinking what can go wrong?

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

So I'm really coming around, and I'm going to write a paper on this, it's coming pretty soon, about, first of all, work-life balance, real quick. I'll spend just a minute on each of these, because I know we're getting close on our time. Work-life balance is great. I don't think it's worked. The reason it hasn't worked is because nobody's finding life. We're saying we shouldn't be working all the time, let's have more life, but nobody really understands what life is. It's not going out on the golf course and getting aggravated.

BREE:

Wow.

LARRY:

It's not spending lots of time drinking. That's not life. It's like, you have to find your life, and then you have to express it to other people, and you have to find it in them, and let them express it to you. So it really involves going deeper inside taking care of your health, and being mindful and finding life. So I've been teaching law students and others, taking just simple meditation practices to do that. And then the second key thing is manage your thoughts proactively. The other sort of talisman we have besides work-life balance that I think is not working well is stress management. Stress management is way better than stress mismanagement, or unmanagement. But stress management, as a talisman, presumes we're going to be stressed. Why do we have to be stressed? To me, that's dumb thinking. You've got to think bigger than that.

I actually just did a survey, it was just a random one, no IRB approval, but it's not going to be published, just to prove the point. I want Ken to research this with me, as well. I sampled a bunch of law students, one, two and three hours, just asking them, what did you think law school would be like? That's all. Give me one word. What did you think law school would be like before you started, and what do you think law practice will be like now? One or two words. So they had no bias [inaudible 00:43:34]. 70% of them said stress, burnout, anxiety. That's the mindset, even coming into law school.

BREE:

Right.

LARRY:

What this new research says, if that's what you expect, that is what you'll get. In other words, when you get a big assignment, now it's all about, I'm so stressed. I was telling my wife this morning, and then I'll close here, I'm going to get to talk to Bree and Chris today, and hopefully, some lawyers. I could be all stressed about this. I have so much work to do, I don't have time [inaudible 00:44:06]. Or I can say, this is a wonderful opportunity. It's going to be the same talk, either way. What you think it's going to be determines those 1,000 positive or 1,000 negative chemicals flushing through your body and your brain for the rest of the day.

So we have to learn to be positive about it, and so we got to get rid of stress management. I would call it thought management, belief management. Just stop looking at the hours of stress. One other quick note. We do have a study that's going to probably be published in about six months, we're just submitting it in the next week or so, that shows that it's not actually the long hours that's making lawyers unhappy. It's not the long hours, it's the wrong work. People who like their work, they work more hours, they actually enjoy it. And the people don't like their work, when they... they're just as unhappy whether they're working long hours or not.

So, we need to shift our focus on to find life inside yourself, embrace it, be grateful for it, connect to others, share your life, and think bigger, expect to be happy. Don't expect to be stressed. Because if you expect to be happy and start every day like that, you're going to be happy. Is garbage going to come up? Sure. People come to you because you're a lawyer, they have problems, if you're in that practice. Well, okay. So, let's help them with their problems as much as we can, and then let's go home happy. If we didn't fix them, it wasn't our problem, it was their problem. So we have to have that boundary there and appreciate ourselves.

BREE:

Larry, thank you so much. It's such a joy to hear you speak, and your point of view when you're thinking about these things. Again, going back to... really just confirms, I think, what I know and what we all know in our gut, in our heart about what makes life worth living. So thank you for that. It's a bit revolutionary, and we need you right now, we need thought leaders like you, and so I'm really excited to hear and read your studies that are coming out. I commend everybody, and I'm going to... We'll make sure that there's a link in the transcript of our podcast. But do take a look at the study, What Makes Lawyers Happy?: A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success. Again, it is really the work that kicked the current well-being movement off, and launched many other research projects that came from that. I've always thought that it is not...

I think our listeners can hear that you are not ego-based, you're humble man. So there was not a lot of promotion of this study. I've really felt passionate about... In kicking off this series on research in this area, we had to start with you, because you are the Godfather of this area, Larry. So thank you so much, and we will be back in the next couple of weeks with other researchers to shed light on, what is the cutting edge thinking in this area? Chris, thank you too, for being here today, and take care everyone. We'll talk to you very soon.

CHRIS:

Thank you.

 

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 14 – Kyle McEntee

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 14 – Kyle McEntee

May 19, 2021

Chris Newbold:

Hello, wellbeing friends, and welcome to the Path to Wellbeing in Law Podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Wellbeing in Law. I'm your cohost, Chris Newbold, executive vice president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. You listeners know that our goal is pretty simple. We want to bring you thought leaders doing meaningful work in the wellbeing space within the profession, and in the process, build and nurture a national network of wellbeing advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. I'm always pleased to introduce my cohost, Bree Buchanan, and I know Bree has been working hard as the inaugural president of the Institute for Wellbeing in Law. Bree, let's spend a couple minutes before we introduce our guest, kind of talking about the Institute because exciting things are happening.

Bree Buchanan:

They really are, and hello to you, Chris, and to all of our listeners. It is such an exciting time. The National Taskforce on Lawyer Wellbeing, we had such a success with a report. We had 32 multi-stakeholder taskforces out of the states all around the country join the movement, and we realized, really, time was right for us to create our own nonprofit, and we did that in December of 2020, and it's just been an amazing ride already. Everything is just, I guess, it's spring, it's blooming. We have been raising money in a way that makes us really confident that this is, again, the right thing at the right time, and we're going to be able to do great things. By the time that you are listening to this, we will have, I expect, just celebrated our second annual wellbeing week in law which is always chalk full of amazing activities, with something happening every day of the week to celebrate the different dimensions of wellbeing.

Bree Buchanan:

This year, we are having, and I bet it's probably just going on about now, the third week of may, an after party, which we spend a whole week providing educational support and inspiration for all the wellbeing directors at the many legal employers and law firms which is another part of the movement that's transpiring as we grow, so, really exciting. Our website's been updated. We're going to start accepting members, both individual and organizational, this summer, so we're growing and we're growing fast and it's a really exciting time. I am so privileged to be able to sit at the board president and acting executive director, and will be even more delighted when we hire our permanent executive director. Yeah, good things are happening.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah, again, like you said, it's been a great ride. Momentum is building. It certainly feels like there's a sense of optimism, and again, the institute's ability to be a facilitator and a dot connector of all the different wellbeing activities happening across the profession is just going to be so important to making sure that this issue remains front and center, and again, if the big time goal is to create a culture shift, it certainly starts with an entity that can focus on this day in, day out.

Bree Buchanan:

Absolutely. Our tag line which we just adopted is, the Institute for Wellbeing in Law, leading the legal profession to greater wellbeing. That really kind of sums up what we're hoping and planning to do.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah, awesome. Today, let's delve a little bit more into another, I think, area of the wellbeing discussion that is a really important one, and that's the intersection of wellbeing and the role of law schools. We know that so much of how our profession evolves depends on the manner in which we attract and train lawyers coming into the profession which makes the conversation around American legal education so important. Our guest today, he's a good one. He's one who's been deemed a legal rebel by the ABA Journal. He's been known to be unafraid of taking on the institutional gatekeepers of the legal profession. We know that we're talking with a thought leader and some may say a disruptor in the legal space.

Bree Buchanan:

I love it.

Chris Newbold:

We welcome Kyle McEntee to the podcast. Bree, would you be so kind to introduce Kyle to our podcast listeners?

Bree Buchanan:

I absolutely would, and in preparing for this, Chris and I had a great conversation with Kyle, and I can just tell from that hour that we spent on the phone that he is really a preeminent thought leader in this space, and so I encourage everybody to listen closely and get a glimpse into the future and where we're going around the lawyer wellbeing movement in law schools. Kyle told me he's a hater of long introductions, so I'll keep it quick and you'll get to know him over the course of the time that we're here together.

Bree Buchanan:

Kyle McEntee is the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization he co-founded in 2009 while he was in law school. Kyle, let me ask you the question that we like to always start off with, is what got you into the wellbeing movement? Inevitably, everyone that I've talked to that has a real passion around this work, they have something in their life that has motivated them, so what motivates you to get up and do this hard work every day?

Kyle McEntee:

First of all, Chris and Bree, thank you so much for having me and thank you for getting it started with me blushing. Again, I am not a fan of those intros. I am on the periphery of this wellbeing movement and someone who wants to be more involved. I think that's where I would start by saying, and as I thought about this question, because I did get this question a bit ahead of time, I came up with three reasons, I think, upon reflection, about why this matters to me.

Kyle McEntee:

The first is the cost of becoming a lawyer. This relates to the founding of my organization, Law School Transparency, but I currently have, hopefully for not too much longer because of loan forgiveness, a lot of student debt, and this is a really stressful thing for anyone, but especially a new lawyer and especially someone who's trying to start an organization which I've spent the last 10 years since I graduated law school in startup mode. It weighs on you.

Bree Buchanan:

Sure.

Kyle McEntee:

The second is these cultural expectations we have related to work and work/life balance. It's something I've struggled with. It's something I've seen my friends struggle with, both in law school, before law school, after law school, and it's that expected work ethic that I think is really troubling and something that needs to be dismantled, which is a decades if not centuries long process. The third thing is really trying to listen to people who study these issues and then my hope that I can use my position of privilege to cause positive change. I know that there's a problem. I don't fully understand them, outside of myself and my friends and my family, but by listening and knowing that I do have a position of influence that can be used for that greater good, it makes me want to help.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah, interesting. Let's spend a couple minutes talking about Law School Transparency and the organization that you lead. I think it started while you were in law school. What were the motivations behind the project and, ultimately, how did it get started?

Kyle McEntee:

It actually started before law school. The organization itself we founded during my 1L summer, but before law school, I was seeking job statistics during the application process. I knew that I wanted to go to law school, but I didn't really know much about being a lawyer, and so I started to investigate what that looked like, and what kind of jobs people from various schools got, because I knew that there was some element of where you go to school matters. I didn't understand it as well as I needed to, and so, upon investigating it, I struggled to find information.

Kyle McEntee:

I ended up at the admitted students weekend for Vanderbilt where I ultimately attended, and at Vanderbilt they provided this list of where all graduates from the class of 2007 went to work. I thought this list was amazing. I started to talk with my co-founder, Patrick Lynch, who was currently a 1L at Vanderbilt at the time, so just for timeline purposes, this is, roughly, March, April of 2008, and we said, "We should try to get other schools to provide this information." We started to look into it, and what we discovered, publicized, and ultimately addressed, was that there was widespread deceptive employment statistics published by law schools and blessed by the ABA.

Kyle McEntee:

For example, law schools would say, "98% of our graduates are employed," but that figure counted a barista at Starbucks the same as an associate at a large firm, and the schools did not disclose this. Now, of course, they are now prohibited from doing that, and there is a lot more detailed employment data available, but it was this thirst for information and then a recognition that someone needed to stand up and demand change that caused me and Patrick Lynch, my co-founder, to say, "Hey, let's do this."

Chris Newbold:

Yeah, that's a pretty gutsy project for somebody just coming into law school and holding the powers that be to a different position. I'm curious how the organization has been received by the legal education world.

Kyle McEntee:

In the beginning, it was made a little a bit easier by the fact that we were two law students at Vanderbilt. No one really thought we were jealous or experiencing some kind of sour grapes. We were pretty quickly pegged as two students doing something good, and that was really helpful, but pretty quickly, that attitude evolved, because we were making, I don't want to say demands, because we were not in a position to make demands, but we were making arguments that law schools were acting unethically, that the ABA was turning away from this and not doing as much as they should be, and so we were met with a lot of animosity, to say the least, and a lot of excuses from schools.

Kyle McEntee:

When we said, "Schools should be disclosing more data," they said, "Oh, well, it would violate our students' privacy," and that was just a nonsense argument.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah.

Kyle McEntee:

I'm sorry. I hope you all can't hear the blowers and the lawnmowers outside.

Chris Newbold:

I haven't heard it at all, so we're good.

Bree Buchanan:

No.

Kyle McEntee:

All right, good.

Chris Newbold:

Kyle, just for our listeners, if you had to characterize the mission of Law School Transparency, as obviously it's evolved from maybe a single issue to a much broader mission, can you share that with us?

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. Our mission actually really hasn't changed from the beginning. It is to make entry to the legal profession more transparent, affordable and fair. We always viewed transparency on employment outcomes and salary outcomes as a really important foundation for our work, as opposed to the end itself, because we knew that once law schools were required to share higher quality information, that students would make more informed decisions which would likely affect the price of legal education as well as the number of people who are wanting to go.

Kyle McEntee:

That ended up being pretty accurate. I would say we got pretty lucky on that front. We had a lot of factors going for us, but overall, the mission, it stayed pretty true to that throughout the time and law schools just keep giving us things to do.

Bree Buchanan:

No doubt, no doubt. I remember when that reporting came out about, basically, the law schools are misleading their applicants, and that was really explosive. Of course, I had never heard of LST at the time, but I remember thinking, "Boy, they are courageous, to say the least, to take that on." I think that you guys made a pretty big splash there at the very beginning. That's wonderful.

Kyle McEntee:

It's funny, because it didn't really feel courageous at the time, and that's because I don't think we really contemplated the risk we were taking, and ultimately, we felt that, and I still feel it today where I will walk into a room and I definitely feel the air go out of it at times, but at the time we were just saying, there's a problem and someone should fix it.

Bree Buchanan:

Right, right, absolutely. As you move forward, you started preparing your law school reports. Could you talk about that, and what you're measuring in those?

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. The LST reports, these are our law school reports, lstreports.com. These are tools for pre-law students trying to decide both whether and where to go to law school. We're on the 5th generation of this site at this point. It started out with us taking the current employment information and helping people understand what it means and what it doesn't mean. A lot of it at that time was saying, "Okay, see this type line number? It says 98% employed. Here's actually what goes into it and why you shouldn't look at this as your ticket to financial security," and with the salaries we would say, "See this median salary of $160,000? Well, it actually reflects about 5% of the class in some instances, and here's why."

Kyle McEntee:

Over time, as we forced information ... I'm sorry, it's getting really loud, here.

Bree Buchanan:

Why don't we kind of consider this a break.

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Chris Newbold:

We're back with Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a little minor interruption as the leaf blowers blew into Kyle's backyard. We are officially back. Kyle, we were talking about the law school reports and what you're measuring. I think, what's really important is that you provide this information to the future prospects of legal education free of charge. Talk about how many folks visit your sites and how important that work has been at impacting the legal education world.

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. I'll start in reverse order and say, I think it's made a really big impact because, as I was talking about before, it started with explaining what was wrong with the current information, the then current, and over time, we have been able to force out new information. Law schools now voluntarily disclose a substantial amount of employment data and salary data that they previously weren't, and now the ABA requires that schools publish a lot of data, and then the ABA publishes those same data in spreadsheet form which makes it really easy to get it in my database.

Kyle McEntee:

What we're ultimately measuring, though, is employment outcomes, admissions likelihood, costs, bar exam outcomes, and we're taking, I think, over a million data points and organizing it into something that's relatively easy to use for pre-law students and their advisors. The goal here is helping them make informed decisions which goes to whether you go to school at all, which school to choose, how much to pay, and all that's built on, where should I even apply, can I get in, who should I be trying to negotiate with, what does negotiation even look like when you're negotiating salaries.

Kyle McEntee:

This information has, I think, done a pretty good job at transforming at least part of the market. That said, we do have tens of thousands of pre-law students every year on the site, but they tend to be people who are considering the top performing schools, and they tend to be later in the process when they're making the decision about where to go, as opposed to earlier in the process when they're deciding where to apply. If you apply to the wrong schools based on your career goals, that's not as helpful as it would be if you use this information earlier in the process so that while you were making choices among schools it made sense for you.

Kyle McEntee:

Because one of the things we've really learned through all this increased transparency is that law schools are very local or even regional and that the number of national schools, it's maybe 10, maybe 15, but past that, you really should be looking at a school where you want to work. That, I think, has been an attitudinal shift that we've been able to see among pre-law students. That said, there's still a lot to do on that front, because US News remains the elephant in the room for people who are deciding where to apply, where to attend.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah. Kyle, can you talk a little bit about the US News and World Report ranking of law schools? That, from my view, causes so many problems for students, and I guess, just in a misleading way, when they're trying to make these vital decisions. Could you talk a little bit about those reports and how, in some ways, they're not really very helpful?

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. I'll use stronger language.

Bree Buchanan:

Go right ahead.

Kyle McEntee:

They are enormously damaging to both pre-law students as they're trying to decide whether and where to apply to law school, but also to law schools. They stifle innovation. They cause schools to allocate their resources in all kinds of nonsensical ways, and it makes it very difficult for schools to have a real commitment to equity, to diversity, to innovation, to affordability, all these things that there's pretty wide consensus on, that law schools don't do that well. Law schools are not doing a good job on equity. Law schools are not doing a great job on affordability. They're not doing a good job on evaluating students for the competencies that they need to be successful lawyers, and US News is the constant elephant in the room.

Kyle McEntee:

It's difficult to make any decision internally at a law school without someone, somewhere, thinking, "How will this affect my ranking," because it affects all stakeholders.

Bree Buchanan:

Absolutely, yeah.

Kyle McEntee:

It's a terrible situation.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah, I went back and taught at University of Texas School of Law for four years in a clinical program, and I saw that up close when I was really starting to watch the administration and how the school operated. The chasing of those rankings, that is just the most important thing, not just the most important metric, and it really does distort things to a great degree, so, wonderful that you're shedding some light on that.

Chris Newbold:

Kyle, are you surprised that that tool has maintained its stranglehold on law school perception?

Kyle McEntee:

No, I'm not. I think rankings serve a useful purpose to humans. We look for shortcuts, and I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. In this case, it is, but it's difficult to organize a lot of different data points and then figure out what to do with it. In other words, it's hard to turn data into information. US News, through its simplicity of an ordinal ranking that says one is better than two, two is better than 30, really helps people feel confidence in their choice. The problem is when the methodology is unsound and the weightings are irrational and the schools you're comparing with one another don't deserve to be compared to each other.

Kyle McEntee:

It's really not that surprising that people want to find a tool that can do this and tell you that one school's better than the other, and then, against the backdrop of a profession that is obsessed with prestige at every point, whether it's where you go to law school, how you do in law school, whether you're on Law Review, what your class rank is, then, once you're out in practice, are you on the fancy lists, and then at the big law firms, are you a Vault 100 firm, are you a Vault 20 firm, are you a Vault 5 firm, or what are your profits per partner and what does this mean or what's my bonus and how does my bonus compare to the person across the whole or the firm across town or the firm across the country.

Kyle McEntee:

It's enormously damaging to people. I think that because of that, it's really not that surprising that a ranking that reinforces that hierarchy, that hierarchy that so many lawyers are looking for, keeps its power, and that's what makes dealing with it and mitigating its influence such a challenge.

Bree Buchanan:

Sure, and there's an idea, too, of listening to that word prestige and chasing that prestige, and what research has shown, yes, that is what pervades the legal profession as an overarching goal for so many, but research has showed that that is not what brings us happiness, a sense of wellbeing or satisfaction in our life. There's great research from Professor Larry Krieger that really delves into that quite a bit. Let me shift a little bit to around the topic of wellbeing, for law students and lawyers, young lawyers in particular. Can you make the connection between what the issues that you're dealing with there with law schools and transparency, and law student wellbeing?

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. I think there's two main intersections here. There's probably more, but there's two I will talk about. One is the cost of legal education, and law school's not affordable, and so what we're doing is trying to figure out, what are the structural impediments to more affordability. The second goes to inclusivity, and when people don't feel included in a community, they're less likely to be happy and satisfied. We think that there's actually a huge amount of overlap in those structural impediments to legal education being more affordable, to legal education between more inclusive, more equitable, and ultimately, producing more diversity with people who actually feel like they belong, because it's not enough to just say, "We're meeting a quota for the number of women graduating from law school, or the number of people of color graduating from law school."

Kyle McEntee:

As a profession, we need to be welcoming to everyone and make everyone feel like they belong, because otherwise we are going to fail on our primary charge of upholding the promise of the rule of law.

Bree Buchanan:

Right.

Chris Newbold:

Kyle, if you had to give a grade to the American legal education system when it comes to the pursuit of diversity and equity and inclusion in our law school classes, this is a little off the cuff question, but I think it's important because I do agree with you that so much of wellbeing is associated with a feeling of belonging and being there, and so I'm curious on just your perception of the reality of how you see it.

Kyle McEntee:

I think I'm going to resist. I will give an answer, but the reason I'm going to resist, is that I'm often a critic of systems of measurement that lack validity, notable US News, and any grade I would give would lack validity because I don't exactly what I'd be measuring, how I'd be measuring it, and how to make it mean something. That said, there are a lot of opportunities right now for law schools to do better on all of these fronts, but they are very often restricted by the elephant in the room, US News. I know I keep coming back to them, and they are not always the answer to things but I do think that by mitigating some of that influence, we can make a lot of inroads on the issues that matter to a lot of people, namely, educational quality, diversity, affordability.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah. Let me ask you this. Law School Transparency, do you have ambitions, or are you already moving into the ranking space? If we know that the other ranking system might be looking at the wrong things that actually people most intently care about, part of that would be to provide an alternative to what's already established out there, and I'm just kind of curious on your thoughts and your vision related to that.

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. We have been in this space for a little while with the LST reports, and we do have plans to expand into another space, and I'll get into that in a second, but the LST reports as a whole, we're trying to help people figure out whether and where to go to law school, and then which school to choose. We do this by providing data about schools, but also helping people navigate which schools to choose among, namely where to apply, and then once you're down to the schools you've been accepted to, which schools to actually choose. We've paid attention to why people like rankings. They like the quick sort. They like the shortcut, and so, we have focused on what data can we use to introduce students to our information.

Kyle McEntee:

We use a formation of the gold standard job which is long term, full time jobs that require bar passage, and we put this into something called an employment score, and then that employment score is the primary sorting mechanism that we provide to students that lets them see, relatively, which schools perform better or worse, and then from there we introduce them to the many layers of information that they can use to make informed choices.

Kyle McEntee:

It's not a direct competitor to an ordinal ranking system because we don't provide one, two, three, four, five rankings, but it is an alternative tool that students are using and students are saying, "You should use this instead of the rankings, because it actually provides you a better means of coming to an informed choice that you'll be satisfied with."

Bree Buchanan:

Kyle, is that on your website?

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah, the LST reports as a whole is designed around all these questions, and people use it collectively as a tool instead of US News, again, not as many people as necessary to actually have the larger impact that we're hoping for, but we've made a really good start on it.

Bree Buchanan:

Wonderful. What is your web address, just so we have it?

Kyle McEntee:

We have a few web addresses. Lawschooltransparency.com is the main organizational website and all of our resources are linked from there, but then the LST reports, which is those law school reports, the profiles, the comparison pages, we've got a tool that helps organize which schools to apply to and attend and all that kind of stuff, that's lstreports.com. Our new website for this upcoming project that will, likewise, try to take some of the oomph out of US News will be lstindex.com.

Bree Buchanan:

What is that?

Kyle McEntee:

It's unnamed at this point, but we're tentatively calling it the LST Index and certification, but it is an alternative measurement system that will reward and validate the efforts that schools make in the themes of transparency, affordability, access, and educational quality. The way it works is it's essentially lead certification for law schools. It'll use a point based system and we're currently in the process of developing metrics. We'll probably end up with 50 different metrics that measure the things that we think and the profession thinks and legal educators think actually matter. The goal here is to credit schools for the good things that they're doing and actually create a market for it, so that way they will compete on it, students will use it, and we can actually incentivize the kind of change that we believe needs to happen and that US News currently stifles.

Chris Newbold:

All right, let's transition and talk a little bit about what's on the horizon for you and Law School Transparency. I know you've been in the midst of crafting a vision 2025, and can you tell us a little bit about that project and where you feel like the important nudges are for our legal education system on the horizon?

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah, absolutely. Our vision overall is to help a legal education that provides a more diverse profession and is more affordable to enter. We identified two structural impediments to this. One is that the ABA standards both under and overregulate. That is, there are too many prescriptive standards that tell schools how they have to do things, and then there are two few standards that actually protect consumers. That's especially related to learning outcomes and assessments. We are working with the ABA to try to get them to rethink their standards from the ground up. Namely, we want to see them throw out a bunch of standards and enhance some of their current standards, again, particularly related to educational quality.

Kyle McEntee:

The second main impediment is the one we've been talking about most of this episode so far, which is, US News. Law schools face a system of incentives that just isn't working very well, and so we are looking at how we can upset the balance of incentives. That is a handful of things we're working on, two of which we've already talked about, the LST reports and the LST Index, but also looking at working with US News to further refine their methodology and to work with US News voters to refine how they make their choices about how they grade schools.

Kyle McEntee:

It's kind of a, if you can't beat them, join them, attitude, but we think that if we can make some marginal improvements to the rankings, we can make some marginal improvements to law school behavior while we simultaneously create a new system of incentives through the LST Index and provide a lot of consumer information that's actionable to pre-law students and their advisors on the LST reports.

Bree Buchanan:

Wow. Wow, that's amazing. Let me ask you, if there are some law students who are listening to this, or prospective law students who are listening to this, what advice would you tell them or give them about picking a law school other than to read your reports?

Kyle McEntee:

They need to think carefully about what they want out of a law school, and especially focused on the kind of jobs that they want access to. I know that's kind of a tall order for a graduating senior or even someone who's just one or two years out of law school. People shouldn't think that they have to decide what kind of law they want to practice beforehand, but it is important to think about, to the extent you're able to. If, for example, and we see this pretty often, someone will choose a school that is very expensive, let's say, they'll end up borrowing $300,000 to attend, but they want to be a family lawyer, but they think that they need to go to the number 10 school in the country because they got in, even if they have to pay at or near full price, when really, if they want to be a family lawyer, they would have been better off going to a school that they can get into and not pay any tuition or pay very little tuition, or find a living circumstance where they don't have as high a cost of living that they have to borrow for during law school.

Kyle McEntee:

That's one of the consequences, is if you think as clearly as possibly about what you want to do, it'll open up a number of schools to you that you may not have otherwise considered.

Bree Buchanan:

Sure. What about anyone who is a law student now who is not satisfied with their experience? You get in the school and look around and see, "This is not meeting my needs." Is the only answer for them to transfer? What do you do with that? I just want to say, a comment in regards to tying this to wellbeing, when I was the director of the Lawyers Assistance Program, I fielded so many calls from distressed lawyers who you could tell after talking to them for about two minutes, there was just a terrible fit between them and the law or them and the area of practice they've chosen, and when you have that mismatch between internal goals and what you're actually finding yourself in, it has a devastating effect on your overall wellbeing. I've seen a lot of depression, anxiety, and substance misuse come out of that situation. What would you say to somebody who's found themselves in a place where it's not a good match?

Kyle McEntee:

That it's okay to stop. I enjoy law school a lot but I had a number of people that I knew that made that choice, but at Vanderbilt and at other schools. They just said, "You know what, this isn't for me." That's okay. It doesn't make you a quitter. It makes you someone who is taking control of their happiness and their career and their career satisfaction. It's not something to do on a whim but it is something to do in consultation with a therapist or other lawyers or someone from a lawyer wellness program. It should be a conversation that you have and you shouldn't be afraid of having.

Chris Newbold:

Yeah, and I think it's so challenging. I think, Bree, what you were referencing is this notion of, I like to call them, expectations gap between what you thought it would be like versus what it is like, and then at that point, I'm a first generation lawyer and at some point a couple years into my legal career, your parents are really proud of you that you're the first lawyer in the family and those types of things. There's those pressures, and then you add on top the student loan debt, Kyle, which you've articulated is so consequential in the equation that I can understand and empathize where a lot of our young lawyers then feel like they're kind of in a box and either you lack the mental fortitude to stop, as you suggest, and then kind of feel like you got to keep going, or even practice in areas that are not aligned with your own values because you just need the salary to be able to justify what you just paid out to secure a law education.

Chris Newbold:

This is the greatest fear that I have in terms of students coming into the profession is just this notion of an expectations gap which is becoming more challenging and seeing more people leave the profession but leave it in a way that leaves a negative connotation for whether they would even advise their own children to go to law school, ultimately.

Bree Buchanan:

Yeah, and so, Kyle, what would you then say to the rest of us? We've been talking about prospective law students, law students. Why should the rest of the legal profession care, and what would you say to the lawyers that are already out there? What advice or encouragement would you give to them, particularly the legal employers?

Kyle McEntee:

If we're talking legal employers, I think this goes to one of the original points I made about what brought me to this wellbeing movement, which is, these cultural expectations related to work and work/life balance. So much of this is driven by the employers, and that's driven by not defining and clearly delineating boundaries with clients, and the expectations of clients then make it through to the employer who then makes it through to the person who's hired, the new hires, and then, rinse and repeat into perpetuity.

Kyle McEntee:

We need to disrupt that cycle in order to really have an impact, and that's a really tall order because it's not just a law problem. This is a US problem, one that is shared around the world but probably worse here than anywhere else, close to worse here than anywhere else. I think, for employers, they need to think, not about Band-Aids, but about what kind of structural changes they can make and that they can participate in.

Chris Newbold:

Kyle, as we think about wellbeing, again, bringing it back to the law student experience, I think one of the things that there is a potential partnership between you and the Institute is a stronger ability for us to be able to recognize law schools that actually emphasize wellbeing as part of their curriculum. It feels like a lot of the work that you do, and again, you're tackling big picture, systemic issues, obviously, one of the things that we're trying to appreciate is things like reducing stigma in the law student experience, and really understanding how we can recognize schools that prioritize wellbeing as part of their curriculum, and obviously, that then trains lawyers to know that it's okay to come out and say when thins are occurring to you or it feels like you can go to your senior partner.

Chris Newbold:

As you think about the law school experience for students in schools, I'm wondering about your thoughts on how we can better provide, again, more information to consumers about what type of experience they'll have and the commitment of the school to the law students' wellbeing.

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah. I think there's so much to do together on this. Going back to the Index, what we're doing there is developing metrics, so I'm asking people to imagine the headline that they would like to read about some problem. If we acknowledge that being in law school is a huge problem, we'd say, "Okay, what's one headline that would make us feel like we've done something important?" It might be that, off the cuff here, law schools acknowledge or teach ... I'm struggling on this. I'm trying to think of a formulation of something related to your stigma point. Whatever that headline might be, then we would develop a metric that would measure progress towards that.

Kyle McEntee:

I think that looking at what law schools do and figuring out, what is it that we can measure and cause schools to do and to change, that will really be a way of creating a market around wellbeing, which is kind of a weird way to approach it. It's something you want to just come from inside, but through our analysis, we don't think that's going to work. We think it requires creating a system of incentives and then enforcing that system.

Bree Buchanan:

Right, right. Yeah. Yeah, there is so much work to be done here, and Kyle, thank you so much for being with us today. It was obvious to us, just after a few minutes talking to you that you really are a thought leader in this space and tremendous courage. As you've talked about this and thinking about that you are finishing up your first year of law school and you start to take on this project, and it must have felt like David and Goliath, and you've continued to fight this good fight and I know that you continue to do so. We're so impressed with your work, and I really want us to continue to ally ourselves together and see what we can continue to do, to transform the legal profession so that it really meets the needs of everybody involved. Kyle, thank you for being here.

Bree Buchanan:

Chris, it's been another great 45 minutes with you, and we will have more podcasts coming online with thought leaders in the lawyer wellbeing movement, and hope that everybody can join us. Take care, be well.

Chris Newbold:

Thanks, Bree. Thanks, Kyle.

Kyle McEntee:

Thank you.

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 13 - Paula Davis

Path To Well-Being In Law: Episode 13 - Paula Davis

May 4, 2021

Paula Davis JD, MAPP, is the Founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm that partners with organizations to help them reduce burnout and build resilience at the team, leader, and organizational level. Paula left her law practice after seven years and earned a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. As part of her post-graduate training, Paula was selected to be part of the University of Pennsylvania faculty teaching and training resilience skills to soldiers as part of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program. The Penn team trained resilience skills to more than 40,000 soldiers and their family members. In addition to her work with the military, she has worked with thousands of professionals, leaders, and teams in many industries, including many of the world's largest law firms. Her expertise has been featured in and on The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, and in many other publications. Paula is also a contributor to Forbes, Fast Company and Psychology Today. Paula is a two-time recipient of the distinguished teaching award from the Medical College of Wisconsin.

You can learn more about her work and get additional burnout prevention and resilience resources by visiting her website here.

Transcript: 

CHRIS NEWBOLD:            

Hello friends and wellbeing advocates. Welcome to The Path to Wellbeing In Law Podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Wellbeing in Law. I'm your cohost, CHRIS, executive vice president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And most of our listeners know that our goal here is fairly simple. We want to introduce you to thought leaders doing meaningful work in the space of wellbeing within the legal profession, and in the process, build and nurture a national network of wellbeing advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the professions. I'm thrilled today to be joined by my cohost, Bree Buchanan. Bree, how are you today?

BREE BUCHANAN:          

I'm doing great, Chris.

CHRIS:                                  

Good. Good, good. Well, today we're really excited. We have I think a really engaging conversation on tap with one of the nation's foremost experts in reducing burnout and building resiliency. Paula Davis is the founder and CEO of The Stress and Resilience Institute. And her appearance here on the pod is really nicely choreographed with the upcoming release of her new book, Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Wellbeing and Resilience. Bree, would you be so kind as to introduce Paula to our listeners?

BREE:                                    

I'd be delighted. So Paula Davis, as Chris said, is the founder and CEO of The Stress and Resilience Institute, which is a training and consulting firm that partners with organizations to help them reduce burnout and build resilience at the team, leader, and organizational level. Paula left her law practice after seven years and earned a master's degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Can't wait to hear more about that. And as part of her postgraduate training, Paula was selected to be part of the U Penn's faculty, teaching and training resilience skills to 40,000 soldiers and their families as part of the Army's comprehensive soldier and family fitness program, which sounds fascinating to me. She truly is an expert in this arena. She's been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and is a two time recipient of the distinguished Teaching Award from the Medical College of Wisconsin. So Paula, welcome, welcome. We're so glad that you're here.

PAULA DAVIS:                  

Oh, thank you so much, Bree and Chris. I'm so looking forward to this discussion today.

BREE:                                    

And we're going to start you off with a question that we ask all of our guests, and I think it's really fascinating to hear a little bit of a backstory of what brings you to the wellbeing movement. As we've interviewed wonderful people over the past several months, we've definitely found that folks have something that has a story there that drives their passion for the work, and we'd love to hear about yours.

PAULA:                                

Yes. So the simple answer is that I burned out during what became the last year of my law practice. I practiced in total for seven years, and really going into the sixth year of my practice, was just noticing that I wasn't kind of in love with my practice the way that I had been. I was disengaging in certain ways. I just wasn't as connected to things as I had been. And I just didn't feel like I was managing my stress in the same way. I didn't know what burnout was. If you had told me there was a word called burnout, I may have cobbled together some sort of definition of it, but I certainly didn't have an appreciation for the nuances of what that was.           

And really, over the span of about a year's time, kind of started on one end of the spectrum of burnout, where I'd show up to work just 10 minutes later. And it's like, "Monday, I don't want to go in." And so everything became a little bit more effortful. And as that progressed, it became really very much a feeling of exhaustion that I couldn't shake, feeling very cynical, especially toward my clients, so outwardly very professional, but a lot of inward eye rolling going on with: Do we have to have this conversation? Can you figure this out yourself? You're not going to listen to my advice anyway, so why are we having this conversation, kind of mentality, to really at the worst part of it, experiencing panic attacks on a very regular basis, and then being in the emergency room twice because of the stress. I had stomach aches that were so bad that I couldn't physically move, and so I had to go to the hospital for that.

So really, seeing kind of that whole span of not so great stuff, took a few wrong turns, but eventually decided that I wanted to go back and get a master's degree in applied positive psychology, thinking that learning the science of wellbeing and learning the science of resilience and what have you, would provide me with the ability to teach other busy professionals, other lawyers, how not to end up in the position that I ended up in.

BREE:                                    

Right, right.

CHRIS:                                  

Paula, can you tell us? I'm really curious about again, the notion of you kind of finding yourself, I'll characterize it as unhappy in the profession. And kind of what then took you to ... I hear these great things about this MAPP program at the University of Pennsylvania. Right? Seems like this secret society of awesome people who want to kind of re engineer things in a very positive way, again, a master's of applied positive psychology. What took you there? And then how did that ultimately lead to your development of the Stress and Resilience Institute?

PAULA:                                

It took me a long time to find the program. I didn't just happen to go, "Wow, there's this thing called positive psychology, and it's at The University of Pennsylvania." When I was thinking about re-crafting my career when I was burning out, I actually, I loved to bake, so I thought I was going to be a pastry chef. So I had applied to The French Culinary Institute in New York City and was accepted, and was going to go to pastry school, and had the opportunity before I went to do a little bit of a week long kind of externship at a swanky restaurant in San Francisco near where my brother used to live, and hated every minute of it. And it was at that point where I took a step back and thought, "I need to be a little bit more intentional now about what I really want to do post legal profession career."

And I ended up hiring a coach who had just finished the positive psychology program that we're talking about. And I said, "There's positive psychology, what is that?" Because my undergrad is in psychology, and I've been fascinated with that area of science. Sorry. I'm hearing a lot of echo. That hasn't happened before.

BREE:                                    

Let's take a break here and figure that out. A wonderful thing is we have the ability to edit, so we could just fix the problem and then pick it up with the question that Chris asked.

PAULA:                                

Sure.

CHRIS:                                  

Paula, can you tell us about the MAPP program? And obviously, it sounds like you've studied psychology in your undergrad, and I had never heard of a master's of applied positive psychology. It looks to be at the University of Pennsylvania. What led you there? And how did that ultimately kind of transition you into The Stress and Resilience Institute.

PAULA:                                

I hadn't heard of it either, and it was absolutely fascinating to me. I was less than intentional in terms of figuring out my next step after my law career, and thought that I was going to go to pastry school because I loved to bake. And so it was again just sort of this random thing that I thought would be a fun thing to do. And I actually went so far as to do a week long internship at a restaurant near where my brother lived in San Francisco and immediately knew it was not the thing that I wanted to do, which was really frustrating because I thought I had figured it all out. I thought I had figured out my escape from law. And it turned out that it was the wrong direction.

So what I ended up doing was hiring a coach to help me sort of be more intentional with the next steps in my career. And she had actually just finished the positive psychology, this MAPP program at Penn. And she was telling me about it, and I said, "There's a positive psychology program, what is this?" Because as you mentioned, my undergrad is in psychology, and I've always loved the science of it. But when I finished my undergrad, there wasn't this sort of program yet, nor a named science of positive psychology, and I did not want to go and get an advanced degree in any other aspect of psychology, which is what led me to law school.

And so I just started to dig into it, and everything about it just really intrigued me. And because I had wanted to get some sort of formal degree in the science of being able to help busy professionals not burn out, and deal with their stress, and all of that, it just seemed to make the most sense for me, and just really was something that I connected to. And even when I started at the program, I don't know, there was nothing very specific about positive psychology generally that made me go, "I'm going to Penn to learn about this particular aspect of positive psychology." It was really just showing up and sort of being open to what the science was and how I could apply it.

And when we got to the components and the sections and the research on resilience, it just really connected with me. It connected with me in a lot of different ways. And I thought it was something, A, that I could've used, and B, that I could teach other people. And the professors and the folks at Penn are really world renowned experts in this area of science. And so once I dug into resilience, it's a passion of mine that has never left. And how this helped to form my institute is that when I finished the program at Penn, the United States Army had actually been putting together a train the trainer resilience program with Penn for their senior non-commissioned officers and officers, just to help them deal with the mental health challenges they were experiencing with all of the deployments and the high op tempo that was going on at the time.

And so I had a change to be part of the training team, apply and be accepted to be part of the training team for that program. And what I thought was going to be maybe one or two trainings here and there turned into almost, certainly my post graduate work, but almost every month for three and a half years, either going back to Penn, or traveling around the world to different Army bases to help teach this resilience program. And so it's really where I started to learn how to teach other people these skills and what that meant, and what that looked like. And so certainly, helped to form a very strong foundation for the institute.

BREE:                                    

Wow. So Paula, let's kind of dig into the subject matter here. Can you tell us about resilience? What is it? And in particular, how do we as lawyers cultivate that?

PAULA:                                

Yes. So there are a lot of different definitions of resilience floating around, but the two common themes that most definitions have are one, it's your ability to navigate stress and adversity and challenge and change and failure and setback, so I always punctuate that because that's the thing that makes resilience different from grit, or mindfulness, or wellbeing generally. And those terms are often conflated. So if we're talking about resilience, we're talking very much about our ability to deal with that cluster of things like challenge, change, adversity, setback, failure. But it's also, and a lot of people come up with the phrase like bouncing back, it's also very much though about bouncing forward.

So the second big thing with what resilience is, is taking the lessons and the meaning and cultivating that from the challenges and the change and the setback and the failure to apply that to future challenges going forward. So there's very much a positive adaptation to resilience. So it's the navigating through, but then it's also that bouncing forward aspect, so both of those things are important components of resilience. And the important thing to know is that it's not built in any one specific way. So the person who taught me all of these skills would say resilience is like a stew, so there's lots of different ingredients that go into it, and my stew is going to look different than your stew and somebody else's, but that it's really a cluster of skills that help us develop things like self awareness, that helps us develop things like mental strength, so that we can look at and think about problems in a very flexible and accurate way.

It helps to remind us that connections and other people really matter, and relationships are central. It helps us, and this is really, it can be difficult but really important for lawyers that when you're going through a challenge, it's important to be realistic about what you're seeing with whatever the obstacle is. But it's also then harnessing a positive aspect to it too. So people who have high levels are resilience are good at harnessing positive emotions and optimism and hope and things like that, so that's a very important part of the equation. And then also, this whole notion of just building your stress awareness. So it's hard to be resilient, it's hard to pivot, it's hard to adapt when you're in the middle of a significant challenge if your tank is consistently empty. And so drawing in on ... So stress awareness principles become important.

So I have taken kind of all of those muscles or competencies and distilled them down into three really big pathways, which are building mental strength, prioritizing wellbeing, and then fostering strong connections. So there's a lot of different pieces under each of those components, but those are kind of the three big central pathways that I like to have people focus on when we talk about building it.

CHRIS:                                  

Interesting. Paula, I'm curious. As you reflect on the state of the legal profession, what kind of grade would you give the profession itself when it comes to resilience?

PAULA:                                

That's a great question, but a tough one to answer.

CHRIS:                                  

It is.

PAULA:                                

I will tell you, generally, just looking back at least over 2020, I've been surprised at their level of resilience, and I would say at least at the organizational level, that I have seen. I think that a lot of firms kind of did what they had to do, and pivoted and adapted in ways, and more quickly than I would have expected them to. So I think from an organizational level, I was pretty impressed. I still think that there's more that we can do on an individual level, definitely from a leader and teams perspective, to start to prioritize that skillset kind of a little bit further down the road.

BREE:                                    

Paula, one more question before we take a break. And when I was a director of a lawyer's assistance program, I spoke to so many callers who were extremely distressed and pretty quickly could get down to the matter that they were not a good fit basically for the legal profession. They were very unhappy, and the things you have to do to be a lawyer wasn't a good fit for them. And as a result, they were just really suffering in a lot of distress, and burnout was just one of the problems that they have. You got to a difficult time in your profession and decided to make a switch to pursue a new path. What advice do you have for anybody who may be listening, who's facing that point? And do you have to leave the profession? What if you really don't want to or can't leave the profession?

PAULA:                                

So I would say I'm very much the exception rather than the rule. And so if you're listening and you're thinking, "Wow, I think I might be where she was," I would say a couple of things. I would say, one, say something to somebody. So whether it is a family member, whether it is a partner, associate, or a colleague at work, whether it is a mental health professional, whether it's your physician. And actually, using the word burned out, and what you feel you need in terms of recovery. Right? Are you looking for a sabbatical? Are you just looking for support in a conversation? But to actually say something about it. I kept it in way too long, and that made my burnout go on a lot longer than it needed to. And then if you feel like you really don't want to continue on within the profession, just really taking the time, and for me, it was working with a coach.

And so I oftentimes do this work, especially after workshops with lawyers, who we have this kind of conversation. And so it's about exploring all options. It's making sure they understand kind of what goes into that process. It's being very intentional about: What do you want your next step to be? Because we might feel like it's not law, but then we're like, "I don't know what I want to do." And so that's not the time to actually leave and do something different, so it's really starting to kind of crystallize and be very intentional about what you think that next thing is, so those would be the two big pieces that I would say.

BREE:                                    

Sure, thanks. And Paula, we're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. And then when we come back, we want to delve into listening to you talk about some of the strategies that people can take on to boost the resilience, to deal with burnout, and to talk about your new book.

PAULA:                                

Yay. Thanks.

BREE:                                    

Sure.

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CHRIS:                                  

All right. We're excited to welcome PAULA to the podcast. Paula, obviously, we want to spend some time talking about your upcoming book release. March 16th is the big day, very exciting, as we look forward. It's called Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Wellbeing and Resilience. One of the things I wanted to ask is just describe for us the target audience for the book. Is it directed at individuals? Is it directed at employees? And certainly, you're kind of looking at it through I think a different lens that I think is going to kind of add to the science and perspective in this area around burnout.

PAULA:                                

Yes. I am looking at it through a different lens. And I think it's a really important lens. So in the book, individuals will absolutely find strategies that they can use to alleviate burnout. But the point of the book and the conversation that I really want to spark with it is that, that's a good starting point. So many programs in this space are focused on individuals and giving individual strategies to help deal with a problem that is actually a very complex systems based issue. And so I also hope, and a big target audience for me would be leaders and anybody who works in a team, so especially leaders of teams, and even organizations themselves, who want to actually take a step back and look at this issue in a bit of a different way because the research is very clear. Both the empirical research and my own research, and anecdotal and coaching and teaching and training, that the individual pieces help, and they're only going to get you so far though, until we start to really draw in the rest of the system to deal with the issue.

BREE:                                    

So Paula, let's talk a little bit about just sort of definition-ally, the, if that's a word, burnout. How does it affect people? How do they recognize it? And then so that's sort of looking at it from an individual perspective. And then how does burnout affect the employers?

PAULA:                                

Yes. So I define burnout as the manifestation of chronic workplace stress, and trying to be very intentional with that. And so the word chronic is important, so we all have bad days, busy weeks, we feel exhausted, especially these days. That doesn't necessarily mean burnout. So the word chronic is important. We usually don't just wake up on day and say, "Oh, I'm burned out." It's something that's been happening over a period of time. And the workplace word is very important also, in that we've become really loose and imprecise with how we use burnout. So we might just have a bad day, and we are like, "Oh, my gosh. I'm so burned out," or you're just tired after a really long week, and you say, "Oh, man. I'm so burned out."

And so we've lost kind of the nuance of what that word means. And so we know that stress exists on a spectrum and burnout exists on a spectrum. And you know you're getting closer to burnout when you start to see this combination of chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, so this lost impact, like, "Why bother? Who cares? What am I doing at work? I'm not connected to it. I feel disengaged." So the closer you get to being able to say, "Yeah, I'm experiencing those three things over time, and it's pretty consistent," then you know you've probably traveled over into something that looks a little bit more like burnout.

But what's really important is that's oftentimes where the conversation stops. We stop at sort of that symptom level, and then we don't go deeper into actually examining what the causes of burnout are. And that's when we start to get into some of the leader, teams, system based aspects of the issue.

CHRIS:                                  

Are they typical common themes when it comes to the causes that you've seen in your research? And obviously, you ... I think the book does a really interesting ... You definitely use real world stories to be able to kind of illustrate your points, whether it's working with the Mayo Clinic, or the US Army, or Trivago. Right? I'm just kind of curious on what your real life examples, how that plays into kind of the causes that allow teams, cultures, organizations, to ultimately thrive.

PAULA:                                

Yeah. So the basic thing for people to think about if you want sort of a formula about what causes burnout, it's an imbalance between your job demands and your job resources, so it's having too many of the demands, which are things that take consistent effort and energy about your work, and too few of the resources, which are the motivational and energy giving aspects of your work. And everybody's formula is going to look different. So just because you have more job demands than resources doesn't necessarily mean that you will burn out. You might have some really great resources that are really important, like team and leader support, or you have a lot of autonomy in your work. And that's really fortifying and protecting you from burning out.

But the research really points to kind of six, there's more than this, but six especially important kind of core job demands that organizations need to be paying attention to because these are big ones. If we aren't getting enough dose of these, this can be problematic. And so it is lack of autonomy, so not feeling like we have a choice, or a say, in how our day unfolds, our projects that we can take on. Do we have decision making discretion, especially when it impacts our work? High workload, this is a real tough one because in my own research, this is probably the number one driver that I see, the number one demand that's pushing a lot of people toward the path of burnout, but it's not easily solved, and so this is a hard one. But it's an important one to pay attention to, so high work load, lack of support from your leadership or colleagues, unfairness.

So if you are in an environment where there's a lack of transparency, there's arbitrary decision making, favoritism happening, that's a big one, values disconnect. So I know that I need certain things from work, and my work environment is either giving it to me or not giving it to me, so that's what that means. And then a lack of recognition. And I would say in my own research, this oftentimes tends to be the number two driver for a lot of people. And it's not just they don't hear thank you enough, which is part of it. But a lot of people will tell me that it is, I feel like I'm doing work at a certain level, but I don't have a title that matches that.

I hear that from a lot of lawyers in corporate legal departments, where they expected a VP title, or some extension of that, and they don't have it. And so that's a frustration. And then that is wearing, and they're not pulled into meetings and decisions that they know they would be capable of being part of. And so I would say that's probably, like I said, a number two problem that I see. But those are really the ones that leaders and teams and organizations need to be paying attention to.

CHRIS:                                  

And we hear a lot about kind of the qualities of highly effective leaders. I would guess that you would advance the theory that identifying those imbalances between demands and resources is probably oftentimes an overlooked element. That's a precursor to then really preventing and realizing the efficiency and the output of teams and organizations, and a lack of that either reflects the lack of empathy of lack of understanding about how burnout ultimately occurs.

PAULA:                                

100%. And one thing I like to tell leaders too is that there's a fantastic assessment tool, you can measure those six. So you can actually, and this is how I know, when I tell you number one is probably workload and number two is lack of recognition from my own work, because I've given that assessment. It's the Areas of Work Life Survey, which is a fantastic tool to help leaders. And then I can have a very specific conversation with them and say, "Look, you have a lack of recognition problem." And if I'm able to do some coaching with the team on the backend of, or after a workshop, I can start to distill that into very specific themes that I can, in a broad way, send back to the leader and say, "Look, here's kind of what I'm seeing in terms of what's going on with the team." And now we can have a very targeted conversation about how to address that and how to move forward.

So it helps that there's a way to kind of formally dig into this a little bit because then you can have a much, much different conversation because it makes no sense for me to be talking about unfairness, or lack of autonomy. Those things aren't problems or issues for your team.

CHRIS:                                  

And for our listeners, is there a sponsoring entities of that Areas of Work Life Survey for them too?

PAULA:                                

It's a proprietary instrument, but you can buy licenses for it at mindgarden, M-I-N-D, garden.com.

CHRIS:                                  

Okay.

BREE:                                    

And so Paula, we can't ignore the context in which we find ourselves right now. We're recording this in March of 2021. How has the pandemic increased burnout among workers and lawyers?

PAULA:                                

So I think from a purely anecdotal standpoint, I would say it has definitely increased for many people. And a lot of the ... I take a little bit of a measured approach when I see the headlines about burnout is rampant right now and things like that because a lot of where that's coming from are not empirically based studies, but simply informal survey measures and tools of people, which are completely fine. But when I start to see reports that there's 80% of people feel burned out in this particular profession or organization, I tend to take that with a little bit of a grain of salt because what is probably being measured is maybe something a little bit more like stress, or stress focus, than actual burnout.

But I would certainly say from what I have heard from folks that the rates are elevated and people are certainly feeling this, especially folks who are parents and who are trying to manage those homeschooling and the working and trying to get work done. And all of a sudden, our days are now extended, and we don't have boundaries and things like that. So I mean, it'd be hard to say that things are or have stayed the same. I think they're absolutely, the rates are higher.

CHRIS:                                  

And Paula, I'm curious, you said something about kind of the interconnectedness of stress and burnout, actually probably being two separate and independent things. One may lead to the other. But can you provide some greater context to that?

PAULA:                                

Yeah. So I always tell people to kind of think about all burnout is stress, but not all stress is burnout. So we deal with stressful things on a very regular basis. We deal with big stressors, we deal with our daily episodic, just traffic hassles and kid stuff, and just general type of stressful events. But stress exists on a spectrum, and most of us handle stressful events just fine, and we have our tools that we use and things that we do, and everything is fine. And it's sort of like I had mentioned before, like when you start to leave kind of like, "I can figure this out, and I'm doing good," and to into more of that, "Gosh, I'm chronically exhausted. People are really bugging me. And I'm starting to kind of unplug or disengage from what I'm doing that you've kind of gone into more of a burnout realm."

CHRIS:                                  

All right. And if you characterized yourself in a position where you feel like you're approaching burnout, what can you do about it? Right? And what advice do you have for law firm partners who kind of think about productivity issues? And I'm just kind of curious on: What's a pathway for folks when they kind of reach that realization? What can they do about it?

PAULA:                                

So again, so I there's kind of two aspects to that question. In part, it's kind of the right question, but also, the better question is: How does the system need to react in order to make sure that positive cultures are developed so that people are less likely to burn out? So that's really the question that we should be looking at. But I don't want to ignore that there certainly are things that we can do. They're probably not what people intuitively think though, so it's not about wellness apps and yoga and things like that, which are completely wonderful stress management tools. But if you're burning out, it's deeper than that. It's about needing to take a step back, and I call it understanding your wiring.

So a lot of lawyers, a lot of high need for achievement professionals, we say yes to everything, we're not good at asking for help. We have very narrow definitions of success, and we make comparisons based on that. And we tend to over rely on achievement to feel worthy. And so I talk about in the book: What can individuals do to prevent burnout if they're feeling like that, or kind of going in that direction? And it's a lot of that deeper wiring examining stuff. Right? It's understanding counterproductive thinking. Am I catastrophizing a lot? Because it's a very wearing style of thinking. Am I overthinking a lot? And do I need to deal with that?

One of the pieces that I talk about in the book is understanding your icebergs or your rules, which are your core values and beliefs about how you think the world should operate. So a lot of lawyers carry with them very powerful beliefs about clients come first in all circumstances. If I can't do something myself, if I can't do it right myself, then I shouldn't do it at all. I have to be perfect, or there's no other standard. And so we have to understand how rigid those beliefs and values are and how they are causing us to maybe not deal with stress in the right way. They impact our leadership abilities. They impact our ability to kind of form good relationships. And so it's that deeper level kind of conversation that needs to be had for individuals to really start to kind of turn the tide when it comes to burnout, but that's of course in the context of the system stuff that we've talked about.

BREE:                                    

Right. I'm really curious about, in your book, you talk about the value of teams, about building wellbeing and resilience. Can you talk about why that is so particularly potent in dealing with these issues?

PAULA:                                

Yeah. No, I love, I've just become so excited about kind of this teams intersection over the last handful of years for a whole host of reasons, in part because I think in the legal profession, we do a lot of work in teams, but we don't think that way. We don't talk in terms of teams' language. And so there's a lot of things that we can leverage about the value of teams that I think we aren't doing right now. But where I initially kind of came up with that idea is I was thinking to myself after reading all of this research, it's like, wow, if the individual approach isn't the answer, but I can't walk into a firm and say, "You have to change your organizational culture," because that's never going to happen either. It was sort of like: What is the doable kind of middle ground? What is the entry point into the system where I can really affect change at the team level collectively, with leaders, and with individual contributors?

And so the teams models made the most sense to me for a lot of reasons, and teams are really individual little mini systems. They're little mini cultures. And so every leader has the opportunity, and every person who's part of a team has the opportunity to influence their little culture in some way. And so for me, it was if I can get these little mini systems and little mini cultures kind of using some of these small strategies and techniques, that will help the team, which will have a ripple effect kind of throughout the organization is my hope. So most people do their work in teams, teamwork is the way of work these days. And so there was just a lot of benefit to that entry point for me.

CHRIS:                                  

It's also interesting I think on the teams side of things that again, when you're part of a group of individuals that have identified and committed to a core set of values, then you can ... Then cultural acceleration can occur. Right?

PAULA:                                

Yeah.

CHRIS:                                  

And then accountability kind of comes into the picture a little bit more deliberately as opposed to kind of everybody being on their own, either departmental, or the practice area, specific type cultures that kind of allows you to again, rally around something that can be more universal. And I think you're a big proponent of I think a holistic approach rather than a more siloed approach.

PAULA:                                

Yes, 100%. And one of the things that most people say when I was doing in person workshops, I had a chance for people to really, for lawyers to really sit down and talk about their job demands and their job resources, almost universally, one of the most potent job resources that lawyers would cite in terms of what's keeping me here, what I love about my work, is other people on their team, their colleagues. Many of them would say if it wasn't for this particular person, or these three people, I would have a really hard time in this environment, or I would've left five years ago. So recognizing that and becoming better I think at relying on other people within the team, in a whole host of ways, I think can be very fortifying for people.

CHRIS:                                  

And so much, it feels like so much of our quest on the wellbeing front is ... We had Steve Wall from Morgan Lewis on the last podcast. And he spoke so eloquently about the way that just a common set of individuals as part of a team can engineer a culture shift on wellbeing, and it certainly feels like our ability to more effectively work through the team structure, whether it's an executive committee, partnership, group, or whatever it is, certainly seems like maybe a potential catalyst for us when we think about wellbeing success.

PAULA:                                

Oh, huge, it's 100%. And I mean, really, over the last couple of years in earnest especially, I've really ... I mean, that's been part of how my work has shifted. And it's been very interesting to see the wellbeing movement, how it looked in 2010 when I finished my master's in positive psychology to what it's doing today has just been phenomenal. And where I've tried to start to steer the conversation at least in my own little sphere with my work, is toward this teams and leaders and sort of system based, kind of I call it 2.0 conversation. Whether you're talking about resilience and needing to apply resilience frameworks at a team level or a leader level, in addition to all of the individual piece. But from a burnout standpoint too, the burnout conversation I think is going to necessitate a 2.0 conversation because we just know so specifically that it can't be cured with just the individual approach alone. So I'm excited about that.

BREE:                                    

That's so important. And Paula, as we round out our time together, tell us. Where can we get your book?

PAULA:                                

Yes. So I will send folks to beatburnoutnow.com. So that will take you to my book page on my website, where you will be able to find the Amazon link and a whole host of other spots to pre order or buy my book, so beatburnoutnow.com.

CHRIS:                                  

And fair to say, Paula, that you also work actively with organizations around the country, around the world, as they look to build more effective teams and reduce burnout and build resiliency.

PAULA:                                

Yes. This is a lot, this is most of what I'm doing these days. And this is where I want to continue the direction and the focus. So nothing gets me more excited than getting in and working with a team and talking to a team, and starting to figure out some of these pieces about what's working well. And what are areas that we can improve?

CHRIS:                                  

Well, good. Paula, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I know that your work has broader applicability than just solely the legal professional, but certainly with your career pivot in the middle, I think the theories and the systemic approach certainly apply just as effectively to law firms and any entity within the legal space. We're talking more organizational shifts, right? And it doesn't necessarily, again, it applies I think across the board to the legal profession. So congratulations, first of all, on your book. We're excited to be able to get it and promote it to our wellbeing community. And we thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

PAULA:                                

Thank you so much, Chris and Bree. I really enjoyed this conversation.

BREE:                                    

Thanks, Paula.

CHRIS:                                  

Awesome. And we'll be back in a couple weeks with another guest from within the wellbeing movement. And one of the things I love about the podcast is again, the ability to bring on just different types of people. And Paula's one of the first that not necessarily focusing right now on the legal space, but again, the principles of what she's advocating for apply on a more holistic, whatever organization you're at. So we'll continue to look to bring a diversity of perspective to our podcast guests. Thanks again, Paula, for joining us. And we'll see you in a couple weeks.

PAULA:                                

Thanks.

CHRIS:                                  

Thanks for listening.

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