About the episode:
The term “lawyer wellness” may seem like a contradiction because lawyers are notoriously un-well. Most legal professionals know that the rigors of the industry take a heavy toll, but despite a growing understanding of the scope of the problem, there is still a stigma associated with mental health and substance-related issues in legal. Many legal professionals who should be seeking professional help are not getting it, and lawyers who could be thriving are struggling.
Because of this, lawyer wellness is quickly becoming a major point of emphasis within the legal community.
In this episode, we’ll talk to four legal wellness experts who work with lawyers on a daily basis. Brian Cuban, Terry DeMeo, Nefra MacDonald, and Allison Wolf understand as well as anyone the challenges of modern legal practice, and they have valuable insights to share on how individual legal professionals—and the industry as a whole—can develop healthier habits.
Brian Cuban (@bcuban), the younger brother of Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, is a Dallas-based attorney, author and addiction recovery advocate. He is a graduate of Penn State University and The University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Brian has been in long-term recovery from alcohol, cocaine and bulimia since April of 2007. He is the author of two books: Shattered Image and The Addicted Lawyer.
Terry DeMeo (JD/MCC) is an attorney and Master Certified Coach who began her full-time coaching career after almost 25 years as a civil rights, criminal, and domestic relations litigator. As a coach, Terry specializes in the areas of professional development and relationships, focusing on lawyers and other licensed professionals. She teaches courses in coaching skills, practice development, and coaching ethics.
Nefra MacDonald is the Affinity Programs Manager at Clio. Having worked in legal for nearly a decade, Nefra understands the pain points that affect legal professionals, and she uses her experience to help lawyers streamline processes and run better businesses. A graduate of the University of Miami, Nefra is a passionate speaker about legal technology, attorney health and wellness, and the future of law.
Allison Wolf, a Certified Executive Coach, is one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. Over the past 15 years, she has helped countless clients acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal practices. A frequent writer and presenter for legal organizations, media, and law firms, Allison specializes in uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding her clients back.
Teresa Matich is the Content Strategist at Clio, where she’s responsible for educating the legal industry on market trends, best practices, and important issues impacting law firms. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, snowboarding, and traveling to snowboard. Email her at email@example.com or tweet her at @TeresaMatich.
Andrew Booth is the technical producer for Matters, and works within the Business Operations department at Clio as the Learning Media Specialist. He is best known as the voice (and sometimes face) of Clio’s training videos. Andrew received his Broadcast Communications degree from BCIT, and has produced work for such broadcasting outlets as Global News and Roundhouse Radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derek Bolen is the Senior Manager of Customer Marketing at Clio, which means he gets paid to build relationships with the greatest customers in the world. When he isn’t working, he’s tweeting, reading, writing, podcasting, running, obsessing over fantasy football, or hanging out with his 5 year old son. Email him at email@example.com, or tweet him at @hurrrdurrr.
Sam Rosenthal is a Content Strategist for Clio, specializing in thought leadership and creative content. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism program, Sam works on literary fiction and screenwriting projects in his spare time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet him at @SamRoseWrites.
- Nefra, Terry, Allison, and Brian talk about the issues lawyers face
- Introduction to lawyer wellness, the legal industry’s statistics around mental health and substance abuse, and the growth of wellness awareness
- Nefra and Brian share their stories, what they’ve experienced and witnessed, and why they’re passionate about helping lawyers
- Terry, Allison, Nefra, and Brian discuss the issues lawyers face in their careers
- Terry and Allison highlight the importance of self-care for legal professionals
- All four experts describe the benefits of meditation or mindfulness practice
- Allison, Terry, and Brian talk about the importance of getting help
- Nefra emphasizes her hopes and excitement for the future
Read full transcript
Nefra: I wasn’t sleeping for a long time. There was a period of over two months where I didn’t sleep and I just, I one day just collapsed. I couldn’t do it anymore. And the anxiety was just overwhelming. So I went to our school’s counseling center and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and sleep disorder, and was put on medication for all of those things.
Terry: I left the field because the unmanaged stress got me. And I had no clue how to manage it, and so I had runaway thoughts all the time; ‘Oh my god, I’m going to get sued.’ ‘Oh my god, I didn’t do a good job.’ ‘What am I going to do for this client?’ ‘This is hopeless.’ And it took a toll on me over the years, and now I know that a lot of that was self-created unnecessarily.
Allison: And no one teaches you in law school how to manage these or deal with these challenges, the challenges of stress, the challenges of client expectations, the challenges of support staff, the challenges – I mean we could go on and on – of growing a business, right, running a business.
Brian: We are trying to take advantage of vulnerability, not explore our own.
Derek: I’m Derek Bolen and this is Matters. Matters is a podcast presented by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider, where we look at small changes that can make a big impact on your daily life and practice. In this episode we’ll be talking about lawyer wellness and why it matters.
Lawyer wellness: to many in the legal profession, this term may seem like a contradiction because lawyers are notoriously unwell. Compared to other occupations, lawyers experience higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse, addiction and suicide. The statistics are staggering. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to be depressed as people in other jobs, while a landmark 2016 American Bar Association study found that 28% of licensed employed lawyers suffer from depression.
Most legal professionals know that the rigors of the industry take a heavy toll, but despite a growing understanding of the scope of the problem, there’s still a stigma associated with mental health and substance-related issues in the legal industry. Many legal professionals who should be seeking professional help are not getting it, and lawyers who could be thriving are struggling. Because of this, lawyer wellness, also referred to as legal wellness or lawyer wellbeing, is quickly becoming a major point of emphasis within the legal community.
In this episode we’ll talk to four legal wellness experts who work with lawyers on a daily basis. They understand as well as anyone the challenges of the modern legal practice, and they have valuable insights to share on how individual legal professionals and the industry as a whole can develop healthier habits.
Nefra: I started law school in 2010. A few weeks into my first year I got news that my dad got diagnosed with lung cancer, pretty late stage lung cancer, and that kind of shifted everything.
Derek: That’s Nefra MacDonald, a legal technology and wellness speaker who, as manager of the Affinity Program at Clio, works with bar associations and other legal organizations to help lawyers succeed in their practices. Originally, Nefra planned on becoming an attorney, but life threw a wrench into her plans. After her father’s cancer diagnosis, Nefra experienced the darker sides of law school such as ruthless, hyper-competitive classmates.
Nefra: Those were the people that made things really difficult post-diagnosis. Like, I remember, you know, somebody laughing in my face when I walked back into a classroom after taking a difficult call. Like, it was an update from the doctor’s office with my dad and I was like, you know, swollen-faced in tears, and she’s like “Gosh, you just missed a really important class, way to go,” you know, and not really getting a whole lot of compassion.
I did have really amazing friends and I developed awesome friendships, and I think that that’s a big part of what kept me sane. But the environment was not one where you could really be vulnerable.
Derek: Nefra was trying to balance the already-difficult demands of a first-year law student’s course load, with the daily pain and responsibilities of being a cancer patient’s daughter. While her peers were in class and worrying about finals and summer internships, she was flying home to take care of her father. Eventually, it simply became too much, and Nefra broke down. The school’s counsellors put her on multiple medications to help her stabilize, and she went into therapy.
As a result of her experiences, Nefra decided that becoming a lawyer wasn’t the right path for her. Instead, she devoted herself to improving the legal profession and helping lawyers understand that they aren’t alone.
Nefra: And I’m pretty open about talking about these things and having to do that, because I don’t want other people to get to the point that I did, where my body literally gave out, to have to see that there’s a crisis and that, you know, there’s help available.
Derek: Like Nefra, Brian Cuban has dedicated himself to making the legal profession better. A Dallas-based attorney, Brian spends most of his time working on mental health advocacy. A best-selling author and compelling public speaker, Brian uses his own experiences with addiction and mental health in his efforts to help others.
Brian: It all started with eating disorders well before I got into the mental health and legal arena. It started with going public with my eating disorder and realizing that, as a male in recovery from bulimia and exercise bulimia, it was a very stigmatized disorder, despite the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness. And it’s especially stigmatized for males because, as you might guess, it’s perceived as a predominantly “female disorder,” although it cuts across many different demographics whether it be male, female, gay, etcetera.
Once I saw that and when I went public, there was so much positive support, I decided that I would begin telling my story publicly. And then I wrote my first book, Shattered Image, and that took me into the advocacy arena from the practice of law.
Derek: Brian understands as well as anyone why lawyer wellness and mental health advocacy are so important in the legal profession. Far too many lawyers are in need of help.
Brian: Lawyers have fairly high rates of eating disorders, very high rates of problem drinking, substance use disorder, high rates of depression. I believe we have the fourth-highest suicide rate of professions, not of occupations overall but of professions. So, there are a lot of things going on in the legal profession and people struggling, just like there are across the country and across the world.
Derek: More and more lawyers are aware of the scope of the problems facing the legal community now, thanks to the previously-mentioned 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance programs. The report was the first national study on attorney substance abuse and mental health concerns, and the numbers it presented were startling.
The study found 21% of licensed employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28% percent struggle with some level of depression, and 19% demonstrate symptoms of anxiety.
Nefra is all too familiar with these statistics, but she says the rates in the study are most likely lower than what the numbers actually are within the legal industry.
Nefra: So, there are, you know, surveys done on law student wellbeing, there are surveys done on attorney wellbeing. And you know, as I’ve been able to go to conferences where wellness is a priority and this is being talked about, you know, the general consensus is that a lot of the statistics, like you know, 14% have severe anxiety, right, or 23% had mild to moderate anxiety. Those things are generally under-reported. And especially when it comes to the substance abuse numbers, those are definitely going to be under-reported.
Derek: According to Nefra, under-reporting happens because there can be severe consequences for lawyers who come forward about mental health issues. Before we get to that though, it’s important for us to understand why lawyers face such high rates of mental illness and addiction.
Terry: Well, a lot of the day-to-day management of a law practice is you’re up against time deadlines. There’s pressure from clients to answer phones and emails immediately. There’s the pressure of the billable hour. There’s the pressure of getting things done and filed. And so, lawyers constantly feel behind the eight ball in managing their own time. It’s one of the things that keeps them from marketing their practice, from training legal assistants and associates. And so we see it in all kinds of ways in a law practice.
Derek: That’s Terry DeMeo, a former lawyer who became a full-time coach specializing in executive coaching, confidence building, leadership issues and also personal coaching. Terry works closely with Allison Wolf, who coaches lawyers in the areas of practice management, business development, careers and leadership. Like Terry, Allison understands the difficulties lawyers face on a day-to-day basis, and why so many lawyers struggle.
Allison: Probably the number one reason is law is a, it’s a hard-working profession and challenges are abundant, and it is also an incredibly worthwhile profession and many lawyers are called to it for very good reasons. But, as Terry mentioned, there are so many challenges that come up, and a lot of those challenges affect and impact a lawyer on a personal level, and make it hard for them to show up the way they want to show up and do the work that they want to do.
Nefra: Lawyers are trained to think about the worst-case scenario. And you know, it’s a great skill to have because, if you’re able to think with a strategic mind and see all of the possible things that could happen to your client, you’re better able to come up with a good defense or offense or, you know, be able to really protect them and be a good advocate. They’re essential skills, but there’s also a downside to that in that, you know, your mind will start to take over at certain times, and it’s hard to shut that off maybe in your own life.
Brian: The legal profession tends to attract “Type A” people, driven people, perfectionists, but it also attracts the people – it attracts people like any other person, that we bring our baggage to the law firm, the courthouse, or solo practice. Whatever we do, we bring the same baggage as everyone else. But we’re also, as a profession, – and I’m generalizing here – people who do not like to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, which means we may tend to compartmentalize things that have gone on in our life a lot more and not deal with them, and that can lead to mental health problems.
Derek: One thing Brian specifically talks about is the drinking culture in the legal profession, which is well documented in the Hazelden study and elsewhere. Within many law schools and law firms, binge drinking is often emphasized and even encouraged.
Something else that Brian lists as a contributing factor to lawyer un-wellness is social isolation; many lawyers, especially at solo and small practices, feel cut off from their peers and very much alone. Nefra feels similarly.
Nefra: Another thing that happens too is isolation in geography. There
may be only a handful of attorneys in a particular city. When I was in Vermont last week, that’s one thing that came up during the mental health and wellness discussion that they had there for their mid-year meeting was that some attorneys can be the only attorney within, you know, a 50-mile radius. So, one of the ways to think about that, if that resonates with you, either if you’re a solo, if you’re kind of geographically isolated, or maybe if you work in a larger firm but you feel like you don’t really have like-minded people there that you can talk to, is think about the communities that are available to you, where you do feel like you can resonate with the people in that room.
Derek: Both Nefra and Brian feel that many of the issues lawyers face begin in law school and are even exacerbated by the law schools themselves. When Nefra applied to take the bar during her last semester of law school, she had to report to the school that she had been diagnosed with depression. And she recalls that there were numerous negative consequences she faced because of her disclosure.
Nefra: There were then a parade of follow-up correspondence that I had to answer to, you know, reveal my records. And you know, there’s definitely one aspect of it where you’re trying to make sure that if somebody does have mental health issues, that they’re getting treatment for. I think it’s super important; totally get that part. But at some point it became really invasive and kind of re-traumatized me into that period of time where I was in major crisis.
Derek: That painful experience played a major role in dissuading Nefra from pursuing her career as a lawyer, something she feels other law students often face. Brian also describes the reverse phenomenon: law students going forward as attorneys but failing to get help.
Brian: When law students prepare to take the bar, fill out the necessary application, you have to go through character of fitness. That is a fear of law students everywhere. All over the country, I don’t know how Canada does it but in the United States that is a fear. And certain jurisdictions do ask questions where a law student can look at that and say ‘You know what? I’m not going to get treatment for what I’m going through, because if I get treatment I’m going to have to disclose it.’
Derek: After law school, many lawyers are still too fearful of repercussions to reach out for help, even when they know they’re struggling. Lawyers, Brian and Nefra say, know about the different support resources available to them — resources such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and lawyers’ assistance programs — but they don’t go.
Nefra: As an attorney, there are major consequences when you admit that you have a problem like that, especially when it comes to substance abuse because of malpractice risks and what the implications of that are for your client in the real world. And the sanctions that have been in place traditionally for lawyers who misbehave are very severe and they can result in loss of license. Nobody wants to lose your license, not when you worked so hard to get it in the first place. So, to sweep those things under the rug is a whole lot easier than having to admit it.
Brian: Lawyers have a distrust of the systems and protocols in place to help them.
Derek: One thing Brian notes is that the fear lawyers have of support resources is often not based in fact.
Brian: They think that will get out and that it’s a pipeline to the State bar who will discipline them, or they’ll face some type of consequences; it’ll get out to their law firm, the client world, and then they won’t get hired or they won’t make partner. This is a very real stigma that isn’t all based in reality. Not long ago I spoke at a Dallas bar event, and I was talking about the lawyers’ assistance program.
And after the event, a very seasoned trial lawyer approached me. He said, “Brian, I know what you’re saying. I get it. But it’s not confidential. If I go to TLAP, it’s going to get out.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well another lawyer told me.”
“Well how does he know that?”
“Well I think another lawyer may have told him.”
So, a seasoned trial lawyer came to me with a guy told a guy who told a guy, that’s triple hearsay, that it’s not confidential. But that really illustrates the stigma and the fear of using these programs, even though they are all confidential pretty much by statute.
Derek: Overall though, Nefra believes the legal industry is making progress when it comes to lawyer wellness.
Nefra: I think a lot is already changing, right. Like the Hazelden study came out in 2016 and then there, you know, it was a task force that the ABA had right after that. And there were a lot of recommendations that came out from that study and from that task force. But because of the study, I feel as though there’s a lot more awareness around the fact that, yes, lawyers are at a much higher risk for some of these things.
Derek: Nefra feels that, in addition to the Federal ABA Task Force on Lawyer Wellbeing, State task forces are playing a large role in helping lawyers get the help they need. And while Brian agrees that progress is being made, he thinks that there’s still a lot of work to be done to even begin stemming the tide.
Brian: It was I believe 20%, 20, 21% of all licensed attorneys are problem drinkers. And as a profession, we have a problem in acknowledging our problems. That is changing, but it changes slowly. Paradigms change slowly. Culture changes slowly. And when it comes to mental health, culture changes one person at a time, which can make it seem like it’s changing even more slowly. When you’re in the advocacy world, whether it’s eating disorders, mental health, whatever it is, that’s the only way you can look at it, and not look ahead and say ‘Man, this is just not happening fast enough’. You have to say just one person at a time.
Derek: And from the standpoint of one person at a time, the most important person you can start with is yourself. Terry says that many lawyers simply don’t make time for their own self-care, and this is one of the primary reasons why the legal industry struggles.
Terry: If I had had me available to myself when I practiced law, I would still be practicing law. One of the challenges that lawyers have in coming to me too is time. They think they don’t have time for an hour appointment a week or half an hour appointment a week, and so they avoid it. They put that last.
But of course, what they’re not realizing is that the time invested in working with an expert that can help them resolve problems, prioritize, strategize, manage their unbridled stress, more than repays the time they’re spending in a coaching session because their efficiency, their resilience goes up, their ability to manage their problems goes up, their energy level goes up. So, the misperception that ‘I don’t have time’ keeps a lot of attorneys away from working with somebody like us.
Derek: Allison says that too often lawyers feel that they should be able to face their issues all on their own.
Allison: And that’s a thinking trap that prevents a lot of lawyers from asking for help in a huge number of areas. ‘I should be able to handle this on my own.’ And the truth is, none of us can handle every challenge on our own. We all need to ask for help.
You know, why invest in personal development? Because by investing in personal development, you know, you’re investing in your own ability to do your, you know, to bring your best performance to work. And nothing is more important.
Derek: One thing Allison says is critical is for lawyers to identify the different types of stress in their lives, and not to see stress only as a terrible thing meant to be avoided.
Allison: First thing that’s important is to understand that lives with meaning and purpose come with stress. And stress is natural, and it’s actually a good thing that the body does in order to help enhance performance. Like, the first step one is making a mindset shift to understanding, and Kelly McGonigal’s work, if you’re a listener who’s not familiar, can really illuminate this. But making that shift to understanding that that stress at work is the body’s response to help up your focus, your energy levels and your ability to learn and grow. So that’s the first step. It’s not to demonize it but to understand it’s natural.
The next piece to this is understanding that stress plus rest equals growth. And one thing that I see that’s a deficiency in legal practice and approaches to legal practice is the understanding that rest and rejuvenation needs to be part of the overall business strategy, right, because there is going to be stress. And so how are you resting, because rest is often seen as a nice to have.
Because we can always pull the all-nighter, we can always burn the midnight oil. ‘Oh, I can throw the weekend under the bus,’ right. ‘The family will understand.’ These things come with a toll, and it’s a performance toll. And all of a sudden, when you’ve got stress and you don’t have rest, now you don’t get growth; you get burnout.
Derek: The concept of burnout and not knowing how to create more work-life balance is an important theme for both Terry and Allison.
Terry: I’ve talked to several lawyers this weekend who’ve grown their practices to the point now where they’ve got associates working for them and they can take a vacation, and they feel guilty about it and so they’re hesitant to do it. Being in touch with that sense of guilt and understanding that it might be based on faulty assumptions is a big step in overcoming it. ‘Now I know I’m feeling something that’s based on a false assumption. What is the correct assumption here? I do deserve some time off. I deserve to leave at 3 o’clock every now and then.’
Allison: That’s actually a really great red flag, that you’re now – you’re kind of moving into what I would call workaholic-ville. Like, for me that is a personal red flag. When I start to feel guilty about taking time off, I know deep down that that’s a sign that I’m now way over the mark.
Terry: We all have a point beyond which we cannot go. And I’ve worked with lawyers who have worked themselves into being hospitalized in order to slow down and stop working for a while. So, what I ask lawyers who are resistant to self care, basic self care, is “What would it take to stop you?” And you know, obviously hospitalization will stop any of us, right? We cannot do our work. “Do you want to go that far? How far do you want to drive your body, push yourself? And looking down the road, can you look to older partners in your law firm, or older lawyers that you know, and notice the toll on their bodies?”
Derek: One thing that Terry says is essential to her coaching method is getting lawyers to think differently, or to simply stop thinking.
Terry: Often when a lawyer comes to a session – the practice of law is a very cerebral occupation. And we live in a culture that rewards cerebral thought, and so they’re spinning in their heads, ruminating, solving problems. And so one of the first things I need to do to really get their attention is to get them connected back with their body.
Derek: For all four of our experts, some form of mindfulness or meditation practice forms a central aspect of how they keep themselves on track while responding to the demands of their personal and professional lives. Their advice, especially to people who are less familiar with mindfulness techniques, is to start with some simple, basic exercises that are useful for interrupting negative thought patterns and giving you space to breathe.
Terry: Again, I’m always trying to get a client to connect with their own bodies. What are you feeling in any particular moment? So we might start with a grounding exercise, which somebody really racing on the inside doesn’t like it when I speak very slowly and ask them to put their attention at a particular place in their body. I have a couple of little short exercises that I will do that will actually ground them and anchor them back in their bodies, so they can be aware of how they’re feeling and aware of the impact of this revved-up system, so that I can reach them and we can start breaking up those patterns.
Derek: Nefra says that meditation is often a difficult concept for legal professionals, who tend to be over-thinkers by nature.
Nefra: And, like I mentioned before, when you’re trained as a legal professional to be analytical and thinking about all the worst-case scenarios, it’s hard to shut that off. It’s a part of what makes you good at what you do. But it’s also super important to create the time and space to shut your mind off. It allows you to notice your thoughts. That’s what meditation is. Meditation is training your mind to notice your thoughts, notice how they float in and out of your mind, and then being able to tune in to something else.
Derek: For Brian, mindfulness is a powerful technique that has helped him a lot. But he also feels that the meaning of the term can sometimes scare people away.
Brian: Mindfulness has become an in-vogue term. And it’s a good term, but mindfulness to some people means meditation. Mindfulness means yoga. It can mean different things. For me it means clearing my head and basically asking myself if I’ve been honest about my feelings that day.
Derek: For Allison, mindfulness practice can be a simple technique involving breathing and positive thoughts.
Allison: But a very, very simple tool was just simply, when it’s time to just take a short a break or you want to kind of just have a quick little rejuvenation peace, when you feel you’re really getting charged up, is to simply put your hand on your heart, feel your feet on the floor, bring a happy thought to your head – maybe it’s your kids; maybe it’s your dog – and take a slow deep inhale and then a slow exhale, and you just do this three or four times. It’s that simple. And this gives or brain a wonderful – it’s a wonderful little mechanism for giving our brain a restart. It shifts us out of stress, right, and into rejuvenation.
Nefra: Meditation is like your civic duty almost, to make sure that you’re operating from a clear and centered place. That’s one thing I would love for people to take away is: find your medication. It does not necessarily have to be the traditional one where you’re sitting there silent, eyes closed and doing deep breathing. There are so many other meditation practices that are available to you. And if you just don’t think that you can do it, try just consciously thinking.
Derek: Nefra and Brian speak from the experience of people who have dealt with mental health issues and utilized wellness techniques — in addition to professional medical help — to begin recovering. In her personal wellness journey after her father’s passing, Nefra first saw medical doctors and went on different medications. But by undergoing therapy and implementing her wellness practices consistently over time, she was eventually able to stop taking her medications.
To maintain her sense of balance, Nefra practices meditation regularly, and she gets regular exercise in the forms of yoga, stretching and long walks with her dog. She also writes in a journal, usually in the morning, so that she can let her thoughts go and get ready for her day.
Brian, for his part, goes to psychiatric counseling each week as well as 12-step meetings. And he practices his own form of mindfulness, which he says was critical to his recovery from bulimia.
One thing that all our experts emphasize is that it’s important for people to get support when they need it.
Allison: What I’m finding is there’s a percentage of my clients who are super high performers. And they love coaching because coaching just helps them move faster, problem solve quicker and just accelerates everything for them.
Terry: Well, I feel like I’m working with myself often. I was a lawyer. I know what it feels like not to have somebody trustworthy to talk to who can help you manage strategic decisions.
Derek: Terry says it’s also vital for people to understand which kind of assistance they need. For example, some lawyers are ideal candidates for professional coaching while others with more severe issues need professional medical treatment.
Terry: We use the metaphor of a personal trainer; if you were trying to improve your physical wellbeing, the metaphor of a personal trainer versus a physical therapists who works with an injury. So, we as coaches are working with highly functioning people who need some help to achieve a goal or improve something or transform something about their life. But a therapist is really trained and works well with people who are suffering from dysfunctions, anxiety disorders, major depression, mental health issues. We’re not doing that. We’re not trained for that. But we are specifically trained to help people thrive, meet goals, feel better, feel more satisfied in life.
Derek: Beyond coaching or therapy, Brian focuses on how lawyers interact with and support each other, and he has an important message for the industry.
Brian: The biggest thing you can do is not mind your own business, and lawyers love to mind their own business, whether it’s a colleague, whether it’s another lawyer in a courtroom, a family member or a friend. We can’t just keep saying call the suicide hotline and posting the suicide hotline. The suicide hotline is wonderful. We can’t just keep saying ‘You do this. You do that.’
I believe we have a responsibility as a profession to protect our own, to empower our own. So, when you see someone struggling, whether it’s your colleague at a law firm, your legal assistant, your paralegal, a partner or associate, it doesn’t take anything but a little bit of empathy and not worrying about what people think of you, and not projecting out the worst possible response to say ‘Can I help? You seem to be struggling; seem to be having a tough time. Is there anything I can do?’
Wait a few seconds and they may say, ‘Nah, it’s all good.’ And they’re worried. They don’t want anyone to know. Ask again. I call it the two-ask rule. Tap him on the shoulder, ask again, because in that few seconds someone may change their mind. And it’s not even that, it’s about repetition, because now, even if they say ‘Mind your own business. What do you mean? Are you accusing me of something?’ you’ve planted a seed.
I’ve had people tell me to pound salt, this and that. It’s words, right. It’s words. But I’ve also had people say “Yes, I’m struggling. Thank you.” And for every person that tells me to pound salt and mind my own business, I’ll take a hundred of them if one says ‘Yes, can you help me find a path.’ Don’t mind your own business.
Nefra: That definition of lawyer wellbeing has evolved a lot over the past few years. And I think it makes me really hopeful and very excited to be a part of the legal industry in the capacity that I am, because I get to see these changes happen and I can also be a part of how those things shift, and getting the word out there about lawyer wellness.
Derek: Lawyer wellness matters because far too many legal professionals are struggling. And small shifts in how the legal industry talks about and handles mental health issues could have a huge effect on the industry’s overall wellbeing. There are lots of ways to promote lawyer wellness, both within yourself and in your legal practice or organization. The most important thing is to develop habits that work for you, habits such as mindfulness and relaxation practices, healthier nutrition, exercise regimens and seeking expert help in the form of a coach, therapist or medical professional.
The other key, as Brian says, is not minding your own business. Help other lawyers around you when they’re having a hard time, and speak up to challenge established industry stigmas and practices around mental health and substance abuse.
For more information on lawyer wellness and things you can do to find more mindfulness and balance, check out the resources section of this podcast. Thanks for listening to the sixth episode of Matters. Matters is produced by Andrew Booth, Sam Rosenthal, Teresa Matich and Derek Bolen, and by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider.
Be sure to subscribe to Matters to ensure that you never miss an episode. And if you’d like to learn more about Clio, please visit us at clio.com.