Lawyer Happiness Is Not an Oxymoron: What Lawyers Need for a Fulfilling, Supportive Legal Practice
In this course, we will learn why lawyers experience greater overall rates of substance use and mental health issues than the general public. We will review how lawyers have been faring during the pandemic (using survey results), as well as best practices for improving lawyer well-being within an organization. Finally, this course will discuss the neuroscience of pleasure and provide tools for increasing pleasure in our lives. All of these lessons are tied to lawyers’ ethical duty to maintain well-being.
Alyssa Johnson - Welcome to Lawyer Happiness Is Not An Oxymoron: What Lawyers Need for a Fulfilling, Supportive Legal Practice.
My name is Alyssa Johnson. I am a consultant and a lawyer, and I am your teacher today. A little bit about me before we move into the content: I graduated from Indiana University in 2001, and the University of Maryland School of Law in 2004, I practiced law in DC, including Homeland Security, mortgage banking and brokering, and litigation. I left DC in 2013 and started learning about psychology, productivity and brain functioning and now I provide trainings and coaching to attorneys to help them find greater balance with work through trauma informed tools, productivity tools, and wellbeing tools.
For a road map of today's content, we are gonna start by defining lawyer wellbeing, we'll then look at substance use and mental health issues among lawyers, we'll discuss the ethical reasons for maintaining wellbeing and then we're gonna talk about what makes lawyers happy, what do lawyers want and pleasure and the brain. In terms of learning objectives, we're gonna discuss the ethical obligations implicated in maintaining lawyer wellbeing, we will review best practices for wellness programs and what lawyers need to feel supported and will identify what makes lawyers happy, the neuroscience of pleasure and how to access pleasure chemicals in our bodies.
So let's look first at what lawyer wellbeing is. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being was created in 2016 in response to a survey that was done in 2015, that was released in 2016, about substance use and mental health issues in the legal profession. This task force defined lawyer wellbeing as a continuous process in which lawyers strive for thriving in each dimension of their lives. And this task force identified six different dimensions. One is occupational, and this is about cultivating personal satisfaction, growth, and enrichment in work. Then there's also intellectual wellbeing, and this is really engaging in continuous learning and the pursuit of creative or intellectually challenging activities that really engage us. We also have spiritual wellbeing, and this is really developing a sense of purpose and meaningfulness in life. There's also physical wellbeing, which is taking care of our body and our body's needs, eating the right foods, getting exercise and getting help when our bodies need help. We have social wellbeing and this is really feeling belonged and part of communities and the different groups that we are a part of and then finally emotional wellbeing. And this is really the ability to recognize and feel our feelings, to regulate our emotions when we become dysregulated and to seek help when we need help with our overwhelming feelings. Now, there is a seventh dimension called cultural wellbeing, and this one was not utilized by the task force, but I recently learned this from someone else and so I have included it in this, and it is engaging in practices, customs, foods, arts, languages, and learning from your own and or the cultures of others. This seventh dimension of cultural wellbeing is utilized by the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program, the British Columbia Lawyer Assistance Program, and perhaps other organizations.
So let's turn and look at the prevalence of substance use and other mental health concerns among American attorneys. And as I mentioned before, this was a 2015 study that was conducted in partnership between the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. In terms of survey results, there were 12,825 licensed employed attorneys who were surveyed. And what they did is the surveyors looked at a number of different things with in the legal profession and amongst lawyers. And one of them was problematic drinking. This is also known as alcohol abuse or alcohol misuse. Problematic drinking is a pattern of alcohol use that results in negative consequences, such as relationship issues or arrests for DUIs. 6.4% of the general population suffers from problematic drinking. However, 20.6% of attorneys in the survey screen positive for problematic drinking. This is one out of five attorneys. 32% of attorneys under the age of 30 in the survey screen positive for problematic drinking. This is almost one out of three attorneys under the age of 30.
The survey also looked at depression. In 2017, 7.1% of the general population 18 years and older had a major depressive episode. However, 38% of the lawyers in the survey experienced symptoms of depression. Rates decreased as age increased. Here junior positions correlated with higher rates of depression, which was similar to problematic drinking, where we saw more junior attorneys had higher rates of problematic drinking than more senior attorneys. 19% of lawyers surveyed experienced symptoms of anxiety and 23% of lawyers surveyed experienced stress. And then in terms of suicide or suicidal ideations, 11.5% of lawyers surveyed reported suicidal thoughts during their careers, 2.9% reported injurious behavior and 0.7% reported at least one suicide attempt. So in a webinar that was done about the results of the survey from those who actually did the survey, they said that research shows that some depressed, anxious, substance abusing lawyers struggle with follow through, attention, integrity, trustworthiness, responding promptly and diligence.
There is an interface between these struggles and ethical violations. So let's look at ethical adherence. When we start struggling with follow through, attention to detail and prompt responsiveness, it can call into question our integrity and trustworthiness as a lawyer. When we start missing deadlines, we fail to respond to clients, we ignore our work, or we do sloppy work, we are violating rules of competence, diligence, communications, and maintaining the integrity of the profession. Violation of any rule of professional conduct automatically triggers rule 8.4, which is misconduct. So if we are in violation of one rule, we are automatically in violation of at least two. And depending on what's happening with a lawyer's performance and behavior due to substance use or mental health issues, there could also be violations of the rules of confidentiality and safe keeping property. Additionally, both supervisory lawyers and subordinate lawyers can be found in violation of the rules if colleagues are bound in violation of the rules. And if we know, if we have actual knowledge that a colleague has violated a rule of professional conduct, that calls into question the colleagues' honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness as a lawyer. We have a duty to report it. If we don't, it's an ethical violation. And then finally these rules also extend to non-lawyer assistance who may be struggling with substance use or mental health issues. Supervising attorneys can be found in violation of the rules if non-lawyer assistance are in violation of the rules.
So I've just delivered a lot of information and you may see yourself or colleagues in some of the statistics and materials that I shared. So let's take just a quick check-in with ourself. And the first thing I want you to notice is if you see yourself in any of the statistics that I shared, or if you see colleagues exhibiting any of these characteristics. And how are you feeling right now? With this information, we may feel anxious, afraid, stressed, overwhelmed, or perhaps we are feeling relieved, because we do not see ourself or any of our colleagues in this information. Relief is very, very powerful. Whatever you are feeling is perfect. You're just noticing how you are responding to the information. And I also want you to take a moment and notice your breath. How are you breathing? Often when we come across information or experiences that put us in a heightened state emotionally, our breath can become very, very rapid and too shallow. And so one of the ways that we can calm ourselves down is by becoming more aware of our breath and taking longer deeper breaths, so that our body and our nervous system starts to calm down. Good. And we're gonna keep going. So now we're going to examine what makes lawyers happy.
There was a study released in 2015 by Larry Krieger, who is a professor at Florida State University College of Law, and Kennon Sheldon, who has a PhD, and this study was published in the George Washington Law Review And it analyzed what makes lawyers happy and what doesn't. Rather than addressing whether lawyers are happy, the study presented data pointing to which lawyers are more and less happy in the legal field and why that appears to be true. So looking at the respondent information, 6,200 attorneys responded to the survey that was sent out to attorneys in four different states through their bar associations or lawyer assistance programs. They provided complete wellbeing data, and were currently working as lawyers, judges, or in related positions. Across the board more women, minority and older lawyers responded to the survey than their counterparts.
The study used self-determination theory, which I may shorten to SDT throughout this CLE, which is a theory of human motivation that has been in the psychological literature for more than 40 years. SDT or self-determination theory says that all human beings have basic psychological needs to feel competent and effective, to feel autonomous and authentic, and to feel related and connected with others. These experiences produce wellbeing or a sense of thriving in people. And a lack of these experiences generates angst, low mood or low vitality. SDT also factors in the wellbeing impacts of different values, goals, and motivations at the basis of behavior. Values or goals such as personal growth, love, helping others in building community are considered intrinsic, while values like affluence, beauty, status and power are extrinsic. And motivation for behavior is distinguished based on where it's coming from. There's internal motivation, in which the behavior is inherently interesting and enjoyable, or it is meaningful because it furthers one's own values, or the behavior is external, meaning it is compelled by guilt, fear, pressure, or the desire to please or impress others.
So what the study found is that the internal factors seem to erode in students during their initial law training were the precise factors most strongly predictive of lawyer wellbeing, and the external factors emphasized in law school and by many legal employers were at best only modestly associated with lawyer wellbeing. So what they found in terms of internal and external factors and wellbeing, autonomy, relatedness, competence, internal motivation, and autonomy support, and intrinsic values, most highly correlated with lawyer wellbeing, whereas attorney income, school debt, class rank and law review really did not correlate with high levels of lawyer wellbeing. And we're gonna talk about this in a little more depth. So in terms of the findings, what doesn't make us happy? External factors, things like earnings, partnership in a law firm, class rank, law review membership, these showed no to small associations with lawyer wellbeing. In fact, attorneys in large firms and other prestigious positions weren't as happy as public service attorneys despite the far better pay.
So then, what does make us happy? What they found is that a happy life as a lawyer is much less about grades, affluence and prestige than about finding work that is interesting, engaging, personally meaningful and focused on provided needed help to others. The tendency of law students and young lawyers to place prestige or financial concerns before their desires to make a difference or serve the good of others will undermine their ongoing happiness in life. So let's take a moment and take stock of this, perhaps you experienced or you received messages in law school or in practice that your grades, your law review membership, who you're working for, things like that are super important, but maybe you're finding in your own life experiences that these things were not bringing you that much happiness. This is super important for our profession because it's showing us that the things that are so highly stressed in law school are really having a very low correlation to lawyer happiness. And perhaps we need to start rewriting that script and focusing more on what actually makes us happy, which tends to be meaningful work, having purpose, feeling autonomous, feeling competent, feeling connected, and really placing our attention on those values to really set ourselves up for legal experiences and legal practices that bring us joy. Other things that make us happy: engaging in regular exercise increases wellbeing. People who participate in active sports or martial arts actually showed a small wellbeing advantage. And vacation is important. Wellbeing increased as people took time off of work.
So let's look at some best practices, meaning let's get our needs met. And we are gonna look at them through three different lenses. The first is legal environment. The second is vacation days. And the third is billable hour requirements. So, in terms of legal environment, here the study has shown that autonomy, competence and relatedness are the key factors in lawyer wellbeing and lawyer happiness.
So with this, the data found that in firms with 16 or more attorneys, junior associates substantially lacked wellbeing despite ample pay as a result of the lack of autonomy, competence and relatedness. They also found that wellbeing isn't enhanced for junior partners when compared to senior associates, despite the more prestigious title and extra income. So once again, taking a look at your own life, your own legal experiences, or perhaps friends of yours, other colleagues within the legal profession, and have you noticed anything within yourself or within others where perhaps the larger firm, specifically 16 or more attorneys, that junior associates tend to be more stressed or have lower wellbeing than perhaps attorneys who are working in environments that are not 16 or more in size of a law firm? And then same thing with junior partners versus senior associates. Do you notice any similarities there with what the data presented, that junior partners do not seem to actually be more happy than senior associates despite most likely receiving greater pay?
So what they'd concluded with all of this information and which you may see within your own legal experiences is that money is not the driving factor for lawyer happiness, examining how an organization can improve autonomy, competence and relatedness is much more likely to impact lawyer wellbeing than giving people more money. So this is something for us to really stop and take stock of, instead of giving people more money, what can we actually do to perhaps reorganize our, the institutions that we work at or restructure sure how we do work for clients or how we work with each other so that we're really setting people up to win by promoting autonomy, competence and relatedness.
So let's turn to vacation as well as the billable hour. People want more time off. Increasing vacation days was the external solution that most strongly correlated with increasing wellbeing, probably not that surprising, people want less of or to do away with required billable hours. Required billable hours has the strongest negative relationship with wellbeing. This is because it decreases autonomy, relatedness, and internal motivation. We are now having to report for our time, we're losing our autonomy and we are becoming really strapped to our work, to our desks, to our email. We're losing that relatedness, that connection. And the internal motivation starts getting lost as well, because we are very aware that the value is being placed on how much we work, how much we bill, rather than what many of us may have gone to law school with or entered the legal profession with, which was an internal driver of wanting to make changes in the world, wanting to create a world that is more in alignment with our belief system. So once again, we're just gonna take a moment and we're gonna talk about these different aspects wellbeing that the survey looked at and how it correlated with wellbeing.
So in terms of the most important factors, we've mentioned this already, autonomy, relatedness, competence and internal work motivation, right, our internal drivers, what's important to us, what are our values, what are our dreams, that type of thing, most strongly correlates with wellbeing. Then we have supervisor autonomy support. So we have a really good supervisory support system in place where we feel safe, where we feel comfortable, where we feel heard to go to those attorneys who are supervising us to review our work, to chat with us, to make sure that we're on track and helping us course correct if we're getting off a little bit, but still they believe in us, they trust us, they know that we're going to get to where we need to go. And then our intrinsic values, those are our internal values, what really drives us, what's important to us, rather than the extrinsic. And then if we continue looking down, these now are really getting lower and lower in terms of our wellbeing. So we still have vacation days taken being the most important factor in lawyer wellbeing that comes from the external source, and then things like children, marriage, exercise, prayer. I didn't talk about most of these in the data that I presented, but those are markers of wellbeing as well. And then once we hit that, we really start to see a decrease in what really indicates wellbeing: things like income, law school debt decreasing that, class rank, law school ranking, partnership in a firm, being on a law journal, billable hours, these really do not strongly predict lawyer wellbeing. And if you think about your own legal experiences, how many times have your clients asked you if you were on a law journal or what your class rank was? Most likely you probably have not ever been asked that, or if you have, it's only been a small handful of times. It just doesn't tend to carry the weight in the real world that we place on it when we're in law school. So why is this data actually awesome? Because we get to be a part of changing how law is practiced. We can take this information and give ourselves permission and creativity to explore new models of leadership, new ways of rewarding employees, new ways of using financial resources and new ways of building teams for clients. We can start to pierce some of the anxiety that so many lawyers experience due to work stress or unrealistic expectations.
So now, with this information, what we are going to look at next is whether lawyers are different from non-lawyers in terms of our needs. The answer is no, we are not. Perhaps you have received messaging, whether in law school or in practice, that somehow we as lawyers are different than non-lawyers. And even the term non-lawyer is very condescending. I don't hear other professions saying a non-accountant or a non-teacher. It seems to be unique to the legal profession, because the profession has a evolved in such a way where we've started to hold ourselves to a different standard of development and behavior than other people, and so we've created these different types of qualities. You are a lawyer, you are a non-lawyer, right? As if that creates a difference at the fundamental level of being a human being.
In terms of thinking why we may be different, we are often expected to think and act differently than others. You may have heard the expression, think like a lawyer, right? And so we can start to adopt or start to develop an aspect of our personality that is really intended to be, oh, this is my lawyer self coming through. I am now stepping out of being a human, and I'm not the same as other people because now I am a lawyer. Another reason that we may think that we're different is because law school changes us. It can impact our values, making us emphasize external values and motivations, rather than internal, it can affect our empathy, our compassion, it can alter our moral and ethical decision making skills, and for this, it can make us willing to engage in nasty behavior in order to do better law school, right?
Perhaps some of you experience that within your own law school time. What this can do is it can lead us to believe that our training or our very nature, the very essence of who we are, makes us respond differently than other people to psychological and external factors that lead to wellbeing amongst the general public. So take a moment to really let that land within yourself. We can believe that we are different than other people because of psychological and external factors that lead to wellbeing among the general public. If we think this, we may very well make choices that diminish our wellbeing. And I think that makes a lot of sense. Because if we start holding to a different standard than the general public, we may start to think that what is appropriate and right for the general public, in terms of wellbeing, in terms of connection, we don't need, or is different for lawyers. And this is not true. We have the same needs as the general public.
So the years of research of the self-determination theory, SDT, amongst the general population applied without qualification to lawyers... I'm gonna say it a different way. Lawyers, we do not differ from other people with regard to what we need to feel good and satisfied with life. It has done our profession and us a huge disservice to create messaging that we are somehow different, because we're not, we need the same things as everyone else to feel good about ourselves and about our lives. So what is the solution to this? We start to let go of any teachings, messages, or notions that lawyers are somehow special or different with respect to what we need to feel good and satisfied with life. What we do is we focus on authenticity, autonomy, close relationships, supportive teaching, altruistic values, and self understanding and growth that promotes thriving in others, because we are the others. We are the same in terms of our human development. What others need, we need as well. So what we're gonna do is we are gonna take a moment and we're gonna just self reflect on our legacy.
So what I want you to do is to imagine that you're at the end of your life, and as you are nearing your death, what do you want people to remember about you? What are they saying at your funeral? So just spend a few moments thinking about this, feeling into this, at this stage of your life, what do people think about you and what are they saying about you? Now, are you currently on track for these things to come true or do you need to make some adjustments? There is no judgment with this. This is purely an exercise to see if you feel in alignment with your heart and your values, or if you sense a place where you're out of alignment. I was misaligned for many, many years, and I was chasing things that I thought I was supposed to want. And in reality, my heart was so unhappy. And so I had to make some changes to come into alignment in my life so that I was living a life that was bringing me joy and taking me on a path that was going to be extremely nourishing for myself. You may be on that path, or you may have to make some tweaks or some adjustments to get there. Again, no judgment. It's just taking a look at ourselves and seeing where we're at, where we wanna go, and if there are some places there where we need to do a little bit of course correcting.
All righty, we are gonna pivot now, and we are gonna look at a different survey. And this was called Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward: Results and Best Practices from a Nationwide Survey of the Legal Profession. And this survey was released on April 26th, 2021 by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward. And what it identified was how the pandemic affects lawyers and the plans and expectations for the practice of law as the pandemic eventually comes to an end.
So 4,200 ABA members were surveyed between September 30th and October 11th of 2020, covering every practice area, every type of legal employer and major demographic characteristics. It included lawyers who were currently working in job that required a law degree, including full-time, part-time, temp leave or furloughed employees. In terms of gender identification, 54% responded that they were male, 43% female, and the remaining respondents identified as other or non-binary, or they did not respond. And then in terms of race identification, 81% identified as white, 5.3% identified as black, 4% didn't identify their race or their ethnicity, 3.7% identified as LatinX or Hispanic, and then there was a breakdown thereafter. For practice setting identification, two thirds said they were in private practice, and one third said they were in-house, government, judiciary, academia, nonprofit, and public interest organizations. And then workplaces ranged in size from one lawyer to 250 plus lawyers. They looked at work stress due to race or ethnicity. Here, 7% of white lawyers reported feeling stress at work on account of their race, while 47% of lawyers of color felt stress at work on account of their race or ethnicity.
The survey found that race and gender increases stress at work. With this, 54% of women of color reported experiencing stress at work on account of race versus white women, which was 6%, and men of color at 41%. They also looked at work stress due to gender. Here 52% of women feel stress at work on account of their gender, and just under 10% of men feel stress at work on account of their gender. And then there's work stress due to family obligations. Women were significantly more likely than men to have personal responsibility for childcare both before and during the pandemic. However, women were significantly more likely to have taken on more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic. And although most lawyers didn't report a change in their efficiency, lawyers with young children at home, experienced a greater decrease in their work efficiency, which I think of course is to be expected, because if you have kiddos at home, they're gonna take up your time and attention. So what they concluded with the survey is that too many members of the profession are working in settings that are not laser focused on the necessary strategies to develop a truly diverse group of talented lawyers who reflect the breadth of backgrounds, training, and experiences that lead to successful teams of lawyers.
So what do lawyers want? Because this survey looked at that, and as I go through this information and I share best practices, my recommendation is to, of course, check the pulse of your organization and see what your attorneys need or want. But in terms of what the respondents said, they said that they want guidance about enhancing mental health and wellbeing. Lawyers believe that addressing their wellness needs will help them be better lawyers. They also said they want comprehensive plans for sick leave and family leave. And they want help with business development, as lawyers are stressed over completing their client work while also developing business. Lawyers said they also want an organizational culture that fosters engagement through personal connections by leaders with their team. This includes things like frequent communications about firm activities and goals, effective mentoring and sponsorship from senior attorneys, regular practice group calls to see what people are doing, regular check-in calls from colleagues about how the lawyer is doing, so this is slightly different than the practice group call, which most likely will be work focused and sharing, and having people share what they are doing in terms of work, whereas the check-in calls with the lawyer, is how the lawyer is doing at an individual level, at a human being level. Lawyers said they also want virtual social events for lawyers and staff to get together, and they also want advice about best practices for working from home for long periods of time.
In the survey, lawyers also said that they want to be seen as people, not simply as fungible professionals, and they want to feel included and valued. So, so notice that many of the things that lawyers reported that they wanted are in alignment with the survey on lawyer happiness, meaning autonomy, relatedness, and competence, that this was echoed in this survey from 2020, that was in alignment with what the survey was done in, from the lawyer happiness survey a few years ago. So let's look at employer best practices. The first best practice I'm gonna talk about is that leadership must be engaged, transparent, and accountable.
So here are a few leadership questions to consider: one, what type of culture and values do we want in our everyday practice of law? Two, who will be accountable for ensuring that the policies and practices we value are implemented and experienced the way we intend? Three, how will we move forward to achieve meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion? And four, what are the types of policies that can accommodate part-time and flex time work and still allow for advancement? So now let's look at diversity equity and inclusion, and as a reminder, 47% of lawyers of color feel stress at work on account of their race or ethnicity, 52% of women lawyers feel stress at work on account of their gender, 54% of women of color feel stress on account of their race. The potential result of not addressing these issues is an exodus of phenomenal legal talent in the legal profession. Also, your organization could develop or already has developed a reputation of being racist and or sexist. So for best practice number two, seriously examine your organization and look at why you may not have many lawyers of color or women in the organization, especially in leadership roles. If necessary, hire a diverse consulting firm to examine hiring and advancement policies and ensure that policies aren't inadvertently harming lawyers of color and women.
Now let's look at alternative work options, which is best practice number three, provide part-time and flex time work options for lawyers. The majority of lawyers want transparent part-time working policies. They want written criteria for advancement. They want a clear year pathway to more senior positions. They also want good work. And they want opportunities for professional development. Now turning to parental support in best practice number four, provide greater parental resources and support. Lawyers with children, especially young ones, face daunting tasks of juggling work, parenting and perhaps homeschooling. Lawyers said they want things like backup childcare, tutoring support, stipends or bonuses to help offset childcare costs and elder care responsibilities, parental port workshops, adding more months of paid parental leave, adding more days to personal time off.
Now, these can be very expensive and can take time to implement. So my recommendation, of course, is to seek input from working parents in your organization about what they to thrive, so that your organization can decide how best to allocate resources. So turning to best practice number five, which is related to attorney wellness, strengthen wellness and mental health programs. Lawyers expect employers to provide wellness resources, including guidance about enhancing mental health and wellbeing. So now let's look at individual best practices, because employers have a piece and then we also have a piece. So here, one is to set realistic expectations for yourself and others around you. If you know that you are not gonna be able to turn something in by a certain deadline, or you have too much on your plate, or there are things going on in your personal life that are taking your attention away from work, then letting people know that to an extent that feel safe and comfortable for you, so that way you can set realistic expectations. Similar to that, negotiating boundaries at work and at home. Now, boundaries is really a growth edge for many of us, and it can be extremely difficult as lawyers to have boundaries between work and home. And in fact, surveys have showed that the pandemic has only exacerbated that, because many lawyers are feeling like they never get any time away from the office or away from work, because now they're working from home.
So doing your best to think about, okay, when do I really need to stop working? Or when do I need to take a break? Or when am I just gonna shut down email, even for just a few you minutes and take some time for myself? So that way, the lines between work and home aren't always blurred if they feel like they are blurred all of the time for you. And then also, spending time thinking about what motivates you. What are your internal drivers? What needs to happen for those to be met if they are not being met right now? What really drives you in the world? How do you wish to be contributing? So what we're gonna do now is we are gonna look at a tool and it's really all about gut knowing.
So what I want you to do is think of a time when you instinctively knew something was going end well or poorly, you knew something was right or wrong for you, you just had that inner sense that a certain path or a certain decision was going to be right or wrong for you, or you just somehow knew some piece of information, although you had no way of knowing that? In my experience, every single lawyer has a story around this. Because of the nature of our work, working with other people, building communication skills, having to sift through a lot of information to pull out facts to the best of our ability, we develop a sense of being able to read situations. And so you're just taking a moment now and thinking about a time where this was true for you, you just somehow knew something in your gut and you had no way of knowing how you could know that.
So as you think about that, and you remember that feeling or that experience, I want you to take it into your present life. So what do you instinctively know to be right for you and your needs right now? And as you think about the information that I shared, what do you sense about having conversations with your employer about your needs? So maybe you're starting to realize that you cannot start working until 10:00 AM in the morning for whatever reason, and you need to have a conversation with someone about that. What is your instinct? What is your gut knowing? What is your intuition? These are all of the same thing, just using different words. What is all of this telling you about that type of conversation? Whatever it may be, that's right for you and your needs. We're just continuing to build the skillset within us, because it's already been developed due to the nature of our work. Great. So, we are now gonna turn to the neuroscience of pleasure according to Psychology Today. So pleasure isn't just a sensation or a thought, but it's a way of experiencing the sensory world. And it operates through a cycle of three stages and they are wanting, liking and learning. And I'm gonna talk about that in a little bit. And pleasure is important for wellbeing, but a good life encompasses more than pleasure, such as engaging in meaningful activities. And that should sound familiar to you because if you recall from the lawyer happiness survey, meaningfulness is super important for our wellbeing. And if you recall from the six dimensions or the seven dimensions, 'cause I included that extra dimension on cultural wellbeing, if you remember those dimensions, one of them is spiritual, which the task force defined as developing a sense of meaningfulness and purpose in life. Meaningfulness is actually key for human wellbeing. We want to feel like we are contributing meaningfully to the world and that there is a reason that we are here.
So let's look at brain functioning and pleasure, and we are going to use coffee as an example. If you recall, I mentioned that there are three stages to pleasure, and the first is wanting. The pleasure cycle begins before we take that first sip of coffee. Now, if you are not a coffee drinker like me, insert whatever drink it is that you really love. For me, it is vanilla chai lattes with oat milk. I love them. So my pleasure cycle begins before I take my first sip of the vanilla chai latte with oat milk. What is happening here is we have the expectation and anticipation of the event. So our brains are on high alert. They are trying to find ways to get our coffee or our drink of choice, whatever it is that we love in the morning. Next, after the wanting stage, we move into the liking stage. We have caved into our brain and its needs and we get that cup of coffee, and now what's happening is our sensory feelings of seeing, smelling and tasting are kicking in. And then we move from liking to the learning stage. This stage includes having our expectations met. Eventually we will become satiated, and the brain learns from this, it updates associations and it makes future predictions.
So let me make that into an actual example. By updating associations, what the brain says is coffee smells good and I like coffee. And it makes future predictions. When coffee smells like this in the future, I will like it. That's what our brain does. It does it all day. And it's been doing it through our entire lifetime. It makes associations and future predictions. So there are a couple of different forms of pleasure and one is hedonic, right? And you've probably heard of hedonism. This is related to pleasure in positive effect, like coffee or holding hands with someone. But there's also eudaimonic. And this is related to meaningfulness, engagement and self-realization, like volunteering or expressing gratitude. Often these activities don't feel obviously pleasurable in the moment, and in fact, they may feel difficult, but when we look back and construe the experience as meaningful, we might deduce pleasure from them.
So let me give you an example of studying for the bar exam. For most people, myself included, it was not a fun experience. I am not a happy person to be around when I have to study 12 to 14 hours a day, which is what I was doing for the bar exam. So during that time it was not pleasurable for me. However, when I look back on that experience now, what I can really appreciate about it is my self dedication, my commitment, my conviction, all of these are things that you have as well. And taking that from that experience, and that brings me pleasure, and that really brings me a lot of pride and self love because I nurtured and fostered those aspects of myself studying for the bar exam. And you did as well, as part of the experience. So, who wants more pleasure? Presumably all of us do. To increase our pleasure, we want to become more aware of the activities that bring us joy and pleasure and what lies underneath those activities.
So let me explain. Let us go back to coffee and pleasure. So starting off with coffee and pleasure, we notice we like coffee. We like the taste, the smell, the caffeine kick, right? These are things that we take pleasure out of right from the beginning, they are very like, this is what I like about coffee. If we start to sit with it and we start to allow ourself to expand into that experience and what brings us joy and pleasure from it, we may notice that we love our coffee mug, that it feels good in our hand, it's the right size and weight. For many of us, we take a lot of pride in the mugs that we have at home, that we have our special mug that we love using, or if we're going to a coffee shop and they give us a mug. We wanna have a say in what it is. I mean, that is something that I do. Like, that's part of the experience. And now we are expanding our identifying a pleasure with that experience out to the mug. We're taking more joy from it. We also start to notice and appreciate that we have access to and can afford coffee. We may have had experiences in our life where that was not always the case. And then we may also start to notice that our first cup of coffee helps our day unfold more smoothly, or that we can manage life a little bit better, or we can actually have a functioning conversation with someone because now our brain is awake and we can actually form sentences, right?
So we're taking the experience of just having a cup of coffee and pulling more joy and pleasure from it and really juicing ourselves up from all that comes with the experience of having a cup of coffee. So for us, the more that we engage in this practice of noticing what brings us pleasure, the more our brain is going to start shifting into a pleasure state. We will start to move from states of stress and displeasure into states of gratitude and pleasure. With this as a bonus, we are fundamentally shifting how we practice law. We are taking our power back. For many of us, the way that we have learned the practice of law is through challenges and stressful situations, things that may compromise our internal belief system. And so we start to grow or our brains start to become very acclimated to that way of being, and it can be really challenging for us to move forward in the world, being able to experience joy and pleasure when we're becoming really hardwired to states of dis-ease or displeasure. With this, as we start to embrace more and more of pleasure in just the little things in our lives, we are starting to rewire our brain, and as we do that, we're gonna start to notice more and more pleasurable experiences about our life that can use to go into our work.
So rather than perhaps coming at our work from a place of stress, anxiety, or overwhelm or depression, we may be able to start shifting it. So we come at it from more of an angle of excitement or a challenge to ourselves. How can I take pleasure from this, what is it about this that I am learning that's making me a better person? That is so powerful and it is taking our power back. And that is why I think this is such a useful skill set, such a useful tool for lawyers.
So let us go back to ethics. When we don't feel good about ourselves, or we operate from external motivations, when we don't feel safe in our environment or we aren't experiencing enough pleasure, it really, really does have a tremendous impact on the way that we operate. At this point, we are operating from a place that is contrary to wellbeing. We aren't able to experience the meaningfulness of life that is so important to wellbeing that I've talked about in quite a few places during the CLE. And we may be more willing to take actions that undermine our values, because we're just not able to access our best selves.
What I want you to do is just take a moment right now and think about a time where you took an action that undermined your values because you were in a compromised state. You weren't able to access your true state of joy and pleasure, because something was blocking it. So just take a moment, no judgment, but just noticing where you may have done that. Good. You're just noticing, and I want to honor your courage in looking at this aspect of yourself. When we take actions that undermine our values, because we're just not able to access our best selves, through no fault of our own, we are at a heightened risk of violating our ethical obligations when we do not take care of ourselves. So it is so important to come back to ourselves, to honor what it is that we need.
So, another piece that I want us to spend a few moments on is actually processing what I have presented. Now, the idea of processing is really taking some time and integrating or reflecting on the things that have happened during your day or things you have learned or conversations you've had. It's actually extremely important to process in order to have a more integrated self. However, due to the nature of a lawyer's busy schedule, often we are not given the time that we need to process what's happening to us. And so if you ever feel scattered at the end of the day, or you just feel like you've left part of yourself behind somewhere, that's a very common feeling amongst lawyers and amongst the general public, it may be because you haven't given yourself time to process.
So, from today's presentation, what was it that struck you? And I went through a lot. I first started talking about the six or seven dimensions of wellbeing. I looked at the survey on substance use and mental health issues amongst the legal profession, amongst lawyers in the United States. Perhaps you saw yourself or colleagues in that. We looked at the lawyer happiness survey, and we talked about how really these internal drivers, things like autonomy, competence, relatedness, our values, our pulling meaning, or finding meaningfulness in our work, that, those are the things that are most highly predictive of lawyer wellbeing. Whereas things like salary, law journal membership, class rank, decreasing student debt, becoming a partner in an organization, those really do not correlate highly at all to lawyer wellbeing. And then I talked about the survey from the ABA about the pandemic, and things that attorneys said that they need and want in order to thrive. And then we concluded with pleasure and talking about that and the way that we can expand our experiences of pleasure so that we're both getting hedonic and eudaimonic, right? So we're getting both the pleasure and that underlining meaningfulness of pleasure and what it means to us. So all of that, what struck you? And then also, what was the most helpful thing you learned today? Is there something that I taught or that I talked about that you can implement yourself moving forward? And remember, Rome was not built in a day. You do not need to make huge changes or leaps and bounds in your life. It's just microsteps, just a little piece here and there every day, as it feels good to you, creates huge change over time.
Okay, let's turn to conclusions and then key takeaways and we will finish up. There are three conclusions that I wanna share today.
The first is that change must occur within the legal profession. The numbers for substance abuse and mental health issues are incompatible with a sustainable professional culture. If you remember from the substance use and mental health lawyer study that I talked about at the beginning of the CLE, 20.8% of lawyers surveyed screened positive for problematic drinking, 32% of lawyers under the age of 30 screened positive for problematic drinking, 38% of lawyers screened positive for depression, 19% of lawyers screened positive for anxiety, 23% of lawyers screened positive for stress, and then I talked about suicide, 11.5% of lawyers reported suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideations, 2.9% reported injurious behavior and 0.7% of lawyers, of us, of our colleagues, reported at least one suicide attempt.
The second conclusion is that too many members of the profession are working in settings that are not laser focused on the necessary strategies to develop a truly diverse group of talented lawyers. From this, we looked at the practicing law in the pandemic and moving forward study that was done by the ABA. This study, if you recall, looked at work stress due to race, ethnicity, gender, and family obligations. With this, lawyers said that they want, one, guidance about enhancing mental health, two, comprehensive plans for sick leave and family leave, three, help with client development, as lawyers are stressed over completing client work while also developing business, four, an organizational culture that fosters engagement through personal connections by leaders. And you may recall that I talked about this in a few different ways. Things like team meetings, where lawyers can hear what their colleagues are doing, as well as individual calls by leaders within the organization to see how the lawyer is doing at a human being level, not just how they are doing with work. Five, lawyers want to be seen as people, not seen simply as fungible professionals. And six, lawyers want to be included and valued. The third conclusion is that money is generally not a high indicator of lawyer wellbeing. Like everyone else, we too need authenticity, autonomy, and close relationships for wellbeing. If you are longing for connection, for love, support, to be seen and validated, you are human.
Let's turn to key takeaways, and there are four from the CLE.
The first key takeaway is to reflect on what motivates you with your work. Is your law practice in alignment with what motivates you? And remember, we looked at our legacy, are we in alignment with what we want people to say at our funeral and how we want to be remembered? Or do we need to course correct? There is no judgment here. We're just taking a look at our life to see if any tweaks need to be made.
The second key takeaway is to notice if you think you're different from the general public because you're a lawyer. If so, is that thought really true? And the answer is no, the lawyer happiness survey showed us that we are exactly the same as the general public in terms of what we need, which is love, support, connection, to be seen and to be validated.
The third key takeaway is if you are an employer, take the pulse of your attorneys and see what they need support with, engage in a serious conversation to see how you can help. And the final key takeaway, become more aware of what brings you pleasure, look deeper and see what else about that experience is pleasurable. And remember with this, we've talked about hedonic pleasure, things like drinking coffee and holding hands, and then eudaimonic pleasure, which is really taking a sense of meaningfulness or engagement from whatever it is that we are doing.
This concludes your CLE Lawyer Happiness Is Not An Oxymoron: What Lawyers Need for a Fulfilling, Supportive Legal Practice. Again, my name is Alyssa Johnson and I absolutely love teaching and coaching on emotional intelligence, productivity, and infusing more pleasure and joy into our legal practices and into our lives. If you'd like to learn more, or if you want to chat with me or you have any questions about any of this content, please feel free to check out my website. It's www.alyssajohnson.love. That's www.A-L-Y-S-S-A-J-O-H-N-S-O-N.L-O-V-E. And on my website, you can either submit a contact form or right on the homepage, you can schedule a 15 minute chat if you would like, or you can send me an email at [email protected] I am wishing you a most pleasurable and joy filled day and week.