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Strive to Thrive: Not Only Succeeding but Flourishing as a Junior Lawyer

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Strive to Thrive: Not Only Succeeding but Flourishing as a Junior Lawyer

The term “lawyer well-being” may seem like an oxymoron. For a junior lawyer, the demanding hours, the pressures to bill, and the stressful work environments can be overwhelming and often have detrimental effects. It often seems impossible to manage high-levels of stress and combat burnout while at the same time finding time for self-care. This program will educate attendees on the data related to the prevalence of mental health issues and substance use disorders in the profession, particularly in lawyers under 30 years of age or ten years out of law school, and discuss certain indicators of burnout. In addition, the speaker will present best practices/effective strategies and preventative measures that junior lawyers can implement so that they not only thrive, but flourish in any practice setting.


Tracy Kepler
Risk Control Consulting Director, Lawyers’ Professional Liability Program


Tracy Kepler: Welcome to the program Strive to Thrive: Not Only Succeeding but Flourishing as a Junior Lawyer. My name is Tracy Kepler and I will be with you for the next hour speaking to this topic. The term lawyer wellbeing may seem like an oxymoron. For a junior lawyer, the demanding hours, the pressures to bill, and the stressful work environments can be overwhelming and often have detrimental effects. It seems impossible to manage the high levels of stress and combat burnout while at the same time finding time for self-care. During the next hour, we will look at the data related to the prevalence of mental health issues and substance use disorders in the profession, particularly in lawyers under 30 years of age or 10 years out of law school and discuss certain indicators of burnout.In addition, I will present some best practices, effective strategies, and preventative measures that junior lawyers can implement so that they not only thrive, but flourish in any practice setting.

  The best way to start is to set the stage with some recent data on the health and wellbeing of the profession and to get a feel for where the legal profession currently stands in relation to the historically substantial challenges presented by mental health and substance use disorders. In 2016, the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford published their study of nearly 13,000 currently practicing attorneys. The study looked at both substance use and mental health issues and covered all age groups, diversity, and geographic and practice settings. The research was published in an article entitled The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys and was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Respondents had to be an actively practicing attorney all across the country, urban, rural, diversity, different practice areas, years in practice, and work environments, and different fields and practice areas.

  An interesting side note on the data was that the researchers thought that they would see a higher percentage of distress symptoms with litigators, but they did not. With regard to alcohol use, they used a questionnaire called the AUDIT-10, which has been found to provide an accurate measure of risk across gender, age and cultures. It measures problematic drinking, including hazardous and possibly alcohol dependence. The results really turned preconceived notions on their ears. Rather than being more seasoned professionals with higher rates of problematic alcohol use, it was the younger attorneys or attorneys younger than 30 that had a greater issue, 32% to 20% for all attorneys and 6.4 for the general population.

  You can see the breakdown by age group in this table. We see the reverse relationship to ages, years in the field, and positions. Younger, less experienced attorneys working in junior positions had the highest audit scores. Private firm or bar association and junior associates also had the highest levels. The survey also asked the question, whether you ever thought your use of alcohol or other substances was a problem. If yes, then before, during law school, within 15 years after law school, or more than 15 years out. 22.6 felt their use of alcohol or substances was a problem sometime during their lives. 27.6 reported problematic use prior to law school. 14.2% reported problematic use starting during law school. And of the most concern, nearly 50% reported problematic use that started within the first 15 years following law school.

  The survey also posed question about drug use. The survey used the Drug Abuse Screening Test or DAST, which has been found to be a sensitive screening instrument for the abuse of drugs other than alcohol. There was a much smaller sample who completed these questions and this may be the result of concerns about revealing the use of illegal substances or abuse of prescription medications, all lowering the willingness of people to participate. Or it could be markedly fewer engages actually engage in this behavior. The data reflected that 24% were in the immediate to severe range of drug abuse. In response to the question, what substances have you used within the last 12 months? You can see the responses on the screen before you with alcohol being the highest by far, followed by tobacco, sedatives, marijuana or hash, opioids, stimulants, and cocaine or crack.

  Another interesting data point for drug usage was whether or not the respondent had used the prescription drug without a prescription. 15.5% of that group had or was using the medication without a prescription. The good news is that the vast majority of attorneys that use these substances are actually using them legally with the prescription.

  However, think about the risk behavior for those licensed attorneys working in the field, engaging and using medication without a prescription, which means getting and using it illegally. The survey also looked at the mental health of attorneys. They used the DAST, which is a 21 item questionnaire, which includes three self-report scales designed to measure the negative emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. The percentages are on the screen before you. With depression, men had higher levels of depression than females. And interestingly, there was the same inverse relationship to the alcohol study where rates decreased as age increased and junior positions had higher rates.

  Females had higher levels of anxiety than men and the self report question that was asked relates to mental health concerns over the course of a legal career. It was interesting that most reported anxiety, even though the instruments picked up depression at a higher percentage. It's possible that some people may interpret their symptoms of depression as anxiety versus depression with ruminating thoughts, sleep problems, or general unrest.

  Suicide. The study demonstrated that 11.5% of respondents had thoughts of suicide, which is a lot of lawyers. This goes hand in hand with the high rates of depression in the legal profession. 2.9% reported self-injurious behaviors and 0.7% reported at least one suicide attempt.

  Questions were also asked about why an attorney had not sought treatment or assistance for an issue and two primary areas of concern were shown. First, not wanting anyone to know or find out, the stigma. And second, concerns regarding privacy or confidentiality that it might get out. Other reasons for not seeking assistance were the concerns about a negative impact on their law license or ability to practice. They did not have insurance or the financial wherewithal to cover the cost, or they just didn't know where to turn or who to ask. Concerns were not drastically different for the different areas. Significantly more people with alcohol and substance use problems, 67%, didn't want others to find out versus 55% with mental health problems. Privacy and confidentiality also had higher percentages, and I think that this reflects that for lawyers it may be more acceptable to get help for mental health concerns or to have a mental health concern than it is an alcohol or substance use issue.

  Based on the study, we can see young lawyers are at risk. The younger the lawyer, the greater the likelihood of a substance use disorder or depression. All of this is opposite or was opposite of the current perception. Another more recent study was completed by ALM Intelligence and law.com in 2019. This survey had 3,800 participating lawyers and more than 50% were at law firms of 500 lawyers or more. An overwhelming majority of legal professions or 74% believed that their mental wellbeing was worse off as a result of their chosen career. 33% responded that they had a heightened use of alcohol or drugs as a result of their work or their work environment.

  44.4% admitted to dealing with their stress with alcohol and 4% with drugs, and 17.9% admitted to contemplating suicide during their career, which is actually two times higher than the general population. Questions were asked about, what about their job negatively impacted upon their mental wellbeing? Answers ranged from a feeling of always having to be on 24/7, 365, not being able to disconnect from work, billable hour pressures, lack of sleep, and client demands. Only 36% said that they used all of their vacation time. And even when they did take vacation, they couldn't disconnect or feel that there is an expectation that they should be responding to emails or calls or face negative repercussions for not doing so.

  Lastly, legal professionals said that since the window to disconnect is so small, the easiest and fastest way to relax or get from 60 to zero was drugs or alcohol. Interestingly, this study was just recently completed again in 2021 and showed worsening mental health struggles in the profession.

  In 2021, the World Health Organization published a study on working hours. The results and implications on the legal profession and the kinds of hours they work were startling. The study concluded that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to working 35 to 40 hours a week. Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016, which was a 29% increase since the year 2000. Working long hours is responsible for about one third of the total estimated work related burden of disease. It is the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden. Sadly, it's not getting any better. The number of people working long hours is increasing. I would love to know the percentage for the legal profession. As you can see, it currently stands at 9% generally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work related disability and early death.

  Another legal study was just published in May of 2021. It is called Stress, Drink, Leave: An Examination of Gender-Specific Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems and Attrition Among Licensed Attorneys. 3,300 attorneys participated in DC and California. Roughly half of lawyers were found to be experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety with approximately 30% falling in the mild range and just under 20% falling in the moderate to severe range.

  Over half of the lawyers screened positive for risky drinking and 30% screened for high risk hazardous drinking interpreted as alcohol abuse or possible dependence. Women are experiencing meaningfully worse mental health than men and drinking more hazardously. And one in four women is contemplating leaving the legal profession due specifically to mental health problems, burnout or stress. Despite 30% of attorneys screening positive for disordered drinking, only 2% report ever having received an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. The disparity clearly suggests an extreme level of under diagnosis and treatment for a widespread problem, possibly owing to pervasive denial, the stigma, and a professional culture that normalizes heavy drinking.

  So in addition to the study data, who are we and what do we face? And more importantly, how does that impact upon our mental health and propensity for substance use? While true that the studies reflect that the majority of lawyers do not have a mental health issue or substance use disorders, that doesn't mean that they're thriving. Many lawyers experience a profound ambivalence about their work and the course we are on is unsustainable. Let's look at the structure in the legal profession that perpetuates unhealthy behaviors, starting with organizational factors, looking at devices.

  Technology is fabulous. The ability to work anytime outside the traditional nine to five hours, connect at any time in any place at the touch of a button is freeing. But the flip side is that the expectations that come with that freedom, you have to be there always to answer the call, respond to the email, respond to the client, file that brief.

  The billing structure. Billable hours and revenue generation are the two key metrics in how law firms compensate attorneys. Partners, including the most senior, have billable hour targets and their compensation may rise or fall with the achievement or missing of those targets. The pressure then to work seven days a week, to miss family events, to forego vacations, to miss needed doctors appointments, cannot be overstated. Junior associates have all of that pressure coupled with the desire to climb the ranks to partner. A 2015 study reflected that those lawyers with higher billable requirements cited less internal motivation, satisfaction, and increased levels of alcohol abuse. Oftentimes we have a lack of support, lack of autonomy, lack of meaningful work or professional growth.

  Some individual factors. We oftentimes have a skewed definition of success. We're on that hamster wheel chasing something that may not be in our best interest. Our denial is more entrenched and better defended through the use of our professional skills. Our advocacy, our smarts, if you will. We are the advice givers, not takers. People come to us to solve problems and we should be able to handle this on our own.

  We are not health professionals, but we think we can diagnose and treat a situation. Sadly, many of us are ill-equipped to recognize or address problems that impair our functioning as a lawyer. Embarrassment and weakness. What will others think of me? Think less of me or think I'm less competent. Maybe that means I'm not capable of handling my own problems and the problems of others.

  I think we also have trouble recognizing the symptoms. Stress is a normal part of being a lawyer. If I'm not stressed out all the time, well then maybe I'm not doing it right or I'm not good at it. Attorneys are always altering their definition of normal distress to avoid seeking help.

  Lastly and sadly, hopelessness. No person or program or doctor can help me. There are some life situation factors as well. Attorneys who are in crisis, their families, colleagues, support staff, are all reluctant to take action and get help. They have a friendship and a loyalty concern. If I say something, I'm betraying my friend. They're enablers. This really goes two ways. They are the people who make it easier for the person with the addiction to continue in their destructive lifestyle or they are the people drinking and getting high with the attorney or judge and are there to reinforce destructive habits.

  They don't want to seek advice or help for their colleague because the party will end. Fear comes into play in the attorney or third party. Maybe I'll lose my job. Fear of loss financially and otherwise. The social stigma and just respect or love for the person not wanting to get involved.

  Client expectations. They are unrealistic oftentimes. They want it now, they experience a range of emotions, and vent it all on us. Over time, like other professions, we develop compassion fatigue as a result of managing all of those emotions and solving all of the problems. In addition, there's a certain emotional dissonance. We encounter stress from the workload, yet we are expected to appear and be completely unaffected by it.

  As we are talking about burnout today, it's important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and how the two differ. On the screen before you is a chart with the features of burnout versus a major depressive episode. You can see the core features of both, common features, context, which is important because burnout is job related and situational versus depression being general and context free, thought content as well as the course.

  So let's look at the cost of burnout at work. Another way these issues are hurting the profession is at the bottom line, in the pocket book. You can see some of the statistics from the cost of absenteeism, presenteeism, lost productivity, turnover rates, all as a result of various substance use and mental health issues. It's evident that lawyer wellbeing can and does contribute to organizational success. And for law firms and corporations, lawyer health and wellbeing is an important form of human capital that can provide a competitive advantage. We can see the cost of how much law firms are losing annually due to turnover. And $400,000 being the estimated turnover cost per associate who leaves.

  Let's look at the cost of burnout to you. Looking at the levels of stress and burnout as the pressure rises and stress levels rise, the ability to function to adequately and competently represent clients decreases. And somewhere on that downward trajectory comes a bar discipline grievance or a legal malpractice complaint.

  And looking at the cost of burnout to those you love. You are exhausted all the time. You've lost joy for the things you used to love. You're not present. If you're putting in long hours at the firm and you're constantly buried in your phone when you're not at work, chances are you're not carrying your own weight at home. Relationships aren't easy, but a mutually supportive dynamic is very important to a successful union. While that support will rarely ever be equally balanced at any single point in time, when it's consistently tipped to one side, it can cause resentment to build and create a rift in your relationship. Put yourself in your partner's shoes. Would you want to be completely responsible for everything when your partner is chronically absent, whether physically, mentally, or both? It's not exactly the type most of us would want to come home to.

  So that's a lot of negatives. How do we focus on the resilience, the hope, the flourishing, the thriving? And how can we not only succeed in our law careers, but flourish? What is wellbeing and how do we define it? Let's look at other prominent wellbeing definitions and social science research. They emphasize that wellbeing is not limited to an absence of illness, feeling happy all the time, or intraindividual processes.

  Context matters. For example, the World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

  Social science research also emphasizes that wellbeing is not defined solely by an absence of dysfunction, but nor is it limited to feeling happy or filled with positive emotions. The concept of wellbeing in social science research is multi dimensional and it includes, for example, engagement and interesting activities, having close relationships and a sense of belonging, developing confidence through mastery, achieving goals that matter to you, meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy and control, self-acceptance and personal growth. This multidimensional approach underscores that a positive state of wellbeing is not synonymous with feeling happy or experiencing positive emotion. It really is much broader.

  Another common theme in social science research is that wellbeing is not just an interpersonal process. Context powerfully influences it. Consistent with this view, a study of worldwide survey data found that five factors constitute the key elements of wellbeing, career, social relationships, community, health, and finances.

  What matters is discovering the path that works for you, not a fad or a quick fix, but a practical multitude approach that helps you grow over time. So what is resilience? Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. It is your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow, despite life's downturns. Resilience is not a trampoline where you're down one moment and up the next, it's more like climbing a mountain without a trail map. It takes time, strength, and help from people around you.

  And you'll likely experience setbacks along the way, but eventually you reach the top and look back at how far you've come. Being resilient doesn't mean that people don't experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering. Resilience is important because it gives people the strength needed to process overcome hardship. Those lacking resilience may get easily overwhelmed and may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Resilient people are able to tap into their strengths and support systems to overcome challenges and work through problems.

  The next slide has the definition of wellbeing created by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. This came out of a group effort, a grassroots effort back in 2017 where the National Organization of Bar Council, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs, just to name a few, joined together to develop a groundbreaking report called The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.

  As a part of this report and recommendation, the group of which I was a member developed a definition of wellbeing. We defined lawyer wellbeing as a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive in each of the following areas, emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, a sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, physical health, and social connections with others. Lawyer wellbeing is a part of a lawyer's ethical duty of competence. It includes lawyer's ability to make healthy, positive work life choices to assure not only a quality of life within their families and communities, but also to help them make responsible decisions for their clients. It includes maintaining their own long-term wellbeing. This definition highlights that complete health is not defined solely by the absence of illness. It includes a positive state of wellness.

  We also need to look at the challenges and our potential to find some equilibrium. We've talked about some of our challenges, but we also need to focus on the thriving, flourishing, and the potential. Things that help to make us well, that we have at our base being physically strong and healthy is good. We also need to look for pro bono work, volunteer, contributions to society, feeling connected and a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose in what we do, willing to seek help and also be a lifelong learner.

  Let's look at five ways to improve wellbeing and boost resilience. This is in no way an exhaustive list. These are just five ways to get started, ways to focus on wellbeing and beat back burnout, and also to strive to thrive. The goal with wellbeing is to figure out a set of habit building practices you can implement in your own life, things that work for you. Your approach to wellbeing should be a holistic one. That is to say wellbeing isn't about making one giant change and suddenly transforming your life, it's about continually working to improve a number of different aspects of your life so you can build a more or sustainable lifestyle and career. And while there's no one wellbeing strategy that works for all legal professionals, most worthwhile wellbeing strategies will incorporate these five elements.

  Gratitude. Why gratitude? Well, let's step back a minute. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness, depending on the context. In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.

  In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people to connect to something larger than themselves as individuals, whether to other people, nature or a higher power. Gratitude makes us healthier. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude report fewer health complaints, exercise more, feel better about their lives as a whole, report more hours of sleep per night, and awake feeling more refreshed and feel more connected to others. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotion, relish good experiences, improves their health, helps them deal with adversity, and also builds strong relationships.

  How does gratitude work physically? Well first, it boosts production of dopamine, similar to taking the antidepressant Wellbutrin. It boosts production of serotonin, similar in the action to taking Prozac. And even if you can't find something to be grateful for, it still works. The process of practicing still works in that it is the searching that counts.

  What are some ways to build a gratitude practice into your life? There's always journaling, which is a great way to start, writing things down. There's appreciative art, engaging in art to express gratitude whether that be painting, collage, sculpture. You can make a gratitude photo collage, sharing joy pictures depicting the things that make us grateful. Writing a gratitude letter. Writing a letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life and sharing it with them. Maybe even once in a while, writing one to yourself. There's also a gratitude jar, inviting coworkers to drop notes of gratitude in a jar that are then read aloud once a week. Some others are to count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings, reflecting on what went right or what you're grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number such as three to five things that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

  Meditation is another great way to improve wellbeing and resilience. Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance that can benefit both your emotional wellbeing and your overall health. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. Anyone can practice it. It's simple and inexpensive, and it doesn't require any special equipment. And the best thing is you can practice meditation wherever you are, whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office, or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting. And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions.

  When you meditate, you may clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress and later burnout. The emotional benefits of meditation can include gaining a new perspective on stressful situations, building skills to manage your stress, increasing self-awareness, focusing on the present, reducing negative emotions, increasing imagination and creativity, and also increasing patience and tolerance.

  One thing to remember is don't let the thought of meditating the right way add to your stress. If you choose to, you can learn about it at certain meditation centers or classes led, but you can also practice it easily on your own. And don't give up. It may take a few times to get the hang of it. Here are some ways that you can practice meditation on your own wherever you choose. First, breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function. Focus all your attention on your breathing. You also want to scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body and become aware of your body's various sensations.

  Repeat a mantra. You can even walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you're walking, such as a [inaudible 00:37:04] forest, on a city sidewalk, or even at the mall.

  Read and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meeting. And focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on an image or a being, weaving feelings of love, compassion, and gratitude into your thoughts.

  You can also practice mindfulness. It's a pretty straightforward concept and word. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what's happening, to what you're doing, to the space you're moving through. And while that might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand, our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we're engrossed in the obsessive and ruminating thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future and that makes us anxious. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that all of us already have. It's not something that you have to conjure up. You just have to learn to access it.

  Mindfulness is also not obscure or exotic. It's familiar to us because it's what we already do, how we already are. It's also not a special added thing we do. We already have the capacity to be present, we just need to use it. Mindfulness has the potential to become a transformative social phenomenon. And the reasons why are anybody can do it, it can be a way of living, it's more than just a practice, it brings awareness and caring into everything we do, and it really does cut down on needless stress. It's also evidence based. We don't have to take mindfulness on faith. Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, happiness, work and relationship. And lastly, it sparks innovation. As we deal with our world's increasing complexity and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to effective, resilient, low cost responses to seemingly intransigent problems.

  Mindfulness practices also enhance emotional intelligence or EQ. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and diffuse conflict. A high EQ is arguably as, or even more important, than academic intelligence, regular IQ, for professional and interpersonal success. Emotional intelligence affects your performance at the firm. High emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in your practice setting. It also affects your physical health because if you're not able to manage your emotions, you're probably not managing your stress very well either.

  It affects your mental health. Uncontrolled emotions and stress can also impact upon your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you're unable to understand, get comfortable with or manage your emotions, you may also struggle to form strong relationships. This in turn can leave you feeling lonely and isolated and further exacerbate any mental health problems. It affects your relationships. By understanding your emotions and how to control them, you're better able to express how you feel and understand how others are feeling. This allows you to communicate more effectively and to forge stronger relationships both at work and in your personal life.

  And lastly, it affects your social intelligence. Being in tune with your emotions serves a social purpose, connecting you to other people and the world around you.

  Emotional intelligence implies competency in self-awareness, your ability to identify emotions and how your emotions affect your actions, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills. You have empathy. You can understand the emotions, needs and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially and professionally, and also recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.

  Let's look at some basic stress management strategies. The first is to track your stressors. Use a journal to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. You also want to consider boundaries and setting limits. List the project and commitments that are making you feel overwhelmed. Identify which commitments are priorities and cut back on anything non-essential. Refrain from accepting any more commitments until you feel your stress is under control.

  You also want to tap into your support system. Reach out to family or friends or mentors. Your friends or family or mentors may have tackled similar challenges and have useful ideas and perspectives. There's no need to face this alone.

  Make one health related commitment. Do what you can to boost your health so that you have the energy and strength to tackle the challenges you are facing. One small step like cutting back on excessive snacking can have a positive effect.

  Along with boundaries, manage your devices. People who report constantly checking email or social media typically report more stress. Give yourself a break over the weekend and in the evenings. Put your phone to bed before you go to bed. Also enhance your sleep quality. People who are chronically stressed often suffer from a lack of adequate sleep. And in some cases, stress induced insomnia. Begin winding down an hour or two before you go to sleep and engage in some calming activities such as listening to relaxing music, reading a book, or practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or mindfulness.

  And then lastly, seek additional help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed or are having trouble getting through your daily routine, seek help from a licensed mental health professional or reach out to your state Lawyers Assistance Program.

  Remember the six Rs of self-care. Responsibility, taking personal responsibility for our own mental health, wellbeing, and resilience. The firm you work for may have a duty of care for you, your family and friends care about you, but the person who has to live with you for the rest of your life is you. Taking care of yourself isn't selfish, it's sensible. Reflection, reflecting on how you are, what is happening and how you're feeling about things. Relaxation is a way that suits you. Jogging, reading a book, mindfulness practice. Relationships, building supportive relationships with friends, family, or a partner. Know who to turn to when times are difficult. Re-fueling, eating a healthy diet, being conscious of alcohol intake. And lastly recreation, engaging in regular exercise and having fun.

  So let's talk about how to engage in authentic and sustainable self-care. Many people never take the time to understand how their jobs affect them emotionally. Be kind to yourself and put your own oxygen mask on first. Some ways to do this, we've talked about mindfulness, living intentionally, creating personal boundaries, exercise, decompressing, learning to say no, physical activity, engaging in hobbies, taking a vacation or a staycation, simple humor and laughing, as well as sleep.

  Self-compassion. It's easy to be tough on yourself. We tend to do it way too much, much more than we realize. But what if there was a better way? When we forgive ourselves, accept our perceived flaws and show ourself kindness, we practice self-compassion. It's often a lot harder than it sounds, but with the right techniques, we can learn to make it a habit that sticks.

  Self-kindness. Self-kindness is about showing kindness and understanding towards ourselves when we fail at something or when we're hurt. Rather than being critical or judging ourselves harshly when we already feel pain, we can recognize the negative influence of self-judgment and treat ourselves with warmth and patience instead. Giving yourself the tenderness and care you need when you're going through a tough time, trying to understand and show patience regarding your own perceived personality flaws, and being tolerant of your own shortcomings.

  We have to remember the common humanity, that we're part of something bigger. These connections make a difference. And part of this is accepting and forgiving ourselves for our flaws. We're not perfect, but we show self-compassion when we go easy on ourselves for having limitations. Another part of our common humanity is realizing that we're not alone in being imperfect or feeling hurt. Rather than withdrawing or isolating ourselves, we need to appreciate that others feel the same at times. Perceiving your shortcomings as a natural aspect of the human condition and viewing your difficulties as part of a life that everybody goes through it, reminding yourself that others feel inadequate at times and that you may feel the same way. Giving yourself permission to be human once in a while is a way to accept your flaws and remind yourself that you're not alone in it.

  So if you hadn't heard, there's been an amazing breakthrough. Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer, enhances your memory, makes you more creative, makes you look more attractive, keeps you slim, lowers food cravings, protects you from cancer and dementia, wards off colds and flu, lowers risks of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. You will feel happier, less anxious, and less depressed. Anybody interested? What is that breakthrough? It's about sleep.

  According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult requires between seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Getting too little sleep has been linked to various adverse mental, emotional, and physical side effects. In addition, the American Bar Association reports that attorneys are among the most sleep deprived groups of professionals. Over time, the effects of sleep deprivation compound, affecting in an individual's ability to concentrate, reason, and make sound decisions, all skills that are essential when practicing law.

  The result of this poor sleep is your mind isn't as sharp and focused. Facts and information that were previously recalled easily now escape you. You have trouble concentrating and are forced to reread important case documents. And quite frankly, you're physically worn out and often feel unwell. For attorneys, poor sleep habits are often born in law school as an all night cram session. Upon passing the bar, the pervasive undervaluing of sleep persists as young associates sacrifice precious hours of slumber to prove their worth to firm partners.

  Before you know it, you're a law firm partner who hasn't enjoyed consistent or quality sleep in years. And whether you realize it or not, you're paying the price, from anxiety and depression, to diabetes and heart disease. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation takes a tremendous toll on your body and can lead to serious health conditions that severely diminish your quality of life. Thankfully, this doesn't have to be your reality. As millennial attorneys demand a better work life balance, the cultural pendulum at many law firms is shifting. Leadership is actually beginning to recognize the vital role their attorneys' wellness plays in the health and prosperity of the firm.

  What are some things you can do to help get better sleep? First of all, turn off your screens. Turn off the TV, your cell phone, your iPad, at least one hour before bed. Develop decompression rituals. Go to bed earlier. Skip the nightcap. Again, according to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol interferes with your body's normal chemical production and affects your ability to sleep soundly and to stay asleep. And work through worries. Carve out 10 to 15 minutes earlier in the day to think about work and personal manners so you're not lying awake ruminating thinking when you should be sleeping.

  Lastly, if you need help, reach out to the Lawyers Assistance Programs. The mission of Lawyers Assistance Programs across the country take a broad brush approach. They assist attorneys, judges, law students, and bar applicants who suffer from physical or mental issues that result from disease, chemical dependency, or mental health problems that impair or could impair their ability to practice. They assist impaired legal professionals. LAPs also seek to educate the bench and bar about these impairments with outreach CLEs. And by tackling these issues, LAPs seek to reduce or minimize the potential harm that an impaired attorney can cause to themselves, the public, the profession as a whole, and the entire legal system. The Lawyers Assistance Program staff and volunteers are generalists. They're attorneys and licensed members of state bars. They're also licensed clinical social workers and licensed clinical professional counselors. They're certified alcohol and drug counselors. Sometimes they're even doctors who specialize in addiction medicine.

  On staff they also have nurses, psychologists, marriage and family counselors. And sometimes it's a combination of all of those people, even people who are in recovery themselves. They offer all sorts of services from consultation to referrals to neuropsychologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, treatment facilities, education, intervention, and support.

  Many Lawyers Assistance Programs have an AA or an NA or other individual and group support meetings right on site. LAPs also monitor attorneys who are involved with bar counsel or who are on probation. They help with therapy, assessment, triage. And sometimes they're just a hotline or a phone call away for an individual with a question, concern about themselves, or a concern about another.

  If you hear nothing else in this portion of the program, the most important part is that Lawyers Assistance Programs provide confidential help. By court rule, by American Bar Association policy, and by state rules. The information and actions taken by a Lawyers Assistance Program are privileged and held in the strictest confidence. Information shall not be disclosed or required to be disclosed to any person or entity outside the Lawyers Assistance Programs unless there has been a release or a waiver by the attorney. They are also exempt from the reporting requirement of the Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.3 A. The duty to report specifically exempts disclosure of inform gained by a lawyer or judge while participating in an approved LAP program. You can trust a LAP professional to keep your information confidential.

  It's also important to remember to get medical treatment if you need it to relieve symptoms that are interfering with your daily functioning. If you've gone through all of the tips that we've suggested to combat stress, anxiety, fatigue, and ultimately burnout, it may be necessary to get professional help to get back on track.

  In addition, you might want to try some wellbeing technology. There are a lot of apps out there that can help you in this regard. PIP is one of them where it provides feedback on your stress levels. There are also all kinds of meditation apps, such as Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm, Ten Percent Happier, and Happy Tapper Gratitude Journal. You could even try a treadmill desk, walking while working or even a desk that raises and lowers so you can stand, because standing is the new smoking. A Fitbit or some sort of tracking watch that measures steps and heartbeat and heart rate, or the Spire Mindfulness Tracker that actually clips on and detects breathing and sends an alert to you if you're tense. And the last one to consider, and these are not exclusive, there's tons of them out there, is Muse. That's actually a brain sensing headband that helps to increase and helps you develop meditation practices.

  Some other resources are to take a look at the Well-Being Toolkit for the Legal Profession, published by the American Bar Association and also available on the Institute for Well-Being In Law and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs' websites. There's a lot of great information there on how to increase your wellbeing and resilience. And in addition, they have all kinds of worksheets that you can process yourself, work through yourself at your own timetable, or you can even bring them into the firm or your practice setting for group participation.

  Some other concepts to consider to boost resilience and improve wellbeing we'll look at now. The first ones relate to autonomy and relatedness. The strongest predictor of positive wellbeing was a lawyer's sense that they had supported autonomy and agency in the work. Finding a workplace that applies to your talents, to the work, rather than being told what and how to work.

  In addition, combating social isolation, searching out interconnectivity. Think about how you go to work. Go to your office, shut the door, don't talk to anyone, and don't even send emails or you send emails to somebody down the hall. We should be getting up and connecting. Social support, which is important for coping with stress and preventing burnout and socializing helps individuals recover from work demands and stave off emotional exhaustion. The other thing that we need to do is emphasize and focus on a service centered mission. At its core, law's a helping profession and I think this gets lost in the rush of practice and the business aspects of law. We need to focus on what brings value and meaning rather than competition, power, and monetary rewards.

  When organizational values evoke a sense of belonging and pride, work is experienced as meaningful. Experiencing work as meaningful is the biggest contributor to work engagement, a form of work related wellbeing. You also want to find your sensei, your mentor, someone who can support and be an advocate for you as you advance your career. How can you do it? Be in a formal program at your workplace, organically where a relationship just develops, connect via email and set up a coffee date to pick brains about wellbeing strategies, or reach out to professionals you admire to ask for career advice.

  There's some other resources that talk about how you might tap into boost resilience and improve health and wellbeing. One resource, as I've mentioned, is the Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers, and it has all kinds of ideas, worksheets, and templates to get you started.

  Another great resource is the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs. The Commission has all kinds of resources on mental health and substance use disorders and you can find the number for your state's LAP on the side.

  Lastly, the Institute For Well-Being In Law is dedicated to the betterment of the legal profession by focusing on a holistic approach to wellbeing. The advocacy, research, educational, technical, and research support, and stakeholder partnerships show that the Institute is driven to lead a culture shift in law to establish health and wellbeing as core centerpieces of professional success. There are lots of resources on their website as well.

  And lastly, remember it is okay not to be okay. No one expected you to save the world. Otherwise, you would've been born wearing a cape and tights. Thank you for listening and be well.

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On demand
1h 1m 46s

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