What Covid Has Shown Us about the Practice of Law: We're Not Robots & It's Time to Address Our Feelings & Needs
In this course, Alyssa Johnson shares why the practice of law doesn’t always support lawyer well-being and what we can do about it. A recent ABA survey found that the COVID pandemic further exacerbated the stress caused by legal practice for a significant number of lawyers. Ms. Johnson outlines ways that organizations can provide services that enhance attorney mental health and well-being, and she equips attorneys with tools for hormone regulation, stress reduction, and self-advocacy, so that they have the clarity and courage to ask for what they want. All of this information is rooted in neuroscience data and tied to lawyers’ ethical duty to address their well-being.
Alyssa Johnson: Welcome everyone to What COVID Has Shown Us About the Practice of Law. We're not robots and it's time to address our feelings and needs. My name is Alyssa Johnson, and I am your teacher today. I am an attorney and a consultant. And just a little bit about me before hopping 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, trauma and emotional intelligence. And now I provide trainings and coaching to attorneys to help all of you find greater balance with work through trauma-informed tools, productivity tools, and wellbeing tools. Our learning objectives today include understanding why addressing wellbeing needs is critical for a healthy legal practice, identifying key hormones affecting our mood and productivity and how to increase feel good hormones in our bodies, learning a self-advocacy tool that increases our confidence in asking for what we want and recognizing the ethical obligations in maintaining attorney wellbeing. So for our roadmap today, we're going to start by defining lawyer wellbeing. We'll then look at substance use and mental health issues in the legal profession. We'll then move to reviewing an ABA survey and the results of how lawyers are fairing during COVID. We'll discuss the importance of hormones and self-regulation. And finally, we'll conclude with practicing a self-advocacy tool so that we get more comfortable asking for what we want.
Now, there are a number of model rules that are implicated in maintaining wellbeing, and they include competence, diligence, communications, confidentiality, safekeeping property, responsibilities of a partner or supervisory lawyer, responsibilities of a subordinate lawyer, responsibilities regarding non-lawyer assistance, reporting professional misconduct, and finally rule 8.4, which is misconduct itself. And I'm going to go through these rules in more detail as we go through the presentation.
So let's start by defining wellbeing. So back in 2017, a national task force on lawyer wellbeing was created in response to a survey that came out in 2016 about substance use and mental health issues amongst lawyers. And this task force defined lawyer wellbeing as a continuous process in which lawyers strive for thriving in each dimension of their lives. And they defined six different dimensions that lawyers have in terms of their life. And one of them is occupational. And so this is really cultivating personal satisfaction, growth and enrichment from the work. The next is intellectual, so that we're engaged in activities and tasks that really stimulate us intellectually and allow us to be curious and creative. We also have a spiritual component to wellbeing, and this is developing a sense of meaningfulness and purpose in life. There's also physical wellbeing, which is taking care of ourselves and our body, eating the foods that nourish us and getting help when we need help with body things. And then we have social wellbeing so that we feel a part of communities and we feel belonged in the places that we're involved in. And then finally, emotional wellbeing. And this is allowing ourselves to feel our feelings and recognizing when we need assistance processing our feelings and being able to seek out help when we do need help.
Now I mentioned earlier this study from 2016, and it was called "The Prevalence of Substance Use "and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys." And we're going to spend a few minutes talking about this. 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. They looked at a number of different factors in this survey, and one of them was problematic drinking. This is also known as alcohol abuse or alcohol misuse, and what this is, is a pattern of alcohol use that results in negative consequences, such as relationship issues or arrests for DUIs. Now 6.4% of the general population suffers from problematic drinking. However, 20.6% of attorneys in the survey screen positive for problematic drinking. So this is of course, one out of five attorneys. 32% of attorneys under the age of 30 in the survey screen positive for problematic drinking. So this is almost one out of three attorneys under the age of 30.
Now we will see in another statistic that the results for younger attorneys under the age of 30 are a little bit starker than those for more senior attorneys, which leads us right into depression. In 2017, 7.1% of the general population 18 years and older had a major depressive episode. 38% of the lawyers in the survey experienced symptoms of depression. Here rates decreased as age increased. Again, junior positions correlated with higher rates of depression. So we're seeing some commonalities here, some similarities with junior attorneys, and we need to start focusing some of our efforts on helping our junior attorneys learn stress and management and emotional regulation skills to help start to reduce some of these numbers. They also found that 19% of lawyers surveyed experience symptoms of anxiety. 23% of lawyers surveyed experience stress. And 11 and a half percent of the lawyers surveyed reported suicidal thoughts during their careers. 2.9% reported injurious behavior and 0.7% reported at least one suicide attempt. So clearly we need to be looking at this within the legal profession because the numbers are very dramatic and are showing us that many of our colleagues and perhaps ourselves are really struggling and needing assistance. So what the people who did the survey found when they did a webinar about the results of the survey is 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 actually look at ethical adherence now, and the model rules that are implicated in these numbers with our colleagues and perhaps ourselves. 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. Any violation of any rule of professional misconduct automatically triggers rule 8.4, which is misconduct. So if we're in violation of one rule, we're automatically in violation of two, because misconduct gets triggered. And depending on what's happening with the lawyer's performance and behavior due to substance use or mental health issues, there could also be violations of the rules of confidentiality and safekeeping property. And with safekeeping property here, this is generally speaking, no co-mingling of funds of the funds that we receive from clients. So both supervisory lawyers and subordinate lawyers can be found in violation of the rules if colleagues are found in violation of the rules. And 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. So we also have this duty to report if we have actual knowledge that something is going on with a colleague. It also extends 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 assistants are found in violation of the rules. There are also additional reasons for us to really look closely at what's happening within our profession, and perhaps what we are experiencing ourselves. The first is avoiding malpractice. So back in 2014 an ABA article came out and it reported that approximately 60% of all malpractice claims and 85% of all trust fund violation cases involve substance use.
Now 2014 has been some time ago, but I imagine the numbers probably aren't that different as we're still taking a look at these issues within our profession and really doing our best to start addressing them or continue addressing them. There's also the issue of delivery of quality effective client service. Major depression is associated with impaired executive functioning, including diminished memory, attention, and problem-solving. For alcohol abuse, the majority of abusers up to 80% experience mild to severe cognitive impairment. Deficits are particularly severe in executive functions, especially in problem-solving, abstraction, planning, organizing, and working memory. These are core features of competent lawyering. So what they concluded with the survey is that change must occur within the legal profession because the numbers for substance abuse and mental health issues are incompatible with a sustainable professional culture.
So, what I actually want to do now is just take a few moments and do a body check. And if that term is new to you, just take a deep breath. And I just want you to notice the feelings or the sensations that you're experiencing in your body. So perhaps you're noticing tightness or a numbness, or perhaps you don't feel anything at all. And as you're just sitting here and paying attention to your body, I want you to notice if you see yourself in any of the statistics that I shared, or do you see colleagues exhibiting any of these characteristics? It can be very painful to see ourselves or see people we care about in these numbers or in these behaviors. And so I just want us to stay present and with our body and notice what's coming up.
I also want you to pay attention to how you're feeling right now. So you may feel anxious. You may feel guilty. You may have just a general sense of unease or discomfort. Perhaps you feel relief because you don't see yourself or any of your colleagues in these numbers. Relief is really powerful and it's a very, very valid feeling. So there is no right or wrong feeling to this. It's just what you notice in your own body. And also, what do you notice about your breath? Many of us, when our systems become activated in some way, we start to breathe in a way that's too shallow and too quick for our body to really absorb the oxygen. And so when we are in activated states, if we are able to become more mindful of our breath and start to lengthen the breath and breathe more deeply, maybe even down into the diaphragm or even lower, depending on what feels good to you, it can help to calm our body. So just noticing where is your breath right now? And there's no judgment here. It's just being curious about your own system and your own body. Good. Okay. We will continue on.
So now we're actually going to turn to the ABA survey that I mentioned at the beginning of the CLE and this survey was called "Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward: "Results and Best Practices from a Nationwide Survey "of the Legal Profession." Now, this survey was done in September through October of 2020, and the results were released on April 26th, 2021. And it was created and done by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward. And what they went to identify is how the pandemic affects lawyers and the plans and expectations for the practice of law as the pandemic eventually comes to an end. So looking at the respondent info, 4,200 ABA members surveyed between September 30th and October 11th, 2020. And these members surveyed covered every practice area, every type of legal employer and major demographic characteristics. It included lawyers who were currently working in a job that required a law degree, including full-time, part-time, temp work or furloughed employees. In terms of gender identification, 54% said they were male. 43% said they were female. And the remaining respondents identified as other or non-binary, or they did not respond. And in terms of race identification, the vast majority, 81% said they were white, 5.3% said they were black. And then the remaining respondents either did not identify their race or ethnicity, or it broke down into different races or ethnicities. For practice setting identification, 67% identified themselves as being in private practice. And the remaining 33% said they were in-house, government, judiciary, academia, non-profits and public interest workplaces. And then the organizations ranged in size from one lawyer to 250 plus lawyers.
So one of the areas that the survey looked at was work stress due to race or ethnicity. 7% of white lawyers reported feeling stress at work on account of their race, while 47% of lawyers of color reported feeling stress at work on account of their race or ethnicity, race and gender increased stress at work. Here, 54% of women of color reported experiencing stress at work on account of race versus white women at 6% and men of color at 41%. The survey also looked at work stress due to gender, and it found that 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 were also stressors due to family obligations. So 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. Additionally, 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. I think this makes a lot of sense because of course when we have kiddos at home, we're going to have distractions.
Other stressors that lawyers reported, especially those with young children at home said that they were feeling overwhelmed at much greater rates due to things like work being more disrupted because of distractions. They missed seeing people at the office. And for those of you who may still be working from home or doing some type of hybrid schedule, perhaps you experienced this still to this day. Lawyers reported also feeling disengaged from their employer. They reported that it's hard to keep home and work separate, that they were feeling stressed about work and feeling like their day would never end. Lawyers reported having trouble taking time off of work and lawyers reported thinking it would be better to stop working entirely or to work part-time. So in terms of the survey conclusion, what the ABA Working Group found was 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 they asked these questions in the survey and they got some very clear answers. Now, one of the things lawyers reported wanting was guidance about enhancing mental health and wellbeing. Lawyers believe that addressing their wellness needs will help them be better lawyers. Lawyers also reported wanting comprehensive plans for sick leave and family leave, and they want help with business development as they are feeling stressed over completing their client work while also developing business. Lawyers also gave a lot of thoughts and requests around organizational culture and basically said they want a culture that fosters engagement through personal connections by leaders with their team. So really feeling that connection with the leaders and not having a great separation there. This includes things like frequent communications about firm activities and goals, effective mentoring and sponsorship from senior lawyers, regular practice group calls to see what people are doing, and this is related to their work, right? So what are the cases or the tasks or activities that they're working on. And then in contrast to this regular check-in calls from colleagues about how the lawyer is doing, and this is more personal interaction and building that empathy and that connection at that interpersonal level.
Lawyers said they also want virtual social events for lawyers and staff to get together. And then advice about best practices for working from home for long periods of time. And then in terms of other requests that lawyers said that they really want, they want to be seen as people and not simply as fungible professionals. And I think of course this makes so much sense because we want to feel seen and validated and appreciated for who we are. And then tied to this is feeling a sense of inclusiveness and value because we are all valuable. We all bring skills and talents and gifts to the table, and we want to be included and valued for that. So let's do another pulse check.
This time I want you to notice if you see attorneys in your own organization indicating a need for greater support in these areas. And then also, do you yourself want support in any of these areas? How open do you think your organizations leadership will be to discussing these topics? Now we have been within the pandemic for almost two years now. And so I imagine many of your organizations have been having a lot of these discussions already. Where are you at? Where do you see your leadership being at with respect to these different topics? Are there additional things that need to be brought up within the organization or need to be looked at? And then a question that I think is always resonant is how open do you think leadership will be to having these discussions? So just taking stock of where you perceive your organization and its leadership to be at and what your needs are and where is there a commonplace, or perhaps there may not be a lot of receptiveness to such a conversation depending on your organization.
So now let's look in employer best practices in terms of the information that I just shared from the ABA survey. Best practice number one is that leadership must be engaged, transparent, and accountable. So for some organizations, there may have to be a huge shift in how people are viewed. And what I mean by this is organizations may have to start thinking in terms of how can we better serve our people's needs rather than imposing harsh working conditions on people.
So here are some leadership questions to consider first. What type of culture and values do we want in our everyday practice of law? Second, who will be accountable for ensuring that the policies and practices we value are implemented and experienced the way that we intend. Three, how will we move forward to achieve meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion? Four, what goals and expectations do we have for our lawyers and how can we help them enhance their performance and job satisfaction? Five, what are the types of policies that can accommodate part-time and flex time work and still allow for advancement? And six, is our compensation system aligned with our values?
So 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. And 54% of women of color feel stress on account of their race. So a potential result of not addressing these issues is an exodus of phenomenal talent in the legal profession. Also, your organization could develop or already has developed a reputation of being racist and, or sexist. So this leads to 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. So here, if necessary, hire a diverse consulting firm to examine hiring and advancement policies and ensure that your policies aren't inadvertently harming lawyers of color and women. This leads us to best practice number three, regarding communications with employees. Here have frequent, transparent and empathetic communications with employees.
Now, empathy, let's take a look at that for a second. This is the ability to recognize, understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. Empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately. It involves experiencing another person's point of view and enables helping behaviors that come from within rather than being forced. And I think all of us can probably think of a time when we went to help someone, but it felt forced from our inner being or our inner world. It didn't feel like it was coming from a genuine place. Versus those times we've helped people where we were really motivated internally by this desire to help. It didn't feel forced. It was coming from a place of empathy and greater love. So that's what the communications need to be like is to really practice empathy and exhibit empathy as you navigate leadership and the things that are going on with the organization's employees. So how do we increase empathy? We have to engage with others, really that's the only way. We have to ask questions. We have to listen deeply and tentatively. We have to practice courage, meaning we have to be willing to hear things that we don't like, and we need to be open to making changes to help the other person. So this is a way that we can actually increase our empathy.
So what about communications. In terms of issues, lawyers have reported stress and overwhelm that these have increased while at the same time they are feeling less supported by their organizations. And then this is especially true for women lawyers who bear the brunt of childcare, family care and homeschooling for their kiddos. Additionally, for the most part billable hour requirements weren't reduced while salary reductions or furloughs were wide spread. Naturally, this led to greater disillusionment and disenchantment with the practice of law. So in terms of solutions, one is to provide regular, clear and transparent communications about the organization's current and future goals, opportunities, and challenges. And also to really evaluate whether expectations around goals and opportunities match reality, because here sometimes less is more, but sometimes less is just less.
Now years ago, I worked for an organization that every single year around Thanksgiving, they did layoffs and it became a joke with it, you know, internally with the employees, because it was always like, "It's almost Thanksgiving, who's getting laid off?" And a colleague of mine reported one time after we had done another round of layoffs. And we were really starting to look skeletal and there were increasingly unrealistic expectations placed on those of us who were still there. We were starting to be expected to do the work of two to three people, and that's just not feasible. And so a coworker of mine said, "You know, sometimes less is more, but sometimes less is just less and we can't get the work done." And the way he said it was so poignant and so striking to me, and I've always remembered that, is that something that perhaps your organization is doing, that it is not a case of less is more, but it's a case of less is less and it just can't get done because there aren't enough people, there aren't enough resources. So another solution is for supervising attorneys, department chairs, and practice heads to reach out to all team members and see how they're doing, and if they need help meeting deadlines. If so, and if help is provided, do not punish the people who need extra help, because of course the sends the message you can't ask for and receive extra help. Also having leadership model asking for help from others, or relying on organizational support to help with obligations for things like childcare. This sets that tone for others within the organization that, yes, we want you to ask for help. We want you to use these resources. This is all here for you. And then that will have, I imagine quite a trickle down effect to employees within the organization.
So let's look at best practice number four, which is around written policies. And for this lawyers said they want clear, written policies about work expectations. These policies need to set clear boundaries and address work from home expectations. And it needs to be more than writing down the billable hour requirement. Here you want to take the pulse of your organization and see what is right for your employees in terms of when they can realistically be available for phone calls, meetings, et cetera, do not adopt a 24/7 availability policy because this just greatly heightened stress, overwork and anxiety. You want to encourage vacation and time off. Now, again, now that we're a couple of years into the pandemic, I imagine many, if not, all of your organizations have already been doing these things and have been looking at these and addressing written policies, but perhaps it's time to reevaluate them or take the pulse of your attorneys again, see if the policies are matching the needs and expectations of the attorneys, or if tweaks need to be made. So in terms of providing part-time and flex time work options for lawyers, the of lawyers in the survey said they want transparent part-time working policies, written criteria for advancement, a clear pathway to more senior positions, and here making sure that these attorneys get good work and opportunities for professional development. So really the same thing I imagine as most of, you know, the full-time employees want, the part-time and flex time employees want these access to these things as well and opportunities for advancement, even though their schedule looks different than full-time folks.
So let's look at best practice number five, around parental support. And here lawyers said they want greater parental resources and support. So lawyers with children, especially young ones, face daunting tasks of juggling work, parenting, and perhaps homeschooling. So for this lawyers said they want things like one, backup childcare, two, tutoring support, three, stipends or bonuses to help offset childcare costs and elder care responsibilities, four, parental support workshops, five, adding more months of paid parental leave, and six, adding more days to personal time off. Now, all of these are pretty expensive to implement, and it's not very realistic to expect all of these to be implemented quickly.
So once again, just asking your attorneys, taking the pulse of your organization and seeing what their top desires are, and then seeing if there are steps that can be taken to address some of these desires and provide some of these solutions. And then finally, best practice number six, around attorney wellness. Lawyers want employers to strengthen wellness and mental health programs. Lawyers reported that they expect employers to provide wellness resources, including guidance about enhancing mental health and wellbeing, additional support for working parents and personal outreach by their employers. Now different resources can be provided here such as workshops or lectures by wellness professionals, such as myself, a platform for working parents to share ideas and groups solve problems, and then fund social events for lawyers like a cooking class or a book club, and then deemphasizing alcohol at these events.
So let's do a quick hypothetical based on information I have just shared. The Alliance Law Organization is seeing an increase in overwhelm and stress amongst its attorneys. The management team has tasked Chief Wellness Officer, Leia Organa to figure out ways to help attorneys. What are some things she can do? One, she can create or hire a company to create a survey, to find out what's going on with the lawyers and what they need. Second or two, she can meet with each practice group to hear what each group's needs are and what their attorneys are needing extra support with. Three, she can create a focused group or she can create focused groups within the organization that target specific groups of people. For example, a women's group, a working dads group, an LGBTQIA plus group. And four, she can reach out to wellness centers to see if they have wellness materials that she can provide to attorneys.
All right, so now let's look at individual best practices because we have our piece to contribute. Employers, have their piece. And then we also have our piece. One is to set realistic expectations for ourselves and others around us. We need to convey to others when personal issues are arising that may inhibit our ability to complete tasks. Now, with this only share what you feel comfortable and safe sharing, but just giving people a heads up, "Hey, you know, maybe we had a death in the family," or, "I'm not feeling well." Or, "You know, this time of the year "is always a little bit tough for me "due to some family stuff. "I'm just going to need a day off, "or I'm just going to need a few hours in this afternoon," that way other people within your team and within the organization know that you may be unavailable at certain points. The second is to negotiate boundaries at work and at home.
Now I know setting boundaries is easier said than done. However, I will say that every single attorney who I work with has boundary issues where they feel like they are working too much, and there's not enough separation between work and home. So here's a suggestion. If your work demands from supervising attorneys are becoming too great, find a friend at work who can help you craft a message to the supervising attorney about your workload that won't be viewed negatively. For example, perhaps you craft a message that says, "You know, I really want to provide "the best work product that I can. "I really value you and your time and you helping me. "I value the client's time. "And I'm really a little bit, "I'm struggling right now "because I have multiple priorities. "And I don't know which one is the most important. "Can we sit down and go through my tasks "and then really prioritize what needs to be done?" Things like that, where we are couching them in wanting to be better and wanting to show up and really provide good work product, they tend to be received much better than just complaining. So just think about how you can craft messages. And then of course, if possible, carve out time that's optimal for your schedule to work on tasks. I know a lot of attorneys who will not work at dinnertime because they want to spend that time with their family. And it's really important to them. And so they take two or three hours off at night to have dinner and time with their partner and kiddos. And then maybe they do a little bit of work later at night. So whatever works for you, see if you can create a schedule that's optimal for your needs and how you want to experience your life. Another best practice is to know when to ask for help.
Now, there is this mentality in the practice of law that we're not supposed to ask for help. We're supposed to know all of the answers at a moment's notice and be able to do everything, you know, at the drop of a hat and basically charge less than a hundred dollars, right? This is not realistic. So we need to start becoming more mindful of when we need to ask for help and then mustering up the courage to do it. Another thing that we can do is to use what we've learned about ourselves during the pandemic to our advantage. So can we spend some time reflecting on what the pandemic has taught us about ourselves and our strengths? Where do we flourish? Where do we need additional support or training, or what areas of law really interest us, right? So we're really pulling the nuggets out of the pandemic and what we've learned about ourselves during this time to help us move forward powerfully in our careers. And then taking care of our needs, making sure to ask ourselves, what do I need right now? And then providing it if possible. And as always practicing, gentle, loving kindness towards ourselves, really remembering that no one has mastered this, no one has mastered self-care. We are all learning and we are taking the steps that we need to take care of ourselves. So being really gentle with that and reminding ourselves of that.
Okay, let's pivot now to hormones and neuro-transmitters. And here I'm going to teach us how we can set ourselves up for success, because that is what we want to do. Just quickly, hormones are the messenger molecules of our endocrine system. And the endocrine system is super important to our body and our being, because it regulates all of our biological processes in the body from conception through adulthood and into old age. This includes things like development of the brain and nervous system, the growth and function of the reproductive system, and then things like metabolism and blood sugar levels. And if you are curious, an endocrinologist is a hormone doctor. So neuro-transmitters are the messenger molecules of our brains and our nervous systems. So that's where they reside. And they send messages throughout the body, to every cell, organ and tissue helping us do everything from moving our arm to feeling happy or sad. So our hormones and neurotransmitters are super important for how we operate internally and how we interface with the world.
In terms of culprits of hormonal imbalances here in the US, the top three are one, too much insulin from sugar. The average American consumes an excess of 60 pounds of sugar a year. This excess sugar is wreaking havoc on our systems and how our hormones and neurotransmitters operate within the body. A second culprit, which I'm going to focus on here today is that we have too much cortisol and adrenaline running through our systems due to stress. And then a third culprit is that we do not have enough thyroid, this is called hypothyroidism, which affects our metabolism and can make us feel tired, make us gain weight and make us sensitive to cold temperatures. When our hormones are out of whack, we can feel tired and depressed and be overweight. So just think about that, fatigue, depression, and being overweight. Can you think of any lawyers who may be in that bucket? So what we want to do is we want to get our hormones operating at normal levels and functioning optimally. We actually want to decrease cortisol. Now cortisol is our stress hormone that is released for fight, flight, freeze or fawn situations. You may be familiar with fight, flight, freeze. Those are trauma responses. Fawn is also a trauma response, and it's also called appease. So it's really appeasing to someone to help lower tense interpersonal dynamics, or trying to diffuse a situation. Chronic stress and therefore elevated cortisol levels increase one's risk for depression, mental illness, and it lowers life expectancy. So we want to decrease cortisol. What we want to increase is dopamine and serotonin. So what are these? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that's known as the feel-good hormone. So this hormone is part of regulating our mood and helping us access feelings of reward and motivation. It's also involved in executive functioning, which are mental skills like working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Now, if you recall, back when I was sharing the results of the substance use and mental health issues survey, we talked about executive functioning and how alcohol use or substance use can really affect this. And so what we want to do is see if we can increase dopamine within our system so we can increase our ability to access optimal executive functioning skills. Looking at serotonin, this is a hormone that helps regulate our mood. And when our serotonin levels are normal, we can feel happier, calmer, more focused, less anxious, and more emotionally stable. Many of these things are qualities and feelings that the legal profession is really focused on, certainly emotional stability and emotional regulation, that moving away from that emotionally dysregulated state into one where we can be present and centered and aware of our feelings and how we are interacting with others. Okay. So what can we do to help regulate our hormones?
The first is to look at our diet. Can we incorporate more veggies and water? One of the philosophies of eating and it may resonate with you is rather than being on a diet or inhibiting what we consume and that can often cross confusion our systems because the more we limit ourselves to something, oftentimes the more we actually want it is to actually add veggies to our plate. So we're starting to fill the plate up more and more with veggies, which will naturally start to reduce our intake of perhaps foods that are really sugary or full of carbs in our intake. So if we incorporate more veggies and water. Physical activity, whatever it is that you really enjoy, get outside or get into some type of movement so we can let the cortisol out and let endorphins in. Also practicing mindful breathing and mindful actioning. Mindfulness calms our nervous system, which lowers cortisol. Now you may hear a lot about mindfulness in the practice of law right now, because there is such an emphasis in helping us start to become more aware of our feelings, our thoughts, our behaviors and again, the way we interact with others and mindfulness is a piece to this. And then getting in the habit of asking yourself, what do I need right now? And I mentioned this a little bit ago, but perhaps some of us did not grow up in a home where we were asked that, or perhaps we haven't had a legal career where we have had the opportunity to ask that of ourselves, or we've never had anyone ask that of us. And so this question can be really challenging for us, especially in the beginning. What do I need right now? I don't know. That's okay. But we just keep asking, we keep opening up that connection and you're going to start to get very clear answers over time if you don't already receive them. Once you start getting clear answers on what it is that you need, what your body needs, what your system needs, see if you can provide it, if at all feasible. And then do a life review. What's working. What's not. What do you need to thrive? Spend some time figuring out what you need in order to have a courageous conversation with someone else to express your needs. Now, this is similar to doing the review of your skills and where you need extra support with in terms of what you've learned about yourself in the pandemic, right? This is goes hand in hand with that. But again, it's taking stock of who we are, where we're at in our life, where we desire to go and then seeing how can we match up, you know, our current experience with the reality and the future that we wish to have.
So let's do another hypothetical. This one is attorney Chewbacca is feeling really crabby and short tempered. He wasn't feeling this way an hour ago. And he's wondering what triggered the mood change. What are some things that he can do to self-regulate? So one, he can look and find out when was the last time he ate a healthy meal and drank water? Does he need a snack and or a water break? Many of us are actually really dehydrated and perhaps malnourished. We aren't giving ourselves proper nutrition or water regularly throughout the day. And so we're operating from a less than optimal state because our body is really needing that energy. And so asking ourselves, when was the last time I actually had water or I had food, do I actually need that right now? Will that help address this crappiness that I'm feeling? Another thing that he can do is he can take a work break even for just five minutes just to breathe and connect with himself, and then perhaps jot down what he's feeling in his body, right? Again, bringing awareness to the body. What are our feelings? What are our sensations right now? And is there anything that we can do to address that. Third, he can do an activity that he loves for a little bit to reset his system and get his dopamine, serotonin and endorphins flowing. So whatever it is that he loves to do. Now, for me personally, I take a lot of walks out in the sunshine. That's something that really helps me reset my system when I'm feeling a little bit depleted. I have an attorney friend who's in a band. And so you can't see it when you Zoom with him because of the way he has his camera set up, but he has his guitar over to the side and his mic. And so he just pivots his chair and will start to play his guitar and then get back to work when he needs to. But that's the way that he takes a break. So what is it for yourself? What is it that you need to do or what brings you joy to help reset yourself? And then fourth, see if you can track if there was something specific that triggered him, perhaps an email or request that was annoying. Now I'm sure many of us are very aware of the people or the life experiences that we have that really trigger us. But the more we can play some consciousness or awareness around this, the more we actually set ourselves up to win, because we can then prepare for when that triggering event happens, right? Perhaps it's a specific person, or it's a certain time of the day. We get really crappy. Maybe it's a couple of hours after lunch and we haven't eaten and we're getting crabby. But the more that we have awareness around this, the more we can prepare for that and then put ourselves in a better position to handle those inevitable life experiences in perhaps a gentler more graceful way.
All right, let's move on to the last piece of this CLE. And it's all about self-advocacy. Now here, one quote that has been attributed to Michael Jordan, who is arguably of the best basketball players in the universe. He has said, "I can accept failure. "Everyone fails at something, "but I can't accept not trying." That is what we're going to do with this piece is we are going to try, we are going to do things that really set us up to win, or to really help us feel empowered. And we are going to try and just see what happens. So in terms of self-advocacy, we need to have courageous conversations. And these are conversations that make us uncomfortable, but we have them anyway. And the term courageous conversations is a term that I actually learned years ago from the nonprofit that I volunteer for. I work with kiddos who are in the child welfare system due to abuse or neglect. And so I have to have many courageous conversations with the kiddos and what's happening, you know, with their CPS or child protective services case. If parents are involved, I have to have courageous conversations with them. And so when I was in my training and the nonprofit talked about courageous conversations, that term really resonated with me. I like it more than challenging conversations personally, because when I hear challenging conversations, my body actually shrinks a little bit. I start to feel dread, a little bit of anxiety. Like it doesn't feel good. And for a courageous conversation, I want to be in a really empowered place. And even the word courageous makes me feel good. I am courageous. We are courageous for doing and having these conversations. Use whatever term resonates with you, but in the CLE, I'm going to call them courageous conversations.
Okay. So I'm going to teach you a pro tip for a courageous conversation, and it is, ask for 100% of what you want 100% of the time and be willing to stick around to negotiate. I'm going to say it again. Ask for 100% of what you want 100% of the time and be willing to stick around to negotiate. And we're going to walk through this a little bit because this can be really intimidating for folks, myself included. When we go to have a courageous conversation and we go in with the idea, I am going to ask for a hundred percent of what I want and be willing to stick around to negotiate, that can bring up a lot of different feelings in people. And if you just notice yourself right now, how are you responding to me even sharing this? You may feel excited. You may feel dread. You may feel resistance. Any of your feelings is totally fine and legitimate. But if this is something that you want to start practicing, clarity is key to this. We as humans, our brains love clarity. We like things to be clear. We feel safer and more secure when we have clarity. We do not do well with confusion and muddledness.
So what we want to do when we go into this type of conversation is be super clear on what it is that we desire. So the first thing that I want you to do before you even have this conversation is to get into your body. I want you to do something that connects you to your body and activates the serotonin and endorphins. I want those flowing through your system. I don't want cortisol in your system if at all possible, I want you to be in your body. I want you to feel joy and pleasure and love, you know, just to really feel those good feelings that really flood our systems and make us feel really good about life. So whatever activity it is for you, that gets you into your body and allows you to feel those, access those feelings. Then I want you to take at least two minutes and journal on things you have excelled at. I want you to write down every single thing you can think of so that you can see with your own eyes how awesome you are. Now, many of us have had experiences in the legal profession where we have been told, or we have received messaging that we're not good enough, that it wasn't perfect, that it was just, you know, incomplete or, you know, it wasn't perfect, really. So we may have developed internalized messages that we're not good enough. This journaling activity is helping us rewire our brains and helping us see in concrete writing how incredible we actually are. There are so many things you excel at. The very fact that you are an attorney and you are listening to this means that you have excelled at dedication, commitment, conviction, persistence, right? It takes all of these qualities to become a lawyer. And so at the very, very least you have those. So just start there, if you can't think of anything else and allow those qualities to be written down on paper and allow those to just kind of flow out and then see what else comes from it. All right. So after you've spent at least two minutes journaling on everything, you've excelled at, longer is totally fine. I want you to take some time and I want you to write down everything you think you desire. I don't want you to limit yourself. If you have even the smallest desire for something, write it down. There is nothing too minimal or nothing too big, write it all down. And then I actually want you to put the desire list away and not look at it for at least 24 hours. So what this means is you're going to have to have some time and prep time before you actually have this courageous conversation where you self-advocate, because there is going to be some time delays that I'm teaching you, that I want you to build in before you go in for the conversation.
Once you've done that process, and it's been at least 24 hours later, I want you to do it again. So move your body again, get the endorphins and the serotonin flooding your system. You know, really feeling embodied, feeling good and empowered. Then again, if necessary, journal for at least two minutes on everything you've excelled at. There are so many things you could probably write until the end of time on all of the things you've excelled at. So go for however long feels right to you. And then you get your desire list out, read it, see if everything resonates or if tweaks need to be made. We need that time and that spaciousness there, that minimum of 24 hours, because new ideas come to us or circumstances change. And so we want to make sure that this desire list is as reflective of our needs and desires as possible. And then just rinse and repeat, keep doing this process until the list is 100% of what you truly desire. And it's okay if it takes a week or if it takes two weeks, give yourself some grace and allow yourself to take as much time as you need until this list is exactly, just has nailed exactly what you want. All right. And then it's time for the courageous conversation.
So the first thing you want to do is schedule a time to talk with the other person. And as you feel comfortable, giving the other person a heads up about what the conversation will be about to ease their anxiety. Then before the conversation, pump yourself up, do something that makes you feel awesome about yourself so you go in with hits of serotonin. Maybe there's a song you love to do a dance break to, just blast it in dance if you're in a place where you can do that. Whatever. Do whatever it is that makes you feel really good. And then go in and have that conversation or hop on the phone or Zoom, however you do it. You can read directly from your desire list. You don't have to memorize this information. Regardless of how you do it or if you are deciding that you want to memorize it, make sure you are very, very clear in what you are asking for so the other person knows exactly what's on the negotiating table. Muddled asks generally don't end in our favor. Now I mentioned earlier that our brains love clarity, and they do. Our brains do not do well when things aren't clear. I want you to think about a time when someone asks you something and the request wasn't clear. Did you actually go do something or did you just let it go? For me, if someone isn't clear about what they want from me, I don't know how to respond and so I don't do anything. And that is human nature. When we don't have clarity, when we're not sure what's going to happen, we don't do anything. And so this is going to be similar. If you are not super clear in your ask, they're going to the other person or the other people are going to have a really hard time accommodating your asks because they're not going to know what it is you want. So feel free to give them, actually give them the written list if you want. That can be really helpful as that person or those people go back and review it and negotiate and come back to you with a counter offer if that's what they do. And then finally do not limit yourself in your ask. Asking for and receiving only breadcrumbs keeps us hungry. It is not our job to determine if our ask is too big or too much. That is the other person's job. And if it's too big or too much, they are the ones who are responsible for their emotional response to it. It is not our job. Our job is to show up, ask for a hundred percent of what we want and be willing to stick around to negotiate. All right. So that is the ask for a hundred percent of what you want a hundred percent of the time and be willing to stick around, to negotiate pro tip in terms of self-advocacy and courageous conversations. All right.
So I just want you to take a few moments and think about a courageous conversation that you need to have with someone to advocate for yourself. And as you do just think about how do you feel when you think about this conversation. Does it feel good? Are you excited, anxious, multiple feelings? A lot of times we can have conflicting feelings. Are you clear in what you desire to ask for, or do your desires feel muddled, right? When you do this process. I need to get really clear so that I can go in, in the best position possible to advocate for myself. And what do you need to do to get into your body and get those endorphins flowing. We want to be in the body for this experience. We do not want it to be solely a cerebral experience. So getting into the body super important.
Okay, let's round it out. And I'm going to take us back to ethics. So we have a number of ethical obligations, but going back to the core ones of competence, diligence, communications, and confidentiality. When we don't feel good about ourselves or in our bodies, when we don't feel safe in our environment, when we don't feel appreciated, seen, validated, or valued, it has a tremendous impact in the way that we operate. We move from a state of calm and ease to a stress state, which inhibits our ability to function optimally, think clearly, regulate emotions more easily, navigate life more gracefully. And then at this point we are pushing a boulder up a mountain emotionally. So we are at a heightened risk of violating our ethical obligations when we don't take care of ourselves.
So I want you to just spend a moment processing today's information, what I've taught in the CLE. Processing information and experiences is crucial for healthy integration of things going on in our life. But many of us as lawyers, we are too busy. We don't get a chance to do this. We aren't given time to do this. And so if you ever feel yourself a little bit scattered throughout the day or at the end of the day, it could be because you haven't processed things that have happened. So right now, I just want you to think what struck you, What was really a poignant information from this CLE that you can take with you? Where do you see yourself in the content I presented? And I presented a lot of different and different pieces. What do you need support with? And what's an action step you can take to better meet your needs?
So for conclusions, we have three of them. Change must occur within the legal profession because the numbers for substance use and mental health issues are incompatible with a sustainable professional culture. The second is that too many members of the profession are working in settings that aren't laser-focused on the necessary strategies that we need to have to develop a truly diverse group of talented lawyers. And then third, lawyer stress is very high and cortisol is flooding our systems. Taking care of ourselves and advocating for our needs, help us feel better and act from a more balanced and regulated place.
And then some key takeaways, check in with yourself throughout the day to see what you need provided, if possible. To get clear on what you need from your employer to thrive, ask for a hundred percent of it and be willing to stick around and negotiate. Three, if you're 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 or a courageous conversation. And then four start implementing steps to reduce cortisol and build up dopamine and serotonin in your system. This means eating healthy food, drinking sufficient water, taking breaks to do things you like and practicing mindfulness. And then remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. This isn't all going to come together in 24 hours. It is just those little steps, those micro steps we take every single day that lead to big changes over time.
Again, my name is Alyssa Johnson and I have taught the CLE. What COVID Has Shown Us About the Practice of Law. We're not robots, and it's time to address our feelings and needs. If you have any questions or wish to talk more with me, please visit my website. www.alyssajohnson.love. That's www.alyssajohnson.love and you can submit a form on my website that I will personally answer. Thank you so much.