Well-Being Week in Law

You probably were not aware of it, but this week is Well-Being Week in Law. I hope you always are focused on your well-being and especially this week. So much has happened in the last year during the pandemic to challenge our well-being, and it is essential that we are ever cognizant of where we stand on the spectrum of personal well-being and know how to combat signs of threats to our mental health from external forces.

This week of well-being observance for lawyers was launched in 2020 by the Institute for Well-Being in Law, a non-profit dedicated to advancing systemic change in the legal profession to promote well-being as a core component of personal and professional success. Prompted by the findings of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and the release in 2017 of its report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, the focus of the Institute is addressing growing concerns about mental health, substance use and addiction, and stress affecting lawyers. The leadership of the Institute recognizes that it is imperative to create culture changes in how the profession prioritizes the well-being of its members.

The findings of the National Task Force do not exist in a vacuum. In a June 2020 report published by the Association of Corporate Counsel, results of a poll showed that 75 percent of respondents were experiencing moderate to very high levels of burnout, including sleep disorders, chronic fatigue and increasing use of controlled substances. And the American Bar Association has identified well-being as a major focus in its work during the last several years. The agreement among professionals is that the problems did not start with the pandemic but have been exacerbated by issues related to the pandemic, racial justice reckoning, and environmental disasters, which all have led to increased levels of stress and associated health problems.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms threatening personal well-being, please seek the help you need in the medical community, professional organizations, or on line at the Institute for Well-Being in Law.

Remember that you cannot be good for others if you are not good to yourself.

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The Joys of Conservation

Tomorrow is Earth Day. It is always celebrated on April 22nd and has its roots in the student protests surrounding the US involvement in the Vietnam Conflict in the late 1960’s. It was conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, the great state of my birth, and it led to important US environmental legislation and a global recognition of Earth Day in the 1990’s.

Here are some Earth Day facts to share with your friends:

Senator Nelson founded Earth Day after witnessing a massive oil spill that leaked millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969.

The very first Earth Day sparked an environmental movement and led to the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later that year.

The observation of Earth Day was also influential in passing environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Education Act, and more.

In 2009, the UN designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.

And it is estimated that over a billion people participate in Earth Day every year, making it the largest secular observance in the world.

Earth Day has become a special day of celebration for me. My family respected the environment and contributed to environmental causes like recycling and water conservation long before it was popular. As children we were taught the importance of these commitments and our responsibilities to get involved.

And concerns for the environment and protection of nature are still very important to me today. The volunteer work that I do as a board member of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust has become a passion, and every acre of land that we protect with tools like conservation easements and fee acquisitions of pristine lands is a cause for celebration. Sometimes it is preservation of a large parcel of land in the Shenandoah Valley, often a farm that has been in a family for generations, and other times it is only a few acres that add to the enjoyment of nature in urban settings in the communities of Northern Virginia bordering Washington, DC. All of these opportunities improve the quality of life for residents of those areas and help reduce the effects of climate change.

Did you know that tree canopies reduce the carbon footprint? Did you know that trees take in carbon and emit oxygen. So every acre of natural forest that is saved is a benefit to climate control. Natural forests also benefit water quality, reduce erosion and provide homes for wild animals.

There is so much that all of us can do in the fight to preserve green spaces and reduce the effects of climate change. Lawyers are naturals for this work because of their advocacy training, knowledge of the legislative process, and understanding of land use issues. So, I encourage you to get involved!

Check out this link to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust to see how your talents can be used there and in similar organizations throughout the country.

Happy Earth Day!

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Thought For The Week: “All things are bound together. All things connect. Whatever happens to the Earth, happens to the children of the Earth.” Chief Seattle

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Young Lawyers, Listen Up! What You Say About Yourself Defines You

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the most influential leadership trainers in the country. I have taken his course and am a certified leadership counselor through his organization. I based my book Top Down Leadership for Women Lawyers on much of what I had learned from Marshall.

Below are excerpts from one of his recent blogs on his website. The gist of it is that what you say about yourself through your behaviors and your speech determines whether you receive positive or negative recognition and how successful you will be.

Here is a summary of what Marshall has to say:

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams. I want to help you make your life a little better.

Start by refusing to define yourself as a jerk. Here’s how it happens.

We all have that relative who is always late. She comes in and says, “Oh I am so sorry, I am always late.” Or, we hear another relative who always makes embarrassing gaffes. He excuses himself saying, “I always say the wrong thing.

In reality, these people who “admit” their mistakes are setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, they are giving themselves permission to always say or do the wrong thing.

The fact is that what we say about ourselves, both positive and negative, defines who we are.

How about the boss who, on the positive side, says things like… “I am usually able to figure these things out,” or “I am dedicated to outworking the competition.”

On the negative side, the boss may say things like…”I am a bad listener” or “I am not detail oriented.”

These little sayings add up to your definition of who you are. They are a group of behaviors that you define as “me.” The more we talk, the more we define our unalterable essence.

Well. Let me alter your perspective.

If we buy into our behavior definition of “me,” which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your “need to be me” get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized inappropriate behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”?

There comes a moment for all of us when change becomes possible, when we realize that stern allegiance to our chosen behavior is pointless vanity. We realize that we are hurting our chances for success.

Shedding the “excessive need to be me” is a defining moment. It’s an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false, and/or probably pointless, notion of “me.” Free yourself from those behaviors to reach your full potential.

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Thought For The Week: “With so many things coming back in style, I can’t wait until morals, respect and intelligence become a trend again.” – Denzel Washington

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What’s Happening in Law Firms Today?

Law firms are changing. The pandemic has changed just about everything in business, and law firms are no exception. So what are the big changes that law firms and their members are experiencing these days?

The biggest news involves bonuses. The Internet is jumping on an almost daily basis with news of the ongoing bonus war and one more BigLaw firm added to the big bonus list. Even big signing bonuses for associates, sometimes up to six figures.

All of this bonus activity has caused me to wonder what is driving it. After all, the law business has just come through a difficult year where most everyone is working remotely and the brick and mortar offices are sitting empty but very expensive for those firms with long-term leases. On the other hand, most firms are finding that there is no diminution of the quality of the work and profits look good. So it is a bad news, good news analysis.

The answer to this bonus activity appears to lie in the increased lateral movement in large law firms these days. The lateral movement is particularly significant among corporate transactions attorneys, and bonuses are a mechanism that firms use to retain talent and keep clients in place. According to one legal recruiter, “I definitely feel like corporate associate recruiting is the busiest I’ve seen since I’ve started my business.” Another source describes the lateral activity right now as “absolutely absurd.”

So there is that. But it’s hardly a panacea for the increase in mental health issues, stress and burnout in the legal profession during these trying pandemic times. The question will be whether money will solve these problems. My guess is that it will not, but it will keep people in place for the near future and it will be a significant factor in the competition for market leadership.

And there also are other changes in law firms related to the pandemic. With the success of remote practice in terms of law firm profitability and the convenience of working from home for many practicing lawyers, the next challenge I expect is whether the five-day-work-week at the office will survive. According to some sources, law firms are beginning to address the benefits of bringing everyone back to the office full-time. One source reports that offices are being reconfigured with the concept of telecommuting in mind and with a reduction in personal office space in lieu of more collaborative spaces.

And this is likely to create yet another bidding war. One that is about lifestyle not money.

Only time will tell.

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The Student Loan Forgiveness Program Works!

The substantial student loan debt that many law school graduates incur follows them a long time into their practices. It hangs over their heads like dark clouds, and it affects their life style options. Those options are not limited to expensive vacations and other choices that may seem extravagant. No, they include options for home ownership, education choices for children, and job flexibility.

Some young lawyers have the ability to have their loans paid off by family members or other interested parties. That is indeed fortunate for them, although I always hope that those “pay-off” scenarios include leaving portions of the debt with the young lawyers. They need to have a financial stake in their futures.

But other young lawyers must look elsewhere for loan forgiveness, and the current federal program is the place to start until additional loan forgiveness becomes law — as is being promoted by the Biden administration and certain members of Congress. See this article on options for federal student loan forgiveness, and discover what might be available for you.

The public service option for those employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization is a place to start for young lawyers. It is an especially good opportunity for those of you who think that you cannot take another day in private practice. Billable hours and representing the establishment do not appeal to everyone, but the high salaries keep them there.

And for those who say it never will happen for them and that the effort for loan forgiveness is too weighty for a young lawyer with practice responsibilities, check out this success story.

Is this a perfect fix? No. But hopefully you have learned by now not to sacrifice “good” on the altar of “perfect.” It is a dead end.

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The Beauty of Teamwork

I LOVE March Madness. Absolutely love it. Some of my enthusiasm is because I am a college basketball fan, and some of it is because of the memories.

When our kids were young, we spent most spring breaks in the mountains on skis. After a day on the slopes, we would go to a bar/tavern in a little western town for burgers — as long as there was a TV tuned to March Madness. I still remember being in Crested Butte, Colorado and seeing Duke’s Christian Laettner sink that famous shot to beat Kentucky during the 1992 Elite Eight. Everyone in the joint, even those like us who were not Duke fans, screamed with pleasure as that beautiful shot swished through the hoop. Those memories are precious.  

What I love most about March Madness is seeing the flawless teamwork from players at that level. Every one of them understands that he has a job to do, and they have to work together like a smooth operating machine to get the desired result — winning, of course. If you have been watching 2021 March Madness, you know that it does not get much better than watching the teamwork that Gonzaga demonstrates on the court. No wonder they are 30-0 for the season. I have them to take the trophy, but we will see ….

Teamwork is also important in law practice. It is not a place for prima donnas, who try to steal the spotlight. If you are not prepared to be an effective team member, with a team mentality, it will be challenging to be successful. Team members can spot a member out for personal glory in a heartbeat, and they will drop him or her like a bad habit. 

Teamwork is so important that law schools need to present more opportunities to experience it and learn it. MBA programs figured that out years ago and have been emphasizing it ever since. They listened to what the industry was telling them — that solo players are not as effective in the C Suite and that training needs to start in graduate business programs.

Law schools need to take that same approach. They need to teach skills that are valuable to the team. They need to emphasize that teamwork means not having to dominate the conversation and learning to listen. It means listening to other team members and showing respect for their ideas. It means being reliable and having the backs of your teammates. It means being good for your word. And it means working as hard as necessary to get the job done, even if that means making coffee or fixing the copier. Nothing is off limits for a true team player.  

So be a team player. And remember that team play is not just for men — and, in my experience, women are instinctively drawn to team play. And that includes women in college basketball.

As an equal opportunity fan, I love those games, too.

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