The Mindspace Podcast #13: Lawyer Well being with Yan Besner and Bree Buchanan

welcome to the Mindspace podcast I’m
Joe Flanders thanks for tuning in the mind space podcast is my personal
in-depth exploration of well-being I’m deeply convinced that understanding the
science and practice of well-being is the key to living a healthier more
joyful and more meaningful life join me as I learn and share the most inspiring
insights about human flourishing from leading experts in the field so I
actually have two guests on the podcast today my first guest is Yan Besner on
award-winning commercial lawyer and partner at the national firm Osler after
struggling with mental health early in his career he’s become a champion for
mental health at his firm Yan and I discuss his challenges the treatments
that helped him get back on track and his new passion for promoting well-being
in his community my second guest is Bri Buchanan also a lawyer and the co-chair
of the National Task Force on lower well-being in the US the task force has
shed some light on the high rates of depression anxiety and substance abuse
among other things in the legal profession and also published a report
called the path to lawyer well-being practical recommendations for positive
change I spoke with Bri about the research the
task force’s recommendations in her own personal story of how she got inspired
to do this work I meant bringing in when I spoke with them on a panel at a
conference this past summer and I was really moved actually by their
authenticity and their engagement with what I perceived to be a very serious
and complex problem I’ve seen many lawyers in my private practice and have
done consulting work with several law firms so I’m aware of a very entrenched
culture in the field and it’s a culture that values hard work financial rewards
and sometimes status often at the expense of personal health and
well-being in the scary data on mental illness in this population speaks to the
magnitude of the problem and yet the culture really does seem to
be changing thanks to people like Bree and yen it’s an inspiring story of
transformation and resilience and I wanted to share with you on the podcast
before we get to the interviews I just wanted to mention that if you feel that
you need some support for some of the mental health problems that we discuss
in this podcast or if you feel that your organization needs a partner in creating
a human centered culture please reach out to mindspace at info at mine space
well being calm and here’s my interview with yan Besner and then Bree Buchanan yeah and Besner welcome to the mind
space podcast thank you for having me it’s a it’s a pleasure the pleasure is
all mine and presumably listeners as well as we get into the really
interesting topic today yeah can you just tell us what you do right now and
how you got into what you do so I am a lawyer and partner at the national law
firm we call those the Austin Harcourt LLP we are a leading national law firm
specializing in the corporate commercial space maybe we can kind of transition
over to kind of the important theme of the day here which is the whole issue of
well being in the legal profession and I know you’re very interested in it and
you’re something of a champion at Osler maybe you can tell us how you got into
that how that interest developed for you well-being mental health balance is
something that’s near and dear to me simply because like many when I started
out in private practice I struggled with it a lot of hours a lot of pressure you
you may have been someone who or at least me was who may have excelled in
school but then you’re in a high performing high achieving work
environment with everyone who finished first second third in their class and
with leading minds in their respective fields who you know excel at speeds and
rhythms and who juggles schedules and who are satisfying demands both external
and internal both with family that can be that can be both motivating of course
and and on spiring and you want to emulate that and you want to be like
them but can at times be quite overwhelming and so and that’s that’s
anyone who comes in even keel in terms of their mood will will see and
recognize that I’m programmed a little bit differently I mean I’ve
having done quite a bit of self-awareness and soul-searching over
my time do you know that I’m someone who traditionally has suffered from
irrational guilt and excessive anxiety and so facing a challenge as daunting as
that in private practice and the demands that come with it I will react in my
style will be react to to feel a little bit of an to feel anxiety and the levels
can depend when it’s only later on in life I’m approaching 40 that you realize
that that’s just how I react that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m scared of
the challenge or I’m not willing to to deal with it but when you’re in your
early 20s and all you want to do is please and satisfy and accomplish both
for yourself and for those you’re working for it’s hard to kind of filter
it through and stay focused through the last 15 years of my practice yes you you
become a little bit more seasoned and you know what to expect when something
huge comes in and so you react it differently but being more aware of
triggers of why you feel what you feel and what you can do to make yourself
feel better is something that over the course of my career I’ve become a lot
more aware I’ve become a lot more proactive in in responding to those
triggers that would either be negative in terms of my reaction to you know big
work projects tough deadlines a testy client I’ve become more so to answer
your question I became more aware of my reactions and being a lot more proactive
in how I would respond to what is already a very demanding job
coupled with you know personal life which you need to have and over time as
I become more of a advisor / mentor even though I still you know seat-belt
mentorship and advisors from from my seniors you know I just don’t want
people to go through necessarily the same stresses I went through because I
now have the benefit of the information and benefit of hindsight and perspective
that maybe someone who has just finished school doesn’t necessarily have would
you feel comfortable talking about what you actually went through what what
exactly did you experience well I would you know my first year of practice you
know I worked an extreme amount of hours with a lot of deadlines that were
externally set and that were hard like hard deadlines and I realized that you
know not having a sense of control and I find a lot of lawyers in private
practice we’re all kind of type-a we all like to control and have control over
our schedules control over what we’re doing you know not necessarily knowing
what’s coming next can be a source of stress and for me that was a massive one
so the unknown would would cause me you know massive anxiety okay well I’ve done
this task well then what’s next you know when when am I going to be leaving you
know it’s I’ve done so many nights that you know past midnight but what’s next
or I’ve worked so many weekends in a row or more importantly you know now I’ve
sent this back well how am I done with this file or there’s is there gonna be
more I had but I had issues dealing with that that would cause me you know a
level of anxiety that I think which clearly was not I guess usual or normal
for for others but the way I just explained it to you now
was not something I was aware of necessarily at the time in part maybe
that was youth and / and maturity or naivete to what I was starting at in
terms of the career but I also think in part it’s it’s really just not having
that sense of control they’re feeling that you have a hold on to what’s going
on and and just accepting that this is the type of work you’re in try and
breathe a little bit better and just enjoy it as opposed to always wanting to
know you know what’s next how did you kind of get back on track what did you
what resources did you turn to to to make yourself feel a little bit more
stable and on top of things the hardest part about being in that darkness for
lack of a better way to describe it is you know you’re not feeling right you
know you’re not you know getting up and and and and attacking the day the way
you have in the past and and you’re feeling a massive weight emotional and
otherwise on on the simplest of tasks whether it’s getting dressed whether
it’s you know going to work making coffee something like that and if it
wasn’t for either close friends I guess it was tickler Lee who I was seeing at
the time who had opened me up to the idea of therapies I don’t know that I
would have thought and I don’t know that I would have been open to that idea
because you know it’s when we think of therapies whether it’s counseling
whether it’s medication or other things until I guess at that time it was a very
foreign taboo kind of concept or or his form of assistance to to go after I was
introduced to someone that I could speak to you know a counselor who was within I
guess a close network of someone who was close to me at the time so that was an
easy introduction to that and that was the that was I guess the first step just
being able to put out verbally you know what I was feeling what I was thinking
you know what were my struggles and that was incredibly helpful because I think
in my first year of practice with all the struggles of what I was dealing with
part of it for sure was you know the demands of the profession and part of it
is my programming and and that’s not something you know how you’re gonna
react to and until you’re faced with it or at least I wasn’t and and in going to
therapy weekly and have you know proper inward reflection and
discussions about why I react to how I react why I feel what I feel you know
what are the triggers to certain my feelings you know that helped me become
a lot more aware and you know and then with the therapist didn’t count you get
tools you know I mean it’s I’m sure this is something you you assist your clients
with as well is you know how to cope and I did that for for many years and and
that was incredibly helpful it helped me learn a lot it helped me gain a lot more
self-awareness on on my programming for lack of a better expression really like
how am I wired you know what makes me feel this way or anticipating you know a
new challenge that I’ll be coming I’ll be able to anticipate how I’m going to
react to it emotionally and know that it’s you know not as even-keel as I’d
want to but I guess the awareness makes it lessens the blow so that that was
incredibly helpful and and I was quite apprehensive to the idea at first simply
because you know I I didn’t realize to what extent that was common
I didn’t realize to what extent you know it shouldn’t be something that I should
be ashamed of you know quite frankly now it’s something I champion I think
everybody should have that kind of outlet you know I think at the time I
thought you know maybe I should be speaking to a family member to a friend
but what I really appreciated about therapy was the objectivity of it and
the perspective you know I think going into it I thought well this person’s not
gonna care about me so how they’re being able to give me the proper advice
there’s quite the opposite it’s I think they’re they’re actually very invested
and are coming up from a place of without bias and I was able to see
things a lot clearer when it came to my personal relationships my family and
quite frankly my job and you know how to attack those challenges
and how to deal with different people within my workplace and how to deal with
my work tasks many people who start to feel this way whether you know whether
you mentioned sort of being in a dark place whether they’re feeling depressed
or anxious or at risk for a burnout or any of these things there is this fear
that I come across a lot with my clients that this is kind of irreversible and
I’m never gonna be able to get to perform again I’m never gonna be able to
handle the emotional demands of my job but you went there and then kind of came
out on the other side and and you’re now an award-winning lawyer which is
incredible so you you know just the the sort of trajectory I but that we hit
adversity and we struggle then we find tools when come out on top and it seems
like it even produced for you an additional kind of layer of purpose and
meaning in your job yeah I think that’s true but it’s not you know it’s a
day-to-day thing Joe it’s not you know I can’t say you know when use expressions
came out on top you know I think what you know my my struggle with you know
anxiety and you know and it’s been it’s been diagnosed you know I’m a depressed
person and you know depression is just like any other any other I guess disease
or whatever you want to call it and the way – expresses through anxiety you know
and therapy worked for a while and you have to keep at it and you have to keep
using the tools that that you that you get you know that you’re given you got
to work at it and it doesn’t necessarily go away if it gets tempered and I think
it becomes dormant at times you know you know what I would say though also is
that as it being a continual process is that you know at some point
because of time constraints and also quite frankly because you know I felt
that for me anyways I was feeling the pain that I was feeling more than what
therapy was giving back to me to counteract it you know whatever
breathing exercises I was given and having those sessions wasn’t enough you
know and so then that’s when in talking with my therapist in the talking with my
doctor that’s where a nice you know we start thinking about medication and you
know thank goodness for pharmaceutical companies to be able to treat this stuff
because you know that for me was a game changer and something I still do today
you know and again something that one was especially I mean it was very
apprehensive about at first what are the side effects what’s it gonna do when I
finally found I guess when you know after after trial and error and finally
finding you know the proper dosage in the proper medication there were no side
effects there were no negative or cons if you will it was just final it was
just released I I do appreciate the nuance there that it’s anxiety or
depression is not this it’s not a moment of adversity that you triumph over and
then you never have to think about again and your experience is reflected in the
science which says more and more we understand more and more that mood and
anxiety problems are episodic there Conover in a way a chronic health
condition that we need to maintain a certain amount of fitness around to
enjoy a good quality of life but coming back to what I was saying earlier you
were in a dark place and now you’re not and there there’s there’s a bunch of
there is a structure in place and you know part of that is pharmacological and
part of that was support you government there from a
therapist and all that so it is it is possible to be in that dark place and
then come out of it and even Excel and thrive in your job and it does it will
depend on and require a certain level of maintenance to keep what you achieved
but many people don’t know that when they’re in the dark place so your your
story is very inspiring in that sense well thanks I mean I you know I don’t
the last thing I want to come off or come across on or come across as is you
know anything greater than mr. Joe everybody and sorry to use your name in
that but yeah I just meant you know I’m not more special or stronger than than
anyone else but in but when you’re dealing with that with those problems in
your mind by yourself you do feel like you’re the only one in the world
suffering mhm that I remember at the time you know that was the worst feeling
ever because it’s a very alone feeling to have so you know it’s coming out and
talking about this now you know can can ring some bells to those who are who are
feeling that or going through some things or at risk there of you know I
that’s the wonderful thing about technology today and also just about how
weirdest Ignat izing all of these things is to let people know know if you if you
start feeling a little bit don’t don’t wait to suffer because there’s no point
there’s so many tools now to feel better and it’s like it’s good to feel better
so you did mention that it’s not always obvious for lawyers and I’m assuming
it’s not just some private practice it’s part of the culture of the profession to
not necessarily come forward and be open and be vulnerable to one’s boss or
colleagues maybe you can tell us a little bit about the culture or your
perspective on why that is part of the culture and maybe what you think we
could do about it I think what’s interesting about that statement Joe is
that it’s changing and that I don’t think that it’s
that may have been the case and you know the reason I told the story earlier
about my first year in practice is that I think that was true I think that was
the culture but I don’t think that was necessarily by the way exclusive to
lawyers and private practice what’s nice is that I think it’s changing its
changing simply because myself and people who who have maybe it started 15
years ago and who have evolved or grown up in the profession now we’re talking
about this we’re doing conferences about these issues now we’re talking about
this leaders in the industry are you know 15 to 25 years out of school and so
are looking at it differently they’re not saying well that’s just how it was
always done and that’s how we’re going to continue to do it mental health and
well-being is something that is being spoken about proactively as opposed to
reactively waiting for an employee or a staff member to to have something that
come upon them and have to treat it you know we like we a toaster we celebrated
mental health week that was back in May you know we brought in a speaker to
speak to the entire firm on lawyers and well-being substance abuse mental health
disorders you know what are the warning signs how can you live a better life you
know how do you prioritize you know your personal life and make sure you get some
sort of balance within a profession by the way and a workplace that inherently
will be in balance and I think you have to know that going in but that imbalance
is something that people like myself you know do enjoy because there are benefits
to it you get to you know you get to do great things and work with really smart
people on really fun projects that being said there’s an expense to that and so
you need to be able to take a step away and and recoup but we are being
proactive about it you know just again in my firm we’ve got a 24/7 Employee
Assistance hotline that’s completely anonymous where if people are going
through things they now have a voice to call
you know we pay for that but nobody knows about it nobody knows who calls
I’m saying it’s completely anonymous it’s private so therefore there’s
there’s there really should be no reason for anyone not trying to reach out and
get help it’s an external provider who provides it I’m sure we are not the only
law firm in the country that is doing this but that’s just an example of what
traditionally you would say big law would be not necessarily paying
attention to but and so that’s on the macro level I know personally I’m not
the only one other who will check in consistently with the associates I work
with to make sure you know how you doing are you overworked did you have enough
work you know are you stressed but we have to talk about this stuff more it
has to become more of a way of being as much as you know did you get this done
on time because no one’s gonna get anything done on time if they’re not in
the proper you know state to do it so I think it’s environmental change that in
terms of people on the ground have to you know make that a part of how they
are on a day to day basis but at least we’re putting in you know structures
whether it’s through having you know a mental awareness week and having an
assistance line and having resources that those who may not want to you know
be upfront about these issues can go to and you know to be quite honest becoming
on this program and opening up about my personal experiences when – I know for a
fact – some I come off as being this Teflon you know well balanced never too
stressed person whereas my wife would be laughing her ass off right now if she
heard that but you know at work they would only see someone who’s just even
keel and always happy and always has the stuff together I think it’s important
for them to know that no that’s that’s not necessarily the case that and that’s
okay because it’s you know just like any muscle you work it out to keep it fit I
think the same thing goes when it comes to your brain and and your behavior and
your feelings cool yen have a lot of respect for the
leadership you’re taking in this space and and I really appreciate you coming
on the podcast and talking about your experiences and opening up in a way that
I can imagine feels vulnerable and you’re really modeling that for the
students and the the young lawyers coming into the firm so thanks a lot for
doing it how can people sort of keep in touch
with you do you want to just tell us about your social media presence or
anything about your practice sure well so the social media is more on
the personal family fun front and also the different philanthropic efforts I’m
involved in so I’m on Instagram and I’m on twitter at yam Besner all one word
you can find me on LinkedIn if you want to follow more of the lawyerly things I
do as well as my profile on Oh store comm all very accessible through the
Google machine hello Bree welcome to the podcast I
think it’s great to be here all right I’m so I feel so lucky to have you here
and I’m really looking forward to asking all my questions here so maybe we’ll
start with the first one which is to tell us what you do from what I could
tell you sort of have three different jobs your personal you’re a lawyer
you’re the director of the Texas lawyers Assistance Program you’re the chair of
the ABA Commission on lawyer assistance programs and you’re the co-chair of the
National task force on lawyer well-being which I will definitely ask you about
would you mind just telling us a little bit about each of those drugs well and
I’m always if I hear somebody say what are all the different hats that I wear
it’s actually a little bit of air sinks I’ll start with my day job I’m the
director of the Texas lawyers Assistance Program and so the shorthand is we’re
kind of like an EAP for lawyers judges and Lawtons in the state of Texas to
make having some behavioral health issues and so that’s what I do for the
day and then also the American Bar Association’s Commission on lawyers
Assistance Program so there’s one of those lawyers assistance programs in
every state of the United States and there and also in Canada and so we come
together regularly to support each other in our work and then there’s also the
National Task Force on lawyer well-being and I’ve been a co-chair of that entity
for two years okay yeah let’s get into that one so what
exactly is the national task force yeah it’s a collective : we’re a rogue band
of individuals who really care passionately about lawyer well-being and
I needed to find that word because when I say well-being that’s a real global
term I’m going to use throughout and we’re talking about helping lawyers who
are already experiencing depression anxiety substance use disorders and sort
of helping them overcome and deal with go into recovery for those in pain
and it’s also looking at how we can support lawyers who are really not
thriving in their profession and have just sort of a general Mountain malaise
in their life and are not happy so really have something to offer everybody
in the profession so those of us who work on this on a national level came
together a couple of years ago commandeered an empty conference room at
the American Bar Association because we’re all already there wearing you know
the chair of this or the mission or of that we’re all already in one location
and the reason we got together on that day in August of 2016 is two big reports
had just been published that made it’s so clear and undeniable that the state
of lawyer well-being was dire for prior to this we didn’t lis have good studies
our statistics we certainly had what we sort of the anecdotal evidence of what
had had gone on so what these studies showed there’s one that was done across
the United States thirty thousand lawyers and showed incredibly high rates
of alcohol abuse substance abuse high high rates of depression and anxiety
disproportionate to the general population the same year a study was
done and published of law students across the United States lots of
students involved really reliable results and what we saw very clearly was
that these issues are starting in law school if you compare the rates of these
impairments of law students with people in the general population you can start
to see that there’s something about experience entering into the legal
profession that has an almost a pathologizing effect anxiety goes up
substance abuse goes up depression goes up and one of the most concerning things
out of these two studies that we shall saw that really turn things on its
had is that the younger the lawyer the greater the rate of impairment our
problem regardless of what type it was and we used to think that people that
did this work the longest would have a higher rate of problems and it was huge
eye-opener to see it’s actually the youngest members of the profession who
are struggling the most so all of us who are coming is from different parts of
the law who are the the EAP the L a piece of the profession the lawyers
Assistance Programs the people who regulate the profession that the Bar
Council the Disciplinary folks across the board we saw this and we knew okay
we have a moment here we have an opportunity because the data is in it’s
undeniable we cannot just sit here and fail to take action and let these
studies go on a shelf somewhere because we know that lawyers and law students
and judges are suffering they truly are and I can just sort of as a point of how
does that impact the society in general when you’ve got people who are attending
to the judicial system and our system of laws and our access to justice who are
not doing well in their work it affects all members of society so it’s this
really important things here big stuff and so we came together in that in that
conference room in 2016 and sat around a table and I guess we’re really blessed
to have some big thinkers there and some bold thinkers and we decided that we
were going to use this opportunity to do nothing short of create creating a
movement to change the legal culture and how it takes care of its own how it
treats the lawyers and the law students who come into this profession so to
institute a culture change and a real shift and how that work is done we knew
would not be easy so the first thing that we did is started bringing in
outside of that room who are the other leaders of their profession are the
other leaders of the stakeholders who have an interest in this and bring them
to the table so we started having conference calls every couple of weeks
and then broke into workgroups and started looking for each of the
stakeholders within the profession what do they need to do to bring about a
culture change within their area and then we all got together and decided
what are some recommendations for the entire legal profession and
recommendations for each stakeholder and when I say stakeholder I’m talking about
judges and then another stakeholder it are the legal educators the law schools
another would be the people who regulate and manage the profession another are
the legal employers so we’ve brought together and did a report in nine months
and brought that forward to as power different powers that be and it’s one of
those things where it was the the right thing the right teaching at the right
time and doors just started to open and now the in a very short period of time
the legal profession is starting to really look at this closely for example
just in January this year me and the other co-chair got to take this work in
front of the conference of Chief Justice’s so that it’ll set the scene
for you this is a hotel conference room with the Chief Justice of each state’s
Supreme Court so pretty small group but really influential to say the least and
my co-chair and I got to talk to them about this report and ask them you’re
the leaders of the profession in your state you’re responsible for the
well-being of the the members of that profession please take this back to your
state and charge the stakeholders there for developing a plan
to address what is really a woeful state of affairs with in regards to the
professional lawyer well-being in general and just in the seven months
time since that front we gave that presentation there are 18 states where
there is some sort of a large task force that’s looking at across the profession
within the state what can be done so this whole I can say at this point in
time Italy is a movement when we sat in that room two years ago we didn’t know
if anybody would pay attention to us we kind of laughed at ourselves at the
audacity we didn’t know certainly if anybody would read the report but I’d
say that that the movement has been ignited I went back and was giving a
follow-up report to that same group of justices just a few day ago and I told
them that we’ve ignited what feels like sometimes a rocket around this and now
our work is to make sure that that rocket is not actually a firecracker
that’s gonna sputter out we really are working to try sustain this movement so
it’s it’s exciting times within the profession to look at this it’s such an
incredible story why do you think this work has been so well received why do
you think the timing is right what’s going on that well-being is now a topic
that people are really taking seriously it was this it’s a confluence of a
variety of factors I don’t know all of them but I’ll tell you what I think are
a few first that was essential was to have those studies we really had to have
the hard data that was reliable and published in a peer-reviewed journal
which we do and then have a group of people who are leaders in the different
areas around the country come together and really dig in and
at this and provide some I guess a some an outline for how to move forward to
give people tools on how to do this there’s some other things that are going
on – maybe if you think about it we’re going to change your profession whoo
that it has to be about the bottom line because the law is also its business so
the for there to be as real shift the factors that are going on or would have
to be starting to have an impact on the gold culture and law firms bottom line
and so here’s how that’s happening when so many of the firms are seeing that the
younger generation are not going to put up with being treated as chattel as the
older generation has like come in and we’re going to tie you to the desk and
work you until there’s nothing left for generations decades upon decades lawyers
that’s the their life that they have led and then willing to undergo that the
young lawyers that are coming into the practice are not going to endure that so
what is happening with the big firms who drive the culture are seeing that number
one they can’t the best minds you know in recruiting the top talent they can’t
get them to walk in the door or if they get them to walk in the door they cannot
get them to stay so in the legal profession in the first two or three
years of a lawyer’s career they’re operating for that firm for a huge loss
because the the firm’s pouring in tens of thousands if not hundreds of
thousands of dollars into bringing them on into onboarding them what’s happening
in droves is that young lawyers are coming in getting that training and then
they leave because they’re not going to put up with that anymore and the firm
the law firms are really taking notice because there is a
brain drain on the in the practice they can’t recruit the talent retain the
talent and it’s costing them large sums of money and we hit so we got their
attention right now and that’s that’s a key point as well so it’s a confluence
of those things I’m sure there are others you mentioned that doors are
being opened and you have people’s attention are there any other signs that
you’re having impact I’m seeing coverage in the the professions media outlets
there’s a lot of attention being paid to the subjective well-being see pretty
regular coverage and articles that come out about law firms that are taking up
different initiatives and a year ago you wouldn’t find articles about that so
that’s one sign another sign like I said the different states that are starting
to take up these initiatives for example I can speak to in Texas where I reside
the chief came back from that presentation in January our chief and
called me and some people over other people from the bar here and said well
what are we gonna do in Texas and so since that time there’s a we put
together a roundtable on lawyer well-being and pulled together the heads
of each stakeholder to what was a roundtable and we’re looking at what do
we need to be doing in Texas that would never have been done before this report
came out it’s just laying the groundwork and the priming the pump so that these
things can take place and more and more of these things are taking place around
the tree all right so I I really want to get into like the recommendations and
the specifics around what changes you’re trying to implement but before we do
that I think it’d be nice to maybe bring it down to you a bit more of a human
level you’ve heard the clip from our mutual friend Ian Messner what
impression did that crate for you it’s a story the one that he told that his
very first year first years in the profession it’s one that repeats itself
over and over across both Canada and the United States with young lawyers how do
you acclimate to a profession that is so hard driving and we all hit the door
actually of law school and certainly whether with our job of being type-a
personalities who are perfectionist who want to put our superiors and our
clients and I will work our ourselves to very much the detriment of our own
well-being and the well-being out of our families too so what he said
sounds just par for the course for what young lawyers new to the profession are
experiencing the the issue about having to work such extreme hours I think that
some language that he used the pressures around that and the uncertainty of the
practice of law and so what I talked to young lawyers and I tell you law
students about this to the law the practice of law it is about being
adversarial it’s about representing your client against somebody else so over the
course of that which can be years there is uncertainty it’s a part of the
profession high stress is part of the profession that’s never going to change
high stakes we’re dealing with people with their the most urgent issues
sometimes of their entire life that has landed in our laps and we’re
being looked to to fix that that’s not going to change about the law profession
so a lot of what I do in my a job and also what is happening as part of this
sort of well-being push is how do we build up the lawyers so that they can
endure this inevitable stress chronic stress and uncertainty in difficulties
that’s part of the profession and quite frankly over you know over weed of your
professional life is just life because life is filled with uncertainty and
stress and setbacks and losses so how do we deal with that in some of
the things that are really being discussed across the country now and how
to do that and how to put within the hands of individual lawyers the ability
to to deal with this is around resilience and using that you know
thinking of it through that lens how do we improve the resilience of lawyers to
be able to deal with the inherent adversities and setbacks of practice and
life and so giving them tools to be able to do this which I will say meditation
mindfulness is is an automatic go to out of my toolkit for my personal life but
also in something that I try to teach lawyers as well but other things about
you know there may be mindful some meditation there practices around
gratitude positive positivity a variety of skill sets that can can lift one up
to to be able to better endure what is thrown at us daily basis
another thing I’ve heard yen when I talk about is especially when he was younger
feeling a little reluctant to go to talk to somebody about what he was going
through and that could be just a peer or a superior try to get some support and I
of course recognized that that was a an important finding in one of the 2016
studies as well that young lawyers are loath to make themselves vulnerable in
that way I wonder if you’re seeing that in many of the stories you’re hearing as
well absolutely it’s across the board you look at the study for law students
and they won’t ask for help it’s super hyper competitive environment and they
can’t let anybody else know that they’re struggling or there’s a weakness and we
take on the persona of being a warrior on behalf of our clients and so we can’t
show you know a chink in that armor out of fear and the fear is there because
we’re the fear is that we will lose face that
we will lose some piece of our reputation which is the most important
thing that a lawyer has and why are we afraid the reason that we’re afraid is
that there is still and this blows my mind but in 2018 so much stigma and
shame around these behavioral health disorders such as depression or a
sentence use disorder that these professionals won’t stay bored and ask
for help and the where that gets you know we’re there the rubber meets the
road the sort of the practice of this is what I’m sitting here at my desk and I
answer this phone and a lawyer has let their life become so out of control
because of surgery severe depression or maybe an alcohol use disorder they have
lost loves you know that partners they’ve lost businesses and they still
will not ask for help and so often it’s until they’re at their just end before
they’re willing to break out of that fear and call and ask for help and that
that’s something that really really breaks my heart and it motivates me so
much to do this work there is no shame and having a problem there is no shame
in struggling with incredibly difficult professions there are so many people
that stroll in that way but just that we will have to be tough and warriors and
we don’t talk about it with each other so we think that with only one and sit
in a little silo and suffer until things are almost completely spun out of
control so a big piece of this report the work that I do is about encouraging
people to ask for help if you need it and making the rest of the community
okay with these problems to make it okay and normalize it
asked for help to talk about these things help me open so you know Joe one
of the things that I do a lot of times now and more and more I do it as I want
to tell people that I deal with these issues was just glass key broke ladder
way I usually do it you know I wait until I’ve done the introduction with
all the hats and kind of exert some authority or maybe like oh maybe she
knows what she’s talking about and then after that hopefully building some
credibility for myself I come in and I say and I’m a recovering alcoholic and
addict and I deal with history of depression and with all those things I
have accomplished these things where all these hats and give back to my community
and we need to be able to look at people who have whatever the the issue is and
see them as assets to our profession that they we bring a specific worldview
that everyone can benefit from and Joe am happy to talk to you as much or as
little about my my own personal flurry so whatever would be helpful to others
I’d be curious to hear how lawyers or other members of legal profession
respond when you expose yourself like well what happens when I do or when any
other person makes themselves vulnerable there is is a really poignant moment
it’s like the air is still I can do this in front a group of 500 lawyers at a
continuing legal education deal and you know you’re up there talking right right
right and people are you know the reason you read the newspapers and now people
are with their phone or tablet or whatever
and when somebody gets up and it starts to open their heart and come real and
genuine people there’s just something unique about that
moment and you know the eyes come up and people are really present in the room at
that moment and I feel like I’m heard and I feel when I’ve been in the room
when other people are sharing their story I know that they are being heard
as well and it is a powerful moment it can be transformative for people
listening who’s saying it as well but the people listening to that what can
bring about a shift and I’ve seen that happen repeatedly where people come up
afterwards and and they have been touched and they want to share their
story so it’s is a really wonderful thing to do it’s so helpful it is so
hard to do it’s still hard for me to do it’s you know it’s very um it feels
really raw to do it but I do it now because I know how important it is
I’m obviously given my profession familiar with the change in atmosphere
in a room whether it’s individual or group or whatever when things get real I
know that from the lawyers I work with part of what makes that feel risky and
treacherous is the possibility that there are people in the room saying oh
my god keep it together what’s wrong with you and you’re just
weak and sort of you know playing the tape of that narrative are there not
people in the room still thinking that way I believe that there are and people
engage in defense mechanisms and play old tapes and are not comfortable with
that sort of self-replicate and don’t think it’s there’s a place in
a CLE program and I’ve gotten beyond that I know that
when I am saying my story that there are people that are gonna be uncomfortable
and I’m okay with that I get up there knowing that I’m not going to please
everybody in the room but my mission is that if I could get up there and then
and reduce the suffering of somebody in the room or maybe even save a life down
the road somewhere my discomfort and the passing discomfort of somebody in the
room because they had to listen to my story it is well worth it if you’re up
for it I would be curious to hear your story how you got into the difficulties
with substances and your mood and how you got out of it yeah yeah well I’ll
give you the short version I won’t have much time but I just does some a lot of
it uh I had a very uncomfortable and painful childhood and I like so many
people do and they experienced that I found pretty quickly that substances
medicated that pain and that discomfort and so in high school it was alcohol and
undergraduate it was marijuana I went to law school and it’s like well better
leave that you know aside the the legal drug and so I turned to what is so
sanctioned and the law schools in the profession which is alcohol in copious
amounts I had an anxiety disorder by the time I finished my first year of law
school and the go-to for me to deal with that was to bank and drink a lot
fast-forward through my profession I I’ve done a lot of really cool things I
got to work at legal aid and represent victims of domestic violence and really
threw myself into some tough tough areas of the law that brought up stuff for
myself I didn’t take care of myself in the best ways and I continued with that
quick easy fix go to of alcohol and say it works until it done
it doesn’t a lot of times it did make me feel better
but it is in insidious and over time you pour enough alcohol onto somebody who
has genetically predisposed because of family history to develop an alcohol use
disorder that starts to change the brain the actual brain chemistry and that’s
what happened with me and it goes from being something you choose to something
you don’t really have a choice over a long time for me to get there but I
definitely got to that point and through all of that I’m all you know I’m so I’m
self-medicating anxiety and self-medicating depression and covering
all of that up and and at one point it just in my forties it all started to
just you know as let the game of Jenga you know just things start to just pull
up things and it all just comes crumbling down and I I lost my marriage
and then I lost my job and boy when a lawyer loses their job that’s when it
really gets your attention I’m it’s terrible but it’s the truth
and at that juncture which is there was my low point some other people need to
get to where they’ve also lost their house you know but losing a marriage and
losing my job was my bottom and then I started looking for a way to find out my
way out and I did that through getting into really regular therapy getting on
all sewing on the right medication getting into a mutual support group that
supported my recovery and also getting into a community of meditators I mean
that really helped save my life as much as anything else and about developing a
meditation practice so I could get real with myself and stabilize my mind so I
spent some time out of work we you know putting myself together again and then I
was really truly blessed to be able to get a job here
lawyers Assistance Program it’s over the cost eight years I live and breathe
recovery so it’s it’s an amazingly blessed life and one I could never have
imagined you know in those dark days back in two thousand nine and ten so
anyway that’s it thank you so much for for sharing that it’s it’s a very
powerful and very inspiring story and I’m just so glad that we were able to
get you back and now you’re doing this amazing work so really thanks for for
sharing and thanks for for taking on this mission it’s really incredible maybe you can tell us some of the
specific some of the recommendations some of the the changes you’re trying to
create on the ground and the profession so and I think I believe this is in the
2017 report that you guys published yeah the 2017 the national task force
and lawyer well-being it’s a lawyer well-being net and so what we did
recommendations that were global that applied to everybody and so some of
those the most important things number one is for the legal to profession to
acknowledge realize that it’s in trouble that it’s got a problem and we’re in
that Awakening right now that’s really happening another thing is that the
leaders of the profession develop a national action plan and a leaders of
the profession and States develop a state actually in when we originally got
together we knew we made a very conscious decision this is not going to
be a report that tells lawyers individually they need to eat their kale
and exercise right we know that for that this is a cultural problem it’s a
systemic problem and it is not going to change until from the very top top down
there are changes within the profession so the report is really in
these recommendations are really written to the very top leaders and we’re asking
them each of them to take responsibility for looking within their system of what
needs to be changed we’re also asking all leaders within the profession maybe
your leader of a team a law firm well you’re a leader in the profession what
can you do to lift up the people on your team and create a more sustainable
profession and career and workplace for the people there so looking at it that
way the other thing that is a global recognition is around dealing with
stigma until we get people talking about these issues openly and making it where
we just we put you know turn out turn off the shame it’s 2:18 there’s no room
for that anymore we’ve got to talk about these things among ourselves talk about
it openly and make it okay for people to ask for help make it clear if you’re in
a working someplace and you have an alcohol use disorder being really
transparent with those with folks it’s like this is what’s going to happen we
have a policy in place for you to be able to go and health insurance and
place for you to go off and get treatment for this condition which is
what it is and come back and reintegrate into the firm and be clear let’s there’s
there should be no mystery around this it’s kind of almost like we’re back
where we were thirty years or so ago with cancer where it was just clouded
like there’s for some reason some element of shame and it had to hide it
so those are some those are some of the largest ones and I think addressing
those things within a profession everything else maybe I’m being a
Pollyanna the thing else was start to follow Bria mindful of the time here so
grateful to have you for for the time that I’ve had before I let you go is
there anything else that we haven’t covered you think is important that we
get to you before we end if anybody is Lilly struck by the things
that we’re talking about today I encourage you to take a look at the
National Task Forces website which is lawyer well-being dotnet and you can see
the report it’s that website to work in progress
and more things will be posted there but that’s a really good place to start and
to dig in and learn more about what we’re trying to do here in the legal
profession thank you Joe thank you and I’ll definitely post a link to that
website on the show notes for this episode so once again thank you so much
for taking the time i’m truly inspired by the work you’re doing and i wish you
all the best success going forward with it thank you all right take care brief thanks for listening to the mindspace
podcast the purpose of this project is to inspire people to cultivate
well-being the science tells us that well-being is best understood as a
series of skills and habits that can be learned and practiced and I hope
listening to these episodes helps you move forward on your own path to
well-being if you enjoy listening to the mindspace podcast please share your
favorite episodes with friends family and colleagues thanks a lot

1 Comment

  1. I love your voice. It's do calming

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