A 2016 ABA study showed that approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent of practicing lawyers are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively. The study also revealed that between 21 percent and 36 percent of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers.
Those working in the legal profession have it just as hard as anyone when it comes to dealing with mental, physical and emotional wellness challenges. The intense daily pressure of being an attorney and managing a firm can leave many feeling overwhelmed, depressed, stressed, anxious, angry and alone. All of these feelings are of course now being combined with a great deal of uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately for those working in law, conversations about lawyer wellness issues are starting to pick up. More attorneys are starting to share their wellness related struggles, and offer real support for those who are in need of help.
In this guide we’ll share a collection of wellness related stories with you, and introduce you to some great organizations and people that can assist you in living a happier and healthier legal life.
Stories Featured In This Guide:
- The Value Of Speaking Up About Depression
- Pairing Time Management With Mind Management
- Understanding The Causes Of Our Stress
- Overcoming Occupational Burnout
- Improving Wellness Through Science
- Making Time For Me
- Learning How To Self-Care
Did You Know?
Major depressive disorder affects approximately 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year.
The Value Of Speaking Up About Depression
Discussions about depression, anxiety and overall mental health are thankfully starting to become much more commonplace in the legal world. Today’s attorney has many more outlets to turn to for help than lawyers from decades past, and no longer are forced to suffer alone.
Even with people now starting to gain a stronger understanding of mental health issues, it still takes a significant amount of courage for individuals to share their personal stories. But, whenever someone does find the courage to do so, it often results in the world becoming a better place.
This was certainly the case when Joseph Milowic III, partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP , wrote an article for the New York Law Journal in 2018, sharing his experience with depression.
“The article resonated with so many people, and the response was nothing short of overwhelming,” said Reid Murtagh, a meeting facilitator and officer of the organization who runs a solo practice in Indiana. “Over one hundred people expressed an interest in wanting to connect with Joe and others in the legal profession who were willing to share their own mental health journeys.”
Inspired by the tremendous response to his article and the lack of existing online groups for lawyers to turn to for help (at least that he could find), Milowic (along with several other co-founders) created the Lawyer’s Depression Project.
The organization, which goes by LDP, is a community made up of several hundred legal professionals (attorneys, paralegals, law students, and admin) who have suffered from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, trauma, sexual abuse, addiction and other mental health conditions, or who just don’t feel quite right.
“We are so grateful for our fellow LDP community members,” Murtaugh said. “Not only is our group made up of folks who have had their own journeys with mental health in the legal profession, our members have sought out this community and actively spend their time giving and receiving support from others.”
Some outlets for help offered by LDP include a confidential web forum, where members can post anonymously on a number of topics related to mental health. The group also offers free, anonymous, and confidential peer-to-peer support group meetings online.
In order to participate in meetings, members of the Lawyers Depression Project only need to share emergency contact information with the LDP Executive Committee. After that, members will receive an anonymous email address for use with group meetings and to participate in the group’s web forum and chat room.
2020 has of course brought unprecedented challenges for the legal community. LDP is working hard to make sure its members have all the assistance they need, as the world continues to heal.
“Since the pandemic began, we have offered more support by increasing the number of peer-to-peer support group meetings we offer, and we are currently exploring new ways that we can support members,” Murtaugh said. “Our group meetings currently follow an open format, meaning that members are able to bring in anything that is coming up for them. The pandemic, its impact on mental health, and changes in access to resources have all been topics we’ve explored in groups.”
With many lawyers working from home, and struggling to meet many of the goals they set out for themselves at the beginning of the year, Meredith Rimalower, an officer of the organization and former attorney currently pursuing a career as a therapist offers some valuable advice.
“Be easy on yourselves,” she said. “This is an unprecedented time, and to the extent things feel challenging, or your productivity looks different right now, that can make a lot of sense given the circumstances!”
To learn more about the Lawyers Depression Project please visit lawyersdepressionproject.org
Did You Know?
46 percent of stress reported amongst employees in the United States is caused by an overwhelming workload
Pairing Time Management With Mind Management
Learning how to balance work and personal time is always one of the top challenges for new legal professionals. Attorney Jamie Spannhake, however, has never shied away from taking on more responsibility in her life.
“I’ve always been that person who does a lot, all at the same time”, said Spannhake, who has served as a partner at Berlandi Nussbaum & Reitzas since 2016. “People have often said to me, ‘I don’t know how you have time to do all that!’ With effective time management tools, I was managing it all: daily life, career, family, and social life.”
While her life has often looked impressive from the outside, Spannhake admits that there was a time earlier in her career when her work life negatively affected her overall happiness.
“I was so busy that I felt overwhelmed and exhausted,” Spannhake said. “I wasn’t enjoying my life. That’s when I realized that time management tools alone are not sufficient for a successful and enjoyable life. I needed some kind of ‘mind management’ as well — a way to approach things differently to prevent losing my mind. That’s when I discovered mindfulness, meditation, and profound perspective shifts; I’d discovered a better way.”
The lessons Spannhake has learned over the past decade are featured in her recently published book, “The Lawyer, the Lion, & the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos”. In the book, she shares and guides readers through the choices, actions, and thoughts that have allowed her to enjoy life, even while dealing with numerous responsibilities. The project was written for attorneys that identify as a professional, parent, friend, colleague, and volunteer, and who don’t have a lot of time to read and work through lengthy exercises.
“I want attorneys to take away practical tools and techniques for managing their minds and their time, and to use them to make their busy lives more enjoyable, more successful, more balanced, and less stressed,” Spannhake said. “ I want attorneys to feel confident in their abilities to handle whatever life throws at them. I want them to know that they are not the only ones struggling to manage it all, and that they can do it, whatever ‘it’ is.”
Jamie Spannhake offers a limited number of one-on-one spots for her Lion Life Coaching program, which is eight weeks long and designed to help lawyers manage their busy work lives and personal lives without feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
“The Lawyer, The Lion & The Laundry” was released pre-pandemic, yet many of its lessons seem particularly valuable during what’s been a difficult year for most of us. According to Spannhake, one part of her book in particular stands out as extremely relevant during this challenging stretch of time.
“The chapter of the book entitled ‘Should’ No More is particularly helpful during this time when we are faced with how little control we have and how precarious things can be,” she said. “It explores accepting reality instead of thinking about the way things ‘should’ be. The primary takeaway is that there are some things we cannot change, so we must learn to work with them rather than continuing to fight against them. I find this comforting during this pandemic as it releases some of the pressure and allows us to go with the changing flow.”
While the advice in Spannhake’s book should help readers with becoming a better boss, spouse, parent, and friend during this crisis, she reminds us that there’s another person readers should be looking out for in 2020.
“Be kind to yourself,” Spannhake said. “We are adjusting to a new normal in this world, and it keeps changing. Change is hard. Realizing how little control we have is hard. Do the best you can, be kind to yourself, and know that you can do hard things.”
To learn more about The Lawyer, The Lion & The Laundry please visit jamiespannhake.com
Did You Know?
Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day.
Source: The American Institute of Stress
Understanding The Causes Of Our Stress
For attorneys trying to balance work and personal life and find happiness through it all, life can often feel overwhelming and uncontrollable. This was certainly the case for attorney Dani Berry during her early years of practicing law.
“I was constantly stressed out and placed the blame on external forces such as my job and my spouse,” Berry said. “After getting a divorce and changing my job responsibilities I discovered I was still stressed and unhappy.”
While the legal world is certainly a high-stakes environment that will be a significant stress trigger for most taking part in it, Berry came to the conclusion that her job wasn’t the only thing holding her back from being happy.
“I realized the common denominator was me,” Berry said. “I began a journey of personal exploration through yoga, coaching, reading, and taking professional development courses. I discovered that the thoughts in my head were just thoughts and that my emotions were temporary and didn’t control me. Through hard work and dedication to myself I came to understand my brain, past trauma, and influences in my life and create a future that I wanted.”
Berry’s personal journey led her to not only start incorporating wellness into her daily routine, but become a leading voice on stress management for the legal community. She became an active member of the Georgia State Bar Wellness Committee and eventually formed Wellworks Consulting, a company training lawyers and other high-stressed professionals in resiliency, stress reduction, and mindful leadership
Dani Berry is a legal and wellness consultant, mediator, and yoga and meditation instructor. She routinely speaks on professional development and wellness related topics to lawyers and other professionals, and has received a BBA and JD from the University of Georgia.
Wellworks offers continuing legal education and professional development courses on topics such as:
- Understanding the science of stress
- Removing stigmas, misconceptions and fears, and highlighting vulnerability
- Exploring mindfulness and its impact on mental and emotional wellbeing
- Framing a smart, sustainable response that improves mental and emotional wellness
- Cultivating resilience, patience and gratitude (while stuck at home)
- Identifying resources available for proactive attorney support to help coping with routine work pressures and the emotional aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Ultimately, attendees will leave our courses armed with an awareness of how to build the skills needed to identify, manage, and override stress,” Berry said. “While the discussion is geared toward attorneys, firm leaders, and managers, it may be beneficial for all firm employees to have the option to attend. In essence, anyone facing significant stress levels will learn how to ride the current, rather than fight it.”
In a 2017 report on lawyer well-being, the American Bar Association, said that “to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer”. The ABA also acknowledged that the profession has been falling short when it comes to promoting well-being, and that too many lawyers and law students are suffering from chronic stress, depression, and substance use.
“In its studies, the ABA provides research and evidence regarding negative stress reactions, the impact on our profession and offers recommendations for change,” Berry said. “Wellworks’ professional development and CLE programs draw upon the ABA recommendations related to overall well being, including the integration of mindfulness into the legal practice as a proven way to increase competencies and cognitive ability, and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.”
Since the pandemic began, Wellworks has expanded its services to include virtual CLE and professional development programs, which has allowed them to reach a broader audience. Berry understands that many lawyers are experiencing stress at higher levels than ever before in 2020, and reminds us that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed at times.
“Give yourself space to feel the emotions you feel and try not to judge those emotions,” Berry said. “We are in this together – good and bad – and it will be ok.”
To learn more about Wellworks Consulting please visit wellworksconsulting.com
Did You Know?
In a recent study, nearly two-thirds of full-time workers reported dealing with burnout at some point while at work.
Source: HR Exchange Network
Overcoming Occupational Burnout
The friendship between attorneys Cindy Sharp and Becky Howlett is somewhat of an unlikely one. It is not unlikely because of who they are as people, as the two women have both experienced wellness struggles in their careers and personal lives, and actually have a great deal in common, even with Cindy being over 30 years older than Becky.
The reason their friendship is unlikely, is because it began on March 18, 2020, right as a global pandemic was getting underway. Sharp and Howlett’s first meeting took place virtually, by way of a CLE session. And, while many of us were isolating from our peers during this time, Sharp and Howlett began to bond and exchange stories.
Sharp shared her challenges with alcoholism and Howlett her experiences with depression and anxiety. The two women found that they had both suffered through occupational burnout in their legal careers, and that they had both used meditation and mindfulness to overcome their respective challenges.
As their conversations continued, both Sharp and Howlett quickly felt a burning desire to team up and take action. With Howlett about to be certified as a meditation teacher, the duo decided to launch The Legal Burnout Solution, a mindful community dedicated to lawyer wellness.
“By normalizing conversations about and implementing strategies to effectively cope with burnout, mental health issues, and substance abuse within the legal field, we can create purposeful environments that safeguard and support our ability to be happy, healthy, and productive legal advocates and people,” Sharp said.
The Legal Burnout Solution brand is meant to represent the eternal flame or divine spark within each of us. The flame on their logo speaks to the journey of extinguishing burnout by neutralizing emotional reactivity and actively cultivating our ability to live mindfully.
The Legal Burnout Solution currently offers training and presentation sessions (which are done on behalf of state and local bar associations), individual coaching services, online meditation classes and a mindfulness Facebook group. Right away the demand for the type of services they were offering was clear, when they had 234 attorneys register for their debut program.
The organization uses evidence-based mindfulness tools and techniques, including breathwork and visualization meditations to help attorneys with lowering stress and preventing burnout. They also focus on strengthening the mind-body connection, including through yoga and self-massage.
Even with many lawyers working from their homes during the pandemic, Sharp says legal burnout remains a significant problem. She notes that attorneys must deal with juggling numerous roles and responsibilities at once in the same environment. Also an issue is the blurring of boundaries between when are you working and when are you resting. Sharp encourages lawyers to take care of themselves during this time period.
“You are your most important relationship,” Sharp said. “Set aside time every day for self care. If you don’t prioritize yourself, who will? As lawyers, we tend to put others’ needs before our own, sometimes forgetting that you can’t fill another’s cup from our own empty vessel. While there are many ways to take care of ourselves, the benefits of mindfulness are many – increased focus and concentration along with decreased anxiety and stress.”
To learn more about The Legal Burnout Solution please visit legalburnout.com
Did You Know?
Approximately 80 percent of people are not ready to take action to change their health behaviors at any given time.
Improving Wellness Through Science
A wellness plan that works well for one attorney, could end up being a complete disaster for another. Jennie Fagen Malloy, who carries degrees in both Brain & Cognitive Science and Integrative Nutrition, is looking to move past offering generic health tips. She’s out to help legal professionals gain a better understanding of why they make the choices they do, and find a wellness plan that they will actually be able to follow through on.
“There are many wellness companies out there delivering workshops on all the things we ‘should’ be doing,” Malloy said. “Eat more greens, sleep seven to eight hours a night, meditate for 20 minutes a day, drink more water. The list goes on. A lot of people know what to do, but implementing it in a realistic way is where it gets tricky. Tying in my background in Brain & Cognitive Science has allowed me to assist (legal professionals) with sustainable behavior change.”
Over eight years ago Malloy founded “Lights Camera Kale”, an organization which brings one-on-one wellness coaching and workshops to law firms. The company offers guidance on topics such as sleep, stress, work-life balance, nutrition and mental well-being. While Malloy has expertise on a number of different wellness topics, she finds that most of her conversations are driven by learning more about each legal professional’s mental makeup.
“We look at how your brain is individually wired and how we can use this knowledge to create habit change,” Malloy said. “Your brain is connected to everything you do, from how you digest your food to how you prioritize and complete tasks. My goal is to empower individuals to create their daily routines and habits in a way that allows them to thrive and succeed.”
Since the beginning of the spring, Lights Camera Kale has shifted its programming online, and has been working hard to keep their event experiences highly engaging. The company’s virtual outings have included activities, polls, active chatting, competitions and even raffle prizes.
Lights Camera Kale offers Wellness Days, which combine a workshop with one-on-one coaching. The events allow employees to delve deeper into their personalized action steps. Workshops are often held at lunchtime with the 1:1 coaching sessions before and after.
There have also been increased discussions on COVID-19 relevant topics such as unplugging while working from home, setting boundaries, supporting your mental well-being while social distancing, eating well while working from home, stress management techniques and resilience. Malloy also offers individual follow-up options for those who want to continue the conversation about their overall wellness.
“My workshops are science-driven and focus on the smallest steps people can take to make the biggest difference,” Malloy said. “Often times after workshops, people have lots of questions, particularly on applying the principles to their own lives. For this reason I lead 1:1 Coaching Days to allow participants to explore a challenge confidentially. I host these monthly at firms for an added level of accountability, and the spots always fill up quickly. Participants like that they can step away from their work for a short period of time and get personalized action steps to work on.”
According to Malloy, having open wellness discussions and spending time with others is extremely important for those working in law, especially during a year that’s made it way too easy for us to stay apart.
“A lot of attorneys, more so than other professions, tend to be introverts,” Malloy said. “A lot of work in law is sitting by yourself and doing reading and research. When introverted, it can be easy to isolate yourself even further given this environment. It is good to note that social isolation is linked to depression and anxiety, and that can impact productivity and happiness. Be proactive about reaching out to others. We are hardwired to need other people.”
To learn more about Lights Camera Kale please visit jenniefagen.com
Did You Know?
1 in 3 Americans feels bad about taking time for themselves, even though 67 percent desperately want more of it.
Making Time For Me
Jeffrey H. Bunn, a now retired litigation attorney, spent close to 40 years of his life practicing in both state and federal courts. He was also a chair of the Chicago Bar Association’s Commercial Litigation committee. His career work impacted the lives of countless people, and he was constantly placed in what many would consider to be high-pressure situations.
So how did Bunn go about staying mentally well over the course of those 40 years? Well the most important wellness lesson he learned was actually a rather simple one.
“I learned the importance of ‘me time’,” Bunn said. “Closing my office door, turning off the light, powering down my computer and hitting the DND button, 10 minutes before a particularly contentious phone call, was tremendously helpful. Similarly, spending the 10-minute walk to court, thinking about anything other than the argument I would be making—as opposed to obsessing about what I was already well-prepared to say—was tremendously helpful.”
Jeffrey Bunn was recently featured in a CLE piece and a “Reimagining Law” interview posted by the Illinois Commission on Professionalism on it’s 2Civility website. He’s also been invited to appear as a guest in webinars hosted by AwareHealth and the Lawyers Emotional Intelligence Book Club.
Many lawyers find it close to impossible to turn off the work part of their brain, and end up facing tremendous emotional drain as a result. Bunn understands this challenge quite well, which is why he founded The Mindful Law Coaching & Consulting Group.
The Mindful Law Group is a lawyer-led organization that practices, instructs and advocates for the incorporation of mindfulness and secular meditation into the professional lives of law students, lawyers and judges, as a tool for cultivating well-being and emotional intelligence. Bunn strongly believes that the practice of meditation can be helpful to both lawyers young and old.
“Just like the benefits of physical fitness, I believe that lawyers deserve to also enjoy the benefits of mental and emotional fitness,” Bunn said. “Meditation can help us better self-regulate and manage thought, emotion and mood—and help us become better advocates.”
Since retiring, Bunn has led guided meditation sessions for the American Association of Law Schools, the ABA Women in Litigation section, as well as the State Bar of Nevada. In addition, He’s also presented on matters concerning the incorporation of mindfulness and meditation into the practice of law for the CBA, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services and the National Association of Bar Executives (“NABE”). In addition, he’s taken the time to share his thoughts through webinars, podcast appearances, and his mindfulness blog.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced life to slow down for many of us, and a lot of attorneys out there are currently looking for ways to make the most out of any downtime they might have. But, as Bunn reminds us, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.
“Make time for yourself, every day,” Bunn said. “Being kind to yourself will also make you more accessible to others.”
To learn more about The Mindful Law Group please visit themindfullawgroup.com
Did You Know?
About 35 percent believe self-care is only possible for those with enough money.
Learning How To Self-Care
Becoming a thriving lawyer takes tremendous dedication to the craft. Most of those who make their way for law school, and carve out a legal career for themselves, understand this well and aren’t short on work ethic. But in order for lawyers to continue to thrive over an extended period of time, dedication to work must be paired with a high-level of self-care. This is an area where many young attorneys aren’t nearly as successful.
Renee Schwerdt is the Principal at Thriving Lawyer Wellbeing Services, a group that reminds lawyers about the importance of taking care of themselves. The organization was inspired by her own struggles with self-care, and some of the tough lessons she learned during the early years of her career.
“When I first started out, unfortunately, I did not think about self-care at all,” Schwerdt said. “I was treating my legal career as a sprint instead of a marathon. I ate from vending machines. I pulled too frequent all-nighters. I didn’t exercise much, if at all. I stopped doing things outside of the office I enjoyed. I developed a cynical view of the world.”
After suffering through burnout, anxiety and depression, Schwerdt knew she would need to make significant lifestyle changes if she was to have a thriving legal career.
“I learned the hard way that taking care of your mental and physical health is essential to being an effective lawyer and human being.” she said. “I started to exercise and pay attention to the food I put into my body. I explored yoga, meditation and other contemplative practices. I focused on gratitude and self-development. These things have changed my life.”
In addition to practicing construction law solo, Renee Schwerdt is a certified holistic lifestyle coach and a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer. Her consulting and coaching required for healthy living and WorkStyles focuses on fitness, nutrition and cultivating the mindset required for living a healthy life.
Now Schwerdt and the Thriving Lawyer team are working to change other attorneys’ lives for the better. The organization provides motivational speakers, 1-on-1 coaching, continuing legal education, and customized wellbeing programs for law firms and lawyers. Since the pandemic began, all of these offerings have been made available online or via video.
Schwedt encourages lawyers to take advantage of as many of these services as possible, for the benefit of not just their legal careers, but their lives.
“Thriving Lawyers care about themselves,” Schwerdt said. “They take care of their physical and mental wellbeing so they can perform at their best and enjoy their lives when they are working and when they are not.”
During 2020, self-care has never been more essential, especially for those who are spending increased time away from work colleagues working from home. Schwerdt recommends that lawyers avoid harping on the way this year has made their lives more difficult, and instead spend time being thankful for what they do have.
“Look for the positive aspects of your new situation and spend a few minutes feeling gratitude about those each day,” Schwedt said. “Perhaps working from home has given you more time with family. Or maybe you can look to the positive environmental impact of the pandemic. Personally, I have spent way more time outdoors this year which has been wonderful! A few minutes a day of grateful reflection goes a long way to change your outlook and wellbeing.”
To learn more about Thriving Lawyer Wellbeing Services please visit thriving.lawyer