Book Review: The Best Lawyer You Can Be

Stewart L. Levine (left) and Robert A. Creo (right) at Stewart's June 2019 Workshop

This June, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop in Maryland presented by Stewart L. Levine highlighting key themes from his 2018 book, The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness. Stewart is the editor and curator of the book, which was published by the American Bar Association’s Law Division Practice. His excellent presentation sold me on ordering the book, which was delivered to me in a few days for a total cost of under $40. The book can be ordered as a paperback or e-book on the American Bar Association website, or as a paperback for a few more dollars on Amazon. It is money well spent!

The book is 288 pages long and it is organized into 27 chapters, with an afterword by my longtime colleague and friend, Louise Phipps Senft, Esq. of Baltimore. Prominent professors, lawyers, commentators, and practitioners address a variety of aspects of wellness and of being a lawyer from a 360-degree perspective.

This is not a book about how to win more cases or how to improve specific technical or soft skills. However, social science research indicates that if certain habits and best practices surrounding wellness are integrated into a lawyer’s daily life, then he or she can more effectively represent their clients.

The book is subdivided into three parts: Self-Awareness; Self-Management; and Engagement.

Some of the contributors for the Self-Awareness section of Stewart’s book include Elizabeth Bader, Professor Nathalie Martin, Anne Brafford, Esq., Mapp, and Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP. These chapters cover subjects such as mindfulness, spirituality, teamwork, and lawyer wellness.

The Self-Management section of the book addresses some of the business aspects of working as a lawyer. Chapters include contributions by Rachelle J. Canter, PhD., Edward Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, Eva Selhub, MD, and Martha Knudson, JD, MAPP.

There are ten chapters in the final Engagement part of the book. These chapters cover subjects like volunteerism, pro bono legal work, and diversity and inclusions initiatives. They include contributions by Dean Joan R. M. Bullock, Julia LaEace, Esq., William Gibson, Esq., and Linda Alvarez, Esq., among others.

An example of the content that you might expect to find in the book is in Chapter 1 by Larry Krieger, who has studied the well-being of lawyers extensively. He conducted a recent in-depth survey of over 6000 lawyers, which concluded that the usual markers of success—money, status, and outperforming others, did not consistently produce happy lawyers. Attorney income ranked 7th after autonomy, relatedness, competence, internal motivation, autonomy support, and intrinsic values. Human factors, rather than traditional concepts of success, have been shown to drive happiness. Similar findings have resulted from numerous other researchers and attorneys, including Randall Kiser.

The afterword of The Best Lawyer You Can Be, which explores the Relational Mindset, is also an excellent read. I’ll be exploring this mindset further with an example from my own practice in my next blog post, so stay tuned.

Stewart Levine’s book may indeed help you become the best lawyer that you can be, as it provides invaluable wisdom from some of the sharpest minds in the legal world, confirmation and refinement of best practices, and advice and tactics to enhance your professional and personal development.


Stewart L. Levine, The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness

Best Practices for Communication

The most effective communication involves connecting with people on a rational, emotional, and moral basis. Aristotle referred to these three pillars as logos, pathos, and ethos. Humanity has come a long way since Greek times on the many ways we communicate with and influence others. With the advent of technology, it is easy to dehumanize, and truncate not only our message, but the way it is delivered. When people are together, the richness of communication modalities are obvious, as all our senses are potentially engaged—see me, hear me, feel me, smell me, touch me, and some would say, sense or intuit me. 

People in the influencing and persuasion business, especially lawyers, must not only be competent across these modalities, but more importantly, must deliberately choose the best ways to interact with clients and opponents to solve problems. Some lawyers enjoy the competition and gamesmanship of confrontation. Many of us do not, and most of us have at one time or another ducked a potentially unpleasant conversation with letters, emails, or texts. 

Technology has made us somewhat lazy…we use tools that are convenient and easy. Technology, especially email, allows us to avoid unpleasant conversations, or even allows us at time to be more direct and unpleasant. Emails and texts are great ways to engage the disagreeable and pass the proverbial “hot potato” literally at the speed of light. “I sent an email” can be the ultimate shortcut to CYA (Cover Your Ass) or abdication of professionalism with its express or implicit “it’s not my fault!”

My practice tips can be summarized in an obvious hierarchy of preferred communication choices, although the order may vary as it is adopted to specific relationships or circumstances. Personalized contact is prioritized as the fundamental objective, however. 

My communication hierarchy, which honors the speaker being “in” as much as possible, is as follows:

            In person meeting or activity 

            Live Video, Skype, Facetime



            Handwritten Letter

            Photo or other video, audio message



As corny as it sounds, there is value in looking people in the eye, pressing flesh, and breaking bread together. It reminds me of the old United Airlines commercial where the company owner enters the meeting to pass out airline tickets to his employees, concerned that they have lost touch with their clients.

Recent scientific research has examined the role of Oxycontin as a chemical that is transferred by touch that promotes trust. I participated in two workshops with Professor Paul Zak, a leading researcher in this area, and came away convinced that we have underestimated the power of touch to build rapport, trust, community, and to aide in the resolution of conflict.

Many lawyers also have come to the conclusion that my lifelong friend, Gregg Rosen of McGuireWoods, expressed as advice for effective representation— deliver to your client the bad news as quickly, and personally, as possible.

No lawyer will finish a career without “losing” a case, position, or transaction, failing to solve a problem or obtaining a suboptimal result. It is in the nature of the business we have chosen. Don’t hide behind technology to avoid what is part and parcel of our work. Choose carefully and wisely the “how” of sharing your message by working from the top of the hierarchy downward!


Our Chosen Business: The Benefits of Resilience and Grit

The current series explores the importance of soft skills and the development of core competencies involved in decision-making and effective client representation, including the science and the nuts and bolts of lawyer wellness, competency and contentment. This column speaks to the benefits and challenges of resilience.

To learn more, feel free to download my latest Effective Lawyer column published in the Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. 

If you are interested in receiving PDF’s of any of the others in the series listed here, please email me at

Wellness Programs are Cropping Up at Law Firms All Over the Country

Wellness programs and initiatives are cropping up at law firms all over the country. Firms both large and small are recognizing the need to focus on mental health and happiness for their employees.

As lawyers, we all know that our profession can be stressful—we dedicate our intellectual and mental energy to problem-solving, long hours, and sometimes challenging clients. Stress can lead to addiction-forming behaviors like drinking and drugs, which are prevalent issues in the law industry. Furthermore, there is an epidemic of depression among lawyers.

Firms are finally taking note of these problems and choosing to address them proactively.

Recently, Morgan Lewis committed to the American Bar Association’s Wellness Pledge and launched ML Well to provide programs that support the “intellectual, physical, emotional, and occupational health” of their employees. They also hired Krista Logelin as the firm’s first Director of Employee Well-Being.

ML Well hosts educational programs about “how to design lives of meaning and fulfillment, including with Patrick R. Krill, a recognized thought leader on addiction, mental health, and well-being in the legal profession.”

ML Well also focuses on physical activity and community service and provides their lawyers with an online resource portal.

Other firms who have signed the pledge include Pepper Hamilton, K &L Gates, and Duane Morris, among others, plus several university law schools.

Dorsey, another law firm, has a Well Ahead program and also signed the ABA’s Pledge as part of their commitment to wellness.

Their Chief Administrative Officer, Patrick Lutter, says, “The ABA’s Campaign aligns with our initiatives and the importance of Well Ahead’s holistic approach to our employees’ well-being. We will continue to add new components to Well Ahead in support of the ABA Campaign” (

It’s uplifting news to hear that big firms are paying attention to wellness. We’ll be keeping an eye on this space to see what programs they design and how much of an impact they make.

Does your law firm have a wellness program? What would you like to see firms do to better support attorney wellness? 

Feel free to respond in the comments!

Core Competency: Dealing with Emotions

We are all now familiar with the notion of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) which is commonly considered as the ability to be self-aware, self-regulate, and engage others and relationships effectively regarding emotional content. Many mediation and workplace experts contend that EQ is central to conflict competency. In other words, emotional recognition and regulation is a core skill set for successful management and resolution of conflict.

Emotions and biological changes are two sides of the same coin. Research indicates that physical responses usually come first and signal the mental and emotional reactions. Negative emotions create stress and evoke faster heartbeats, higher blood pressure, elevated cortisol levels, dilation of pupils, changes in breathing patterns, and other physical manifestations. This is part of the fight/flight/freeze automatic response. From an evolutionary basis, this is designed to promote swift movement or action for survival. 

The legal system, however, works in the opposite manner with structure, rules, and a culture that promotes rational and calm decisions and orderly conflict resolution. Displays of emotion in adversary or when negotiating transactional matters can be either staged or authentic. Emotions may bubble over as a natural consequence of humans being human. 

Lawyers are often faced with emotional clients or opposing counsel and their clients. Letting emotion flow naturally may be a strategic choice to further objectives of the clients, or to gain a greater understanding of the client’s interests, or for venting purposes.

There are, however, science-based techniques to address emotional states. As counsel, you should make deliberate decisions on which tool to use under the specific circumstances. The soft skill of consciously engaging the range of human behavior is an ability worth cultivating.

Self-distancing is a concept developed from research primarily conducted by Olzem Ayduk of the University of California at Berkley, and Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan.  It involves changing the language of the speaker from the first-person to the second or third person narratives. Speaking about oneself substituting “you” or “he/she” or “name” enhances the ability to self-regulate emotions.  

Studies have shown that recounting a traumatic event or negative experience without reflection or perspective causes most people to experience it again. Professor Daniel J. Siegel observed that the same physical and reactive flow may result from the storytelling as the brain processes the “social threat” similarly to the past physical danger. The fear and anxiety physical responses are triggered by the memories of the trauma.

The self-distancing technique places the narrators outside of the flow of events, i.e. on the proverbial balcony visualizing it happening to another being rather than themselves. One frame or explanation is that this moves the center of the story from the areas of the brain regulating emotions, particularly fear, to those in the cerebral cortex involved in reflective thought and decision making.

When lawyers want to calm down clients and focus on “just the facts” there are also ways to quickly teach the client to use self-distancing language. You start by being transparent and informing the client that research supports the concept of describing things in the second or third person. Rename the key players as if they were actors. Ask them to visualize watching the events with another person or Avatar as the central character or victim in the tale.  Ask them to describe it as if they were watching a movie or play from the safety of the gallery seats. This is a shift in perspective that does have an impact on emotions.

The professors also found that speeches improved when the presenters practiced or thought of themselves in the second or third person. This included some reports of less self-criticism and doubt after the presentation. 

Lawyers can expand their skills and tool kits by learning from the social and other disciplines.  After all, it is not just all about yourself!

References and Resources:

Ozlem Ayduk, Walter Mischel, and Ethan Kross, Pronouns Matter when Psyching Yourself Up, Harvard Business Rev., (February 2015).

Ethan Kross and Ozlem Ayduk, Making Meaning Out of Negative Experiences by Self-Distancing, 20 Current In Psychological Science No. 3, 187 (2005).

Teresa F. Frisbie, Raising Emotional Intelligence at the Mediation Table, 24 Dispute Resolution Magazine, No. 2, 19 (Winter, 2018).

Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight  The New Science of Personal Transformation, p. 33 (2010).