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. (americanbar.org)

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. (abovethelaw.com)

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.” (apnews.com)

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).



Sleep Matters!

As lawyers, we are under constant pressure to work more and sleep less. However, it’s important that we prioritize sleep to the benefit of our careers, our health, and our happiness.

“The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life,” says Sleep Scientist Matt Walker in an April 2019 Ted Talk. During his talk, entitled Sleep is Your Superpower, Walker explores the many physiological downsides to not getting enough sleep. 

Not getting enough sleep can suppress your immune system, and may lead to increased risks of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Walker also describes how sleep impacts memory—without enough sleep, the brain has difficulty forming and storing new memories.  “Sleep isn’t an optional lifestyle luxury, it’s a nonnegotiable biological necessity,” Walker implores.

Indeed, there is evidence that getting less sleep may be linked to increased mortality rates. Recent research cited in an article in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest states that “approximately 65 minutes more than, or under, the average nightly sleep duration (7 hours in this sample) was associated with a 10 per cent increased risk of dying over the course of the study.” 

The article, called “Researchers identify sleep as a key reason why personality traits predict longevity,” explores the connections between personality, sleep, and health. For instance, participants who scored low on the trait of conscientiousness also tended to be people who got less sleep and were more likely to die before the end of the research period.

Additionally, the National Health Institute has a wealth of information about how sleep (or lack thereof) plays a role in health, safety, brain performance, and learning. Scientific research continually reminds us that sleep is important for both our physical and mental well-being, but what can we do to get more or better quality sleep?

We’ve created a free downloadable PDF e-book, Sleep Matters!. Not only do we further explore why sleep matters, but we offer tips to help you improve your sleeping habits and provide a document that you can use to track your sleep. This book is part of our Healthy Habits content series and Happy Effective Lawyer Workstyles, which also include several other e-books. We hope that you find these resources to be helpful in improving your practice of both law and life.

Our Chosen Business: Developing Core Competencies

This series explores the importance of soft skills and the development of core competencies involved in decision-making and effective client representation. My model addresses core competencies within five categories that are observable, teachable, and learnable by lawyers.

To learn this model, 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 robertcreo@happyeffectivelawyer.org.


The Heart of Lawyering

At this time of year it is especially important to recognize that our role as counselors has broader implications. This excerpt shows the importance of using empathy –of understanding from a “human point of view”.

The following is an excerpt from Kristin B. Gerdy, The Heart of Lawyering: Clients, Empathy, and Compassion, 3(24) Religious Conviction (2013). (View Full Paper).

Understanding clients and exercising empathy and compassion comprise the heart of lawyering. The Oxford English Dictionary defines empathy as “the power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” The English word empathy comes from the German word Einfühlung, which literally translated means “feeling into.” According to Carl Rogers, the founder of the client-centered therapy movement, to demonstrate true empathy is to “sense the Client’s private world as if it were your own, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ quality,” whereas compassion, which is often mistakenly seen as synonymous with empathy, is “the feeling or emotion when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to spare or to succor.” This definition refers to the compassion given “towards a person in distress by one who is free from it, who is, in this respect, his superior.”

To “understand, from a human point of view, what the other wants to happen in the world” requires the lawyer to think, feel, and understand what that person would think, feel, and understand, to be what Professor Martha Nussbaum terms “an intelligent reader of that person’s story.” Simply put, when a person experiences empathy, she is able to “stand in the shoes” of the other person.

To be truly effective in the use of empathy, the “intelligent reader” of the other’s story must become the “accurate translator” of that story to others. A lawyer fundamentally is a translator. As such, she needs to be able to empathize with the other side in order to translate that point of view for her client during settlement negotiations. She also needs to empathize with what opposing counsel is experiencing in order to relate effectively with her. She needs to empathize with the judge or the jury in order to know their concerns and address them as she conveys information to her client and as she makes her own strategic judgments. In other words, empathy is fundamental to the hard-care lawyering skills that affect results.

Compassionate lawyers bear the burden of others, namely their clients. …[They] can hardly be restrained from trying to render assistance and to bring healing when they witness suffering, pain, and other injustice. …[A]ll lawyers can help to bear the burdens of others as they focus on the people they serve and seek solutions for the problems they face.

Further, compassionate lawyers comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Often this comfort is given by small acts of compassion that may or may not be directly related to the legal proceedings in which the lawyer is involved. Sometimes this compassion is shown simply by the way the lawyer interacts with the client and in the relationship that develops between the two.

By bearing burdens, giving comfort, and showing care in their interactions with others, lawyers can demonstrate compassion in their professional practice.