Raising awareness is helping to remove the stigma surrounding lawyer well-being. In this episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast, host Kris Butler talks to Terry Harrell and John Berry about mental health and well-being in the legal profession and law schools. Terry and John talk about how they became involved with mental health awareness in the legal community and explain the types of support available through lawyer assistance programs. They also give their insight on why substance abuse and mental health issues have historically been more prevalent in the legal community, how the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being is addressing this crisis, and how law students can get involved.
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ABA Law Student Podcast
Mental Health and Well-Being How Law Students Can Get Help and Help Others
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast, where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step.
You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Kristoffer Butler: Hello everyone and welcome to this edition of the ABA Law Student Division Podcast. I am your host Kristoffer Butler, and our topic today is Mental Health and Well-Being.
I have two wonderful guests here with me that I spoke to briefly at the ABA midyear meeting at Las Vegas and we’re here to continue our conversation on mental health and well-being in the legal profession and as well dealing with law students.
My first guest is Terry L. Harrell. She completed her Law Degree at Maurer School of Law, and her Master of Social Work degree at Indiana University. Terry is a licensed clinical social worker, a licensed clinical addictions counselor in Indiana, and has a nationally recognized Master Addictions Counselor certification from the NAADAC.
She has worked in a variety of mental health settings including inpatient treatment, crisis services, adult outpatient treatment, wraparound services for severely emotional disturbed adolescents, and management. Terry has been with the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, also known as a JLAP, since 2000 and become the Executive Director in 2002.
Locally, Terry is active with the Indiana State Bar Association and is a fellow of the Indiana Bar Foundation. From 2014 to 2017, she served as the Chair of The American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and she is the current Chair of The ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, and serves on the ABA National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. For her own well-being Terry enjoys walking, running and spending time with her therapy dog, Gus.
Terry Harrell: Thank you.
Kristoffer Butler: My second guest is John T. Berry. He currently serves as The Florida Bar’s Legal Division Director, supervising the Lawyer Regulation and Professionalism Efforts Mr. Berry received his B.A., Magna Cum Laude in Political Science from the University of Florida in 1973 and is Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law in 1976. Prior to returning to The Florida Bar he served as the Executive Director of the State Bar of Michigan from 2000 to 2006.
Before joining the State Bar of Michigan in November of 2000, he served as the Director of the Center of Professionalism at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. He has held previous positions as Assistant Executive Director of the State Bar of Arizona, and a Staff Counsel and Legal Division Director of The Florida Bar. Staff counsel duties included supervision of lawyer regulation, unauthorized practice of law, ethics, professionalism and the advertising departments. He served for seven years as Florida Assistant State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Fraud Division, Orlando, Florida handling white collar and organized crime cases.
Mr. Berry was trained and approved by the Florida Supreme Court as an instructor for judicial education. He is a frequent lecturer throughout the nation and the world on ethics and professionalism. In addition, Mr. Berry is responsible for the establishment of the Florida Bars in the State Bar of Arizona’s professional enhancement program, where he participated as a main lecturer. He also was a member of over 15 consulting teams to other states evaluating their ethics and professionalism efforts. He served as liaison for the State Bar of Arizona to the ABA Ethics 2000 Commission and ABA Multijurisdictional Practice Commission. In January he received the highest award of the National Organization of Bar Councils’ President’s Award.
John Berry: Thank you very much.
Kristoffer Butler: I am glad to have you both here and to continue our conversation on mental health and the American Bar Association and how we can better mental health practices and help eliminate the stigma.
My first question, even though I talked about a little bit in your bios, but what is your experience with mental health and the American Bar Association?
Terry Harrell: Okay, well, I am a therapist and a lawyer and I have worked as a LAP Director for the past almost 19 years now, I probably shouldn’t admit that. So I work with lawyers who are dealing with some sort of life problem day in and day out, and I started work coming to ABA events with the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs back in 2000 and shortly thereafter I joined a sub-committee because I was really interested in what LAPs were starting to do to assist older lawyers, either lawyers who were just struggling a little bit with when to retire and how to retire or lawyers who were experiencing some dementia and still practicing.
And joined a sub-committee and found out how helpful and useful the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs was, and since then I’ve been on many different committees and part of the Commission helping to provide good education to the Lawyer Assistance Programs around the country, sharing best practices, ideas, helping each other really using my background as a social worker and addictions counselor and my knowledge of the legal profession to put the two together the best I am able and I have found the Commission at the ABA to be the best place to do that.
John Berry: Sure, my experience in this issue of mental health and concerns with the legal profession and law students I think started a long time ago in 1973 when I became a law student. Even back in those days the stresses and the pressures and how people cope and do not cope, I began very early in my career to get introduced to it. From a professional standpoint, 1986 was an important date for us in Florida and for me our Board engaged in whether or not we needed a Lawyer Assistance Program to help with drug and alcohol.
And unfortunately back in those days society and even our Bar had mixed feelings about that whether or not that was just a problem of the attorney themselves or whether or not it was responsibility of the organized bar and others around us to do something about it. I am proud about the fact that in 1986, we were one of the first states to have a Lawyer Assistance Program and I had a part in helping to get that established and show support from the discipline system.
Also I’ve been involved in numerous aspects of the discipline system. I probably had my name associated with more licenses being taken away from lawyers than anybody in the country based upon the amount of time and the places I have been, and that’s not a happy thing and my personality is not to want to be involved with that but to help, and so, ever since then and saw the problems that our profession was having and the connection that it can have for protection of the public and helping lawyers to enhance their profession.
2009, I chaired a Committee for the National Organization of Bar Counsel called Law School Professionalism Initiatives and a major part of that was 10 years ago was warning the profession about the fact that we are seeing more-and-more serious problems amongst law students and others and that we needed to do more about it.
2017, I was quite privileged to be involved with the National Organization of Bar Counsel to be able to help ask for the National Taskforce to be set up and that report in my opinion is one of the best reports I have seen in my career on anything but in particular or in health and well-being and in subsequent to that I had a chance to work with Terry as the Chair of the ABA working group to try to implement all of the wonderful ideas that were there.
So, pretty well in my whole career I’ve been involved in this issue, not as an expert as Terry is, but clearly involved directly and the impact that mental health, drugs and alcohol have on our profession and on the ethics of our profession, and also the flip-side of it about how important it is to work on wellness to try to really give lawyers an enhanced life and so that the lives and careers can be happy and good for them.
Kristoffer Butler: Thank you both for your answers and I know you both mentioned lawyer assistance programs, so for the law students out there that don’t know what it is, can you give a little tidbit about what those programs are?
Terry Harrell: Absolutely. Almost every State today has a lawyer assistance program or as in Indiana we call ours as Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, and initially we only served lawyers but most states have expanded to serve both law students and judges today, the entire profession, and LAPs are safe place where law students can contact, get some help, get some guidance.
Every program is confidential. The confidentiality rules do vary slightly by State, so you might want to read your own State’s rule, but in general terms, they are confidential programs, you can seek help for really anything that’s getting in your way of succeeding in law school, whether it’s simply just stress of studying for exams or it’s a more serious mental health or substance use issue or relationship issues, the LAP is a great place to start and get some help for those problems.
The LAPs also provide a lot of education on well-being topics, raising awareness, how to keep yourself healthy, how to survive exams with minimal stress — or to reduce the stress, it’s not going to go away, but how to help deal with that.
Kristoffer Butler: Yeah, I think all law students would be jumping in on that if it was — reduce all stress from exams.
Terry Harrell: Yeah, if we can take it away they all will be signing up, we can’t do that but we can help you to cope with it better, that’s the goal. I’ll make a lot of referrals, do a lot of education, and I wish that almost every State has a lawyer assistance program today.
John Berry: I think the importance of what Terry was talking about too, the name couldn’t be a better name, the Lawyer Assistance Program and/or for law students to help assist them with any difficulties they are having and I’m sure during our interview time we’ll talk about the issues of stigma and other areas, but I think it’s been a tremendous improvement since the very beginning of those programs to see a real connection between the assistance programs and a discipline system, in which a discipline system is quite understanding and cooperative in saying let’s try to do the best job we can to help lawyers, law students before they get into the kind of difficulties that then we have to turn to a discipline system for. So I think they’re working hand-in-hand in almost every State now.
Terry Harrell: Absolutely, the one more thing I would add on LAPs is that most LAPs also offer support groups. Traditionally we offer support groups for law students and lawyers who are dealing with substance use issues, mental health issues, and in our State we have started to offer a group of people who are caregivers as well as lawyers or law students and we periodically run a grief group for lawyers who are dealing with grief. And I know it is true around the country that LAPs are broadening the kind of support groups they offer.
John Berry: Terry, I just thought when you were talking about that one of the things I like the stress to folks because it connects to a bigger point. I think a lot of the lawyer assistance programs have people working within them at one time had a problem or not. It may have been a serious problem, it may years ago have led to license issues or other things and the thing that I love about it is that for almost all of these, these are people that have had their struggles, have overcome them and then can help others down the road. And I think the message to be sent is, we all have difficulties in our lives that can be overcome, and so if you deal with them you can then overcome them, move onto bigger and better things. And some of the folks that I work with and that have had these difficulties and issues in the past have been absolutely the most incredible human beings to be able to help others and also to be able to go out and help the public as well.
Terry Harrell: Absolutely, those volunteers can help to break down stigma and then nothing is more helpful than having a volunteer come to you who can say I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve had a problem much like this and it can get better, let me help show you the way out of this is so valuable.
Kristoffer Butler: Given that, this is seemed to be on the radar with the lawyer assistance programs for the past few decades as more-and-more states have implemented them, why is mental health and well-being still such a prevalent issue in the legal profession, including with substance abuse issues, I know statistics show that the legal profession is one of the highest professions that deal with abuse of different substances, so why is it still such a prevalent issue?
Terry Harrell: Yeah, of course, why is it still such a prevalent issue, there is no exact answer to that, but I think for a long time we kind of knew it but didn’t really want to turn around and face the fact that our profession has higher rates of substance use problems, mental health problems, and most importantly that we are unwilling to accept help for those issue or to request help.
The research in 2016 done by the ABA and here’s somebody forward really gave us good data, and I think that help people to kind of get over the hump and recognize it is a problem. And we’re taking strides but I think there’s some setup in our culture, and I’m sure John will have more thoughts on this, but I think the work that we do is stressful, but we are certainly not the only profession that deals with stress. It is an adversarial system which causes some problems. It’s a system where you must keep a large portion of your work must remain confidential. So, I think it can be a very isolating profession at times.
It’s a profession that really values perfectionism, which can be very hard on individuals, and I wish we could work towards excellence not perfection, but in fact when there is deadlines and a particular judge wants something just the way he wants it, we often feel like we have to be perfect. That’s a problem and I do think our culture has become one where we use alcohol in a way that’s more excessive than other professions.
Our Bar association or employment events there is just more alcohol than in some other professions, more than in other professions that I have been in, and so, we are not asking people saying lawyers can’t drink alcohol, but we need to take the emphasis away, just not make so many events be about.
I think most law students have seen the events that are advertised, it’s a joke that there is a big sign that says free beer and then in little print underneath it tells you what the event will be about. That’s kind of become a part of our culture and I would rather it be about this educational session, if someone wants to serve some alcoholic beverages, that’s fine, but can we flip the emphasis here.
John Berry: I couldn’t agree more with Terry’s comments and I will act philosophical a little bit here, having had the chance to deal with our profession, our society and some of the problems we run into. Justice BC from the Ethics 2020 made a statement at one time saying that we were in search of the hearts and souls of our profession, and I think that’s going on right now in our society and our profession as well.
The prioritization of what’s important in our lives, is it going to be family and God and others, or is it going to be, as Larry Krieger has done a wonderful work on what makes lawyers happy or unhappy and he talks about extrinsic factors versus intrinsic factors. And lawyers are hard-driven people, just like Terry says in our profession, but I think in our profession in particular we are driven to success. People are smart and they want success.
Too many of them unfortunately go into the professional at least initially to make money, to get awards, to get the kind of satisfaction that would get them extrinsic versus intrinsic factors. I think we are going for the wrong brass ring and many law schools, many law firms set up a brass ring, as Terry also pointed out, of maybe overly being competitive versus collaborative to be able to go after those extrinsic factors. Law firms put extreme pressure on lawyers to bill more and more hours knowing full well that that’s going to cause problems down the way.
There is a song with some lyrics to it called Slip slidin’ away, and I think in some ways we slip slide in a way from where we should be to slowly ending up in the wrong place. Studies of law students have found that they are actually worse off by the end of law school than they are at the beginning in reference to the kind of things they are looking for to give them satisfaction in life, something important, something idealistic, and by the third year in many ways, unfortunately, either intentionally or mostly unintentionally, have sort of beaten that out of them.
John Dean, who only maybe some of the older folks that are listening to this, and maybe not many of our law students, unless they have studied it, was a counsel for the President of the United States, and he ultimately ended up committing crimes, and I have talked to him and one of his comments was called incrementalization, how do we get ourselves into trouble, we do it one step at a time, one slow little step at a time.
We see that in ethics. We see that in our drug, alcohol and mental health issues. We start having a mental health issue, we don’t deal with it, we let it go. We start drinking just a couple of extra glasses of wine instead of one and it starts sliding a little bit farther. Again, as Terry has so well put out, we are so competitive that we don’t network well. We don’t have accountability partners. We are sort of loners in what we are doing in our lives and elsewhere.
So I think the combination of all the factors that she indicated and maybe a few that I threw in have given us frankly a crisis in our profession that we all want to deal with in groups like this Working Group that Terry chairs, it’s just doing an incredible job to be able to help in that area.
Kristoffer Butler: So given the Working Group and the CoLAP, you all came together and did these studies and came out with these statistics, and I know that as an organization the ABA is working towards making sort of broad sweeping changes to how we address mental health issues in our profession. But what can law students do on the ground, in their individual settings, at their law schools to improve mental health practices personally and in their communities?
John Berry: I will start off on this one and hopefully I will leave plenty. Terry and I have done this so often, where we sometimes just basically hit the same points, so hopefully I won’t do that. But I think the starting point, I have worked within law schools and been involved with them very much, the starting point for students to get help within law school starts with the students.
I think the real ability of students who either have had problems or care deeply about these issues to try to work with and help other students. It’s great to bring in John Berry with his gray hair and talk about all of his experience and I think we can do a lot, but I think when you talk student-to-student and you talk to Jane and Joe and say I have had this problem or I see you are having a problem, let’s talk about it. So I think that’s one of the starting points.
I think the other is, and I have to get this information in about the Task Force every time I talk about it is page 9 of the Task Force indicates that well-being is a continuing process, driving across all life dimensions and in it, it mentions your emotional aspects, occupational, social, physical, intellectual and yes, spiritual; too often we run away from the fact that the meaning purpose of searching for a higher power, searching which is used in AA, searching for God, searching for some meaning in your life.
And I think law students too often will get so dragged into the work, the drudgery, even if you love the drudgery, spending so much time on that, we are not spending enough time on actually being healthy, which helps you avoid having to deal with all the illness you are having by not becoming more healthy.
So I think students helping students, the experience of people like Terry coming in and talking, the experience of people like me who have seen things not go so well to try to help, but ultimately, to have a well-balanced approach.
And I will end with this, I think part of the break down may be of our problems are the break down in the families. I am acting philosophical again, but I think we have to recognize the fact that many of the students coming in to law school are coming from broken families, are coming from places where they haven’t had the chance to really have the benefits, we need to recognize that, care for them and find ways to help them.
Terry Harrell: Thank you John. You gave such a broad perspective, it’s really helpful. I will start speaking about the work of the Working Group at the ABA. The Working Group has created a Pledge for legal employers with seven points that help people move in the direction of well-being. And law schools are legal employers and I am very pleased to say that a number of law schools have taken the Pledge recently, and really the Pledge is aimed at your employees by picking a law school that’s going to be applied to the lawyers that they employ, but also to the law students I would assume.
That is something that law students can learn about. They can go to the ABA website and just search for ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being and out site will pop up with the Pledge, and you can advocate, something you can do as a law student is advocate that your law school take the Pledge. That would be a step in pushing sustainable change within the law schools.
The points on the Pledge are provide robust education. On that point law students can ask the school for education. We want to learn about symptoms that someone is struggling, how to help. Maybe mindfulness training, maybe suicide prevention, work to just reduce the expectation of alcohol or the emphasis on alcohol events. Again, I am not saying you can’t serve alcohol, but let’s not make it the focus.
The third is partner with outside providers, and I think one thing law students can do go meet with your local Lawyer Assistance Program. You can talk to them about your own personal well-being plan. Hey, am I doing a good job, this is what I am doing, get some tips, but you can also talk to them about how can we work together to make our law school a healthier environment and work with them on both sort of systemic level as well as the individual level, asking what law students can do.
The other thing you can do is be a good example, take care of yourself and be a model for other students, in the fact that you do — you are mindful of your own well-being.
Many law schools are beginning to have counselors come in at the law school and that’s something you can ask your law school for, there is many ways to fill that need. If your campus counseling has adequate slots that law students can quickly get in there or can send someone over to the law school, that may be adequate.
I work with a lot of law schools where by the time early October rolls around, you can’t get in with university counseling until after finals. Well, that’s not helpful. So some schools are having someone from the Lawyers Assistance Program have office hours right at the school, some are having a private therapist come into the school or hiring a therapist to work at the school. Again, sometimes university counseling service can provide that, there is multiple ways to do it, but what you want is for students to be able to get help in a timely manner when they need it, whether it’s a small problem or a big problem, if you start on it sooner rather than later you are going to get a better outcome.
John Berry: I might, if I have got time — if we have got time, I would like to add a couple of other things that came from the Professionalism Report we did 10 years ago which ties a lot into what Terry was saying, but the specific recommendations there were schools themselves have to be able to be teaching in one way or another students for resiliency and coping skills, they should be teaching what’s called professional identity, which is informing the people, the kind of wide range of skills and such you need to be able to survive.
And does the school itself have, for instance, in the way it teaches collaborative assignments and shared responsibilities, where students learn to work with each other instead of against each other. Even such things as teaching Myers-Briggs and Birkman to learn more about how you actually relate to other people and how you can find your own strengths and weaknesses in yourself and be able to work on it, and are there programs in place where students are actually oriented as to the exact stresses that they are going to be facing in law school that will be unique from college.
Sometimes I think students think that they are just moving from college to law school and it’s going to be the same old, same old. It isn’t. It’s completely different, the way we learn, the way we are tested, the way the competition that’s going on, it’s completely different, and so orientation programs that strongly emphasize those things to students I think are vitally important as well.
Kristoffer Butler: Thank you guests for those answers. I know that a lot of the information that you gave will be very helpful. I know one of the things that have started in the past few months is that there has been a coalition of different law students that have started, or are the heads of, or are part of mental health organizations in their law school.
And so someone made a Facebook page so we could all come together, share resources, share ideas and I definitely look forward to posting this podcast in there, especially for those ideas that you just posted, because I know one thing that a lot of law schools are struggling with is being able to have a counselor on campus. And so there are different ways that law students have tried to do it, but I think especially leaning into the Lawyer Assistance Programs would be very helpful.
John Berry: You know, the comment you make really jogged my thoughts about the Young Lawyers Division and Bars as well. Florida, because we have had recent suicides, has taken this issue very seriously, had our own committee and commissions, but our Young Lawyers Division, just as you just pointed out, has really stressed this issue. They understand the issue.
For instance, they just put up in Florida two videos of two of our board members, our senior board members who dealt, one with mental health issue, another with the drug issue, and if you watch that and you do not have a tear in your eye, both for the suffering they went through, but also for the joy of overcoming and going forward, there is something wrong with your heart.
And it is absolutely useful, because it breaks down the stigma that Terry mentioned earlier that this happens to everybody, and for a young lawyer, for a law student to watch those videos and see somebody that they learn from and know there are resources available, like the resources Terry has mentioned, that can make all the difference in the world.
Somebody once told me, how do I get across to young people, and the best answer I have ever heard yet is narrative, it’s narrative, talking about lives, talking about real lives, not giving them a checklist of 22 things, but saying this is what happened to me, this is the help that I got and you can make it.
Terry Harrell: Yeah, let me follow that up with a couple of points. John is right. He is saying narrative and what I would say to law students is talk about it. Part of the reason this has not been fixed sooner is that previous generations were unwilling to talk about it and I think your generation is willing to talk about it, so do and keep talking about it. I love your Facebook page. I think that’s a way to gain momentum and share good ideas.
And another idea I would put to those within the law schools who are working to promote well-being, there is an organization in Australia, and all you have to put in to find it is just R U OK, four letters, literally the letters RU OK. They have wonderful resources and they will give you details on how to have an RU OK Day at your law school, where you just simply ask people, RU OK, and you listen in a very real way to a real response about how people are doing. I think we have been remiss in not doing that enough with our colleagues and that’s something that a law school could easily promote and do that wouldn’t cost anything, but I think could be very effective and it will be a way to keep the conversation going.
John Berry: Yeah. And one other area I think has proven to be really good, we tend to group ourselves into segments, by all kinds of categories and one area that we can do a good job of is joining younger lawyers and more mature lawyers, senior lawyers together and be able to learn from each other. And as we use that in Florida and other states, there is a lot that more senior attorneys can learn from younger lawyers and there is a tremendous amount that lawyers that have been through the struggles and overcome them can help others.
And there is just something special about suddenly realizing we are all in this together, that it’s not just one group, it’s not just the young, it’s not just the old, it’s not just the middle-aged, we all have our own struggles, and to be able to sit down and talk to each other, learn from each other, it helps us in many more ways even beyond just health and well-being or drugs and alcohol and mental health, it just helps us as human beings.
Kristoffer Butler: Thank you both for those wonderful remarks at the end. Unfortunately, we have come to the end of our podcast and I would love to keep talking about this, as I am well sure that many other law students would like to hear this continue, but for now we have come to the end of this podcast. I would like to thank you for listening and I would like to thank my guests Terry Harrell and John Berry for joining me again for this wonderful podcast.
John Berry: Thank you for the opportunity.
Terry Harrell: Thank you Kristoffer.
Kristoffer Butler: And last, before we go, I would like to leave us with a quote, “Healing isn’t about changing who you are; it’s about changing your relationship to who you are. A fundamental part of that is honoring how you feel.”
Thank you again for joining us for this edition of the ABA Law Student Podcast. I am your host Kristoffer Butler. You can follow us on Twitter @ABAlsd, ABA for Law Students. Search us on other social media platforms at ABA for Law Students as well as on Facebook. Thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.
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