The Virginia Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative is bringing even more resources and educational opportunities to help attorneys prioritize wellbeing. Digital Edge hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway welcome wellness coordinator Margaret Ogden to discuss the history and development of this new initiative and how attorneys can seek assistance, take advantage of CLE opportunities, find resources, and more.
Margaret Ogden is the wellness coordinator at the Supreme Court of Virginia.
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The Digital Edge
Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative- A Rousing Success!
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway. Your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon Nelson: Welcome to the 153rd edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today, our topic is Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyers Wellness Initiative: A Rousing Success!
Sharon Nelson: But first, we’d like to thank our sponsors. Thanks to our sponsor Clio, host of the 2020 Clio Cloud Conference which will take place online from October 13 to 16. Until the end of this month, you can get special discount passes at $99 each using promo code [email protected].
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Our guest today is Margaret Hannapel Ogden who began her legal career as an Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Roanoke before entering private practice specializing in criminal defense in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. Immediately prior to her position as Inaugural Wellness Coordinator for the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyer Wellness Initiative, Margaret served as the Staff Attorney to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness where she analyzed court policy, drafted and commented on proposed rules and legislation, and advised judges and attorneys on best practices for addressing bias in the state court system.
A native of Washington D.C., Margaret graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Maryland’s College of Behavioral and Social Science and earned her JD at Washington and Lee School of Law. Thanks for joining us Margaret.
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Thank you so much Jim for that wonderful introduction and both of you Jim and Sharon for having me today.
Sharon Nelson: Well let’s get started. My first question, Margaret is one I know the answer to simply because I’m a former President of the Virginia State Bar. But for the sake of our listeners, how did the Virginia State Bar and Virginia Bar Association historically address
wellness in the legal profession?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: And Sharon, I think that’s a wonderful question to start us off with and thank you for giving a little bit of inside baseball because you have been here and involved in these groups, historically longer than I have been alive. And this wellness movement dates back to 1984 when my mother would say I was just a twinkle in her eye, and the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association got together, and this is very prescient because 1984, who’s talking about lawyer wellness then? Well our commonwealth’s two main lawyer organizations got together to survey our profession. They found high rates of substance use, specifically alcohol abuse was the pressing issue at the time, and they formed this committee as an all-volunteer effort that was housed within the Virginia Bar
Association to start addressing this and that’s when Lawyers Helping Lawyers was created, which evolves into the organization, the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program that’s still operating today.
Jim Calloway: What spurred a change in the response to lawyers with mental health and substance abuse issues?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Well the most recent change and the one that has really kick-started the movement here in Virginia is the National Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being’s 2017 report “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being.” And this is based off of two 2016 studies that looked at well-being first in lawyers and then in law students and found really staggeringly high rates
especially when compared to the general population of all sorts of issues: anxiety, depression burnout, alcohol, suicide, substance use, you name it.
This national report found that lawyers –depending on what metric you were looking at, two to four times that of the national population, and really stacked up against other professions, we were not doing well. And this report, rather than just focus on some of these dire statistics,
started with that, but really ended with a call to action saying, “We’ve seen this at the national
level. Please, states, the laboratories of our democracy, please pick this up and see what can be done about this because you are the folks who are regulating lawyers and we realize that this isn’t just an individual problem. This is an institutional problem that pervades our profession.” So that report came out in 2017 and now obviously in Virginia, this conversation has been going on since the ‘80s and it’s been a largely volunteer effort.
But in 2002, Lawyers Helping Lawyers became an independent non-profit organization and
so they are posed in Virginia when this National Task Force report comes out to really take the lead on addressing this issue locally.
Sharon Nelson: Well, so how did Virginia respond to that report? Because I certainly remember that very vividly. We were pretty enthused to get started.
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Well, and this is the thing, Sharon, that I think is so incredible because that report — when you hold that mirror of self-reflection up to our profession, it could be very daunting. First, the number of folks who were involved in the creation of that report, the number of stakeholders, the amount of regulators that really impacts the well-being in our profession. There’s the Board of Bar Examiners. There’s the State Bar,
both the regulation of the profession side things like MCLE and who we let into the profession, but then also the lawyer discipline side.
And so Virginia did an incredible job of identifying all of these local stakeholders and then also identifying the larger community of the legal profession, so key firms, the law schools, the deans, the courts and bringing them all together in two different committees. The first is the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Committee which is really looking at, “How are institutions responding? What policies and procedures are in place? And how can we improve them to make sure that lawyers who have mental health and substance use issues are seeking help?” And then there’s the Virginia State Bar which almost takes it back a step and says, “Okay, we understand there are these widespread rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, what are the unique risk in the practice of law that are responsible for these bad outcomes? And what can we do to more proactively address and ameliorate these risks?” And they produced a really excellent report called the Occupational Risk of the Practice of Law and I believe you all
have had on this podcast one of the authors of that report Graham Bryant, who is a near and dear friend — and I think that report is, it came out in 2019, but it is oddly prescient in terms of the way it talks about our occupational risks.
Sharon Nelson: Well you might not know this, Margaret, but that’s how Graham and I became friends because we served together on that committee.
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Well I did know that you were on that committee, but that, what a small world that is? I love it. Wellness is bringing folks together.
Sharon Nelson: Absolutely.
Jim Calloway: What policy changes came out of these reports? The Supreme Court of Virginia report and the others?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Like I mentioned, Jim, there are few different stakeholders that are all sitting on these committees and really examining the current policies that might impact lawyer mental health or substance use. And so, first when we’re talking about law schools, a lot of their internal policies about attendance, about ensuring that students have access to counseling. And then next, we’re looking at the Board of Bar Examiners, when we get to the character and fitness screening the entry of our profession and making sure that any questions that we’re asking in the character and fitness section are not asking about mental health conditions that really have no relation to someone’s ability to practice law. But we want to ask about s conduct is conduct, and that way, we’re not discouraging people from seeking the help that they need. And the Board of Bar Examiners — before the Supreme Court of Virginia report came out — was already looking at these questions and examining them and making sure that they’re not going to be barriers for people seeking help.
Then we want to make sure once people enter the profession, that right from the get-go, healthy habits and policies are being modeled to them, so looking at our professionalism course. Virginia is really unique that we have a really top-notch Harry Carrico professionalism
course to let all brand new Virginia lawyers know what are our professional obligations to each other and making sure that well-being is included at the forefront saying, “This is something that is part of your definition of competence, because now, of course, the rules have been changed too.”
This is something that our Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1 which governs competence,
a comment was added to that which now makes the mental, emotional and physical well-being necessary to practice law and represent clients, part of our definition of competence.
So making sure that these policies change, that people are being educated about them at each entry point into the practice of law, and then that our continuing legal education requirements include well-being, so that lawyers are being hit with these best practices as they evolve depending on where they are in their career. And that’s one of the things that’s great about the Occupational Risk Report is it provides a beautiful base for continuing legal education. And the MCLE Board issued Opinion 19 which clarifies how many of these different well-being topics really will qualify for CLE credit and is encouraging attorneys to self-report whether they’ve taken these classes to see if this is something that there’s a demand for. And we’ve seen great demand for especially now that we’ve been doing some of these courses virtually.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative: A Rousing Success! Our guest today is Margaret Hannapel Ogden who began her legal career as an Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Roanoke before entering private practice, specializing in criminal defense in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. She is now the Inaugural Wellness
Coordinator for the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyer Wellness Initiative. And speaking of that word initiative, what initiatives did come out of these reports finally, Margaret?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Yeah, so Sharon knew that there is a little bit of spoiler alerts there in the very title of our episode. The overarching initiative that comes out of these two reports is the Virginia Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative. And this is the initiative that I’m the Coordinator of that lives in the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and that was one of the key recommendations from the Supreme Court Report — was that the court as a regulator of the profession and the overseer of attorney licensing and competence really needed to have a well-being liaison between all these different stakeholders that impact attorney well-being. And also as the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program stays a separate independent non-profit, but builds a larger base, increases its staff,
expands its reach making sure that that organization has a seat at the table when all of these well-being discussions are happening.
So that’s the key initiative, is Lawyers’ Well-Being which includes the expanded funding of
the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program — it includes these expanded CLE credits, and I want to give a specific shout out to the Virginia Law Foundation and Virginia CLE because
they have created a beautiful library of well-being CLEs that qualify in Virginia and they are offering to all active attorneys, two of them at no cost a year. And this is the promise that they’ve made as part of the wellness initiative to support the education of attorneys in this area. And I say attorneys, they’re also offering them to judges and to law students because they recognize that this is education that — even if you’re not required to get it to maintain your continuing legal education requirements, that anyone who is in the legal profession will benefit from this.
That’s something I’m excited about. My position is specifically housed in the Department of Educational Services within the Office of the Executive Secretary.
If we want to do a deep dive on how our state judiciary is structured, that’s the administrative office of the court, so HR is there, IT is there and well-being is now considered that much of an institutional virtue that it is being placed within education. And when we’re doing our yearly education requirements for judges, clerks, magistrates, we’re now including well-being programming in each of those audiences that the Supreme Court is training. So that is to me very exciting to see not just an expansion in law schools and with this wonderful non-profit, but to see the court putting it into its educational and policy priorities.
Jim Calloway: Well that sounds like an impressive list. How are all these efforts funded?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Yes of course, and this is definitely the where the rubber hits the road because they’re funded collectively. They’re funded by every active member of the Virginia State Bar. In 2019, this was one of the main recommendations out of that Supreme Court report, that this will all cost money, that to make the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program able to serve attorneys across the commonwealth, they can’t just be 1.5 employees because that’s what they were and they were trying to serve — you know we have over 50,000 members in the Virginia State Bar when you include those who are inactive. So that was insufficient. But when we take these costs and divvy them up over all attorneys, in July 2019, $30 of a line item in Bar dues was first assessed to start the Attorney Wellness Fund and that has been — I’m going to steal your line, a rousing success.
Because the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, they have five employees now. And Jim, if you could see what they can do with five employees, it’s wild to me because of course these are folks who’ve been working for non-profits for years who’ve been in treatment settings for years. They’re immensely skilled experts and now they have the staff in far
Southwest Virginia, in Tidewater, Virginia to really blanket the state. So to me, that gets me very excited.
The timing of it, it starts in July 2019. They are fully staffed by January 2020 and then we all know what happens in early — this really kind of came at — I don’t want to say a good time,
but a timely time, if you will.
Sharon Nelson: It certainly was timely and of course nobody expected what would happen to us in 2020, which we all want to see the hindsight of.
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Yeah.
Sharon Nelson: But how has the pandemic itself and the judicial emergency change how the Virginia Lawyers Wellness Initiative approaches its very large list of recommendations from those two reports?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Right, and so this is — the judicial emergency has been this
very odd — I don’t want to call it a blessing in disguise sometimes because that sounds
flippant, but it has changed a lot of the ways that we are reaching people. When I first started, it was a lot of in-person meetings, getting on the agendas, at conferences making sure that well-being education was being prioritized by State Bars and you do that by making human connections. Well, a lot of that has been pushed to the wayside, right? The very last time I was able to sit down with people was at the Bar Leaders Institute back in the first week of March. And so we have definitely switched to much more of a virtual presence, which is fairly obvious, but also making sure that the services we’re providing to people meet them where they are. I think the judicial emergency has taken a lot of us back to our basics, has found our worlds getting very small. With courts being closed or opened in limited situations, things being hearings online in some situations, but not others, the practice of law has felt very different. And making sure that when we’re asking folks to take on new obligations for well-being, that they don’t feel like burdens, that we’re giving people keys to make their lives easier because so much of our world is uncertain.
And I think that the number support that more people are seeing struggles in different areas, not just in the law, but across the national population right now — and that is obviously because of the very dire situations in which we find ourselves. But people are responding to that by seeking help, and so making sure that virtual education and virtual outreach exists
has been really key for us.
Jim Calloway: So how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the well-being of our profession,
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Well, lawyers I think — and the reports show this on the whole, we were workaholics before this all started, right? We had very poor work-life balance. We had difficulties with boundaries. We suffered from a little bit of technology addiction and 24-hour expectations of our availability, and working from home or alternate work setups has really shun a light on that. And some people have responded by just letting those boundaries break down completely, but others have really responded well by looking at the way their policies and procedures — now that we have to totally recraft them, because we’re not going into the office in person as often. We’re trying to do more things virtually. We’re looking at our policies with a keen eye for making sure they fit the needs of our clients, but they also fit the well-being needs of ourselves and our colleagues.
So I’m really delighted to see people who are re-examining their policies, putting on their emails, “I am out of the office during these times. These are my in-office hours” and setting
proactive boundaries with their clients. So I think that it’s made us all re-examine where our
boundaries are, but it’s also made us be more intentional in creating — because we have
to in order to maintain any semblance of work-life balance right now.
Jim Calloway: Speaking of boundaries, before we move on to our next segment, let’s take quick commercial break.
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Sharon Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative: A Rousing Success! Our guest today is Margaret Hannapel Ogden who is the Inaugural Wellness Coordinator for the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative. So Margaret, how can organizations like law firms, courts, bar associations and other legal employers, how can they help foster well-being during this ongoing crisis?
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: So the strongest organizations are those that are adaptive and responsive to their employee’s changing needs, right? So we’re all lawyers. We’re a little bit of certainty addicts and we’ve all had to work on giving some of that up as our world has been shifting very quickly. So being sure that our organizations can communicate with their members about what they know, when they know it and getting good at communicating when
things are uncertain in terms of — I know when the court all closed down, folks were very quick about, “If you need to work from home, that is fine. Here are the policies and procedures so that you have safe technology usage from your home.” Making sure that we all had the things that we needed in terms of tech and training to work from home, and then giving folks agency and autonomy to make the choices as much as they can within our structures and without impacting client care, allowing people to make the choices that work best for their individual situation.
Some lawyers now have their families at home with schools being virtual, people are going to have different needs and approaching them with grace, empathy –things our profession is not traditionally known for, but that we can use in this situation to support rather than give
unnecessary burdens to our colleagues who are dealing with a lot of other things right now.
Jim Calloway: So Margaret, what future plans does the Virginia Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: So I like to think of us as almost being a tripod in terms of addressing three main audiences in wellness. First, they’re the law schools. Of course, they are the most bang for your buck. Because this is the future of our profession, they are the folks who are going to shift our culture towards one that is more positive, help-seeking and supportive. And so making sure that they’re all staying connected with each other when their school, some are in-person, some are hybrid, some are virtual, giving them spaces to talk to each other that are vulnerable and open and making sure they know that seeking help during law school will help them be better attorneys, it won’t be a barrier to them entering the profession.
The next one is for lawyers. So expanding our CLE credits, encouraging folks to find programs that are not just these — I think we’ve built a beautiful base of like intro to well-being programs, right? You can see Justice Mims talking about “Six Areas of Wellness.” You can get some really great practice pointers from Barbara Madigan, the new Deputy Clinical Director
of JLAB about managing stress.
But what I get excited about is when bar associations, specialty groups start looking at how, “How does well-being impact for instance appellate lawyers or solo and small firm practitioners or magistrates?” So that’s one thing I’m working at, is tailoring our CLE offerings to specific
audiences and understanding how their occupational risk play out across different practice settings and workplaces. And then finally, judges, because I think judges — their well-being, not just internally, but they are workplace leaders in courts. And if a judge is not doing well, that can negatively impact so much and so making sure that judges feel empowered to have these conversations amongst each other, and that they can monitor for impairment not just in lawyers who come into their courts, but in themselves and in their colleagues — and that they feel comfortable seeking help and not worried about, “Hey, what happens the next time the general assembly is seeking to re-elect me? Am I going to lose my judgeship because I wanted to seek some help dealing with the very real trauma that comes along with this job?”
So it’s all culture shift. It’s all going on, even in a virtual world and I’m just really excited about all of these kind of more technological opportunities we have to reach people, this podcast included.
Sharon Nelson: Well I’ve got to Margaret, because I’m your friend, I can tease you. So your only problem is you don’t have any passion for your subject. No, everybody could tell how excited you are to be doing the work you’re doing and how excited you are to have all of these initiatives underway. I certainly share that excitement; it’s been great to see. Although
nobody wants the pandemic, it has given us a time to step back and it has given us a time to focus on some of the work-balance issues we just weren’t focusing on before because we were working all the time. So I’m glad we’re taking some advantage of the misery as it were and I’m certainly very grateful to the Virginia Supreme Court for all of its work to try to shine a light on this issue. And of course, very grateful to you Margaret for taking the time to be with us today and to explain all of these because it’s a really marvelous thing that’s happening here in Virginia.
Margaret Hannapel Ogden: Thanks Sharon and yeah, the groundswell of effort that took
place to even get this initiative off the ground, I am late to the party on this. And the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, the folks that have been hired for their expanded staff all started around the same time I did, they’re incredible clinicians and I really cannot say enough about the good work they do. If you or someone you know needs help, it still remains confidential, non-disciplinary and free. So don’t hesitate to reach out.
Sharon Nelson: Well thank you for those parting shots there, that’s great and that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. And remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on Apple Podcast, and if you enjoyed our podcast, please write us in Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.
Sharon Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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