Anne Brafford (JD, MAPP, PhD in progress) is a former equity partner at Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius LLP and...
Christine Bilbrey is a Senior Practice Management Advisor at The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Center. She holds a master’s...
Karla Eckardt, a Miami native, moved to Tallahassee to pursue a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and criminology from...
We are all well-aware of the mental health crisis in the legal profession, but how much do you know about the work being done to improve attorney well-being? In this episode from The Florida Bar Podcast, hosts Christine Bilbrey and Karla Eckardt talk to Anne Brafford about her shift from big law to the study of positive organizational psychology. They talk about Anne’s book, “Positive Professionals,” and delve into many studies on various aspects of lawyer health and well-being. The findings show that firms that cultivate more support for their employees have better outcomes and greater profitability. Later, they discuss the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge, and Anne explains how its different elements are meant to inspire cultural changes in the profession.
Anne Brafford (JD, MAPP, PhD in progress) is a former equity partner at Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius LLP and the founder of Aspire, an educational and consultancy firm for the legal profession.
Check out Anne’s book discussed in this podcast–Positive Professionals, the report she co-authored–The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, and the resource she created with the ABA Presidential Working Group–ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers.
The Florida Bar Podcast
The Science Behind the Attorney Mental Health Crisis
Intro: Welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, where we highlight the latest trends in law office and law practice management to help you run your law firm, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Christine Bilbrey: Hello and welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by LegalFuel: The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar on Legal Talk Network. We are so glad you are joining us. This is Christine Bilbrey. I am a Senior Practice Management Advisor at the Bar and one of the hosts for today’s show, which is being recorded from our offices in Tallahassee, Florida.
Karla Eckardt: Hello. I am Karla Eckardt. I am a Practice Management Advisor at The Florida Bar and co-host of today’s podcast.
Our goal at The Practice Resource Center is to assist Florida attorneys with running the business side of their law practices. We focus on a different topic each month and carry the theme through our website with related tips, videos and articles.
Christine Bilbrey: By now most people are well aware of the mental health crisis that has been occurring in the legal profession, along with the startling statistics on lawyer anxiety, depression and substance abuse. But we want to talk about the work that’s being done to better understand and improve attorney well-being, so we are going straight to the expert, and today we are speaking with an attorney who has made this her life’s work.
Joining us is Anne Brafford. Anne Brafford is a former equity partner at Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius LLP and the Founder of Aspire, an educational and consultancy firm for the legal profession. Anne earned a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and has completed her doctoral coursework in positive organizational psychology from Claremont Graduate University. Her focus is on the many aspects of law firm culture that boost engagement and well-being and avoid burnout, such as meaningful work, positive leadership, high-quality motivation, advancement of women lawyers, and more.
Anne is also the author of the ABA-published book ‘Positive Professionals’. She is the co-chair of the ABA Law Practice Division’s Attorney Well-Being Committee, and was Editor in Chief and co-author of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s recent report: The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.
Anne also has been appointed by the two most recent ABA Presidents to the Presidential Working Group formed to investigate how legal employers can support healthy work environments. In her work with that group, Anne created the freely-available ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers. Anne is also a Trusted Advisor to the legal profession’s Professional Development Consortium.
Welcome to the show Anne.
Anne Brafford: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Christine Bilbrey: So Anne, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your journey from big law to the study of positive organizational psychology.
Anne Brafford: Sure, it’s one of my favorite stories. So I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 11 years old, and it was sort of strange because no one in my family had even gone to college, so why an 11 year old started saying she wanted to go to law school was sort of a puzzle to my parents. And for me, it was just feeling that I wanted to do something that made a positive impact in the world and that’s what I really thought of the legal profession.
And strangely, I mean so many childhood dreams don’t come true, but I continued to pursue it, and the day that I graduated from law school was one of the proudest days of my life, I still have vivid memories of it. And I was really proud of the achievements I was able to accomplish while there. I ended up clerking for a federal judge, I got into a great law firm, and was able to practice employment law, which I really love.
And I gradually advanced, I made partner, I made equity partner, I held a number of leadership positions in the firm. But as I got more and more senior I started having just more questions about, is this enough in my one short life? It was really a loss of sense of meaningfulness.
And I had had my own challenges with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life and probably even younger than that, and so those things together started really making me question, was this the right thing for me, although I felt that it had been for all the years before, I really was questioning what to do about my future, and so that was when I discovered positive psychology and was very excited about it.
The basic foundation of positive psychology that differentiates it from other areas is that it focuses on thriving. So the more traditional approach to psychology had been curing illness, detecting and treating illness, which was really important, but then just because you are not ill doesn’t mean that you are fully well.
And so this idea of excellence and what is the best life and thriving really attracted me, and so I began studying more thinking that if I could learn more about this area, kind of a more scientific approach, I could either change myself or change my environment so that I could stay.
I really didn’t want to leave law. I had worked so hard for the achievements that I had and wanted to do it for so long, but as I got more and more into it I just felt a real tug that although law had been very important to me, I thought potentially I could have more of a positive impact if I left. And really it delved into the science and learned what I could so that I could then come back to the legal profession with some great science-based tools and to help shape the cultures in ways that where there was a broader value system, where a whole range of people could stay within the profession and feel like they are thriving.
I feel like in many areas of law it has gotten very narrow in the kind of people that stay and it’s losing a lot of good lawyers. And so while I was still in my master’s program, the Master of Applied Positive Psychology, I decided to take the big leap and leave my law practice and study full-time.
And so now I continue to be — I am a PhD student still and my entire focus is on the legal profession, especially law firms, because that was my background, but the legal profession as a whole to find scientific-based ways to help the profession and individual lawyers really live up to their best selves.
That’s sort of a long way — kind of a long story.
Christine Bilbrey: It’s impressive Anne.
Anne Brafford: But it really came from my own personal challenges, and then what I found to be a love for the area and a real desire to give back to the profession that I still adore.
Christine Bilbrey: And I really feel like you just went for it, you embraced this. And I have to say, I am the Bar Liaison for the Mental Health Committee on — The Florida Bar Committee on Mental Health & Wellness of Florida Lawyers, so I see a lot of research on this topic and we have done CLEs, there has been a lot of stuff.
But Karla and I were so impressed with your book; it keeps coming up in conversation, like I tell people these things because it’s fascinating. But I want to jump right into the part that just grabbed me at the beginning. Some of the studies that you cite reference common personality traits of attorneys and the psychological changes that occur when individuals focus on analytics, profit and power are really depressing.
But can you tell our listeners some of those things that you found in those studies.
Anne Brafford: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating. You actually pinpoint one of my favorite pieces of research in my book as well. It’s the research on the analytical pathway versus the benevolent pathway. And what the research has found, and this is a fairly new area of research, but also very well supported, like there is not a lot of studies showing that we have separate neural pathways for analytical thinking and materialism. So things like power, profit, competition is a different neural pathway than things like benevolence, kindness, love, other oriented types of values.
And if you think about values sort of in a circumplex, what the study suggests is that the competition, power, materialism is on the opposite side of the circumplex than values like benevolence. So that when an environment continues to trigger competition, power and those types of things, it actually turns off the pathway for benevolence, kindness, other oriented values.
And so like the parts of our brain, you separate neural pathways, they do not operate together, they operate separately. So when one is continuously activated, the other one is continuously shut down. And so what some experimental studies have shown, for example, is if you do exercises that make people think about calculations, money, logic, analysis, things that use that particular side of the brain, it makes them more selfish, more likely to lie, more likely to cheat.
Or your prime people to think about love, like there was one study that said, think about a baby’s face, something like that, where it primes this idea of care and love, that those people are more generous and kind.
So when you are in organizations, which large law firms tend to be, and all law firms tend to be, if you get overly focused on profitability, for example, and competition and power, you are going to continually turn off benevolence within that group. And so you are going to get selfish, competitive behavior, and it’s not only calculated — like calculations, money calculations, the materialism has the strongest effect, but even logic, like analysis, which is the lawyer’s primary mode of thinking, also dampens the benevolence value.
So what this means is it doesn’t suggest that we shouldn’t care about money and competition and those types of values, those are important for successful organizations, but the idea is to expand our values, realize that this effect occurs.
And so our messaging, our mission statement, the values that we talk about and also walk the talk are also emphasizing care, that law in all of its forms is basically a service-oriented profession, and so it shouldn’t be that big of a jump that we talk about caring for our clients, for each other, and our communities as much as we talk about profitability. And if we do, we are more likely to have better functioning organizations and also better mental health.
Research also suggests that when you get stuck in the mode, analysis, power, competition, like that side, that neural pathway, it’s related to depression. And so the idea is to expand our value systems in our organizations as to what we talk about and what we focus on is one additional way that we can promote mental health within our organization.
Christine Bilbrey: I think that that’s something that people don’t realize that as they are — you are so focused on profit, and maybe that’s your responsibility, you are a senior partner at the firm, so you want to be super profitable, but then you start to lose some empathy. But then the next leap that I don’t think a lot of people realize is that when you lose that empathy and connection to other people, it’s going to harm you, then the next step is depression.
I feel like that was such a — like it just really connected for me at that point, a lot of what was going on.
Anne Brafford: It is. It’s fascinating and scary at the same time.
Christine Bilbrey: Right, right.
Anne Brafford: Like saying, oh my gosh, like this is such an interesting area of research and it seems to explain at least part of what’s going on, that when we are — it’s just like it can create our own depression by getting us stuck in this neural pathway, but also it harms the culture you are living in. And so it means that everyone — it’s promoting everyone around you to be selfish as well, which is going to — and prone to lying and cheating, all of those things, like these are just not psychologically healthy organizations that have those kinds of culture.
Karla Eckardt: And in your book you discuss the false dichotomy that many law firm leaders have drawn between financial success and lawyer well-being. It was just kind of in line with what we just talked about, it’s either one or the other, and most people choose the financial success path.
What does caring about employees and their engagement at work do for a firm’s bottom line? Are these two ideas mutually exclusive?
Anne Brafford: They are not, and that’s a great question. It’s the question that I feel like I have to lead with in most of my conversations with the organizations, because they automatically think I am telling them they need to make less money. And while I think sometimes there is an overemphasis on profitability, I am not saying that organizations shouldn’t care about making money, that we can do both.
And I would add caring about our clients and our communities as well, of just having this whole stakeholder approach of really caring more about everyone that we impact. And with the research on engagement, job satisfaction, job embeddedness, there is all sorts of concepts used in science that study sort of work-related well-being and there is now just piles of studies showing that, not surprisingly, that workers who are more psychologically healthy at work and engaged and energized are more profitable.
They provide higher client service and so better client satisfaction. There is more productivity, better profitability. Like all the things that organizations care about, there is science showing that these more psychologically healthy work-related well-being states are related to these things.
And so we don’t need to choose just profitability, that we would be supporting profitability by cultivating cultures in which lawyers can really drive.
Christine Bilbrey: The other thing that affects profitability that you talk about in the book is the high rate of turnover inside a lot of law firms and some of the statistics that you cite are within three years 50% of newly employed grads may head for the exits, within five years 81% are gone. And then a 2016 study found that over 40% of lawyers reported that they were likely or very likely to leave their current firm in the next year.
So all this high turnover often is because the burnout, that’s so common, so the turnover is very expensive, but traditionally firms are not prioritizing or even factoring in lawyer well-being into their bottom line. So your book talks about how disengagement leads to burnout and that the opposite of burnout is engagement, but what does that look like? How do you define engagement for an attorney?
Anne Brafford: So engagement has — there is a scientific definition that I use in the book, but the basic idea of it is that, do I feel energized when I go to work, do I feel like I have positive challenge in my work, so that I am always developing and do I have a sense of meaningfulness in my work.
And people who have this sense are — they are more resilient, they are more energized, they are more likely to be operating at their optimal level. And so it’s like thinking about — getting a sense of what engagement feels like would be to think about an example at work where you felt like you were really at your best, a particular situation where you felt well supported, where you were performing well, where you were being stretched, but not overmatched.
Like one of the examples, that’s one of my favorite examples in actually my book was my first appellate argument, that it was an example where I just felt so proud of my performance and it was such an important event for my client and for me. I was well supported by everyone in my firm and by my clients. And so there were all these factors that came together that made that like a really peak experience at work. And that would be full engagement, and we can’t have those experiences all the time, that would wear us out.
So we need a time where it’s like this balance between these feeling of peak performance and rest, but always feeling challenged, always feeling like you are contributing. In my book I talk about feeling that I matter and that my work matters really are kind of at the heart of what engagement is.
Karla Eckardt: And speaking of meaningful work and finding meaning, in your book you talk about its effects on health and well-being and it being sort of one of the biggest contributors to engagement and a key ingredient of well-being. What are some of — what have the studies found that people have experienced when they find meaning in their work?
Anne Brafford: So meaningfulness and work, let me describe that just really quickly, because I think it’s an area where people can get confused, especially like people in big law firms think well, I am not legal aid, so meaningfulness doesn’t apply to me.
And meaningfulness in the literature really is about feeling, primarily, about feeling that we are helping others, so either our colleagues or our clients and that we have a sense of we are growing and we are able to contribute a lot of who we are. So whatever our authentic selves are, we are able to use that to our full extent at work.
So it’s not only the idea of like this big idea of purpose and meaning that I am a legal aid, I am serving something that so many people define as meaningfulness, but there is also this more local meaningfulness that’s really important.
And what the research shows is, you mentioned one of them, is that multiple studies have showed that this sense of meaningfulness is the biggest driver of engagement, and then engagement has all these wonderful effects, the good positive outcomes that firms care about that we talked about earlier.
And then meaning in life, there are also many, many studies of meaningfulness in life and one way that people get meaningfulness in life is through their work. And the research there shows that this sense of meaningfulness in life is highly related to both physical and psychological well-being. So things like, it’s inversely related to anxiety and depression, cardiovascular health, it’s related to folks who have purpose in life are less likely to have cognitive decline and dementia. They have better sleep quality. There are just many, many factors that are affected by the sense of meaningfulness.
When you think of the opposite of it, it is like — it would be a sense of uselessness, that what you are doing is futile or that you don’t have control, those are like the opposite of meaningfulness and those are highly related to depression and other mental health disorders.
So I think this area of meaningfulness is one of my favorite areas, because I think it was one of the main drivers of why I finally left and I think it’s such an important area that is being largely overlooked by organizations as something that needs to be focused on in this area of well-being. People just don’t — what I found is people don’t tend to think about it as an issue of well-being and it really is.
Christine Bilbrey: And I love that you cite the work of Florida State College of Law Professor Larry Krieger on Lawyer Happiness, because his studies support a lot of what you’re talking about, so I have seen his presentations, and some of his students shared that when they had him as a professor he actually warned them about looking for happiness to arrive suddenly because of a particular event in their career like.
Anne Brafford: Right.
Christine Bilbrey: I finally made partner, that’s when I’ll be happy, but because Professor Krieger warned his students about this, they felt like they were almost vaccinated from these traps so because that so often leads to just crushing disappointment not only did it not make you happy you were just left feeling empty because you kept like if you threw yourself into your work and you didn’t really have any relationships going on, but can you talk about how happiness is affected by things that like intrinsic motivation, autonomy and what you recall and there are studies on Self-Determination Theory.
Anne Brafford: Yes, yes. So first of all let me say Larry Krieger is one of my favorite people. I emailed him recently telling him that the world is a better place because he’s in it.
Christine Bilbrey: Oh! It is beautiful.
Anne Brafford: So I have environment like him. And so, most of his work has been with law students but he’s also responsible for a really large study of practicing lawyers. I’m forgetting that, it might have been like 3,000 lawyers I feel bad that I don’t remember off the top of my head but he and Kennon Sheldon who was a really well-known and reputable researcher in the Social Sciences, got together and did this big study on practicing lawyers, and the basis of their studies is a thing called Self-Determination Theory. And so it’s kind of an awkward sounding theory I wish I had a different name but basically it’s a theory of optimal motivation. In optimal well-being really it’s like, what does an optimal life look like and it applies to work and non-work areas as well.
And the basics of the theory are that individuals have basic psychological needs that if they are satisfied they are going to be able to function at their optimal level and this means performance as well as well-being. And the initial needs that were found by the researchers, the Creativity and Self-Determination Theory were three. They were the idea of connection and relationships of feeling that you have someone that you care about and they care for you, for this sort of individual relationship as well but sense of belonging that I belong to a group that matters to me.
And the second need is autonomy, and autonomy is both the idea of I feel that I’m acting volitionally that I get to make choices free from other people’s control and coercion as well as an idea of authenticity also works into the autonomy needs. So do I get to be, am I supported in being who I really am, am I making choices aligned with my values and my skills and my talents and who I am?
And then the third need is confidence or mastery; so this continual sense of growth that I feel effective in my environment and that what I do, makes a difference in my environment. And so those were the three original needs, there’s now research suggesting that there’s a fourth need which is called benevolence, which is the idea of am I contributing to other people to the good of other people with helping others. And so this research is just a couple of years old that’s now developing that this may be a fourth need as well.
And this particular motivational theory has been around for decades. There’s now piles and piles of research showing both within organizations and outside of organization and non-work context like education that when the social surroundings, when the people and activities around you help support these needs that’s when you are able to be your best self, perform your best and have high well-being.
It also contributes to the highest quality motivation which you mentioned a minute ago, which is intrinsic motivation or autonomous motivation. And motivation operates on a continuum, it’s not like we’re motivated or we’re unmotivated. There is the lowest level of motivation, it’s basically when we’re being bossed around, coerced or controlled. We’ll do it but we’re not going to put our whole heart into it and we probably won’t do it as soon as the coercing force goes away.
And then we go up as we move up on the continuum quality, quality of motivation gets better. So the next step would be sort of like internal pressure. So we feel guilt it into something. It’s still not really high quality motivation but it’s better than being coerced.
There would be things like guilt or feeling that you’re trying to live up to other people’s standards or you’re comparing yourself to others. And then if you move up the continuum, your motivation becomes more-and-more autonomous. So the next step would be I do it because I value it, because the thing is consistent with my own values. I might not enjoy it but I value it and so I am committed to it.
And then the highest quality motivation is that the highest level of autonomous motivation, it’s intrinsic motivation which is I do it because I enjoy it and it’s consistent with my values. And so what that looks like in organizations is for example if we’re thinking about a partnering associate for example that if when talking about assignments that we really talk about how this will help our clients or how it will help our colleagues or why it’s important to the growth of the individual associate, rather than just bossing people around, giving them deadlines, telling them it needs to be done over the weekend because I said so, like that’s very coercive and it’s likely not to produce the best motivation, like they’ll do it, it’ll work for a while but over the long term their well-being and motivation will decline and they’re likely to have both, low well-being and they are likely to leave.
And so what Professor Krieger’s research showed with a really large sample of lawyers is that these needs, these self-determination theory needs that have been established in this really well-known motivational theory have the highest relationship to happiness or well-being of all the things that they studied. And the way that Larry’s study defined happiness was a sense of satisfaction, life satisfaction that you think that your life is very much in alignment, that’s how you would want it and also more positive emotions and negative emotions. We have a lot of negative emotions in our life that contributes to mental health disorders.
And so what he found as they studied things like income and GPA from when you graduated from law school, what your law school rank was like these things that lawyers pay a lot of attention to had a very low to no relationship with happiness or well-being. But the self-determination theory needs these ideas of relationships, autonomy and confidence or mastery had really mind-boggling, large relationship with happiness.
And so I’ve talked with law students about this research because they understandably get very wrapped up in the law school culture, if I don’t get a job in a big firm I’m a failure. And so if you define success as happiness then you don’t have much to worry about that what the research showed was that income level which is why most think they need to get a big firm job. Income level had a very low relationship with happiness.
And so I think this is a very important message to both our law students and our organizations that what is it that we are after? It’s what we’re after in our lives is a sense of happiness and well-being in contribution then we’re making some mistakes in our cultures about what we’re focusing on.
Christine Bilbrey: Right, and finally, I think people are starting to realize it’s not like everyone arrived within the legal profession with all these issues, it’s that something is going on that’s creating them, and I think that we have had law firm leaders say, well, it’s not my responsibility to make you happy or they say this topic is so big and I’m so busy practicing law. I just don’t have time to deal with it. And I mentioned at the beginning that you had created the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers. And I want to mention that lawyers can find that on the floridabar.org website under the Health and Wellness page.
What are some of the tools that you have in there and how difficult is it for a firm leader to implement them to if they are serious about creating a positive work environment and they want to create a foundation for employees to become engaged and feel like they’re doing work that matters, what’s something they could grab out of that Toolkit?
Anne Brafford: There is a lot of different ideas. I think wherever you start, I would just highly recommend that they need to walk the talk. So if firms make an Express – many have signed the American Bar Association Pledge, Lawyer Well-Being Pledge that they are going to commit to Lawyer Being just like they need to do something because if they don’t, there’s going to be a greater sense of cynicism and backlash that you really don’t care. You say you do, but you don’t.
So I just want to say like for all the organizations that are starting to talk more about well-being initiative, that’s fantastic, but they need to be sure to be consistent, even if they’re small things, being consistent in making progress.
And as far as the Toolkit goes, the first thing that the Toolkit actually recommends is that a firm do needs analysis, because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. So figuring out within their own organization where are their issues? And they can do it internally. With their own folks they can hire outside experts if they want in order to do it, which is start to detect what are the sources of lack of well-being within their organization that they can start with?
Where a lot of the firms are starting with now, if we say they are launching well-being initiatives that have things like a website with informational resources for lawyers and they’re starting to have regular sort of sessions where they have outside speakers come in on well-being issues. And I think that’s low-hanging fruit, I think that is a great and easy way to start, like most organizations can do that.
And if there are smaller organizations that can’t afford outside speakers there’s even things like go grab an article, grab an article on well-being and have everyone talk about it or find a great TED talk that you play over lunch and have folks talk about it.
And so this at least gets people starting to talk about the issues and in air what’s going on within their organizations that I think any organization at any level can start there. Then of course, it’s just a matter of like not stopping there, that I think this is a really — this is a long-term effort that the legal profession has undertaken. I’m so excited that they are starting anywhere. I just hope that it continues over the long term because it really is kind of wide scale culture change, that’s going to be required to really eliminate the substance abuse and mental health issues that we’re seeing, and to really allow lawyers to thrive the long term process but there are these smaller things that firms can do to get started.
Christine Bilbrey: Okay, so you mentioned the Pledge and I’ve seen that out there, I’ve even seen a website where there were different big law firms who their names were on this website saying we have taken the Pledge, but can you give us an idea of what a law firm is agreeing to when they sign the Pledge?
Anne Brafford: Sure, yeah, the Pledge was established by the same ABA Task Force that published the Toolkit; and so, the Toolkit came first and then after that was the Pledge in which legal employers, they are especially law firms, but anyone who is employing lawyers agreed to take steps toward improving well-being in our organization.
So there’s seven things that the organizations agree to. The first is providing education. So both on mental health and well-being and the Pledge also suggests that firms don’t try to just do this on their own, that they also recruit experts.
I think in the past law firms have tried to do things internally where maybe they don’t have the expertise to do so and so in some areas that’s fine, but in some of the areas when you get into like an alcohol use disorders and mental health disorders, you should really be recruiting folks from outside to help provide those educational programs.
The second thing that they agree to is to reduce the expectation of alcohol so that in law firms and in the legal profession generally alcohol is always at social events. It is just our — it’s one way that lawyers socialize and it’s their drug of choice. And so trying to decrease that reliance on alcohol at social events is the second part of the Pledge.
Third is to partner with outside providers, which I just mentioned with respect to education of not trying to do this all on your own.
Fourth is to provide confidential access to experts in addiction and health, mental health-type therapies so that folks know how to get help when they need it and don’t feel potentially uncomfortable by having to go through a firm program where it feels that it’s not confidential.
The fifth aspect of the Pledge is to develop proactive policies so that firms are trying to like assess mental health where the issues might be and to take action, so it’s not just reactive, it’s not just detecting and treating but it’s also figuring out what are proactive things that can be done to prevent mental health issues from developing to begin with.
The sixth element of the Pledge is to show that the firm’s core values include self-care that lawyers care for themselves. So, for example, if they have a vacation policy, which is important to well-being that people do not feel deterred from actually using it or any other type of policy or practice that affects well-being.
It’s so important that they walk the talk, that leaders are modeling it, that partners are modeling it, because you’re going to have all the written mission statements in the world but if people feel like they are going to be negatively impacted by using it, they won’t, then we’re not going to make any progress.
And then the last element is to use the Pledge to attract and retain the best lawyers and so that’s trying to add like this positive, affirmative element that we want to use it when we are recruiting lawyers and trying to retain lawyers, so that we’re kind of creating the expectation that this is what our firm is going to support and if you don’t support this, then maybe this isn’t the right place for you.
So those are the basic elements of the Pledge and the last time I counted just last month, I think it was a 105 legal organizations have signed the Pledge and most of them are large law firms, but there’s also some — a few law schools and some in-house legal departments that have signed it as well, and they’ll be asked by the Task Force that created the Pledge to have sort of yearly check-ins to say what have they done. For each of these elements how is it that they have made progress on these elements, so it doesn’t just become this kind of superficial look we find the Pledge, but they don’t necessarily do anything.
In my experience so far is that the law firms which I have the most contact with are really getting involved, like this is having a meaningful impact, they are trying to figure out what it means in our organization. There are some firms that even hire like well-being directors and so created new positions to help them figure out what this Pledge will mean in their firm. So again, it’s just starting, but I think it’s an exciting development that law firms and other legal employers seem to be really enthusiastically accepting.
Christine Bilbrey: That’s really encouraging, so I feel like by breaking it down people can start nibbling at this to have — so if your Employee Assistance Program isn’t just, yeah, we have a gym down the hall —
Anne Brafford: Right.
Christine Bilbrey: — you’re telling them things that are actually going to change the culture, so that’s really positive.
Karla Eckardt: I think her whole book, ‘Positive Professionals’ really moves, even though it starts out with sort of grim statistics. It really moves towards a positive future for them.
Christine Bilbrey: Yeah, actionable things, which is what we are always looking for in the podcast.
Karla Eckardt: Right, so that’s fantastic. And earlier we mentioned that you were co-author of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s recent report, ‘The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change’, and that you were also appointed to the Presidential Working Group formed to investigate how legal employers can support healthy work environments, can you talk about these groups’ work going forward?
Anne Brafford: Sure, it was the ABA Presidential Working Group that created the Toolkit and that organization was created by Hilarie Bass who was the ABA President a couple of years ago and then extended by the next ABA President. That organization now is likely to go out of existence. It was created as a temporary task force that was a special interest of those ABA presidents, so it’s not expected to continue to exist, but that its work will be taken over most likely by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. There’s a lot of overlap in the folks who belong to both of those organizations and so the National Task Force now is still we have regular meetings and are talking about this very issue like we’ve been writing sort of outlines of what are the things that we want to do going forward.
And one of the things that I’m involved with doing is trying to find a permanent place for the committee, like where will it be housed and is there an organization that will host like a website, for example, because right now there are many lawyer well-being initiatives that are not connected, not interacting and so the idea of an overarching structure that could help coordinate and provide content so that everyone isn’t recreating the wheel, and potentially organize different activities provide recommendations, that type of thing, some kind of an organizing force I think would be really beneficial.
And I’ve been advocating that for a couple of years and I think the ABA is the right place but that might not fit. So there are some other organizations that we’re talking about now within the legal profession that potentially will house the Lawyer Well-Being Committee.
And then going forward of kind of thinking about the idea of continuing the idea with the Toolkit of making more tools available, having regular content available, organizing conferences which the committee has already done of getting organizations together to talk about what they are doing, so all of these things are likely to continue in the future. Right now it’s just in a — it’s in a state of flux of figuring out which organizations are going to continue and how will they work with other existing organizations. But I think it’s going to — I think that organization in particular, The National Task Force will continue into the future and will hopefully continue to have a big impact.
Karla Eckardt: And before we get to the closing of our show here I just wanted to say something that really resonated with me from your book on creating sort of a more positive environment and it’s something really small that we can all do every day and it’s signaling to others that they belong and matter and you explained how it could be something as simple as stopping what you’re doing when someone is coming in the door and smiling or acknowledging them. So it’s really you explained how we should frame the information we give to people, how we should sort of take notice of our day-to-day interactions with people because they matter. And I thought that was really important because I think I heard on another podcast somewhere, it’s hard to be positive and it’s really easy to be negative.
So much like the legal profession takes some study and practice, I think being positive, being a good leader is going to take a lot of work, but in the end like you’ve shown in your book it pays off. So I thought that was really important than something that we could all do every day, just smiling, being more positive and just not showing up to work grumpy and ignoring people, I think that’s really important. So thank you for that.
Anne Brafford: Yeah, right, and it doesn’t cost anything, like these things that are in the book like it’s not like they are expensive, it’s just remembering to do them in a rush of your busy day of paying attention to people.
Karla Eckardt: Yeah, it’ll become second nature I think so; again, it takes practice to be positive because it’s really easy to be a Debbie Downer but it’s just — it’s important, I don’t know.
Christine Bilbrey: Yeah, and being seen I almost feel like we need like a positive buddy at the law firm, but in your book like you mentioned earlier in the podcast where you had that your first big appellate win —
Karla Eckardt: The rockstar.
Christine Bilbrey: Yeah, and you interned and your coworker who would watch you go through this, the fact that she was there to like high-five you and tell you that you are a rockstar, it was like it made it twice as good because you’re sharing it with somebody. So I think that like if somebody in your firm they had a win, you don’t even know them very well, send them an email that says Congratulations.
Karla Eckardt: We got a card recently from a podcast guest here At The Bar, Adrienette, hi, shout out. She sent us a little card and we were both so touched by this simple, simple gesture.
Christine Bilbrey: Yeah.
Anne Brafford: Right, yeah.
Karla Eckardt: So little things like that I think go a long way to creating a positive environment and it’s just — I don’t know how we oversee these things but it’s so important.
Christine Bilbrey: Okay, I thought this was going to be depressing but I feel uplifted at the end, good job.
Anne Brafford: That’s great to hear.
Christine Bilbrey: Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of our program. Thank you Anne Brafford for joining us today.
Anne Brafford: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Christine Bilbrey: And because this work is continuing and there’s going to be so much more and if our listeners have questions how can they find you, where can they see these resources?
Anne Brafford: So, all of the ABA resources are available online. So if they go on the ABA website for — if they’re interested in the Pledge or the Toolkit, putting in like ABA Well-Being Toolkit by typing that into Google that should get you to the right site. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being also has its own website. So typing in — googling “The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-being” should get them to that website. And then I have my own website that talks about my book and the work that I do and my website is www.aspire.legal.
Christine Bilbrey: Perfect, thank you. If you like what you heard today please rate us in Apple Podcasts. Join us next time for another episode of The Florida Bar Podcast brought to you by LegalFuel: The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar on Legal Talk Network.
I am Christine Bilbrey.
Karla Eckardt: And I am Karla Eckardt until next time thank you for listening.
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