On the last episode of our The Life of a Lawyer Start to Finish series, we discussed The Business of Law with Attorney Christopher T. Anderson. In this episode, we move on to the next rung of the ladder: Work-Life Balance.
Host Craig Williams is joined by program director for the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar of Michigan, and co-host of the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast, Molly Ranns.
Craig and Molly discuss the well-being of an attorney, addressing a lawyer’s workload, the stress of the profession, and how a lawyer can balance their personal and professional life.
Mentioned in this episode:
The State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
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Craig Williams: Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors Embroker and Posh Virtual Receptionist.
Molly Ranns: It’s not always Craig, I mean this is a really hard field, it’s a hard job and we care a lot about the people we work with. We hope that everyone is successful, but that’s always not the case, and we just try the best that we can every single day.
Male: Welcome to the award-winning podcast, Lawyer 2 Lawyer, with J. Craig Williams, bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network, I’m Craig Williams coming to you from Southern California. I write a blog named May It Please the Court and I have two books out titled How to Get Sued and The Sled. In our ongoing series in The Life of a Lawyer, Start to Finish, we’re exploring the experience of becoming and being an attorney from applying to law schools through retirement and everything in between. On our last episode of the series, we discussed the Business of Law with Attorney Christopher T. Anderson. On today’s episode, we’re going to move on to Work Life Balance, we’re going to focus on the well-being of an attorney, addressing the lawyer’s workload, judge’s workloads, stress of the profession and how lawyer can balance their personal and professional lives. And to do that, our guest today is Molly Ranns, she is the program director for the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar of Michigan. Molly is a fully licensed professional councilor and a Board-Certified Additions Therapist. She is the co-host of the State Bar of Michigan on Balance Podcast alongside JoAnn Hathaway, welcome to our show Molly.
Molly Ranns: Thank you so much for having me.
Craig Williams: Let’s start off talking about your work with the State Bar of Michigan, what is it that you do from a lawyer’s perspective?
Molly Ranns: Sure. Well, thanks so much for having me again and as you mentioned, I am the director of the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar. I have been with LJAP for the past 11 years I believe and I’ve been in the director role for the past two. I am so proud of our program and the services that we offer to law students, bar applicants, to lawyers and to judges. LJAP is confidential program, we provide free consultations to legal professionals and their families. We perform clinical evaluations. We have a staff made up of a program coordinator into excellent clinicians. We offer monitoring services for those attorneys who are struggling with mental health or substance use issues. We provide referrals to properly train uncredentialed providers and a lot of what I do is provide professional presentations and educational outreach on topics pertaining to wellness or well-being.
Craig Williams: Is your program duplicated in any other states? I mean, I’m here in California, I know that a lot of our listeners are not only in Michigan but in other places, other states, where they can these resources?
Molly Ranns: Yep, that’s an excellent question Craig. So, most every state in the country does have what we refer to as a LAP or Lawyers Assistance Program and you can actually find contact information for all of the LAPs on the ABA website and there’s a saying that if you know one LAP, you know one LAPs. So, a lot of our programs function a little bit differently, some of us like Michigan offer monitoring services, some don’t, Michigan offers monitoring services, but we also offer general wellness services and so, we are an excellent resource with a platter of information for legal professionals.
Craig Williams: How did you start out getting interested in this line of work? I mean you’ve been doing it at least for the Michigan Bar for 11 years.
Molly Ranns: Yeah, so to be quite honest, I originally was not sure what I wanted to do. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in psychology and I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school and I was debating between becoming a therapist or becoming an attorney. So, I find it ironic that I am now a therapist who specialize in working with attorneys, but I certainly chose the right path for me. Once I became a clinician, I was pretty certain I did not want to work with substance use. Personally, I grew up in a system where I had a love one who had addiction issues and I was ready to go to college and leave that behind, but I came to realize that I was really good at it and all of the jobs that I was getting had some role with addiction and I think sometimes the profession chooses you. So, I love what I do, I am so fortunate that I get to get up every single day and love the work that I do. I love work with lawyers, I love working with mental health and substance use issues, and I love working with people who want to maximize their overall wellness. So, there doesn’t have to be a problem to contact LJAP or to contact the therapist or to contact me, so that’s how I ended up where I am.
Craig Williams: Well, let’s talk a little bit about wellness. When I think about some of the Lawyers Assistance Program –
–I think there’s either a drunk or a drug addict that’s involved and I’m really interested to find out what it is that’s offered in the wellness side for lawyers that aren’t having those issues?
Molly Ranns: Yeah, that’s a great question and I think most LAPs, most Lawyer Assistance Programs really started out that way Craig. So, decades and decades ago, a lot of the LAPs started out with somebody in recovery who wanted to help another lawyer in recovery. And we know from statistics and research that attorneys have significantly and statistically higher rates of mental health and substance use issues than the general population and not just the general population, other high stress professions as well. So, a lot of the LAP started with that person recovery who is available to get another lawyer to a meeting, to a 12-step meeting, and that was so effective that a lot of those became committees and those were so effective that those committees then became programs.
Our program is very broad brush, we offer services that certainly were here to treat or to help provide treatment or to facilitate treatment for that impaired lawyer. The lawyer who has a mental health or substance use diagnosis. But we do so much more than that. We are here to offer services to people who are just struggling with stress, overwhelmed. I spend time on the phone everyday with lawyers who call in and they know something is wrong but they don’t necessarily know what it is. They don’t think they have a mental health disorder; they don’t think they have a substance use issue, but they’re overwhelmed and they’re burnt out and they don’t have the passion for their job that they once had. So, we offer services to help those folks as well. We offer services to people who are just looking to maximize their well-being.
They’re looking at the dimensions of their well-being, whether be their emotional well-being or their physical well-being or their spiritual well-being or their intellectual well-being, and maybe some of those dimensions are really great and are thriving and maybe others aren’t so great. And so, they’re looking to maximize and create better balance in those dimensions in their lives. A lot of what I do is provide as I mentioned professional presentations and educational outreach. So, I’m speaking usually multiple times per week for a local or affinity bar for the ABA, for other organizations, and those folks are looking for me to come out and talk about wellness you know, lawyer wellness. Talk about mitigating stress, managing stress, avoiding burnout, talking about compassion fatigue and how to take care of ourselves and make sure that we’re thriving. So, a lot of LAPs offer these services. Michigan certainly does and we are certainly here to help those folks who are looking to maximize wellness, there doesn’t have to be a problem to contact us.
Craig Williams: Well, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the wellness, because I think I probably fall in to the category of the stressed-out lawyer. Certainly, I’ve got a complex business litigation practice and it is a stressful because you’re constantly faced with deadlines, you’re constantly faced with arguments from opposing counsel, sometimes your own client, frequently to judge. So, what do you tell somebody like me, I mean I think I still have the passion, I like to get up and practice law but boy, it’s stressful. What things could I do? What things could anybody who’s not in the category of being an addiction issue, what can they do the basics?
Molly Ranns: Yeah, great question. The million-dollar question, right?
Craig Williams: Right.
Molly Ranns: So, I think hard work has long been associated with the field of law, right? Long hours, long days, work hard play hard, but I think at some point, workload and over-commitment to work which is the number one reason male attorneys leave the practice of law by the ways, over-commitment to work. The number one reason women leave the practice of law is difficulty with work family, work life balance, that family commitment, work commitment, but at some point, it becomes unsustainable and it begins to impact the mental health of the employee which leads to decreased work and quality performance. So, we see that direct correlation, and so a lot of times people are calling in and saying, well what can I do, what can I do to take care of myself. So, I like to teach something really easy when I go out and I’m speaking in front of groups because I have a lot of continuing education that I have to do from my job and my licenses and my certifications and I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I leave a training and there has been so much to talk about the problem but no talk about the solution or the solution is so complex I would never be able to think of it in a moment of high stress.
So, I like to talk to lawyers about their ABCs. A, is for awareness; B, is for balance; and C, is for connection. And I tell them if they can implement an improvement in their ABCs, I can promise increased resiliency and increased optimism. So, I think that lawyers have to be able to look at the situation and find every possible thing that can go wrong. That makes them really good lawyers. But if you leave the office and you apply that same thing at home, if I were to talk in the door and look at my husband and think about all of the possible things wrong with my marriage, I would be in a much different place than I am right now with my marriage.
So, how do we flip that switch from pessimism to optimism when we leave the office? How do we not take work home with us? And I think the key to that is our ABCs. So, when we talk about A, we talk about awareness, self-awareness. A lot of times lawyers are so aware of what other people’s needs are that they’re not ever checking in with their needs. They think they need to have all of the answers all of the time for their clients which is great, but they don’t expect to ever need anything themselves.
And that would be true if lawyers were robots, but that is not true because lawyers are human beings just like the rest of us. So, I encourage people to do that awareness daily check in piece. How am I feeling? What’s going? And a lot of times, I won’t even know what’s going on or how I’m feeling until one of my kiddos says, “Mommy, you’re crabby.” And I have to take a second and say, “You know what, you’re right. It might have been an email this morning that I just haven’t responded to yet. It’s weighing on my mind.”
So, we have to do that check in, and I try to do mine at night, but you can do it in the morning or anytime throughout the day, but I first try to check in with self of what is my feeling or emotion? This is sometimes easier said than done. But with practice it gets easier. So, what’s going on? Are you feeling frustrated? Overwhelmed? Sad? Elated? That can be a lot of different things but once we have an awareness of what our feelings are, we have an awareness of what our needs are. Do you need to take a break from work? Do you need a walk? Do you need a water? Do you need a nap? There are a lot of different things, but we don’t know what we need until we know how we feel.
So, I really encourage people for A for awareness to do that check in, that daily check in and then also having an awareness of what our boundaries are. What boundaries do I need to set with my clients? What boundaries do I need to set with myself? Maybe it’s that I tell folks right up front, I don’t take calls past five. I don’t return calls on Saturdays and Sundays or I check email three times a day instead of 30. I will get back with you between 8 and 9, 12 and 1, and 4 and 5. So, we’re setting our boundaries, we’re having an awareness of what those are and then we’re sticking with them. So, A is for awareness, right? Awareness of our emotions, of our feelings, awareness of what we need and then of course an awareness of what boundaries we need to set.
B is for Balance. How do we create balance in our lives? I mention this a little bit earlier. I like to think about wellness as not just the absence of illness, not just the absence of impairment. If someone says to you, “How are you today, Craig?” And you say, “Oh, I’m doing well.” What does that really mean? You got out of bed, you showered. Those are important things, but are you thriving?
So, I think we really need to shift and look at wellness as thriving. Ann Bradford is a former big law acuity partner and she has created this image that’s availed on the ABA website and it looks at six dimensions of wellness or wellbeing. And I like to think about those as a good reminder of where we can create balance. So, there’s emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing, intellectual, occupational, spiritual and social. And so, maybe your social wellness is really great, right? Maybe you’re getting together with friends. You are in a book club, you’re in a bowling league, you’re connected with your local or affinity bar, the Young Lawyers Association, but your physical wellbeing is really poor. You live on coffee, you never get outside for walks, you haven’t seen a physician in ages and you don’t eat anything green.
So, I like to tell people to think about those dimensions and create balance that way. What’s doing really well and what might I need to pay more attention to? A lot of times that occupational wellbeing is really high, you’re doing great at your job, you’re thriving. A lot of times lawyers, that occupational piece is the last thing that suffers. So, I like to tell them to think about balance in that way, and then C is for Connection.
Craig Williams: Great. Molly, thanks for that. And at this time, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors. We’ll be right back and talk about the letter C.
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And welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I’m joined by counselor addictions therapist and program director for the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar of Michigan, Molly Ranns. Right before the break Molly, we were talking about the ABCs and you were going to tell us about what the C stands for.
Molly Ranns: Yeah. So, C is for connection Craig, thank you. And this is the last piece that I think helps lawyers to become more optimistic and that helps them to become more resilient and handle stress much better. That C for connection is really about connecting with something larger than yourself. So, whether be spiritual, religious certainly can be.
It can also be connecting with friends and family, larger organizations, your state bar, the ABA, a book club, a friend group. So, really trying to connect with other people, we find that lawyers that can talk to other lawyers about their experiences during the day however difficult they may have been really helps to improve their satisfaction with work.
Craig Williams: So, I want to ask you a personal question, because I’m sure that there are many other lawyers who have heard the same things from their wives or significant others. I frequent, as you’ve talked about this, this rings in my ears and my wife will sometimes say to me, “When something bad goes on at work, you bring it home and take it out on me.” How can I stop that?
Molly Ranns: Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s hard to do. I think I’m an imagery person which maybe a therapist thing, but I’m very image-oriented because I think images are really powerful. So, for me this has become more and more important since the pandemic, because I am working from home. So, it was much easier for me to leave an office and leave my work at work and physically get in my car and drive to my house and walk in my door and see my husband and my children and really transition. It’s much different when I’m walking from my bedroom down into the kitchen.
So, for me when I am done for the day, I close my eyes and I visualize leaving everything that I have in my office space. And for lawyers, I often teach them to flip the light switch. Flip the light switch from pessimism to optimism to walk out the door and to leave everything behind. And it is hard to do, but the more we practice, the better we get at that. So, you’re not saying “I’m going to ignore this” or compartmentalize it, you’re simply saying, “I’m going to leave it at work until tomorrow.”
Craig Williams: Yeah, and I think that lawyers understand how to do that because we all have to pigeon hole everything. This client and that client and these problems and those problems. So, that’s a skill I think I’ve got and I’m pretty sure that most of the lawyers I work with have as well. That’s a great piece of advice, thank you. So, how often does this happen? Is this every lawyer that is practicing law that goes through this some level of stress?
Molly Ranns: Well, I don’t think so. I think stress and anxiety in mild forms help us to be successful, right? You’re an attorney, you are successful. I assume that you have experienced some level of stress and anxiety. When I’m speaking at firms and in law schools, I am speaking with high achievers and in order to be a high achiever, we have some level of stress and anxiety. So, I speak all the time and no matter how many times I speak in front of a group of people, whether it would be two people or 200 people, I still feel a little bit anxious beforehand and that helps me to prepare.
Craig Williams: We all do by the way.
Molly Ranns: Yes, right? So, I do research. I try to know my topic inside and out so that when I get in front of folks I’m fumbling over my words or thinking what I have to say, it just comes naturally and it helps me to be successful. It helps me to get asked to come back. So, I think stress and anxiety serve purposes. They help you to meet deadlines and be prepared in the courtroom and represent your client well. The problem becomes when it’s moderate to severe and it becomes chronic. So, if you are leaving a situation, if I’m leaving a presentation and I’m driving home and I still feel anxious, that to me something is wrong, because the stressor is actually over, it’s behind me.
So, I ask people to think about that. Is this mild? Does it help you to prepare and help you to be successful? Are we getting to the point that it’s impacting your mental health, your emotional health and your physical health; and it’s not all lawyers.
Craig Williams: That’s good to hear. It would make sense to me that since work is the major stress, that work ought to be one of the first places you focus on to make some changes in the way that you conduct your business as a lawyer and you’re lawyering. What do you recommend to lawyers to do at work to solve the stress problem?
Molly Ranns: Yeah. So, I think again with those boundaries. What boundaries can we set at work? And sometimes it’s about what thing can I take off my plate? My overly full plate. I’m a yes person, I tend to say yes to absolutely everything. So, I have done some personal things to address that. So, for example, when I get a phone call for a new client or if I am asked to do something, whether it be bake something for my kiddo’s soccer team or arrange a playdate or take on a new case or do a presentation. I always say, “Let me check my calendar and get back with you.” Even if I am 99% sure that that sounds like a great idea.
Because I want to give myself permission to think about if I really want to do it or if I’m just saying, “Yes,” because that’s what I am so naturally inclined to do. We can’t always set all the boundaries, right? Or, have all of the limits. But sometimes just one makes a really big difference.
Craig Williams: Especially in a big situation like that. Setting boundaries is a great idea. I think one of the things that I’ve done is what you recommended earlier, stop working on weekends and have a defined end of the day. In my practice, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take off Mondays and Fridays, so that’s been a big help, because I’m one of those guys that stresses out over things. Well, Molly, we’re going to take another quick break to hear word from our sponsors. We’ll be right back.
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Craig Williams: And welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I’m joined by Molly Ranns. She’s one of the work balance therapists that is available in Michigan and also available to lawyers at other states, not necessarily Molly but other programs. Molly, one of the things that I’m curious about is — one of the things that lawyers think about frequently, what are the consequences, what happens in a situation where you don’t address these things. You let the stress get a hold of you. What kind of expectations should lawyers have about the consequences of not managing stress or achieving this work life balance?
Molly Ranns: Well, that’s a great question, and we have researched Craig that suggests that between 40% and 70% of disciplinary proceedings and malpractice claims are directly related to a mental health or a substance use issue. Specifically, substance use or depression or sometimes both. So, what happens is our mental health is very important and we have to prioritize it, and in my opinion, a mentally healthy lawyer is a competent lawyer. And so, if you have an attorney who does not have a good mental or emotional health, we know that even struggling lawyers that are struggling in minor ways, this can impact cognitive function, that’s really important for an attorney. And so, if you have an attorney who’s using substances or if you have an attorney who is depressed, and we know that it can impact cognitive function, it’s not surprising that we see these statistics that show 40% to 70% of disciplinary proceedings and malpractice claims are related to untreated mental health or substance use issues. It is certainly something that we see every single day at LJAP.
Craig Williams: During the practice of law in the last 35 years, I’ve seen a number of lawyers that — because you’ve worked with them, 8 to 10, 15 hours a day, you know that they’ve got an addiction. You can see it. You can see that they are a drug user, you can see that they are an alcoholic, because you just can’t hide it. I didn’t deal with the situations that I faced because I didn’t know how. But what would you recommend to lawyers that are working with someone who’s noticeably addicted and has got this problem and you’re not, what do you say to them? How do you help them out of this situation?
Molly Ranns: Yeah, great question. So, I think court rules certainly come in on the fact that if there is an attorney that you’re concerned about that you don’t think is practicing as they should be, that there is a responsibility there, and I would say first and foremost, call your Lawyer Assistance Program. We are a confidential program and I will say that until I am blue in the face. We are a confidential program as are the other LAPs around the country. And we have staff trained at answering this exact question and I’d given presentations on this question to help explain this answer. So, I would say call your Lawyer Assistance Program and get that feedback. Every situation is really different, but there may be a safe way to approach that person and to help them understand that you care about them and to share resources with them so that they know where their resources are and that they can go somewhere for help.
And that they can go somewhere confidentially. Because, we see through research that lawyers number one concern about help seeking is confidentiality and concern that somebody will find out they have a problem. And it’s really important that they understand that the LAPs around the country and that LJAP here in Michigan is confidential.
Craig Williams: That’s an excellent fact to know, because I don’t think it’s something that’s advertised or at least something that people will really quite understand. Well, how important is a lawyer’s wellbeing to the profession? I mean, overall, we’re talking here about making sure that the client is taken care off.
Molly Ranns: Absolutely. So, of course we want to protect the public right. But a lawyer’s wellbeing is extremely important to the profession. It influences ethics and professionalism, certainty civility. If you look at the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, I think it’s 1.1, which requires lawyers to provide competent representation. And these rules requests diligence in client representation and in working with people, not only their clients but others in the field of law. So, competence is required in order to protect clients, in order to protect the profession, in order to protect the integrity of the profession. And so, to me as a clinician who’s been in this work for over a decade, when I think about competence, I think about wellbeing, and I think about mental and emotional health. And the effectiveness of the Lawyer Assistance Program, specifically those that are credible and comprehensive really speak to this question.
Craig Williams: So, when you enter into that program with LAP, do you involve family with that? Do you involve some of the lawyers in the law firm? How does the person get support?
Molly Ranns: So, LAPs, ours in particular is very comprehensive. We offer a lot of support and we offer a lot of accountability. And in my experience, both of those pieces are really needed for somebody to be healthy and well. When you come into our program, we do an intake and we’ll do an assessment and we determine what is needed for this person to be most successful, right? Not just in the practice of law, but in their life in general. And then we’re going to offer all those supports to that person.
One of the things that we do that I find to be most helpful, we have a thriving network of peers, a thriving network of lawyers and judges all over the State of Michigan who have volunteered their time to be present to help lawyers going through something similar. So, we try to match people up based upon their presenting problem, their gender, maybe their field of law, their interests, and that person, again, it’s confidential and that person is just here to kind of help them along the way to be able to say, “Hey, I’ve been there and this is what I did, and this is where I am now.” And our participants usually find that very helpful. And the folks that volunteer for that are usually people who have been in the program and they know that it is lifechanging.
Craig Williams: How do you deal with lawyers or judges when you get the response, “I don’t’ need any help, I’m okay.”
Molly Ranns: We get that response and we can’t force somebody to come into our program, we have to keep trying. We encourage them to come back when they’re ready. We have long conversations with them. If they’re willing to sign releases and involve family or other friends, we’re happy to do that. But it’s not always easy, Craig. I mean this is a really hard field, it’s a hard job and we care a lot about the people we work with. We hope that everyone is successful, but that’s always not the case and we just try the best that we can every single day.
Craig Williams: It sounds like a great way to do it. Well, Molly, we just about reached the end of our program, so it’s time to invite you to wrap up and give us your final thoughts along with your contact information should our listeners want to reach out to you. How would you wrap this up?
Molly Ranns: Sure. Well, I just want to say again, thank you so much for having on the show and I just want to reiterate that there doesn’t have to be a problem in order to pay attention to your wellness and your wellbeing. That, in my experience, the healthiest, most emotionally and mentally healthy lawyers are the best lawyers. They increase the bottom line. They’re good for an organization, they’re good for themselves and they’re good for their clients. And if anybody would like to get more information, you’re welcome to contact me on our confidential helpline at 9800) 996 5522 or email us at [email protected] And I invite everyone to check-out the SBM On Balance Podcast as well.
Craig Williams: We’ll do that. And just as a cleanup question, can I from California call you to get a referral?
Molly Ranns: Absolutely. We work very closely with all of the LAPs and we will make sure we get you in the place you need to be.
Craig Williams: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Molly, it’s been a pleasure having you on the program. Well, Molly’s been a fantastic guest. She’s really given all of us a good roadmap to start out.
I love the ABCs, and I’m certainly as an individual going to follow up with my own Lawyers Assistance Program here in California, just for the wellness benefits of it. It seems like it’s a resource that’s available to me and it’s available to you in your state, so take advantage of it. Reach out and find out how you can make your life and those around you a little bit better. And if you haven’t heard it from your spouse, significant other or partner or your children, I’ll tell you. Get some help.
Well, for our listeners if you’ve liked what you heard today, please rate us on Apple podcast or your favorite podcasting App. You can also visit us on the legaltalknetwork.com where you can sign up for our newsletter. I’m Craig Williams. Thank you for listening. Please join us next time for another great legal topic. Remember, when you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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