To succeed in a competitive business environment, leaders in the legal field need to continuously develop new skills while responding swiftly to change. Host Jamy Sullivan and guest PJ Dunn, C.C.P., a certified behavioral strategist and professional development coach, discuss competencies and management strategies that became essential during the pandemic and are needed by law firms and legal department leaders to excel today, including creative thinking, innovation and agility and tips for prioritizing well-being.
Intro: Welcome to The Legal Report from Robert Half, where industry leading experts discuss current hiring and practice management issues impacting the legal profession. Robert Half is a premier provider of talent solutions for the legal field. The Legal Report from Robert Half is here on the Legal Talk Network.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Hello, everyone, and welcome. I’m Jamy Sullivan, executive director of the Legal Practice Group for Robert Half and the host of our program. Joining me today is PJ Dunn, a certified behavioral strategist, professional development coach, speaker, and educator based in Dallas. He’s been described as acritical thinker with the heart of human flourishing. For the past 14 years, PJ has inspired executive and professionals in the midst of a transition on how to polish their natural strengths while managing limitations. He coaches in-house counsel, lawyers from the associate to the partner level and solo to mid-size law firms to the C suite and executive board level, to business owners, sales teams, and financial services industry executives who need traction when they are processing specific goals. I’ve had the pleasure personally of attending a training PJ conducted for our company, and I’m thrilled he’s able to be here. Welcome, PJ.
PJ Dunn: Thanks, Jamy. It’s a pleasure to be here and talk to you again.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Yeah, wonderful to have you on the program. And today, PJ and I will examine current trends, including core competencies and management strategies that became essential during the pandemic and are needed by leaders to excel today. We’ll share tips that can help you recalibrate and thrive in today’s business environment.
During the pandemic, legal teams needed to respond quickly to changing client and business needs as well as stay on top of the latest developments to ensure business continuity. Critical problem solving, agility, adaptability, and business acumen were essential to success, and they remain important skills today. PJ, what are some best practices from the pandemic that lawyers and legal teams can use to improve their abilities in these areas?
PJ Dunn: Oh, thanks, Jamy. I love this question. Well, it starts off always, and great for lawyers is that it starts with how you see things in terms of how you think about them. So we always start with this idea of, hey, how do we reframe? Because you can’t go pre-pandemic and then try to do things pre-pandemic in a post-pandemic situation because, well, things have changed, so a lot of reframing happens. And so when we talk about reframing, we’re saying, okay, so we have our situation here in terms of maybe how we’re using document services or how we’re even using Zoom, and so how would we use them now? So it starts with how you think, and then, of course, you have to repurpose. And usually when people repurpose things, it’s usually with the things that they already have in front of them.
So now, we’re using Zoom for a lot more than just doing depos and things like that now. Now we’re saying, hey, we can actually work from a space that’s not at the office and still be connected to what’s going on. So you want to then, from that perspective, start thinking about, okay, so how can I recalibrate the things that are within my control? Pre-pandemic, there were a lot of things we felt like we had control of. Post-pandemic, we found out there’s a lot of things that we’re not in control of that we think we are. So we need to get clear on that, and then that goes right back to reframing once again. So that’s kind of the nuts and bolts piece from how you might think through it.
Now, if you talk about channeling creativity, which that’s another thing that we have to give the pandemic. It gave us an opportunity to now explore because situations are different, they’re not the same. So I think this is great. A lot of times with law firms, what we’ll do is we’ll do this little exercise where I call it bad idea, good idea, and all ideas are good until we can then figure out which ones actually work better. The reason why we do that is because the contrarians in the room, no matter what idea you throw out, they will always tell you what’s not going to work, which is great. And then the people who are optimistic in the room will always tell you, from a perspective of, here’s what I can envision, and then your contrarians in the room can help you come to a more of a center.
So bad idea, good idea, telling everybody that it’s okay, we’re just going to throw them all out there and see what happens, and then we’re going to go ahead and use the natural strengths and talents of the people in the room and how they already think and see what we can come up with together.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: It’s outstanding points. I love the reframing and repurpose. It’s definitely a great way to reflect on the pandemic and what we went through and how we all had to change.
PJ Dunn: Oh, my.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Definitely right. And I relate to those comments of good idea, bad idea, and having people in the room that can really help channel creativity, experience that more than ever in the past three years in my career.
PJ Dunn: Yeah, there’s something that happens to our brains when we step out of the doldrums of doing the same thing, the same way that we do every day, which our brain actually tells us to do, is a form of a schema to help us kind of make things normative so we don’t have to think as much. But actually, the pandemic is making us have to be creative on many accounts, and I think that’s what’s great. So one of the things that has happened in one of the law firm trainings that I was doing was I guess the idea was, I don’t really have time to come into a meeting and say, hey, what do you guys think. And then we’ll go into some long conversation that just seems to amble and meander and go everywhere, and I don’t see that’s productive. And people don’t like to come into meetings anyway.
And I’m like, well, again, here’s that reframe. What if when we got into the meeting, instead of just saying, “hey, guys, so what do you think about now?” What if you actually said, “hey, what are we proud of at this exact moment?” And then, “what are we motivated to change at this exact moment?” See, that creates a better conversation than just kind of throwing it out there because people are afraid of it. They’re afraid that it’s going to turn into one of those complaining sessions and then people are going to be like, I have stuff to do. Why am I here for this? And that’s the way you can curb that.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: That’s great tip. Well, and I’ve also seen, I mean, this has been an evolving approach that we have seen even pre-pandemic, but I think it’s come out even more so now is the component of being able to be successful and doing so through diversity, equity, and inclusion. So DEI, right? And Robert Half is a global organization where we understand how important it is to recognize diverse backgrounds, life experiences, and cultures among our staff and within our communities that we serve. So the same for law firms and legal departments that build and engage a diverse workforce and really integrate DEI into their core values. They too are directly contributing to the long term success of the organization. And we see that DEI not only helps employees, clients, and communities thrive, it creates this cycle of positivity and agreement, benefits everybody, right?
PJ Dunn: Yes.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: I love that. So maybe kind of turning then to a question to you. What are some of the key considerations that you’ve seen for legal teams that they can do to foster a culture of DEI?
PJ Dunn: Yeah. So now you’re going to see my love of reframes. So here’s one. The way I look at this is it’s three Ps, people, potential and performance. So if we talk about it from a roadblock perspective, when it comes to people, sometimes what you’ll hear is firms will say, “well, hey, we don’t know how to attract the right type of people, and then we don’t know how to get them to stay.” So that’s a roadblock you will hear. Then the other idea is, well, because of implicit bias, I assume that these people are like this because they’re from this part of the country, they have this type of education, they went to these schools that they’re going to act like this, that hurts. That’s a roadblock.
And then if the folks that are trying to come in, the people you’re trying to recruit, don’t have a lived in experience or feel like they could have a lived in experience with anybody who’s there or relate to them, that won’t work. And then you have a lack of agency when you just pick certain people to be your diversity champion, but then you don’t show up to any of the meetings. You just say, well, that’s the person that will take care of that. Well, let’s pick the one black woman or the gay person or someone like this to be that person. But then you don’t plan to go to any of the meetings. Okay, so that’s roadblocks.
The other roadblock then, would be that potential. If I don’t know you, I don’t understand you, I don’t understand your culture, then how can I help you grow and get better? If I already seem to think that I don’t understand who you are because you’re “different” or you’re from a stigmatized group or something like that, then that starts to become a problem. Because now we’re trying to define how do you bring your best self to work? Well, whose version of self? Right? Their version of self, which is going to look different than the person who’s saying, no, I think the most bright, intelligent, competent people should do this, this, and this. So now we’re going to argue about what’s the best self. So if we don’t understand potential, another roadblock.
And then finally, you can imagine this one performance. If I don’t know what your potential is, how can I help you with performance? How can I give you what you need? How do I know what mentors would best work with you if I don’t know that? So now let’s go to the positive, because that’s what people really want, right? So if we talk about now, let’s remove the roadblock. Let’s see it in terms of a runway. Okay, here’s the runway for people. People can get together and decide, hey, what is the appropriate archetype that we agree people need to have, which should be, number one, competency. Number two, character. And then everything else will understand by the position and what it demands. So get everybody in on it and say, “hey, know what is the right archetype.”
Not this school, that league, that part of the country, this type of education, that type of whether they’re a native speaker or not. No, let’s everyone gets going and do that part, right? So we can list five inclusive behaviors then and get specific about it. So we’re not saying, oh, well, you’re not here. You can’t do this because you’re not from the right part of the country, or we just don’t get you. Instead of starting with that, we let everyone get together and say, hey, what would be the best attributes of someone sitting at that desk over there trying to do this particular job? So competency and character. Potential. How do we tap into potential?
Well, the runway for this would be firms need to set people up to succeed and not flounder. So succeeding means, do you know exactly how you would describe what the successful lawyer would look like going through the stages after 60 days, after 90 days, 180 days? Do you have that? And also warning, you don’t want to hire like this happened in one of the law firms I was in. There was a lady that ended up becoming one of the top nameplate attorneys. It was her and three other gentlemen. It turns out that she didn’t want to help the other females as much because it took her so long to get in the spot. So she actually worked against she was harder on the females who were coming in on the recruiting process, and she wasn’t even aware of it. That implicit bias. Right?
So we don’t want to then hire people or put people in positions who end up becoming, like, figureheads or in the derogatory sense, a token, someone who’s just like, well, we got you in there. And they say, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being the token if it means I get this promotion, I get to do this and I get to do that. And I’ve actually talked to some attorneys who told me they were okay with that. I guess numeric minority types have told me, I’m okay with being the token. I’m just glad to be here, which is certainly not good. And then the runway then for performance would be, do you track what you’ve done? And then do you incentivize when you have made a good hire based on something that everyone could agree was a good archetype for the type of lawyer that you need to do this particular job? And then incentivize means, “hey, are you going to give them some sort of promotion, a bump? What’s this going to look like?” But you need to know what that is, because without a reward, why would anybody do it?
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: I’d agree with that. And yes, I can sense your passion very much in this space, but you’re very detailed, right, of the roadblocks and the runway, the people, potential, performance. I’m feverishly kind of taking notes here. And one of the things that I found from a focus on making sure we have different backgrounds and perspectives in the room so we can achieve and be more successful is we also did challenge ourselves to be our best authentic selves as we came to work every day. That’s something that definitely very much has come out of the pandemic that I’ve experienced personally as well as I’ve seen clients experience.
PJ Dunn: See, Jamy, I think that’s fantastic. I tell everyone I always do things in threes as well as you kind of notice as well. And that would be there are three powerful questions that I think anyone that’s trying to step into the DEI, and you can add the B, the belonging space, and if you’re not doing or not asking these three questions, your initiatives are going to fail hardcore.
So I would say the first powerful question that I’ll ask any one of the law firms that is asking me to come in and talk to this is, first of all, why? Now, that seems very simple, but see, sometimes people’s why, sometimes the law firm’s why is, well, we have to do it. We need to check a box. Well, our competition is doing it, so we can’t lose the competition. So if you’re telling me those are the reasons why you want a DEI program, I am going to shrug that and say, we got to do better than that. We got to ask, hey, how would a DEI program work for you? That’s the powerful question. How would it work for you with all those things considered?
The second question I like to ask is how do people who don’t fit into an archetype progress here at this firm? And if they can’t tell me what the normal progression is and what the archetype is that they’re using, then they don’t have one, which means now it’s just kind of haphazard. So then I can then learn, or at least from that perspective, know where I could step in and help them.
And then I think the third most powerful question needs to be asked is this, what are the imbalances of opportunities that are not allowing some at the firm to not receive the full value of what the firm offers? I think if you can start with those three hardcore questions before you start a DEI program, you can then run a good DEI program that won’t run aground.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: And be successful, right? At the end of the day, we want to see DEI success stories. And so those are really three great foundations to get started. I appreciate that. So there’s another point I want to bring up now on the pandemic. So it’s interesting, right? In legal, we know we had to embrace the digital transformation and innovation to serve clients and really stay afloat with the pandemic.
And so everything from cloud computing, AI, machine learning, legal software teams were really able to stay connected, provide seamless service, and shockingly, even participate in court proceedings virtually.
PJ Dunn: That’s good.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: So law firms and companies have to continue to do that in this post-pandemic. They have to embrace innovation. They have to stay competitive. So I’m going to ask, I want to hear from you some best practices that you’ve seen when it comes to innovation. And then two-part follow up to that is how can legal teams balance the need for innovation with potential challenges and risks? And then on the other side of that, how can they measure success?
PJ Dunn: That’s great. That’s great. Well, with the first part, believe it or not, it’s going to go back to yet another mind frame. What I’ve seen at some law firms is the managing partners are the people who weren’t techno infused. They weren’t the generation that was techno infused. They kind of had to learn it through the other attorneys who were from the generation that knew that. So it was interesting to me to notice that there was a fear to embrace the technology. Like, you remember when the internet first came on and people were fearful of, well, what if they steal your identity and go and start opening up bank accounts, remember? And that kept a lot of people from doing their checking and their banking online. But look at how many people do it today.
And so whenever you have new technology, if you try to use fear to embrace it, that won’t work. We already know that won’t work. Instead, you kind of have to be the people with a mindset of an early adopter and say, let me see for myself, especially as a risk averse attorney, what’s the good? And then what could be leveraged poorly? And then from there understand where you are. The one thing that’s going to continue getting better is going to be technology. That’s the one thing that’s going to continue to change. So to be a person who says, no, I want to be a typewriter in the world of laptops, that won’t work. And I know some attorneys exactly like that. They did not want to.
For example, a good lawyer that I work with, he’s a gentleman that was senior, very senior partner, has a lot of respect here. I think you might even know him. And because somebody hacked their website, that made him absolutely hesitant to want to do anything with technology because these people claimed that he was the law firm on record for them and he wasn’t, he didn’t know these people. But some people had just got in hacked websites, used all of his information to say that they were the ones doing it. So for him, he didn’t want to touch anything. All right? And so we had to kind of work on a mind frame to get around that.
But in terms of legal teams balancing the need for the innovation and potential challenges and risk, I would say first you have to foster a culture of innovation, a culture that says it’s okay to have an open mind and creatively think as things change. The one thing you don’t want to do is not embrace change because everything changes continually, how we got here. So we really have to have everyone on that team understand, hey, we’re open thinkers here. At the same time, we’re also going to verify because we’re also attorneys and there’s nothing wrong with that. Then you want to conduct thorough risk assessments. So let’s say you do have a piece of technology. We can talk about AI. I have stories on that. And with that it’s about, hey, what can I identify about the potential here? And not this can help legally, but then also the regulatory and the compliance challenges associated with anything that’s innovative, that’s fine.
So collaborate with stakeholders to mitigate risk and effectively ensure compliance requirements are still met and then keep up with them as they change because technology continues to change. And that would be kind of like the third thing I would say is you got to stay informed in order to adapt. So I would monitor industry regulations. I would stay updated on anything emerging that’s popping up in terms of legal issues. I think if you’re subscribed to a lot of the great magazines that now went online that are for legal teams out there, staying in touch with them and having alerts, that will help you stay on top of it. And I think today information is just not that hard to get. You just got to know you got to sort through every alert you could possibly have because again, we’re billable people, we’re working by the hours. So you don’t want every alert, but you do want to know which alerts you do need. And so that might take a little bit. And from that, you might talk to other people who are very techno savvy and ask them, hey, how do you keep abreast without being flooded with alerts all day long? Because again, billable people do not want to be distracted by things like that. So I think that’s where you would start.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Great points. I myself have alerts set up too, kind of to skim the headlines every day, to stay on top of trends and what’s changing and can’t go a day without reading about AI and the different chat platforms that are out there. And how is that impacting legal, which we know is still very new and we’re still determining what that looks like going forward. But you said it, you have to embrace change, you have to have some processes set up so you can be detailed, understand, still be risk adverse, but move forward, continue to be innovative.
And I thought really, the way you elaborated, that was fantastic.
PJ Dunn: Yeah, in fact, there’s a story now that’s out there, you may have seen it circulated about, I think it’s CNBC is talking about. There’s a gentleman who is trying to sue an airline for a serving cart that crashed into his body and so he’s trying to sue the airlines. Well, it turns out that the attorneys that he hired used ChatGPT to come up with some cases and some precedent, but it turns out they were all false because ChatGPT doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t real. It just puts things together based off of queries and things that people say. So it turns out that these attorneys used ChatGPT, which created false cases but it understood the question. So it just kind of made up its own parameters. And I think in that tech field they call that hallucinating. They say that the tech is hallucinating when it comes up with stuff like that.
And so now what we have is a case that’s one of the first, if not the first of its kind, that they’re going to have to go through now and say, okay, well, now that we can find that there is no legal precedent for this, but yet you’re using one, how are we going to move forward now? And now it’s probably a situation where they say, well, let’s give them a chance and see if they’ll correct. And if not, now we got a different argument to fight. And that’s real, that’s happening, like right now.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Yeah, it’s interesting. More to come, right? And sadly, ChatGPT passed the bar exam.
PJ Dunn: I love that. You did say something about how do you manage and track success when you’re trying to balance innovation. So, again, I’m going to use the threes because people remember things in threes. There’s certainly more, but I think three is good. And so I think the first thing is probably very obvious. It’s define KPIs, right? So establish a measurable key performance indicator that’s aligned with the goals such as, I guess, successful innovation initiatives, risk assessment, completion, and then compliance adherence. So what would be your KPIs there?
The second thing would be just regular evaluation because it keeps turning over and spinning. You have to continue to stay on top of it and see what’s changing. And then I think in a team perspective, you want to foster collaboration and recognition. So for the people who are early adopting and getting it, okay, let’s talk to them. Let’s don’t say, well, because you’re not a managing partner, you can’t possibly know what you’re talking about. Well, they could be very techno savvy and if that’s the case, use it. And then if you foster this area that says, hey, we actually enjoy talking about the things that we don’t know, even though we need to know everything because we’re attorneys. Let’s listen to people who actually are early adopting and are getting good sense of it, and then we can actually bring the contrarians in, and again, we can shoot this up and back and forth to make sure it sounds so everybody feels comfortable if we move forward. And then, of course, you just want to look at the benchmarks and the industry standards here to ensure that you’re being continuous with your learning and also with the improvement in fostering an environment that isn’t afraid of change.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Outstanding. Well, you have already given our listeners a lot to think about, some really great information, but now it’s time for a quick break.
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Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Welcome back to the Legal Report from Robert Half. Joining us today is PJ Dunn. We’ve had a great discussion thus far, and now I’d like to shift gears a bit and talk about how leaders in the legal field can enhance their interpersonal skills to improve communication and collaboration in today’s hybrid and virtual work environment. PJ, do you have any tips to enhance communication and then any pointers to handle misunderstandings or unintended conflict when miscommunication arises?
PJ Dunn: Actually, I do. I get called in a lot for this, Jamy. I’m not even a mediator, but yet I find myself doing that a lot of times, because once they understand how much I know about behavioral strategies and how the brain works, I use that context. I get pulled into this a lot. With communication in its simplest form, we’re talking about two pieces. We’re talking about listening, we’re talking about speaking, but what type of listening and what type of speaking?
I’m always a fan of communication that transcends and includes people. We want to get bigger than getting into a circular argument. But I don’t want to make it sound like, “Hey, I’m way over you. I’m here, why don’t you get there with me?” No, you transcend the conversation and bring people with you. The first part is the listening. Now, you’ve heard this a million times, and it’s still true. It’s two ears and one mouth. Empathetic listening is the type of listening we want to do. Empathetic listening, by that way, and what I mean by that is this is listening that’s focused on the other. This is having an experience with the person who’s talking, just like you would if you put in your favorite song into your headphones, you have an experience with it. What if we could experience people like the way we experience the music that we like?
And then this empathetic listening is able to set the self aside. In most communications, what people do is they’re not focused on the other. They want you to finish talking so they can finish the sentence and tell you why they think they’re right. They’re not having an experience with you. They’re having a debate or an argument or an event with you, not an experience. And then they’re not able to set themselves aside because they’re going to tell you why you didn’t hear them. And now the conversation gets circular. And then people just don’t want to talk. And so now people just say, let’s don’t even have the conversation, which then is even worse.
Now, the speaking side, you need to be able to express what you’re really feeling. If I’m asking you, “How are you doing today?” And you go, “Fine.” You’ve told me nothing. How can I know how to help you if I can see that your energy levels are low and you’re asked to do a high energy level type procedure today? How can I really get there if you’re not really expressing what’s really there? Then expression should be the ability to vocalize what you need. Sometimes on arguments, and we’re going to get there on the conflict resolution, people are just talking past each other, but no one’s telling the other person what they need. They’re just telling other person that they’re wrong and they didn’t hear them, which, again, becomes circular.
And then not only being able to vocalize what you need, can you then ask for what you need now? Sometimes you’ve heard people say it wonderfully when they just said, “Hey, listen, I can’t really hear you right now. Can we lower our voices and then reinsert ourselves into this conversation? Because all I can hear is the yelling. I can’t hear the words.” And that stops people in their track sometimes when they hear that, because sometimes they think, “No, you hear very well.” The other person’s going, “Why are you yelling if you think I could hear so well?” Empathetic listening combined with honest expression, if you’re going to bring something, tell me what it is, tell me what you need and then ask for something so then I know what to do.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: And I found in the pandemic, we always had heard active listening. We always talked about that prior to the pandemic, but it became about really seeing employees and having those meaningful connections because we were virtual and at home and not interacting at the office. We found that the same thing with our law firm clients. They were very much like, we have to reinvent how we connect with our employees and really see them, hear them, listen to them, as you said. I think your points are really spot on, for sure.
PJ Dunn: Yeah. And one thing that doesn’t work is when people try to correct you before they connect with you, when they try to educate you, when they haven’t empathized with you, people won’t hear that. If you look at it here’s the pointers. How would I do this? How would I set this up? And again, this takes practice. Because our old habits are just that. They’re very worn in. They’re like an old shoe that we continue to wear because we know what we can expect from the shoe. But here’s what we’re looking at. To listen empathetically to someone, first of all, you want to observe. Observing means I don’t choose to evaluate you and judge you. I’m just going to let you say what you’re saying. To observe means I don’t have to make a judgment. I’m just listening or seeing what’s happening here in front of me.
The second thing is feelings. I need to be able to say what came alive in me as I heard you speak. You’ve heard it said this way, hey, tom, as you were saying that, what that made me think of was the time when I and that was so frustrating for me. But the way you’re saying it, “Now, I see this.” Then after you’ve observed, you’ve talked about what’s come alive in you, the feelings. Then you need to talk about what’s the need. Now that you felt a certain way, what do you need? If I can own the fact that, yeah, when I heard that, at first, it made me anxious. But what I need now is tell me more about how you plan on working X.
And then finally, the last part is request. Most people demand, but you make a request. After I’ve listened to you and I’ve repeated it back, if I told you what came alive in me, what I felt about it, and then what I need, then I need to be able to request something. Based off of that, I am the better speaker if we can talk after lunch than before because a lot of times before lunch, I’m in a crunch. And that’s why I appear to be so blank, blank, blank. Could we have these meetings more in the afternoon than in the first thing in the morning? And that is a way to do that from the perspective of listening.
Now, real quickly, looking at it from the perspective of what are you saying. Okay, you need to observe again. How are people receiving you? Are they recoiling? Are they looking away from you? Are they starting to show you things that saying that they’re not really receiving what you’re saying? You need to be able to observe that. Then feelings here is, “Hey, what came alive in you as you’re starting to express this?” Then what do I need now? Now that I feel some sort of way about it, what do I need now? And then again, the request. “Hey, here’s something that would help me hear you better, see you better”, whatever that part is of the conversation. Again, we want to empathize before we educate. We want to connect before we try to correct.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: I appreciate spending a little more time on that because effective communication is obviously so incredibly important. It was pre-pandemic, but even more so now. Thank you for those clarifications and some additional tips for our audience. I do want to maybe talk a little bit more about one other aspect that I felt has really heightened, particularly with lawyers coming out of the pandemic, and that is well being in the workplace. Legal teams are — we know, right, incredibly busy. It can be challenging to balance professional with personal demands. In your eyes, how can leaders set a better example for their teams when it comes to their wellbeing and improving their work life balance?
PJ Dunn: It’s going to start with something very simple and once again, shock mind frame. We want to start like this. We want to stop saying things like, “Hey, you can rest when you’re dead.” To be great, you have to burn the midnight oil. Work hard, play hard. If you start as a leader, telling people that that’s what that is, people are going to be afraid to go on vacations when they need to, to tell you that they need to help something with a family situation that’s just happened, because you’re telling them this is only about performance. And if you really want to be good, you have to do any one of these two or three things.
Now, see to your point, I love that you brought this up because you knew I’m going to have some statistics as well. When you look at the mental health statistics, the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. are anxiety disorders and that affects about 40 million adults. That’s about like 18.1% of the population. And it’s no surprise is that nearly a third of lawyers, 28% of that figure then struggle with depression as well. And because depression and anxiety go hand in hand, the fact that a good number of lawyers also will show symptoms of anxiety, it’s about 19% is to be expected. And when that anxiety isn’t handled well, then it’ll have to work itself out in some kind of way.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Reframing definitely what we say is important and then also leading by example. Like making sure we’re showing that we’re taking time off or showing that we’re taking a break. And I really have appreciated companies, law firms that have taken the time to have wellbeing programs, even during the day. To have that balance, it almost has to be a part of the culture, not just only coming from the leadership.
PJ Dunn: I would 100% agree and I would say that when we talk about self-care, there is a distinction that we’ll mention as well. Self-care is the intentional decision. It starts there once again in the mind to be active in the moment regarding your spiritual, your mental, your emotional, your physical and your social health because you’re not one person in one of those categories, you’re in all of those categories. Great self-care is actually the key to improving mood, sustaining better energy, reducing the anxiety that we know comes with practicing any job that’s performance based and fostering positive relationships.
What is self-care? Self-care actually shows up as being able to be more nurturing rather than attacking yourself about. If you were really good, you’d have done this and you would have done it in five hours. And just other self-limiting beliefs that are crazy. But it’s also heightened awareness because self-care happens in the moment, not like self-improvement which happens after the fact that some bad things have happening and now you’re trying to retroactively improve what just happened. Self-care happens in the moment. It’s a proactive responsiveness, it’s about waking up, feeling restored more than you don’t, it’s deep analysis, it’s not expensive because it’s you talking to you asking you where are you at? And what kind of energy are you going to need today to do the things you need to do. And then it’s time rewarding because you’re not having to go back and correct later by using self-improvement methods.
One way to get out of the self-improvement, which is still a good thing is why don’t you fix it before you have to go and improve it? If we eat better now, we don’t have to later on go on a big diet and do all these things to try to fix it retroactively. What if we could do it in the process when we’re making decisions to have an extra Danish, when maybe we know we shouldn’t? What is self-care not?
It’s not selfishness. It’s not selfish to say, “Hey, I need 20 minutes, I need 30 minutes.” Just alone for a moment. It isn’t just necessarily self-improvement because that’s retroactive, although it has components. It’s not about numbing yourself, it’s not about pampering yourself. It’s not about shallowness because you’re looking deeply at what’s happening real time when you’re doing self-care. It’s not expensive because — it will become expensive if you don’t pay attention to your blood sugar and everything else that’s going on because you might be in a job that raises those sorts of things and then it’s not time consuming because you’re doing it as it’s happening when you have proper self-care.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: I’m all about the self-care and encourage it all the time or else I will go insane. Again, based on how the last three years have been. All again, continued. Great advice that you’re sharing and I guess maybe I would add from the work kind of balance, like always assessing and being smart about how you’re leveraging your team or moving projects around. And we’ve even seen law firm and companies during the pandemic increase that flexible talent model so that they could ensure that there was a work life balance for their employees. As we continue out of the pandemic, it’s seen that even our research has showed that U.S. companies plan to increase their use of contract professionals to alleviate some of those staffing gaps or skill gaps, and then really prioritize projects and still allow their team to be — morale stays strong and there’s work life balance for them as well.
PJ Dunn: When you look at this, I would say it’s like six components to self-care and that would simply be number one the mental. Be mindful of your self-talk. What are you telling yourself? Are you ruminating a lot? And then because of that, are you losing sleep? You can be concerned, but I wouldn’t worry because worry doesn’t really help. But being concerned makes you be proactive. Worried is worrying about things that’s passed in a sense and you’re worried that it might happen again or this or that. There’s a proactive way to mentally sharpen yourself emotionally. You got to give yourself permission to feel your feelings. If you can think your thoughts that are healthy, why can’t you feel your feelings? You shouldn’t feel guilty from the time. Is a social part of you? Loneliness exacerbates these symptoms of illnesses like depression, social anxiety and alcoholism. If you’re starting to pull away from people rather than pulling close to them or leaning in, that’s not proper self-care either. You don’t want to be alone or in fact when you’re alone, that’s when you can be attacked the most and you don’t have the help to get you out of it.
Sleep is a big part of this, your sleep, health or recreation. Since this affects the neurotransmitters, your stress hormones, your thought processes and emotional regulation. You cannot think it’s sustainable to get only three hours of sleep every week of the month. You can’t think that’s sustainable. And then physical, the walking, the running, the cycling, the swimming, the dancing and even gardening for some attorneys I’ve worked with were certain things that could help them with any symptom of anxiety or a mild depression. That’s important. And then of course the gratitude thing, the meditation, the spiritual side of it, which just really means your worldview. Meditation, sitting still, the prayer, the practicing, gratitude, self-compassion, all that strengthens your spiritual connections. Feeling connected to the world, not disconnected. There’s that.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Very good. I will make sure I take the tip of being mindful and concerns okay, but let’s do away with the worry. A great tip that I’m like — I’m on board with that one for sure. PJ, we know so much has changed in the legal profession over the last three years. How can lawyers stay informed and on top of current trends and developments? I know you started to go down this path a little bit so would love to hear some more insights from you on that.
PJ Dunn: I think one of the greatest things you can do since we live in a world of nothing but information coming at you in many different forms and ways, is to get connected and stay connected with the local bars, stay connected with the associations. And if you want to get into specific associations, there’s one out there for you. I think staying in community because we’re community people, I also think that we’re learners and especially in this field, you need to feed that mind with something good. And it’s not just legal work but it’s also just how do people function, what’s happening in this world, what’s happening with business, what’s changing in industry. I think staying in a learner mode is a good thing to do. CLE is awesome. I think people should continue to do that learning education, that’s what it’s there for. But not see it as something that you have to do, but something that you get to do because it helps you to explore things you don’t know. And one of the easiest way is Jamy, to create some sort of motivation when you don’t feel like you haven’t and you’re lethargic is to go out and explore something. Whenever you explore it opens up your creativity. What I’ve known is a bunch of attorneys that I’ve worked with, they’ll tell me, yeah, when I go on vacation, that’s when I come up with my best ideas.
You might ask, well, why is that? Because you’re not driving in the car, going to the same building, going to the same office, doing the same things. You’re in a completely different atmosphere that you have to learn because your brain wants to keep you safe. And then in that, you’re now priming your brain to think differently because mostly we’re in schemas doing the same things every day because that’s what our brain is doing to keep us safe.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: I’m going to use the, “Hey, boss, I need to go on a vacation so I can have some of my best ideas developed.”
PJ Dunn: You should. And you know what? Another thing I should have mentioned earlier as well, is saying no is actually freeing. People don’t understand that. A lot of times people think, “If I say no, they’ll think, maybe I’m not good. I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t help,” but actually being able to say no is freeing because it prevents impulsive behavior. It keeps you from people pleasing, which a lot of times that can happen, especially if you’re a senior looking at somebody who’s not senior, and the not senior person might think they need to do things to impress you might think. And that puts extra pressure to make that person happy, which really, you’re not responsible for other people’s happiness.
It’s a litmus test for relationships, because if you can say no and they don’t get upset at you and mad at you, then you know you got a good relationship. But if you say no and they act like it’s an offense, that tells you something about that relationship, and it keeps you from being gaslighted by people when you can simply just say no sometimes. I’m coaching a wonderful general counsel right now, and that’s one of the hardest things for her to do, because she’s an execution type person. She loves to do stuff, and she loves people. She has the hardest time saying no. And sometimes she finds herself in a deficit of time for herself and time for other work because she’s constantly saying yes to things.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: And I know coming out of the pandemic, it was easy for people just to think, “Yes, I can do that. Yes, I can do that.” And we’ve got to balance our priorities. I agree with being able to say no in a constructive way can actually benefit us. And really just back to the point that you were saying on current trends and networking, I believe that is so incredibly important in your local legal community to be active, not only because of the current trends, but it is rewarding. And I got so much out of that in my personal space that I think that’s just another balance to everything that we’ve been talking about today. But being involved can be really rewarding and be good for the self.
PJ Dunn: 100%. And I’ll give you this one last thing that’s fantastic. I’m working with a couple of attorneys, and they were getting to that place where they’re getting very — they’re feeling lethargic they feel like everything’s the same thing. Why am I doing this? I’m doing the same thing. And what if things change and we don’t even do law, like, the way we’re doing it today? What if it change this to something completely different because of AI or something like this? One of the things that they’re doing and I suggested this to him, I said, “Have you ever — when do you laugh? Do you ever laugh?” “No, I don’t. I don’t have time to laugh.” Okay. What if you joined a comedy improv troupe and they’re like, “That sounds crazy.” I said, “Really?” Think about this. You’ll learn to think on the fly. They’ll teach you how to be funny. And really, that’s the other part of life. Can you understand the serious things, but also, can you understand the fun things about life? Because there is fun happening if you’re a good lawyer practicing and you’re a good advocate for your clients. Your clients love you, and that’s what we want.
That’s what they do. They actually joined a comedy improv troupe and now they’re not nervous when they’re networking because they’re used to coming up with something on the fly. I mean, it was one of the best things for these folks to do, given where they were.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: What a unique tip. I think that’s just fantastic. I can’t wait to hear any listeners that take that tip on. PJ, you have provided so many excellent points, incredible value insights today, but unfortunately, we have reached the end of our program. Special thanks again, PJ. You’ve just been so wonderful to have on the program, and I really appreciate you coming today.
PJ Dunn: Thank you. It was a pleasure being asked to come in here, and I hope this helps everyone who’s paying attention and listening, and if not, then we’ll do it again.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: There you go. Before we close, how can our audience contact you and where can they obtain more information?
PJ Dunn: Some of the easier stuff might be going onto LinkedIn and YouTube, and it’s just under my name. PJ Dunn CCP is what’s added to LinkedIn. Certified Coaching Practitioner. To connect with me directly, you could go straight to my email, which would be PJ like Paul James at dcdcllc. That’s like Dallas, cowboy, Dallas, cowboy, LLC dot com. You can hit me up directly there if you want to ask questions or want some more illumination about some of this.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Fantastic. Thank you again for being here and to our listeners. You can reach me at Jamy. J-A-M-Y dot Sullivan at Robert Half dot com. Thanks to our audience for listening today. If you liked what you heard, please rate us in your favorite podcasting app and follow Robert Half and the Legal Talk Network on Twitter and Facebook.
And please visit roberthalf.com for more information and resources, including our latest salary guide and demand for skilled talent research. Join us again for the next edition of The Legal Report from Robert Half here on the Legal Talk Network as we discuss important trends impacting the legal field and legal careers. Until next time, be well.