Historically, lawyer well-being has not been a major focus of the legal profession, but many see a need for a complete cultural shift. In this episode of On Balance, JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent talk to Terry Harrell about her work with the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. They discuss the “Well-Being Report” created by the Task Force, which was written to be a road map forward for the profession as it shifts its mindset on lawyer well-being. They also talk about the recently developed “Well-Being Toolkit” – a resource for encouraging wellness that lawyers and legal employers can use in their firms.
Terry Harrell is the executive director of the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program and a member of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.
Mentioned in This Episode
State Bar of Michigan On Balance Podcast
Lawyer Well-Being: A National Movement for Culture Change
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away, ladies.
Tish Vincent: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network.
JoAnn Hathaway: I am JoAnn Hathaway.
Tish Vincent: And I am Tish Vincent. We are very pleased to have Terry L. Harrell, Executive Director of the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program join us today as our podcast guest to talk about her involvement with a national movement for lawyer well-being.
JoAnn Hathaway: So Terry, would you share some information about yourself for our listeners.
Terry Harrell: Absolutely. So I am the Director of the Lawyers Assistance Program in Indiana. We are a small Supreme Court agency that assists the judges, lawyers and law students of Indiana, similar to what Tish does for the Michigan legal community.
I am a lawyer and a social worker and I most enjoy bringing my therapy dog to events where lawyers gather.
Tish Vincent: Excellent. Thank You Terry for sharing that. Can you tell us a little bit about the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, what was the impetus for that and how did it come to be?
Terry Harrell: Absolutely. In 2016, there were two landmark studies published; one on the mental health of law students and one on the mental health of lawyers. The study on lawyers, which I will focus on today, was a collaborative effort between the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Program and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
So their study was released in February of 2016 talking about the high rates of mental health and addiction problems in the legal profession and a reluctance in the legal profession of people to seek help. So that came out in February of 2016.
In August of 2016, I was the Chair of the ABA Commission (CoLAP) and Lynda Shely was Chair of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, Paul Burgoyne was Chair of the National Organization of Bar Counsel. So the three of us put our heads together and said we need to have a meeting, we need to form some sort of task force to look at this research and decide what we need to do.
So we each appointed two people, six people total, and I think the three of us all attended. We had a meeting in August and said we cannot just look at this research as an academically interesting thing and put it on the shelf; we have to generate change. And someone in the room, Linda Albert actually was in the room and said guys, we need a movement. What we are talking about is culture change, making the well-being of lawyers important to our profession. We need to change culture. And we started talking about how are we going to do that and we said well, it’s got to be more than three relatively small organizations.
So we started calling around. The first organization we contacted was the Conference of Chief Justices and asked them if they would appoint a representative to our task force, and they did, they said sure.
We called the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the Center for Professional Responsibility at the ABA. We asked the authors of the two landmark studies in 2016. We asked David Jaffe, who worked on the law student research and Patrick Krill, who worked on the lawyer research to join us, several other entities within and outside the ABA to form a fairly large task force.
Yes, so by October of 2016 we had decided that we needed to write a report that would kind of be a roadmap forward for the profession and that would make it clear that everyone in the profession needed to be involved in this culture change, and we did complete that report by August of 2017.
So within a year of starting the task force we had written this report, which if you want to go look at this report, the website is ambar.org/lawyerwellbeingreport, and that report has recommendations for all the stakeholders in our profession.
We identified the judiciary as an important stakeholder, bar associations, legal employers, lawyer assistance programs, law schools, the malpractice carriers, so those are the stakeholders. And the report, although it’s a hefty report, it’s a 50 page report, there is a wonderful summary in the front, and if you are eager to jump to the recommendations specifically for the stakeholder that you are most engaged in and working, if you want to see what legal employers — what recommendations are for legal employers or what are the recommendations for the law schools, you can jump straight to that section in the report and see what those recommendations are.
JoAnn Hathaway: Terry, do you have any way to measure how many people have accessed the report, and the reason I ask that is I think it is so challenging, you have such a wealth of information there, it just sounds so wonderful being able to ensure that people are actually recognizing what they have there and how they can help implement it. Do you have any way to measure that by search engine optimization from the website or do you know how many people are actually accessing and implementing some of the recommendations made in the report?
Terry Harrell: I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. There may be a way that we can look at either the National Task Force or the ABA, who also has the report posted on its website, could look at how many hits they have had on the website. We are trying to track how many presentations have been done around the country on the report and I know many of those presentations were at least handing out the table of contents as a handout or referring people to the website. People are getting exposed. Occasionally we are handing out entire copy of the report not as often.
But I don’t think we have a very good handle on how many of those presentations are occurring, but that’s a very good question. I think I will ask both the National Task Force and the ABA if they can look at how many hits have been directed towards the report.
JoAnn Hathaway: One thought that I had, which just goes to the larger law firms, many of them have legal administrators and sometimes I think that lawyers overlook those folks and don’t understand totally in the larger firms the involvement that they have with pushing information out to the lawyers and their firms, but the Association of Legal Administrators is a huge national organization and that, just as a pearl of wisdom here, it might be something you might want to tap into it. You have such a wonderful vehicle that you have right here and I think that that could be very well received by them.
Terry Harrell: Actually that’s a great idea. I know the Lawyer Assistance Programs are well aware of the Association of Legal Administrators. We speak to them in our own states, the local chapters, because they often have the pulse of what’s going on with their lawyers.
JoAnn Hathaway: Wonderful.
Terry Harrell: In addition, I know we are going to talk about the Working Group in a minute, but the ABA Working Group in response to the Pledge, I must say some of the people who have called to get more information about the Pledge have been legal administrators that are calling to get the information and are very excited about improving the well-being of their employees in that legal organization. So I do know there are at least some people within that organization that are hearing and joining us in this movement.
JoAnn Hathaway: Wonderful.
Tish Vincent: Can you talk a little bit about the connection between the National Task Force and the American Bar Association?
Terry Harrell: Absolutely. There has been some confusion so I am happy to have an opportunity to clarify that. The National Task Force is not an ABA entity; however, there are several ABA entities that are involved with the National Task Force. It is a broader entity including organizations both within and outside the ABA. So it is not an ABA entity; however, the ABA has been very supportive of the National Task Force up to and including approving a resolution that came from the ABA Working Group, but the resolution asked all stakeholders in the profession, which is pretty much everyone, to read the report and consider those recommendations and act on those things that are within their power.
So the ABA has been involved, but it is not an ABA entity in itself.
Tish Vincent: Yes. Thank you. What other kinds of things is the National Task Force working on?
Terry Harrell: I think today the Task Force is trying to track what is going on around the country and keep a handle on what changes are happening in all the various stakeholder areas. I mean we have started a movement and things are happening, it’s exciting. Different groups are doing stuff, so it’s a difficult job to try and keep track of everything that’s happening in all the state — what each individual state is doing, what’s happening on the national level, but the Task Force is trying to keep a handle on that, as well as providing many, many presentations about the report all over the country.
Tish Vincent: Excellent. Excellent. And then I know, because I have worked a little bit with you on the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, can you talk a little bit about how that was created and why?
Terry Harrell: Absolutely. Back in the summer of 2017, the National Task Force was frantically working, working very, very hard to finish our report because we wanted it to be ready to be published in August. And one evening I was sitting at my desk after hours, about 6:30 and the phone rang and I saw it was from Florida, and probably the only reason I answered it was I thought it would be the LAP Director from Florida calling me, so I picked up the phone and Hilarie Bass says hi Terry, it’s Hilarie Bass, and I think I must have just been silent for a moment.
She says do you know who I am? I said oh yes Hilarie, I definitely know who you are, I just hadn’t expected that to be you on the phone, what can I do? And she had been really touched by a New York Times article that came out in the summer of 2017 by Eilene Zimmerman talking about her husband’s death from drug complications, drug use complications.
And then a prominent Miami attorney had died from suicide and she just called to say, I have seen the work of the National Task Force, I know you are involved with the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, I am the incoming President, what can I do to help, I need to do something about this? It was great.
And so we talked and she decided that she would create a Presidential Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, which she did, she created it. She appointed 10 people to join me and see what we could do. She requested that our primary focus be on the legal employer segment of the report. She said if you can do other stuff, that’s great, but I really want you to look at the legal employer as a stakeholder and what we can do to make the legal profession healthier for our lawyers.
She also wrote one of her presidential articles that each President gets to write for the American Bar Journal on well-being and on the Working Group and what we were doing and why it was important, which was wonderful.
So that’s how we got started, right kind of at the same time the National Task Force report was coming out, Hilarie Bass created our Working Group.
Tish Vincent: Okay. And you have been very active, that Working Group has been very active. Can you tell our listeners about the Well-Being Toolkit and other developments?
Terry Harrell: Yeah, yeah, the Well-Being Toolkit is a toolkit designed for lawyers and for legal employers to really give them concrete ideas, what they can do in their organization, in their workplace to make the legal profession more hospitable for lawyers, make it easier for lawyers to be healthy as well as successful in the practice of law.
I had a managing partner say to me, you know Terry, what we really need to know, it’s not that we need more policies on well-being, we need to know what to do, and so this Well-Being Toolkit is very concrete. Here are some ideas you can try at your firm or your government agency with your lawyers and see what works and it’s got ton of different ideas in it, it’s very well-researched.
Anne Brafford is a member of the Working Group and she is the primary author of this toolkit. Anne is a lawyer with a Master’s in Positive Psychology, working on her PhD and so she has just — it’s full of research. If you want to dig deeper into one of the ideas, she has supplied you with all of the research to go further. But on the other hand, you can also just take ideas straight from the toolkit and take it to your team back at the office and put it in action immediately. So we think it’s a really helpful tool.
Tish Vincent: I wondered if you could share the website where people can find it.
Terry Harrell: Yes. So it’s ambar.org/wellbeingtoolkit. And Well-Being Toolkit is all one word, no punctuation in between the letters.
Tish Vincent: Thank you.
Terry Harrell: And that’s where you can find the toolkit, yes.
JoAnn Hathaway: Now Terry, you had mentioned that the ABA Working Group actually has an opportunity for legal employers to Pledge, make a Pledge to generate well-being within their working environment. So is this toolkit a part of that Pledge, can you speak to that a bit?
Terry Harrell: They work together very well. It’s not necessarily a part, but they work really well together, because the Pledge is asking legal employers, take this Pledge that you will pursue the seven goals of the Pledge towards improving the well-being of your workforce.
The Toolkit has many, many ideas about how you could implement, how you could work towards those goals, what you could do to further those goals. So yes, the Toolkit would make it much, much easier to fulfill those goals, I guess, because you have very concrete ways to do that.
JoAnn Hathaway: I see. Well, I think when I read about what you have been doing and when we spoke about this and I saw that there was a pledge that people could engage in, I thought that was such a positive step forward because it gives people some accountability, instead of just reading something and then suddenly it’s yesterday’s news.
And yes, that sounds good, but if they make a pledge, but I think coupling it with the Toolkit actually gives them the wherewithal to know how to move forward because I know I need to lose ten pounds, I need somebody to tell me how to make that happen though. So, knowing you need to do something and having the tools to do it are two different things. So, I think it’s just wonderful that the Toolkit is available.
Terry Harrell: Absolutely, and with the pledge, our idea is, again, we’re talking about culture change, so employers need to keep these goals in front of them for the long term. It’s not something that you work at for a month or two or a quarter and then let it fall by the wayside because we know nothing will happen, kind of like with your weight loss efforts. You work as hard for a month or so and then you give up, we know what happens.
So, the pledge will help to keep it alive for people, and interestingly, organically, when people would call the ABA and say, yeah, we’re interested in this pledge, we’d like a little more information, there were four of us who would respond to those calls, and I got to be one of those four. So, it’s been really fun to talk to the people who call. They are really excited about what they can do for their workforce, for their people, and they start talking to me about it and it really came from the callers said, well, are we going to have monthly calls to talk about what we’re doing and share ideas and what are we going to do? And we thought, oh, this is wonderful.
So, in fact, we are going to have a live meeting, February 22nd in Chicago where organizations that have signed the pledge, which by the way we now have — we’ve hit 50, the numbers each week seem to increase just a little that we are hitting, we’re getting some momentum, but those who have signed the pledge will be invited to get together in Chicago and exchange ideas about what’s working and what’s not because it is going to be a little bit of a process of experimentation.
Hey, we’re changing the culture, what changes work, what doesn’t work, what has really gone over in a big way, your organization maybe someone else can try that. So, the hope is to share ideas and motivate people to keep working at it and keep pushing forward on this and not let it fall by the wayside.
JoAnn Hathaway: Well, Terry, how can we help you in getting word out about the opportunity to sign up for the pledge?
Terry Harrell: Oh, excellent idea. I would encourage people, if you go to our website, which I just moments ago, gave the website for the presidential working group, go there and you will see there’s an infographic that describes the pledge and seriously think about calling us, taking the pledge to improve the health and well-being of your organization.
And I want to stress, this is a project where we want to motivate people and get everyone on-board and come up with positive solutions. It’s not about, there’s accountability in that, yes, in a year we’re going to say, hey, what are you doing, but there’s no audit, it’s not that kind of a pledge. It is we want to share ideas and when someone has a good idea, we want to share it.
So, when you look at the pledge you’ll see there’s specific recommendations, reduce the expectation of alcohol at firm events and seek creative alternatives, ensuring that non-alcoholic alternatives are always available, that’s just one of the seven points.
If your firm has found a great way to do that, it’s important to share with others and it’s not that you have to be already doing all seven points of the pledge. When you take the pledge, the idea is that you will begin moving towards these seven goals. So, I don’t want people to feel like they have to be doing amazing work in all seven areas before they can take the pledge.
It’s kind of like when you use the weight loss analogy earlier. When you sign up to do Weight Watchers or something, some program, you don’t have to have already lost the weight before you sign up. This is a plan to help you get there and achieve your goals.
And I understand having talked to many employers about this. They want to have some idea how they’re going to go about it before they take the pledge because they want to take it seriously, and they’re very committed to; if we take the pledge, we’re really going to follow through.
But, I think we’re going to try and provide some assistance to people, making the Toolkit available, having an in-person meeting. I think at some point, we may have some telephone conversations where people can share ideas, maybe even have an idea where different kinds of employers can have some sub-meetings to talk about what works in a smaller organization versus a huge international organization. So we hope to provide some of that support along the way as well.
Tish Vincent: Terry, I listened as the idea of the pledge has taken shape, and I wonder, if you would speak to our listeners about what the group was expecting when you were launching the idea and then the response that the idea has gotten.
Terry Harrell: I think what we thought was this would appeal to people and it would raise awareness of well-being. We are offering them like a logo, they can put on their website or include in their marketing materials. So we thought some people might see it actually as a marketing tool to get the best employees out there that we support well-being.
I think what we under-anticipated was this genuine excitement about what they are doing already and the desire to talk to other people about what’s working, which I think is wonderful. That makes me feel like the ball is really starting to roll.
One of our colleagues, Tish, what was the quote that our colleague Derek said? He said, “No one owns a movement, you just get on the wave and ride it.”
Tish Vincent: Yes.
Terry Harrell: And it kind of feels that way. I mean, people are excited and coming up with ideas, and I think at this point if we can just give an avenue for people to communicate and keep the enthusiasm going, we’ve done our job.
Tish Vincent: Yes, and the response is really kind of overwhelmingly positive. They are very excited about it. I think it was in September that one of the large firms in the country called the LAP Directors and asked, as much as possible to coordinate the same day to have a director in the firm that was in that director state to all talk about wellness at the same time.
And that was an exciting development that I feel we can attribute to all the work that you’ve been doing and that the group has been doing to raise this issue, and it was very touching here in Michigan to hear the managing partners came and they talked about people that they had lost to suicide or to addiction and they were very open with their lawyers in the firm that they wanted them to be healthy and they wanted them to take care of themselves, and they didn’t want them to sacrifice their own well-being because of the work; I mean, they wanted them to work hard too.
Terry Harrell: Sure.
Tish Vincent: But you can see the movements happening, it’s making a difference.
Terry Harrell: Absolutely. Well, I think this is very exciting, because I come from the world of practice management and I always so much enjoy working with Tish because she brings the wellness perspective into our realm at the State Bar of Michigan and she opens my eyes to so many things.
So, you are two wellness professionals here with national expertise, as both lawyers and mental health practitioners, but from someone who is neither of those, I’d like to say what I am hearing about this and what I find so refreshing is that there’s just talk. I mean, this is something that people don’t talk about, and just the opportunity for people and lawyers and other legal professionals and firms to be able to openly talk about some of these struggles, I think is just huge.
So, I just thought I would interject that for just a moment from that perspective and tell you, that I think it’s a wonderful thing and is much appreciated.
Tish Vincent: Thank you.
Terry Harrell: Tish and JoAnn, there is one other point I wanted to make as I think back and what our conversation has rolled is that this pledge is aimed at all kinds of legal employers. So, it’s not just law firms, we have had two in-house corporate legal departments sign the pledge, we’ve had inquiries from a law school, from State Court Systems. Basically it applies to anyone who employs lawyers, and we mean for it to be broad and not only apply, I mean, of course, there are a lot of law firms, so there will be a lot of law firms who sign the pledge but it is meant to be inclusive of all types of legal employers.
Tish Vincent: Excellent.
JoAnn Hathaway: Well, Terry, it looks like we’ve come to the end of our show. We would like to thank our guests today, Terry Harrell, for a wonderful program.
Tish Vincent: Terry, if our guests would like to follow up with you, how can they reach you?
Terry Harrell: Best way to reach me would be with my email and that is [email protected].
Tish Vincent: Thank you, Terry. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I am JoAnn Hathaway.
Tish Vincent: And I am Tish Vincent. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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