CoLAP requests proposals for its 2021 conference

COLAP is excited to announce that we are now accepting speaker/program/topic proposals for our annual conference, to be held in Washington, DC on September 21-23, 2021. The theme of this year’s conference is “Writing the LAP Story: Reset, Recover, Renew.” 

Proposals must clearly involve a diverse range of voices, perspectives, and content. This can be achieved via the involvement of individual panelists and speakers who represent a range of ethnic, racial, cultural, and other diverse backgrounds.

The deadline for submissions has been extended until March 1! You can submit your proposals and find more information here.

Mental Health Resources for February

Black History Month is officially underway! We love this NAMI article by Dempris Gasque, about what Black History Month means to him. He says, “As an African American/Black man, I would like to be respected for my strength and tenacity in moving forward and progressing in a way that I choose. And my choice has been to develop a wellness recovery action plan that allows me to champion and advocate for mental health reform.”

Additionally, the Mindfulness in Law Society is partnering with the National Black Law Students Association to host a series of anti-racism events this year. The first Zoom event, “Why Do You Care About My Hair?,” is February 11th from 12 – 1pm ET. Natural hair in the legal workplace will be the topic of discussion. Additional resources and the registration link can be found here.

Of course, February 14th marks Valentine’s Day. A day meant to focus on love but which may stir up a range of emotions within you, whether single, partnered, or anything in between. This Talkspace blog post has a lot of great insight on how to make it a great day for your mental health. (There’s also a promo code provided: $80 Off using code GOAL.)

The February bar exam will take place later this month. COLAP has partnered with the ABA’s Law Student Division to compile this excellent list of Essential Mental Health, Physical Health, and Wellness Resources for Bar Exam Prep. We wish all exam-takers some well-earned luck (and rest)!

And finally, while it may seem like the traumas of January are behind us, one thing is especially hard to forget in our community. The death of Representative Jamie Raskin’s son, Tommy, a law student at Harvard, was shocking and heartbreaking. As this article poignantly points out, Tommy himself shed some light on the paradox of “why a young man with so much promise, so much passion, and so much support around him could die from a depression that led him to suicide.”

“It’s hard to be a human.” 

Please share the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) with your colleagues, classmates, friends, siblings, children, or parents. Find additional resources here. And have the conversation with someone you’re concerned about.

Let’s keep trying to spread a little hope and peace in 2021.

CoLAP requests proposals for its 2021 conference

COLAP is excited to announce that we are now accepting speaker/program/topic proposals for our annual conference, to be held in Washington, DC on September 21-23, 2021. The theme of this year’s conference is “Writing the LAP Story: Reset, Recover, Renew.” 

Proposals must clearly involve a diverse range of voices, perspectives, and content. This can be achieved via the involvement of individual panelists and speakers who represent a range of ethnic, racial, cultural, and other diverse backgrounds.

The deadline for submissions is February 15, 2021. You can submit your proposals and find more information here.

For We Are Here, Happy New Year!

This post is authored by Jessica Chinnadurai. Jessica is a recently-licensed attorney who graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2018. Her hope is to increase transparency around mental health issues in the legal profession, and to spread light to those fighting battles no one can see. You can connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.

It’s hard to believe that I wrote my first article for COLAP Café almost a full year ago, in January of 2020. As was the case then, I find myself reflecting on the possibilities of a new year ahead. Of course, given the circumstances of this year, those possibilities seem even more exciting than usual!

My post last January discussed the practice of integration and how to use the word “and” to acknowledge seemingly conflicting emotions that exist within us at the same time. Uncertainty and hopefulness. Anger and compassion. Grief and joy. I failed to mention at the time that this is a strategy I learned in therapy. In another year of therapy, I’ve discovered that a similar idea lies behind what’s known as “wise mind” in psychology.

Imagine a Venn diagram, where one circle is your emotional mind and the other circle is your rational mind. In the middle, where the circles overlap, we find a balance of the two minds. In this state, the goal is to recognize our emotions and validate or respect our feelings, while also responding to them logically. It’s not easy, but it’s a strategy I try to incorporate into my daily experiences. If I’m upset by a situation at work, I allow myself to embrace whatever emotions come up while maintaining a sense of professionalism. Sometimes this includes typing out an email with what I wish I could say before deleting it or rephrasing my thoughts more diplomatically. As you can imagine, this is much harder in my personal life. When I’m upset by a friend’s behavior, sometimes I have to allow myself a few days to sit with my feelings. The time in between the “triggering” moment and before my response – that pause – allows for a more rational approach. It helps me acknowledge my own sadness or anger while also remembering how much I value my friend and how each of us may be struggling in different ways right now.

Earlier this year, I was worried that I wouldn’t get to practice this technique in-person, which would cause my growth to slow down or come to a screeching halt. Surprisingly, quite the opposite has happened. In fact, connecting virtually with people has allowed for more regular and purposeful check-ins. Also, most of us are aware of the increased risk of miscommunication via electronic means, so I’ve witnessed and participated in a collective slowing down. Without body language and other in-person cues to look to, for example, we tend to fully listen to others and wait for them to finish speaking before we unmute and offer our thoughts or ask questions.

In January, I wrote, “We rarely see coming or plan the moments when our perspective or circumstance changes for us in the way we’ve always hoped or wanted. . . .” I see how that remains true generally, with the unexpected arrival of the pandemic shifting many of our perspectives toward healing and connection. But as for me, personally, even if I didn’t foresee an introduction to my “wise mind,” that was a predictable – perhaps even planned – outcome of therapy.

At its most basic level, therapy creates a space where I can make sense of the inexplicable. I’ve often heard complaints that therapists don’t provide direct answers, and though that may be true to some degree, there is still some comfort in understanding. Similar to how there is power in knowledge. During a recent episode of “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard,” one of my favorite podcasts, Dax and his guest discussed how they sympathize with individuals who are undiagnosed in terms of mental illnesses, personality disorders, depression, or addiction. They agreed that although it can be scary to get a specific diagnosis, there is an indescribable sense of relief that accompanies the feeling of finally knowing. In other words, it’s far scarier to continue ignoring or avoiding certain parts of ourself and letting them control our life in destructive ways.  

I know what it feels like to be there – lost in a world of feeling like there’s something “wrong” with me or different about me but not wanting to face the truth. My therapist likened it to flailing around in water, reaching out for anything or anyone to stay afloat. This resonated with me because for so long, it did feel as if I was drowning in a sea of self-criticism and misunderstanding. Although therapy didn’t come with a specific diagnosis for me, it provided – and continues to provide – explanations for why I am the way that I am, why I think what I think and feel what I feel, as well as the levels at which I do so. Aspects of my personality that I previously considered to be flaws are now viewed with a more compassionate lens. Before therapy, I had no idea how to befriend myself. I struggled immensely with loss and healing unresolved trauma. I was too comfortable staying in my world of suffering, thinking “no one understands me,” and believing my differences made it futile to try and connect with others. Now, my “wise mind” continues to learn how to recognize my feelings and validate my experiences while rationally remembering that I need other people. We all do.   

In academia, the new year is often the half-way point between semesters, whereas summer is the end of the year. I was thinking about this as I admired a beautiful new journal a close friend gave me for my birthday a few months ago (pictured below). As I opened her gift, I excitedly told her that I was nearing the end of my current journal, and it’s true – I will likely fill the last page on the last day of 2020. After I’m done appreciating this poetic timing, it’ll be important for me to keep in mind that my new journal doesn’t have to represent a completely new chapter. Just as the new year is only a part of the academic year, there’s still more learning ahead. New challenges may arise, along with new questions for my therapist. Or, the same issues that have come up for me the past few years may resurface and provide more clarity or teach me additional lessons. And all of that is okay. Because that’s what therapy is for; on the mental health journey, it’s where I can continue building the confidence that I can handle whatever the future holds.   

I wish each of you reading this a very fulfilling 2021. “What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.”

The back of the journal explains that the cover reproduces a nineteenth-century gold-tooled binding of a volume of poems by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who wrote, “Bless love and hope, true soul; for we are here.”

Note: If you’re looking for additional nuggets of wisdom or reasons to start therapy in 2021, check out this list of “5 Golden Pieces Of Advice People Got From Their Therapists This Year.” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/advice-from-therapists-this-year_l_5fdccf92c5b650b99adc14cf 

Holiday Season Self-Care in the Pandemic Era

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Bench & Bar of Minnesota, a publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.  Copyright © 2020 Joan Bibelhausen.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

The leaves have fallen and the ads in our Sunday paper are promoting their annual holiday gathering wares as if nothing has changed. But it has. Some are grieving—or living in fear of—the loss of loved ones to the coronavirus; all of us are grieving the loss of traditions and rituals, each in our own way. Have you caught yourself beginning to plan for holiday meals, gifts, and traditions, only to stop short? It’s not uncommon to focus on the meaning of our holidays and traditions only when we fall exhausted into the holiday world we endeavored to create. This year? We need to find new ways to observe what matters to us, cope, and perhaps even thrive.

Since everything is upside down this year, begin at the end. Here’s an exercise to help you visualize what is actually possible. Imagine you are talking with a friend in early January, checking in about the past few weeks. As you think back while comparing experiences, you realize that you found surprising fulfillment, less stress, and true connections. What will you tell your friend about how you got there? How did you begin with the meaning of the holidays and how did you support that?

Holiday stress arises from intertwined triggers: financial, relationship, physical, time pressures, environmental, emotional, and others. This year, all are overshadowed by the times we are living in—the pandemic, economic factors, social justice issues, and a national election. If we are mindful of the goals we hope to reach, our tasks and decisions may more easily fall into place.

Financial. Setting and sticking with a holiday budget is always a challenge. Now circumstances for you and those in your circle have changed. Some may hide that they are struggling. Focus on gifts for children, choose a charity, consider gift cards to businesses that are most impacted, or make family/friend agreements to limit or eliminate gifts; perhaps you make donations to charity in each other’s honor instead. The point is to reduce the stress of uncertainty and give everyone a break. What can your dollars most meaningfully support? If you have previously sent gifts to clients, those boxes of chocolate may be delivered to an empty office. Consider a charity as a token of your gratitude for their business.

Relationships. Too many of us have lost someone, whether it’s due to the virus or because time has passed. How will you honor that person in your traditions? Perhaps this is the year to start new ones. Sometimes a large source of holiday stress is spending time with people you would rather not see, especially in an election year. The pandemic allows, in fact with the Governor’s order, requires us to strictly limit our contacts for health and safety reasons. But many people, inevitably, will choose to gather anyway. If you are part of such a gathering, there are many other safeguards you can use as well to limit size and exposure. People in recovery will often have an escape plan if they feel uncomfortable in the presence of alcohol. Using this example, what will be your escape plan if you don’t feel safe or respected? The governor’s guidelines for gatherings can help us draw clear lines. The loss of connection and togetherness is hard, and people don’t always know what is safe. The latest CDC guidelines are at www.cdc.gov; enter “holidays” in the search box.

Physical. The fact that we may share fewer sumptuous meals and holiday treats this year may ultimately benefit our health. This time of year, many of us burn the candle at both ends—it’s a status symbol to be busy, miss sleep, and juggle multiple demands and projects. Sometimes we drink too much. What is meaningful to you about holiday food? Can you teach someone to make a treasured recipe over a virtual platform so you both can share it with those in your household?

Time pressures. What will you do with the time you would have spent at your favorite bar association’s holiday party? Rather than adding something else, can you slow down and reflect or do a better job on something that was getting short shrift? Year-end and month-end deadlines will continue to exist. By leaving open times open, you may feel less deadline pressure.

Environmental. Our profession tends toward perfectionism and this can explode when we try to create perfect surroundings and events. This year let the need to simplify extend to your surroundings. Must you unpack every box? Environmental factors also include traditions such community tree-lighting or solstice celebrations. You may need to miss or change some of these, and you have a choice about the impact on you. If you are distressed about something changing or missing, ask “what can I control about this?” If it really is out of your control, where can you find the best in what is available?

Emotional. This may take the largest toll this year—and offer the greatest opportunity. We are grieving, we are sad, we are afraid. All of this is normal. Give yourself relaxation breaks, especially when you notice yourself feeling stressed or anxious. Take some down time to stop, breathe deeply, and exhale the tension. Your clients, family, and friends will be better served. If you have experienced a loss in the past year, the holidays will be difficult. Friends and family want to be there for you but may not know how. Tell them what you need.

Sometimes emotions are tied to traditions, and those traditions may need to change. You may find you like the new way better. As you think ahead to your January conversation with your friend, what stress triggers come to mind? What are your options to reduce the impact of those triggers so you can be present for what really matters? Explore the deeper meanings of whatever spiritual home you have. Doing so mindfully can change your reaction to a sometimes uncontrollable reality.

Take time to reflect on what matters most to you. Setting holiday priorities brings a healthier perspective and reduces stress. Self-help strategies can work wonders, but sometimes more help is needed. If you are feeling persistently sad or anxious or irritable, experiencing physical complaints, not sleeping, or find yourself overindulging—especially in alcohol—beyond your comfort level, talk to your doctor, mental health professional, or call Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers for resources. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers is free, confidential, and available 24/7.

JOAN BIBELHAUSEN is executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, which helps legal professionals and their organizations thrive in a stressful profession. www.mnlcl.org, help@mnlcl.org, 651-646-5590. She hopes Amazon users will go through Amazon Smile and choose LCL as the beneficiary.

CoLAP’s report on the National Judicial Stress and Resiliency Survey published

CoLAP’s comprehensive report on the results of its National Judicial Stress and Resiliency Survey was released in the new edition of the Journal of the Professional Lawyer on December 23, 2020. The Survey asked judges to rate their sources of stress, effects of stress, stress management and resiliency, and alcohol use under such categories as workload, safety and security, interpersonal stress, trauma exposure, staffing issues, ethical concerns and court procedures.

CoLAP partnered with the National Judicial College and the College of St. Scholastica to put together the survey. Over 1,000 judges participated in the survey, with over 80% of respondents serving on state court benches. The report, Stress and Resiliency in the U.S. Judiciary, is considered the most comprehensive review of well-being of its kind for the judicial ranks and builds on an ABA 2016 study of lawyer well-being and a separate law student well-being study that same year.

You can read more about the release of the report here.

The Traditional End-of-Year Self Audit: What’s Behind Your Cool Image?

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2020.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. This article was written by Carol P. Waldhauser. Carol is the Executive Director of the Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (DE-LAP) and can be reached at cwaldhauser@de-lap.org.

As a practicing attorney or judge, what better time than now to reflect on the past year…and what a year it has been! It has been a DE-LAP tradition for 14 years to encourage you to reflect on where you have been, where you are presently, and where you plan to be in the next year. It is time to look in the mirror, pull off the mask, and take note of what is behind your cool image — both professionally and personally. Considering the past year, this reflection is more important than ever. 

Some may ask, “Why take the time for a self-audit? I already have a cool image — after all I survived COVID-19 and more.” However, others may use this article to reflect, change, plan, and implement for the new year.

We know that lawyers are referred to as great problem-solvers. It is imperative for lawyers to realize that even when he or she may be highly successful in treating a client’s dilemma, all too often it is difficult for many to address their own concerns, goals, plans, wellness, and stamina.

Lawyers and judges often exhibit a cool image to their clients, families, and peers, but often suffer from the “shoemaker syndrome” — recalling the tale of the shoemaker who had time to fix everyone else’s shoes but his or her own. The day-to-day pressures of dealing with all the change resulting from COVID-19, the new technology, the deadlines of practicing law, as well as the ongoing responsibilities of life itself, can cause a lack of time for those in the legal profession to take time for themselves, to practice self-love and self-accountability.

This lack of time is unfortunate because it is important for all of us to pencil ourselves into our calendars. We need to realize that behind the cool image, lawyering in the 21st century takes foresight, patience, courage, excellent legal skills, personal wellness, and stamina. Take this self-audit in order to design, plan, and implement a professional and personal blueprint for strategic action steps towards success, both professionally and personally, to be the best attorney and best person in 2021.

Ask Yourself these Questions

  • Do I have realistic short-term, as well as long-term plans for my law office, my career goals, and my personal life?
  • Do I have a written budget and accounting practices in place for 2021, both professionally and personally?
  • Did I monitor the types of cases that were most and least profitable in 2020 to plan for 2021? Is my billing up-to-date?
  • Do I have an updated checklist for Lawyers Planning to Protect Clients’ Interest in the event of my death, disability, impairment, or incapacity? Is my “substitute” attorney updated?
  • Have I prepared for my absence or departure if I cannot get to the office? Do I have a succession plan?
  • Do I feel that I work too many hours? If so, can I design a plan to add more balance to my life and learn to implement it? Do I know how to say “no” to personal commitments?
  • Do I have a blueprint for my personal wellness plan in order to maintain my stamina and fitness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Short-Term and Long-Term Planning

A lawyer, like other business people, should write a strategic business plan that includes short-term and long-terms goals. This written plan allows you to focus on what you need to do today, next week, and next month in order to position yourself so that you and your business are traveling in the right direction and do not end up somewhere else or derailed.

All firms — solo, small, or large and new or old — need a written budget, especially in today’s competitive marketplace. This budget should be implemented and reviewed regularly. Ideally, you should work with an accountant familiar with law firms of your size. Your budget should include all fixed expenses for the coming year on a month-to-month basis.

Monitor the types of cases that are most and least profitable. Stop doing work that is not profitable. (This does not include your pro bono work.) That includes those cases that take a lot of your time and the clients either do not pay, will not pay, or the case is just a bow-wow. Many hard-working, honest lawyers find that their expectations about getting paid are not shared by their clients. The result is stress, frustration, and problematic cash flow. Therefore, weed them out.

Life events happen. Most individuals will deal with loss, trauma, and change at some point in their lives. It is part of being human. Although for many lawyers it is a frequent trait to ignore unpleasant thoughts such as disaster, unexpected illness, misfortune, or death, by ignoring these events, we fail to prepare for the day the unexpected illness, disaster, or even death may prevent us from executing our responsibilities as lawyers: Therefore, fill out an updated checklist for Lawyers Planning to Protect Clients’ Interest in the event of your death, disability, impairment and incapacity. And, have an updated checklist for closing your office (forms available on http://www.de-lap.org).

Once you have the written plan, it is vital that you implement it. Implementation is action, and action converts your visions into a strategic plan for 2021 and beyond. Monitoring and management are essential to the success of your plan. Through both business and personal management, you build the foundation and framework that unifies purpose and meaning, while maintaining the stamina you need behind that cool image.

Fortunately, most lawyers are passionate about practicing law, although, some lawyers may not devote enough time to their personal wellbeing. It is not too late to review some simple procedures that can contribute to time, money, and the establishment of habits that can enhance you and your professional life.

Many of us love being a legal professional and take great pleasure and pride in 21st century lawyering.  Realistically, however, it takes planning, implementation, management and DE-LAP’s annual self-audit that may be the difference between success and failure.

For more information on the topics discussed above and for free checklists, call The Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (DE-LAP) at (302) 777-0124 or email Carol Waldhauser at cwaldhauser@de-lap.org. Remember too, if you, or someone you know, is having problems that are affecting your/their ability to practice law or quality of life, call DE-LAP.  Plus, keep an eye open for the DE-LAP Blog on wellness, our 12-Step Support Group, Wellness Wednesday Resilience Group, and our free, educational programs. We do together, what need not be done alone!  

Notes:

  1. Tips to help stressed-out lawyers during COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, May). YourABA. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2020/youraba-may-2020/tips-to-help-stressed-lawyers/

2020 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs – CoLAP goes virtual!

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs held its first ever virtual event – the 2020 National Conference for Lawyer Assistance Programs – on November 11-12, 2020, drawing 250 attendees and speakers from across the globe.

Commission Chair Tish Vincent welcomed special guests ABA President Trish Refo (who gave opening remarks), ABA President-elect Reginald Turner (who also offered brief remarks), and Canadian Bar Association President Brad Regehr. President Regehr joined a panel of seven esteemed speakers representing the UK, Spain, Singapore, Canada, and the U.S. in the Opening Plenary session to discuss developing global legal well-being initiatives.

Following the conference theme – Cultivating Agility and Resilience in Times of Change – other programs focused on elevating the standing and well-being of the legal profession. These included a presentation by ABA Past-President Bob Carlson and Executive Director of the State Bar of Montana John Mudd covering the “Five Factors” that distinguish happy and satisfied lawyers and a session with Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush discussing state courts’ role in implementing changes to character and fitness bar applications to eliminate questions pertaining to an applicant’s substance use and mental health.

The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs was proud to announce Janet E. Stearns, Commission member and Dean of Students at University of Miami School of Law, as the recipient of CoLAP’s 2020 Meritorious Service Award and Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants as the posthumous recipient of the Certificate of Appreciation for Justices Award, both in recognition of their significant contributions furthering CoLAP’s goals and advancing lawyer and law student well-being. The recipients were honored virtually and presented with the awards during the National Conference Awards program. Rachael Gants, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, attended the Conference and accepted the award on behalf of her late father, Chief Justice Gants.

We hope you’ll join us in September 2021 for the next National Conference! Visit our homepage in early 2021 for more information on the 2021 Conference !

The Path to Well-Being in Law Podcast – Listen Now!

Are you someone who is involved in the lawyer well-being initiative or interested in becoming involved? The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being recently started a fantastic new podcast you might enjoy! With its first episode in August 2020, The Path to Well-Being in Law podcast introduces listeners to amazing people who are doing vital work in the well-being space. Co-hosts Bree Buchanan and Chris Newbold are two inspiring leaders responsible for starting a culture shift in the legal profession. In their lively discussions with recognized advocates in the field, Bree and Chris continue to shape the conversation around this increasingly important topic. 

Learn more and find all episodes here: https://lawyerwellbeing.net/podcast/

One to two episodes are being recorded each month, so look for more over time.

Additionally, the podcast is available through any of your favorite podcast apps:

Stitcher | Apple Podcasts|Google Podcasts | Podbean | Spotify