Happy Thanksgiving from CoLAP!

On behalf of the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, we wish you a peaceful, happy, and safe Thanksgiving holiday – however you’re celebrating this year. We love this article from Medical News Today, which shares five helpful tips for protecting your mental health this Thanksgiving.

Be well!

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

Resources for managing election stress

Election stress is real. So real that Washington DC-based psychologist Steven Stosny first referred to the phenomenon as “election stress disorder” after the 2016 election. It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed by the “pervasive negativity of the campaigns,” which are “amplified by 24-hour news and social media.” Dr. Ellen Slawsby of Harvard Medical School has witnessed similar political stress in patients and noted that it’s been “more than I’ve ever seen in my 25 years of practice.”

Read more about how Americans have been affected since 2016 and how the 2020 election could further impact our physical and mental health here. At this link, you’ll also find Headspace’s “election collection” of meditations – available for FREE until November 16th.

A few additional resources from this SELF.com article include:

Ten Percent Happier

Their 2020 Election Sanity Guide can be found here: https://www.tenpercent.com/guide

This includes free meditations on resilience and transforming anger.

Shine

This BIPOC-owned self-care app has created an interactive election self-care quiz, so readers can get personalized tips and reminders: https://www.theshineapp.com/quiz/start?partner=election

Wisdo

This virtual support app allows readers to join specific themed communities to connect with similar minds. These online communities create safe spaces for discussing election mental health by using filters for feelings (anger, anxiety, helplessness, etc) and needs (navigating family conflicts, stress relief, etc). There’s a 7-day free trial but the membership costs $6/month (or $40/year) after that.

https://wisdo.com/

If you’re looking for some practical day-to-day practices and tips, check out this New York Times article, which features quick ideas including:

Interrupt yourself

“As you feel your anxiety level rising, try to practice “self interruption.” Go for a walk. Call a friend, Run an errand. Move your body and become aware of your breathing.”

Look at your feet

A new spin on grounding yourself created by Dr. Judson A. Brewer of the Mindfulness Center at Brown University. “Take a moment to focus on your feet. You can do this standing or sitting, with your feet on the ground. How do they feel? Are they warm or cold? Are they tingly? Moist or dry? Wiggle your toes. Feel the soles of your feet. Feel your heels connecting with your shoes and the ground beneath you.”

Connect with nature

“[C]onsciously taking in the wonders of nature amplifies the mental health benefits of walking.” So wander outside and let your mind wander away from the election.

Committing to your well-being on Mental Health Day – October 10

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.

When I was in law school, I was known for remembering National [XYZ] Day. Even though I’m lactose intolerant, I’d let everyone know when it was National Cheese Day (June 4th) or National Pizza Day (February 9th). I’ve never had a dog of my own and yet you could find me sharing cute puppy pictures on National Dog Day (August 26th).

I discovered the “National Day Calendar” after some strange days started popping up on my radar, including National Tell a Joke Day and National Talk Like a Pirate Day. I eventually stumbled upon nationaldaycalendar.com, with a landing page that proudly boasts “Where the World Gathers to Celebrate Every Day.” A familiar message from my childhood comes to mind, when my mom used to tell us that “every day should be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in our household.”

The days that make it on the official calendar – only 25 of 20,000 applications are approved each year, according to this article – are supposed to be “fun, family-friendly, unique, relevant to the world.” Perhaps surprisingly, then, World Mental Health Day can be found on the calendar. I know this day wasn’t created by this organization specifically, but it’s interesting to me that it still fits under the website’s criteria. No one could deny that the topic is relevant to the world, but that doesn’t seem like the only reason it deserves a day of hashtags. The website describes the day by stating, “Mental health is a hot topic. This is good news. It means the stigma for mental health issues is slowly going away.”

“Slowly.” I sometimes find that description to be frustratingly applicable in the legal industry. While the ABA and other entities have been successfully reshaping the landscape of lawyer well-being for several years now, I often hear from law students and new attorneys that are completely unaware that a Lawyers Assistance Program exists in each state. I continue to see humor and sarcasm used when discussing alcoholism in the profession or to point out the number of overworked and unhappy attorneys. I’m still witnessing a disastrously rigid approach to state licensing requirements during a pandemic, proving that well-being is not the foremost consideration for certain institutions. And I personally know attorneys struggling with depression and substance abuse who still refuse to seek help. Why? For a multitude of reasons including fear, shame, pride, or a perfectionist mentality. But sometimes, the answer is that someone doesn’t care about themselves or they don’t think they deserve help or happiness. . .and those seem to be the most troublesome barriers.

As an advocate, part of my own mental health journey has included accepting that there’s only so much we can do, on a collective level, to change the culture and address mental health issues in the legal profession. In the end, real change starts with the individual.

This idea was brought up in a powerful way during a recent ABA webinar I attended, titled “Exploring the Intersection of Racial Justice, Social Activism, and Mental Health.” The speaker, Rhonda Magee, is the author of the book The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness. Let’s sit with those last five words for a second: transforming our communities through mindfulness. Wow. What I’ve heard some lawyers dismiss as “too simple” a practice or one that is “not enough” to provide a substantial path forward when overcoming mental health issues, others have found to be transformational on a communal level. How can that be?

One of the slides during the webinar said, “Mental health is foundational to thriving, healing, and experiencing personal justice.” Perhaps these days, we often associate justice and social change with large-scale movements and systemic overhauls within institutions. I’d even argue that it’s rare for people to think of the foundation of justice as the individual. Yet that’s exactly what Rhonda’s teachings tell and show us so profoundly, both in her express messages and in the example she sets for her students and colleagues every day. Access to resources, such as therapy, programs, and medications, is undeniably important, but we can also “draw on ourselves as a resource,” she says. Growth and healing are ongoing and inner work is critical to achieving both. I can’t help but wonder how different our communities would be if every law student, law professor, lawyer, and judge recognized that the best way to achieve societal justice starts with personal justice, in the form of mental health.

The ABA encourages the legal community to commit to your well-being this Saturday, October 10th for Mental Health Day. If you’re at a loss for where to start, look to Rhonda’s guidance once more: make a “commitment to doing what you can.” That means starting with basic mental health practices. Those might include deepening your awareness, being receptive to loved ones who express concern for your well-being, figuring out what resources are ideal for your specific experience, bravely sharing your struggles, or having the courage to seek professional help. 

Join Dan Lukasik on September 17

September 17th at 1pm EST: Depression and Suicide Prevention in the Legal Profession with Dan Lukasik, founder of Lawyerwithdepression.com, hosted by the NYSBA LAP and Nassau County LAP. Dan will discuss his life experiences with depression, as well as share strategies to utilize if someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts. The session is free, but please email Linda McMahon to register at lmcmahon@nysba.org.

Mental Health Toolkit for Law Students

CoLAP and the ABA Law Student Division have collaborated to put together the “Substance Use and Mental Health Toolkit for Law Students and Those Who Care About Them.” This free resource was designed by hundreds of individuals dedicated to improving the mental health and well-being of law students around the country.

The Toolkit is full of guides, resources, and other tools to help guide students through well-being issues they may encounter during law school. You can access this important resource here, or on the ABA Law Student Division’s Mental Health Resources page.

Report on CoLAP’s Law School Wellness Survey published in the AALS Journal of Legal Education

The recently released 3rd issue of the 68th volume of the AALS Journal of Legal Education features the highly-anticipated “Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being? Report on the ABA CoLAP’s Law Student Assistance Committee Law School Wellness Survey.” The report, authored by Jordana Alter Confino, explores responses to the aforementioned survey and the recommendations of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and surveys the current landscape of well-being initiatives underway at law schools across the country.

You can access the report here, and read the rest of the issue here.

ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs’ Statement on Racial Inequity

Dear CoLAP Community:

The purpose of the legal profession is to ensure harmonious interaction between society (any organization) and individuals.”  That requires the Rule of Law, equal justice, and equal protection, at a minimum.  Indeed, there can be no other profession for which the words “equal justice,” “racial equality,” and “equal protection” should be more precious than in the practice of law.  Those ideals are the heartbeat of the American judiciary.  And yet, the injustices surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor, and others, serve to magnify the truth – that as Americans, we have a 400-year history of racial oppression, inequality, and most devastatingly to those of us in the legal profession – injustice for our Black citizens.  This is unacceptable.

Centuries of racial injustice have resulted in cultural and systematic bias against people of color that is evidenced across every segment of American society:  in our laws, our data sets, our workforce, our services, and our health outcomes.  It is proven that our Black community is disproportionately vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic for a myriad of economic, societal, and social justice reasons.

The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) has fought for many years to minimize the stigma and bias affiliated with the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues for those in the legal profession with mental health disorders and diseases including addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, and others.  We have also participated in the research and written the reports on the positive impact of inclusion and diversity on lawyer well-being.  “Research reflects that organizational diversity and inclusion initiatives are associated with employee well-being, including, for example, general mental and physical health, perceived stress level, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, trust, work engagement perceptions of organizational fairness, and intentions to remain on the job.”[1]

Despite the progress made, we have failed to minimize the bias affiliated with racial inequality and unequal representation in many of our own programs.  We acknowledge that on our own leadership boards, and in our volunteer ranks, many states remain devoid of adequate representation of our under-served populations including Black and brown law students, lawyers, and judges.

We acknowledge that inclusion must guide our behavior and that we must be intentional in our effort to create sustainable structural change at a systemic level.  Inclusion requires valuing collaboration and diversity of thought, experiences, and perspective.  There is no room for division, hatred, or racist views in a culture that values inclusion.

It is CoLAP’s intention to promote good mental health and well-being for all members of the legal community regardless of race, cultural background, age, class, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, transgender status, faith, language, or health status.  To do so, we will explore our own biases and then act to make changes that are necessary to reflect an inclusive and cohesive group.  As lawyers and as individuals committed to helping improve the health and well-being of our legal community, it is our calling to promote peace, harmony, and unity in our profession.

This is a time of challenge and controversy.  But we know what is right. “To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.” Confucius.  We stand together in our allegiance to promote racial fairness, equity, and equality, thereby promoting lawyer well-being.  Let us be brave.

Sincerely,

American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs

This statement represents the opinions of the individual members of the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. It has not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates and does not constitute policy or opinion of the American Bar, whose official statement can be found at https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2020/06/aba-president-martinez-decries-violence-against-george-floyd–bl/


[1] E.g., M. M. Barak & A. Levin, Outside of the Corporate Mainstream and Excluded from the Work Community: A Study of Diversity, Job Satisfaction and Well-Being, 5 COMM., WORK & FAM. 133 (2002); J. Hwang & K. M. Hopkins, A Structural Equation Model of the Effects of Diversity Characteristics and Inclusion on Organizational Outcomes in the Child Welfare Workforce, 50 CHILD. & YOUTH SERVS. REV. 44 (2015); see generally G. R. Ferris, S. R. Daniels, & J. C. Sexton, Race, Stress, and Well-Being in Organizations: An Integrative Conceptualization, in THE ROLE OF DEMOGRAPHICS IN OCCUPATIONAL STRESS AND WELL-BEING 1-39 (P. L. Perrewé, C. C. Rosen, J. B. Halbesleben, P.L. Perrewé eds., 2014).

Why education matters as we seek societal change

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.

A few years ago, I was the victim of relationship violence and I filed a Title IX complaint during the summer of 2017. For anyone unfamiliar with this law, in part, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in an educational setting. Coincidentally, the “Me Too” movement picked up momentum a few months later, in the fall of 2017.

As I reflect on recent events related to police brutality and racism, my mind and heart feel heavy. But…a glimmer of hope shines through. In comparing the astounding Black Lives Matter revolution to the powerful “Me Too” movement, I am hopeful that the same sort of systemic issues centered around discrimination can finally be addressed, and that we will see profound, lasting change once the dust settles.

In comparing the two movements, I found myself reflecting on what it was that I wanted from my friends and family as I went through my own “Me Too” experience, via the Title IX process. Aside from a desire to express my pain and feel heard, I had what I thought was a simple request: that my loved ones educate themselves. I deeply yearned for my friends and family to gain a basic understanding of patterns in an abusive relationship. I wanted to talk about my confusion and fear, without being judged or criticized. I wanted to hear my closest allies say that they would try to understand my pain, no matter how complex the situation seemed as a third-party observer.

And while not many of my female friends did that, quite a few male friends did. Astonishingly, in what has been a permeating and lasting lesson, I witnessed numerous men step up and show me that their gender can be kind, caring, and compassionate. Their actions were exactly what I needed to believe in the goodness of humanity again.

If your mind and heart are also heavy at this time, perhaps a critical step you can take right now is to educate yourself. Let’s ask ourselves the tough questions and learn from any answers we receive.

At its worst, racism results in the cruel deaths of valuable human lives. But what does it look like in its simplest, most basic form?

After releasing the “Becoming” documentary on Netflix recently, former first lady Michelle Obama said:

“When we share honestly about our own experiences, we invite others to do the same. The connections we build in these moments of vulnerability are so powerful and so healing.”

My own experience involves my parents immigrating to the United States from India and settling in a small town in southeast Missouri, with a population around 16,000 people. Growing up, I was constantly asked “What are you?” I could be at a Walmart or in a classroom and the question always made its way into the conversation. The first time I was asked this, I was more annoyed at the person’s inability to correctly articulate what it was that they wanted to know. As I got older, I would smile and say “are you asking me what my ethnic origin is?” and most people would reply affirmatively, with an embarrassed nod. At the core of that question was a seemingly larger one – “are you American?” Having been born and raised in the heartland, like Jack and Dianne, it was an undeniably subtle form of racism that people’s first assumption was that I wasn’t from “here,” I wasn’t one of them. The juxtaposition of my name alone, Jessica Chinnadurai, leads to quite a few interesting comments. I continue to openly share details about my family’s background with anyone who is curious or confused because it typically helps educate people. What am I? A human, just like you.

In the same vein, a seemingly innocuous question about a Black person’s hair can be racist and discriminatory. My article from February shares insights on this subject from an interview with a Black attorney. I appreciate my colleague’s openness to share her story then and invite others to do the same now, so that we can continue to learn and encourage healing, as a community.

As legal professionals, what is our role in helping to achieve change?

In this framework, the meanings of the various roles are described here. I think many lawyers can primarily be categorized as “guides,” who can “teach, counsel, advise and use [our] gifts of well-earned discernment and wisdom.” We also have the opportunity to be powerful “disruptors,” “visionaries,” and “weavers.” Dependent on our personal strengths, each of us may feel called to take on a different role. Whatever that may be, step into it. . .step up! Become the ally. Diverse communities need us. In a profession where “duty” often carries a very specific meaning, let’s remember that we simply have a duty to care.

What if educating ourselves could help relieve the pain of just one Black individual who is dying to be heard? 

I think a common thread that ties all of humanity together is our desire to feel and be heard. We want to know that our voice matters, that our life matters. If you’ve never had to hesitate and wonder if yours does, empathizing with someone who has questioned it their entire existence can make a world of difference. Clint Smith explains just how much of a difference in his 2014 TED Talk titled “How to Raise a Black Son in America:”

“So, when we say that Black lives matter, it’s not because others don’t; it’s simply because we must affirm that we are worthy of existing without fear, when so many things tell us we are not.”