To those in recovery: you’ve got this!

The following post was authored by Laurie J. Besden, Esq., Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, Inc. You can find out more about Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania at http://www.lclpa.org. We thank Laurie for her submission.

We, who are active in recovery, ARE the lucky ones. In many ways, we are best prepared to successfully cope with a pandemic like COVID-19. The myriad of fellowships of recovery has provided us with a platform of preparation, essentially our toolboxes for surviving what may seem to be an overwhelming situation. 

One of my board members recently shared with me these wise words by an unknown author: 

We have experience with an invisible illness trying to kill us; we live through that every day. We are accustomed to staying in the moment, not projecting and taking things as they come. We are people who have the diseases of isolation as we have survived loneliness without even knowing we were lonely. We are very familiar with quarantine; jails, institutions, detoxes, treatment centers and more. We have grown to rely on a higher power for faith and hope; constantly. We practice “letting go” and “turning over” things we cannot control. It is our code to share with others our experience, strength, and hope to help the next struggling individual and by doing so, we keep hope alive. We all have a disease that we were told the recovery rates were in the single digits at best; yet, here we are beating the odds, ONE DAY AT A TIME. The truth is that we have the best skill set in the world to band together in fellowship, love, service, and kindness and walk each other through this.  

When I think of sobriety and my own experience with it, here are some of the first things that come to my mind: 

  • Replacing the fear of the unknown with faith in my Higher Power;  
  • Paying it forward and sharing our experience, strength, and hope;  
  • Taking it one day at a time and staying in the present; 
  • Maintaining healthy boundaries and relationships; 
  • Looking for opportunities to be of service to others and doing God’s will;  
  • Focusing on and doing “the next right thing;”  
  • Making time each day for prayer and meditation; 
  • Remembering our code: love, patience, and tolerance of all people and with all things; 
  • Focusing on my blessings, using a gratitude journal to list the gifts in my life. 

I’ll close in the same manner in which many of us close our recovery meetings, with the words of the serenity prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  

Together, we can always do what we cannot do alone.

 

CoLAP mental health resources for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed both our personal and professional lives. We face uncertainty about our health, our finances, seeing our loved ones, helping others, and even acquiring toilet paper.

COLAP has aggregated mental health resources for the legal profession here to help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Panic
  • Substance Use
  • Staying Mentally Healthy
  • Social Distancing
  • Law Practice Management / Leadership
  • And more

FIND COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES FROM ABA COLAP HERE.

These resources will be updated regularly, so take time to check back again — and more than once. We need to prioritize our mental health in these uniquely challenging times. 

To find the lawyers assistance program in your jurisdiction view directory. Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) throughout the country provide confidential services and support to judges, lawyers and law students who are facing mental health or substance use issues.

 

Taking care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty – a message from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has written encouraging words in light of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (coronavirus). The AFSP reminds us that “we can always choose our response” to stress-inducing situations, and provides a wealth of tips for maintaining mental health in troubling times. You can read the post here.

If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can also reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

New Episode of “Path to Law Student Well-Being” Available Now!

Episode 7, “Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being?” is available now on all podcast platforms and at the link here!

For too long, law students have been given the message that their well-being is second to the practice of law. Not anymore! The Lawyer Assistance Program community recognizes that teaching students about their own well-being and the well-being of their colleagues and friends as they learn the law is imperative for the future generations of lawyers. To better understand the strides our laws schools have been making in these areas, CoLAP’s Law Student Assistance Committee surveyed law schools across the country about their curricula, programs, and other wellness-related offerings. This podcast will discuss where law schools are on their path to increasing law student well-being and share a trove of resources culled from the survey of many schools.

This podcast features the following panelists: Jordana Alter Confino (Assistant Director of Academic Counseling, Columbia Law School), Jennifer Leonard (Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Future of the Profession Initiative, University of Pennsylvania Law), Judith Rush (Director of Mentor Externship, University of St. Thomas School of Law) and Chase Andersen (Case Manager, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Minnesota)

As referenced in the podcast, Jordana’s report, entitled “Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being?: Report on the ABA CoLAP Law Student Assistance Committee Law School Wellness Survey” can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3374976

Taking a closer look at race and mental health for Black History Month

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.

Every year, we celebrate Black History Month in February, to honor and recognize the central role of Blacks in U.S. history. For this post, I interviewed a Black attorney, “J,” for her thoughts on issues at the intersection of race and mental health.

J works for the federal government in Washington, D.C. She attended Howard University, a historically Black college in the city, for law school, where she graduated a little over ten years ago.

When asked if work-life balance or other well-being perks helped steer J in the direction of a legal career with the federal government, she grinned and told me, “Not directly . . . but I can say I’m glad I work in the government.” Those strongpoints have also kept her in the public sector.

I can agree with J. Flexible hours and “leaving work at work,” as she put it, are huge advantages to having a job with the federal government. Although J and I work for the federal government in different positions, our offices generally promote taking time off to relax and spend with family or friends.

In the first few months of my employment, my training class had the opportunity to hear from seasoned employees and get advice for thriving in the job. We were told employees run the risk of burnout in this position, due to its heavy focus on production. We have to meet an hourly quota and that number can weigh heavy on many peoples’ minds. Numerous individuals encouraged us to use our two 20-minute breaks during the day to take a walk outside or around the building. Others even spoke to us about the importance of maintaining social connections and hobbies outside of work.

J’s mental health tips for other Black attorneys sounds similar. She told me that it’s important for attorneys to “surround yourself with a good group of friends and family.” She mentioned how you can “choose people that you allow in your inner circle outside of work who can build you up.” She even suggests those people include other legal professionals who can relate to the nature and stress of your work. Although J herself isn’t involved in any legal associations in the city, there are numerous ones that Black attorneys can join in order to meet like-minded individuals, including GWAC (Greater Washington Area Chapter, National Bar Association) and BESLA (Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association).

Another external resource J turns to for mental health support is podcasts. One she brought up specifically, “Therapy for Black Girls,” has an associated website with an online directory for therapists of color. [1] You can search for therapists in a specific geographic location and find virtual therapists to connect with online. When asked the deeper question of how race ties into access to mental health care, J said, “Black people don’t feel comfortable talking to people who don’t look like them.” “That’s why,” she continued, “it’s crucial for Black people to seek out other people of color to talk to.” This factor alone is a huge barrier for Black people seeking help; there’s an understandable hesitation to seeking guidance from people who, historically, have played a role in creating some of their stress and trauma.

J expressed a powerful sentiment that likely resounds with many in the Black community: “You’re just a slave trying to work and survive.” Looking back through generations, much of the trauma that stems from slavery and racism has remained unresolved. Over time, as studies have shown, that trauma can be passed down genetically to future generations.[2]

When I asked J if she could recall a time when she personally experienced racism, a specific instance during law school came to mind. It was the summer after her 1L year and she was interning at a law firm. As a Black woman with natural hair, she decided to wear it in cornrows and thought nothing of this routine decision. That was until another Black female at the office, who was in a full-time Associate position, came into her office and told her not to wear her hair like that. She reiterated that it wasn’t “professional.” After that, J questioned the source of those instructions – did someone previously advise that Associate on the same matter and she, in turn, was just passing down the advice? Or did someone in human resources have another Black female tell J what they couldn’t directly?

Unfortunately, the latter scenario is very likely. In fact, the day before I sat down to interview J just a couple of weeks ago, Maryland joined a handful of other states in passing legislation to ban discrimination based on ethnic hairstyles in the workplace. A news article from USA Today[3] reported on February 6: “The Montgomery County Council unanimously voted to pass the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act which prohibits employment, housing, and other public service discrimination based on certain protective hairstyles and textures, like braids, locks, afros, curls, and twists.”[4]

J recalled feeling self-conscious after that conversation with her colleague and told me that those feelings sometime still linger. She expressed that Black women have a lot of those thoughts coming at them every day – “not feeling good enough, not feeling equivalent, not being seen.” Her personal mental health strategies focus on combatting those negative thoughts and detaching from sources, like social media, that may create or spread those false messages. She makes a “conscious choice to actively push back against those thoughts and challenge them.” She also finds it important to challenge the mentality that “doing nothing or relaxing is not a good use of time.”[5]

Those sorts of changes and shifts in thinking are what J thinks will help reduce the stigma around mental health in the legal profession moving forward. “Younger Black people are more comfortable exploring the idea that mental health is not a bad thing. Seeking help doesn’t mean you’re crazy or trying to ‘fix’ something.” She added, “It’s our responsibility to continue the trend of moving in a direction of openness and inclusivity, to make sure other people realize that seeking help is not a bad thing.”


[1] https://therapyforBlackgirls.com/

[2] I highly recommend a book on this topic called “It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle” by Mark Wolynn.

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/02/06/montgomery-county-bans-hair-discrimination-maryland/4683361002/

[4] A former classmate from Mizzou Law wrote an article on this subject titled “Are My Cornrows Unprofessional?: Title VII’s Narrow Application of Grooming Policies, and its Effect on Black Women’s Natural Hair in the Workplace.” A link to her full scholarship can be found here: https://scholarship.law.missouri.edu/betr/vol1/iss2/9/

[5] A great article I like to share with other lawyers on this topic is “The Case for Doing Nothing”: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/smarter-living/the-case-for-doing-nothing.html.

Looking for a new practice in 2020? Try using the word “and”

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. She currently works at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., where creativity and work-life balance are valued every day. 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.

Last January, in a moment of utter desperation, I found myself pacing my apartment in a new city I’d moved to for a job that hadn’t yet started and seemed unlikely to ever start. At some point, I found myself standing in front of my tall black bookshelf in my living room.

On it were pictures of friends and family, knickknacks from my travels across the world, and souvenirs and other gifts loved ones had given me. I’d organized my books on the shelves by topic and one section was dedicated to “self-help,” including a book titled “Lonely” written by a former lawyer named Emily White and my eye-opening guide on the explanation of adult attachment styles, called “Attached.” Also on the shelf was a book I bought in 2017, still completely untouched, which my first therapist at the University of Missouri recommended to me. It was called “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams, a renowned scholar of the practice of mindfulness.

I decided to crack it open. I hadn’t been planning anything special to start off my year. So of course my life forever changed from that moment onward.

While unemployed and desperately searching, or perhaps waiting, for the right opportunity after law school, I had plenty of spare time on my hands. It took a conscious choice on my end to turn that idle time into productive time. I wanted to be sure I could recognize and appreciate the difference between being productive, or what I like to think of as “busy with a purpose,” rather than just being busy for the sake of being busy. The latter is not healthy for my introverted personality type and arguably not for anyone. It seems to be counterproductive and detrimental to our health when we try to do things that ignore our human need to periodically sit in stillness or silence. To just be.

That’s exactly what the eight-week mindfulness program taught me to do. Just sit with my thoughts and emotions, my bodily reactions to both, and not place a judgment on or try to change what I am thinking about or the way I am feeling in any given moment. One of the most powerful metaphors in the book and corresponding sound recordings (that I easily found on Spotify) was that of watching my thoughts pass by me like clouds in a beautiful blue sky. Sometimes they may feel more like a train on the ground, rumbling by and literally shaking the ground on which I stand. Other days, they are undoubtedly more peaceful and easier to witness. But that’s just life:

“Even if your life is 80% sunshine and 20% storm, it is so easy to let that 20% be the weather. Do your best to keep it in perspective. Think about what you’re grateful for – everything that makes the bigger, brighter part of your life bigger and brighter. Be thankful. Keep moving.” – Maggie Smith, poet

What I’ve learned in the past several months, with a new therapist in a new city where I finally landed a job I love six months ago, is that when the storm inevitably comes, it’s possible to feel both grateful and upset. We can still acknowledge our general feelings of gratitude for life and acknowledge or accept that we also feel sad, frustrated, or angry about other aspects of or situations in our lives. The “and practice” is a new one that I look forward to integrating with my mindfulness practice in 2020. . .and beyond.

I strongly believe most lawyers are wordsmiths and yet so few probably see the beauty of this simple three-lettered word:

“The word can represent – and perhaps encourage – such mental adaptations as acknowledging and empathizing with other peoples’ viewpoints, more fully appreciating our own emotional states, and allowing ourselves to move in new directions.”

“Embracing the word ‘and’ is about cultivating openness, seeing nuance, and acknowledging possibility. . .We can accept our past and also commit to creating ourselves anew each day.” – Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D, therapist

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, leading to lesser anxiety and maybe even inner peace. And most of the time, the “answer(s)” have been in front of us for a while, given to us many years prior via a passing recommendation but one our mind either couldn’t or wasn’t open to receiving at that time. But that’s okay, too.

You’ll be ready when you’re ready.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who we recently honored on January 20th, “The time is always right to do what is right.” And in the world of mental health, for the most part, you get to determine when and what is “right” for you.

Amending Bar Character and Fitness Questions to Promote Lawyer Well-Being

Authors David Jaffe and Janet Stearns will soon publish an article in The Professional Lawyer, the ABA Center for Professional’s Responsibility periodical on Ethics and Professionalism, detailing the process and progress among various states in modifying or eliminating questions that address an applicant’s substance use and mental health disorders on Character and Fitness portions of bar admission applications. Read the article here.