How Can We Take Better Care of Our Attorneys? Part II.
On February 16, 2023, Ryan True began a discussion on the ALPS blog by asking this question: How Can We Take Better Care of Our Attorneys? Ryan cited the ALM's 2022 Mental Health Survey finding that 35% of attorneys answered "yes" to the simple question, "Do you feel depressed?” A quick Google search reveals this is one of many studies linking an elevated rate of substance abuse and/or depression to those in the legal profession.
Let’s take this conversation a step further, acknowledging that each attorney is going to be the one taking care of themselves, and dig into some ideas. Certainly, the best practice for each individual attorney is going to be different. But this year, I tried something new and want to share my own personal experience, as it’s been the most beneficial action I’ve taken wellbeing-wise since, I would say, I started law school.
After practicing law for 8 years, I came to ALPS and have been working as a claims attorney for the last 11 years. In my current position, I experience some of the same stresses I did as a private practitioner, and some different stress as well. What I can tell you is that early in 2023, I knew I needed to do something different because I would have been a “yes” on the ALM’s mental health survey to the question regarding depression. Despite plenty of effort, I was spinning my wheels without a clear idea of what to do. But 19 years in career-wise, and (admittedly but hard to accept) middle-aged, the questions I needed to answer were more about what I wanted my goals to be and what I wanted my life to look like. So, at the beginning of 2023, I hired a coach.
As for finding a coach, the industry standard seems to be that you have a free consultation with a coach. It’s important to make sure you and your coach are a good fit. I worked with a non-attorney coach briefly before this year. I believe, based on my experience, that as an attorney, you want a coach who is an attorney.
As for finding a coach, LinkedIn is filled with options for attorney coaches. I happened to hear my coach, Megan Hottman, speak at an ALPS-sponsored event in 2022. I thought she was fascinating. And she rides bikes. (I love bikes, also). Megan became an attorney coach after she worked with a coach. Here is a link to her story: Having a Therapist and a Coach Changed My Life (and It Could Change Yours, Too)
At the time I heard her speak, I had no idea she was an attorney coach. I found this out when I tried to track her down months after I heard her speak to see if she might want to have a virtual coffee. Rather than having that virtual coffee date, we had a consult session for coaching. We decided it was a fit and I’ve been working with her since.
During one of the first sessions, we started talking about intuition. According to the definition from Oxford Languages, “intuition” is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” This was generally a new concept to me and one I began focusing on. I began by writing down decisions I made based on a gut reaction and followed up by documenting how it turned out. It was and is still fascinating to me to watch how things work out when you pay attention to that voice in your head (or whatever you want to call it). I would guess this is a concept somewhat foreign to many lawyers based on the 'lack of reasoning' piece of this exercise. The obvious caveat is that there are certainly professional decisions where following intuition is going to get an attorney in trouble. But consider this: One of the most common revelations I hear from attorneys who have non-meritorious claims brought against them is that they knew from the first conversation with the client that the representation was a bad idea. Or they knew something was not right from the beginning.
Another main concept we dove into was boundaries and the need to be clear about what I wanted and needed. Come to find out, I had a bad habit of not speaking up, both at work and in my personal life. At work, I started experimenting by talking about what I could and could not handle and what worked and what did not. I set boundaries with friends. I started paying attention to what social events I wanted to go to and ones I did not. The result — when I asked for something I needed at work, 95% of the time it happened. (If you’re at 100%, you might not be asking enough!). With friends, I feel more appreciated and less resentful. And those awkward social events? GONE.
We also worked on the “shoulds”. I set one particular goal early on in my sessions with Megan. Over the course of a few months, my goal changed. I told her that I was really uncomfortable with the idea of setting a goal and not reaching it. She encouraged me to stop looking at this judgmentally and start looking at my change in plans curiously. It was a huge lesson that plans change and if the change genuinely makes sense, there’s no reason to pursue the goal just because you wrote it down on a piece of paper. As a result, I started throwing the “shoulds” out. As another example, I don’t sit on any non-profit boards right now even though maybe I should, but I do coach a girls’ NICA mountain biking team twice a week. And that makes me a much happier person.
I also did a check on who I allow into my life. Are you in a habit of spending time with someone who, if you’re honest with yourself, doesn’t add to the life you want? Do you feel like crap after you spent time with them? Make a change. I’m going to go so far as to say this applies to work, too. My team at ALPS is supportive, kind, and amazing. However, I’ve been in work situations that were not a good fit. It matters. How about your clients? If they are sucking the life out of you, what about a plan to make a shift to attract the type of clients you want?
Megan also prompted me to spend time evaluating and reevaluating my core values. I started with a list of ten, then five, then one. It may come as no surprise, given this article, that one of my top values is authenticity. Yours could be creativity, boldness, achievement, success, kindness, or really anything you can think of. Once you are clear on your values, which may change over time, choices become clearer.
To wrap this up, what I’ve realized over the course of the last six months is that as much as I intended and tried to figure all this stuff out on my own, Megan provided the feedback and tools to help me get out of my rut. Therefore, my top suggestion for attorney wellbeing is to find yourself a coach, preferably a coach who is also a lawyer. And who knows — an unforeseen opportunity to come from this experience might just be the avoidance of a legal malpractice claim or complaint.*
*When we handle claims on behalf of ALPS Insureds, we often don’t learn of the underlying cause or the circumstances that contribute to a claim. However, according to the ABA’s Path to Lawyer Well-Being report, between 40 and 70 percent of disciplinary proceedings and malpractice claims against lawyers involve substance use, depression, or both.
Authored by: Martha Amrine, Senior Claims Attorney
Martha Amrine has worked as a claims attorney for ALPS since 2011. Before coming to work with ALPS, she practiced law in Washington State, concentrating in trial court litigation. She obtained her B.A. from Seattle University in 1999 and J.D. from Gonzaga Law School in 2003. She is a member of the Washington State Bar Association. Martha currently lives in Missoula, Montana where she runs on the Big Dipper trail running team, coaches boys' soccer and kids running, and spends her free time enjoying Big Sky Country with her husband and two sons.