Podcast co-hosts Bree Buchanan and Chris Newbold, who also serve as co-chairs of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, introduce themselves, provide perspective on how the lawyer well-being movement began, how and why the issue has sparked a national conversation, why a culture shift in the profession is needed and share their individual stories of what brought them into the lawyer well-being movement.

Transcript:

 

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Welcome to the Path to Lawyer Well-Being, a podcast about cool people doing awesome work in the space of lawyer well-being. This podcast is presented by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. I’m Chris Newbold, and I’m joining you from Missoula, Montana, and I’m excited to be joined by my co-host Bree Buchanan.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Hi, everybody. I’m Bree, and I’m joining you from Eugene, Oregon. Chris and I are both co-chairs of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. So, a little bit just about what that group is, we’re a group of lawyers representing different parts of the bar when each of us are a leader within that group. What binds us together is a passion for improving the lives of lawyers. We all hold a belief that to achieve that goal, there has to be a systemic change within our profession, so that well-being of its members is a top priority.

CHRIS:

This is our inaugural podcast, and I think this is the right time to do a few things, I think, in our first podcast, which is to introduce a little bit about the well-being movement. To introduce you to the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, and most importantly, probably to introduce you to us. Why we find a personal passion in lawyer well-being, what our hopes and aspirations are as we think about the vision of this podcast series. Because there’s incredible work going on around the country right now in this space of lawyer well-being launched several years ago with a legendary report that I think ignited a national discussion on this particular issue.

This is, I think, just a really exciting time for us in the movement, as we have grown really a large contingent of folks who are really fundamentally hoping to see some systemic changes in our profession for the betterment, as we think about lawyer health and well-being. So, we’re going to have some fun today, I think, in our first podcast, Bree.

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

Let’s talk about the notion of a theme around beginnings.

BREE:

Sure, and I thought it would be really great today, yeah talking about beginning of this podcast, talking about the beginnings of the national task force. How did it come about? Why did we do this? How was it envisioned, and what is it that we’re trying to do? Then, also I thought it would be, this is the perfect time to talk about, Chris, you and I, our beginnings in this movement. What drew us to this? There’s a real passion on the part of everybody that’s working in this movement. So, what got us to this point, and I think it’s a pretty interesting story.

CHRIS:

It is.

BREE:

So, I look forward to sharing it. Yeah.

CHRIS:

It’s been I think a really unique journey and, again, I think something that we continue to be very optimistic about where this movement is moving and the type of change that I think that we can engineer as we grow an army of well-being advocates around the country. So, Bree, let’s start. I’d love to go back to the namesake of this podcast, is the Path To Lawyer Well-Being, and that name, I think, resonates with you as someone who’s really a co-founder of our movement, and the report that got started by a coalition of organizations that began to really take an interesting look at this particular issue. Can you take us back to those early days of well-being?

BREE:

Sure.

CHRIS:

How did it come together and what have been some of the crowning achievements as we think about it?

BREE:

Sure, in some ways it’s a bit of an improbable story. It sounds like sort of an official group, and it really started back in 2016. There were a group of us who were each in our own right leaders of a national organization that worked in the space of lawyer impairment, lawyer well-being. We basically commandeered an empty conference room, the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco in 2016. We don’t get to see each other very often and said, “Let’s sit down and talk about the fact that we now have these two really significant large studies about the rates of impairment and the state of affairs of lawyer and law student’s well-being in the country.”

We haven’t had that before. I come to this movement out of the lawyers assistance program world. I was an incoming chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. I had known, just from the work that I did and the calls that I answered every day at the L-A-P, the LAP, that there was a real problem. That the profession was experiencing with depression, and substance abuse, and alcohol use disorder, et cetera. We had a couple of folks from the National Organization of Bar Counsel, the people who regulate the profession, and a couple of folks from the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

The lawyers who often end up defending lawyers who were in the disciplinary system, and really work around in the space of ethics and professional responsibility. So, the small group of us sat down in that room, and I don’t know what was in the water or the air that day, but we decided that given that we finally had the data, the hard data, to prove what we had known all along, we felt that there was a window of opportunity for us to move with that information. On that day, we decided that we were going to gulp, create a movement to bring about systemic change within the legal profession, in regards to how the health and well-being of its members are … basically, how that’s prioritized, because we had seen too much suffering.

Some of us had suffering in our own lives. I had witnessed too many lawyer suicides, and we really were so motivated to do something and do something quickly. So, we had that charge moving forward. We left that room. We brought together a coalition of national organizations, and we had some pretty, ultimately, ended up with some pretty prestigious groups, such as the Conference of Chief Justices. The National Association of Bar Executives is coming on board, et cetera. We decided that we needed to do a report to the profession and say, “We now have this information.

We know that there are real issues within our profession, and we need to do something about it.” Hear the best minds that we could bring together who work and think about these issues every day. These are our recommendations to the profession. Chris, you were part of that. Talk a little bit about your role in all of that.

CHRIS:

Yeah. I come from the side of Lawyers Professional Liability insurance, right? So, we have a vested interest in seeing lawyers practice with the duty of competence. I think one of the things that we saw as a recurring theme in some of our claims activity is the notion that impairment oftentimes is a precursor to a malpractice claim. So, based upon a really simple premise that I think that the report kind of signaled, which is to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. So, that was for Alps, the company that I worked for, which is the largest direct writer of lawyers malpractice insurance in the country, and other malpractice insurance carriers.

It was that kind of a natural fit that we want to see lawyers thrive. We want to see them be just wonderful advocates on behalf of their clients. Too often, when lawyers are finding themselves in tough situations, they were reverting to things that would generally take them into a downward trajectory and open themself up to a malpractice claim. So, what I think is really cool, Bree, about the way that this movement got started, it’s just the diversity of the groups were at the table. You’re talking about a real sense of a grassroots. So, you got chief justices, you got disciplinary council. You got, obviously, the incredible work that our lawyer assistance programs do around the country.

You got the association of professional responsibility lawyers, various entities that have associations with the American bar association, what an interesting kind of group to come together. I don’t really know of many other kind of legal issues that have started from such a grassroots perspective. Let’s reset the timeline a little bit. This happened in August of 2016. So, we’re about four years now away from this getting started, and really I’d love for you to walk us through one year later after that. We were on the cusp of releasing the report that got everything going.

That’s a pretty short period of time-

BREE:

Yeah, it is.

CHRIS:

… to mobilize that group to publish, produce, research what ultimately came to be known as the path to lawyer well-being.

BREE:

It really is amazing in a little touch of a miracle that it all came together. You have these disparate backgrounds, and we really did everything by consensus. You’ve probably heard me talk about this before Chris, but I felt like it was birthing a child. It took nine months to write the report. It was a tremendous amount of work. All of us had not only our day jobs, but we’re also leaders of national organization. So, we crammed all of this work in between the little pieces of open time that there might be. Really, everything that we decided ultimately, just about, was by consensus.

Everyone was amazingly on the same page. We broke up into to writing groups based upon the stakeholder group that we were involved in. It was just really quite miraculous. The editor in chief for the report is Anne Bradford. I’m excited to announce that she’s going to be our first guest on this podcast. She was the editor-in-chief and just did an amazing job. Also, the founder of the Lawyer Well-Being Week, which we just launched this past spring. So, it was pretty incredible process. We finished the report and published it in early summer of 2017. We immediately took it to the Conference of Chief Justices and asked if they would endorse it.

Effectively, they passed a resolution encouraging all members of the profession to read and take heed of the report. Then, within days of that, we were able to leverage that support and take it to the ABA. We’re back there at the next annual meeting, August the 27th, and there was a resolution introduced and passed by the house of delegates supporting the report. So, so much happened so quickly. It was just, in some way, it’s one of those things where it felt like it was kind of meant to be.

CHRIS:

Yeah, and for our listeners out there, if you haven’t had a chance to see the report, the report can be found at lawyerwellbeing.net, where you can download the report. One of the things, I work a lot in the bar association world, and it was really exciting to see just how fast that we’ve struck a chord, I think, with folks who really want to see the lawyers, again, thrive in being successful in law practice. I know we’ll get to our personal stories and I’ll talk a little bit about why I got involved in the movement. But I think that it was exciting to see the report itself, which we flirted with actually naming this podcast 44 recommendations, right?

Because it was a fairly comprehensive report that outlined for various stakeholders pathways to being part of the solution when it comes to lawyer well-being. We talked a lot about the challenges of our profession. What I loved about it was it was a forward looking document that said, “If you’re interested in being part of the solution, here are the pathways.”

BREE:

Absolutely, and everybody that got involved from the beginning all the way through to when we were passing resolutions, when the president of the ABA, Hilarie Bass picked this up and said she wanted to make it a priority, I believe that it was so successful because every person who pick this up and looked at it, he or she had experienced either maybe within their own career, but certainly over the course of their career, they had known lawyers or maybe judges, or even a law student, who had experienced some of these problems. Had experienced some severe episode of depression, or perhaps of a substance use disorder.

Even though we don’t talk about these things in the profession, we have all bumped up against it in one way or another, over the course of our career. Really, what most tragically motivates so many people, especially if you’ve been in this field for a couple of decades or more, we all have stories of someone we have worked with, have known, a colleague who has taken his or her own life. Unfortunately, the tragedy, with those tragedies comes some opportunities to look at how we can do things better and it really motivates people to make some change. So, it seems like the task force and the report, it was the right thing at the right time.

Since that time, what we’ve really worked towards is trying to build, I guess, you’d say, grassroots movement across the country. That starts with each of the States taking the report. We actually talked about sort of, I talk about being cheeky. Because you look in the report, it’s actually to the Chief Justice of each State and saying to her or him, “This is ultimately your responsibility for the well-being of the legal community under you. We’re asking you to pull together a task force or commissioner committee pulling together the heads of the different stakeholder groups within the profession. Take a look at this report.

See if there’s something that inspires you see. If there are things that need to happen in your State, what works for you. If it doesn’t work for your State, then don’t do it.” A large number of States are picking up that charge and it really is occurring in a, again, in a really compressed timeline. It’s amazing, Chris, you’ve been a part of a number of those States coming together to try and pull, put together their own task force.

CHRIS:

Yeah, and it’s been really, again, impressive to see the amount of interest at the local level. I think change generally starts at the local level. So, when you think about, we had a number of States and I’ll give a shout out to a couple of them. States like Vermont, they went really early. Put together a task force, had a very supportive Chief Justice in Chief Justice Paul Reiber, and really have done a really significant work moving it forward. Virginia’s another great example.

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

One of our national task force original members was the Chief Justice there.

BREE:

Don Lemons

CHRIS:

Don Lemons in Virginia. Again, this is just an issue that resonated with him, and we do a lot of malpractice insurance in the Commonwealth. I just think that there’s a yearning to be the very best lawyers that we can possibly be and to have the support of the judiciary there, and the Virginia State Bar. Utah, another great example of a State that got out in front and really started to set the tone for a movement of state task forces or state commissions to really look at the issue. Identify how well-being is occurring at the local level.

Make suggestions, make recommendations, and again, strive for systemic change to our particular profession. Bree, do you have the latest numbers on how many States have engaged in some type of activity at the state level for a task force or a commission?

BREE:

Sure, yeah. One cool thing you can do is on our website, lawyerwellbeing.net, if you scroll down and there’s an interactive map. So, you can see the States, it’s wonderful to see it visually, the States where they have implemented a commission or a task force, so that sort of thing. In some States, they haven’t done a multi-stakeholder group. Maybe it is the state bar has put together a lawyer well-being committee or commission, that’s doing a lot of the work around this. Universally, or almost universally, the Lawyers Assistance Programs are very involved in this work, too.

So, it’s taken different forms, but I would say the last time I counted, there’s about 32 to 35 States now that are working in this space. So, well over a majority. So, it’s exciting.

CHRIS:

Yeah, and I think ultimately, what is most exciting for those of us in the space is what started out as a small group of 20 to 25 people, really kind of concerned about the issue, has really multiplied by many, many factors in terms of, there are literally people in every state and every territory around the United States that are vested in this particular issue, are working with their respective state bars, or their regulatory entities, or their Supreme Courts. That’s the underpinnings of, again, a change in the environment.

A change in what we’re trying to promote, which is, I think, obviously, a healthier legal profession of folks who find professional satisfaction in the practice of law. As we know from the numbers, that’s not always the case. We have a lot of work to do because we work in an adversarial system. We work in a stressful system, and then, you add on top of that, some of the events of 2020, and you double down on that even further. So, there just can’t be, I think, a more important time for us to be launching this podcast series to talk about the issues that are affecting the current and the future of lawyer well-being.

Really bring on, again, really cool people doing awesome work in this particular field, because there are great people. We will talk to the Anne Bradfords and the Patrick Krills. But we’ll also go down, those are national, I think, pioneers in our space, but we’ll also, I think, go down and also look for stories that’s happening at the local level. We’ll look at specific topics. We have all these state task force chairs that are looking for guidance in particular areas of the well-being discussion. We have modifications to the rules of professional conduct that are happening with respect to well-being. We have incredible stories happening in our law schools.

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

We have developments on character and fitness parts of bar applications. We have pathways for reducing stigma in law firm culture. I what I’m excited about is the, I think, the intellectual journey that is in front of us. As you, Bree, as you think about the vision of this podcast, what gets you excited about? What’s on the horizon? Because there’s just so many areas that we could go as we co-host this podcast series, and what has you excited?

BREE:

Well, I’m excited now after hearing the list all of those things out. I am really jazzed about the future of what we’re going to do, because again, there are so many people working in this space and anybody that starts to work on the issues around lawyer impairment and lawyer well-being. If you dig just a little bit under the surface, there’s a story there, and I’m excited about bringing forward some of those stories. So, on that topic, Chris, let’s talk about our stories and our [crosstalk].

CHRIS:

Yeah. Bree, let’s take a quick break. I want to hear from our friends at ALPS. ALPS is, obviously, the entity as you will learn is where I do my day job. We’ve been able to leverage the marketing department here. So, let’s hear from our friends at ALPS and then we’ll come back and we’ll pick up and talk about our own stories.

BREE:

Great.

CHRIS:

Okay.

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Welcome back. Bree, this is the part of, I think, our first podcast that I was looking forward most. Even though you and I have worked together for three to four years now,. Sometimes, we don’t know the personal story about the why, right. As we think about beginnings and the beginning of this podcast, I thought it would be, I think we both thought it would be appropriate that we share our individual stories and why we bring passion, that passion, I think, originated from differing sources. So, I just thought we’d close out our first podcast with a little bit of an introduction of ourselves to our listeners.

BREE:

Sure.

CHRIS:

If you could start us off with your story and how you find yourself, where you are today.

BREE:

Yeah. How I find myself today, it’s a miracle really. It’s just astounding to be in this space and be able to work on these issues because, the issues around depression, and anxiety, and substance use disorders and all of those things are things that plagued me throughout my life and my career. So, to come through that and through recovery, and on the other side, and be in a position now where I can work to make such a difference, it’s just miraculous. When I started law school, I’ll just give you everything. I graduated law school in 1989. So, you can do the math.

But I got to law school and I was absolutely terrified. I was one of those many, I think probably many nobody ever talks about it, but feeling like an imposter, there’s a thing called the imposter syndrome. Then, I was, what was I doing here? I’m not nearly as smart as all these other people who are fronting and acting so smart and covering over their own insecurities. So, by the time I got to the first end of the first semester, the first year of law school and got my grades, I ended up with a full blown panic disorder, which is miserable. Lots of anxiety every single day. So, I started doing what worked and what was certainly the go-to for anything and everything, in the legal profession, which was alcohol.

I found that if I drank and drank pretty heavily, that anxiety would go away. I graduated from law school. I got the job that I had always wanted, which was to work at legal aid and was doing domestic violence litigation for about 10 years and loved it. But was absolutely terrified the whole time, particularly the first couple of years. Again, raising that issue of the imposter syndrome, being so afraid that I’m new, and every time the phone rings, that it’s going to be an opposing counsel, and they’re going to beat up or take advantage of this new lawyer. I also was dealing with the incredibly difficult content of the cases, the evidence, the horrific fact patterns.

Later on got involved in litigation with child abuse and representing children that are in the foster care system. So, if you think about the type of facts and stories that I was living in every day, I dealt with what is now called compassion fatigue. I had no idea what that was at the time in the early 90s. Dealt with burnout, too much work, and not enough time to do it all, not enough support systems, et cetera. So, I dealt with a lot of depression. I still had some anxiety. Again, what I found worked, “worked” in the moment was to use alcohol. Over the course of my career, I really ended up taking sort of two paths.

There was the public face. Then, there was the private face. So, publicly, look at my CV. It looks good. It had some jobs, leadership positions, president of this, whatever, you’d think, “Oh, she’s got it together.” But what was going on in my home, where no one could see, was a lot of very unhappy existence, exhaustion, not ever feeling good enough because I held myself to a standard of perfection. Ultimately, as it tends to happen, I drank more over time. We know that the prolonged sustained drinking of alcohol and heavy amounts starts to create changes in the brain.

I started to become physically dependent to it, upon it. Ultimately, I lost my marriage. That wasn’t enough to get me to stop drinking. I find that listening to the stories of hundreds, if not thousands of lawyers dealing with similar problems, when I was at the Lawyers Assistance Program, that was common. Lawyers will let everything else fall in their life. Then, when it gets to work, which is where it finally got to me, when it affects your career, then that’s the bottom. Not too long after I lost my marriage, I lost my job. That point was my low point. I finally was ready to admit that I couldn’t control my drinking anymore, and I got into recovery.

Just as I tend to throw myself full on into whatever I do, I did that with recovery as well. That, for me, meant really making use of all the resources that were available. The thing that I learned early on and what I try to impart so much to people, lawyers who are suffering, is you’ve got to ask for help. We’ve got to be willing to say, “I’m suffering, I’m struggling, and I need help.” I did that in spades. I called and got involved with a therapist. I saw a psychiatrist to get treatment for my depression and anxiety. I participated in a mutual support program for my drinking, worked that program.

I got involved with the lawyer’s assistance program and ultimately ended up getting a job there. So, fast forward, I’ve been in recovery now for 10 and a half years, and my life is amazing. It is beyond anything that I could have ever imagined, but I had to get to that point and that realization where I was willing to be vulnerable, ask for help, and then do the work. Ask for help and then do what I was told to do by people who are experts in the field. So, you can see, I have a real sort of homegrown passion for this. I understand really what it’s like to live every day, going to work as a lawyer, and being afraid and not feeling like you’re enough.

Anyway, so just out of all of that, I’ve grown to have a real passion for making sure as few others as possible have that same experience, and will share my story when people are interested, and I think that it would be of help.

CHRIS:

Well, thank you, Bree, for a couple of things. First of all, being vulnerable and telling your own personal story. I think that we will consistently encourage that to all of our guests, I think, on the podcast, because that vulnerability, I think, is something that naturally allows us to be better understanding of how you have … The depth of personal struggles that you have endured have led you to this position of moving into leadership and helping others. That’s awesome stuff. I was going to take a couple of minutes on my story. It’s interesting.

My story is that I take a completely different track. It’s not as much developed from its core from a personal perspective as much as from an observation perspective, which is, I … Just a history on myself, I’m a first-generation college graduate in my family. So, everything was new. So, as I looked at going to law school and understanding that I was entering a profession, that I was very much public interest oriented probably when I went into law school. Just kind of saw some things happening in law school amongst classmates and others that gave me a concern.

Then, as I reflected, I’m a 2001 graduate of the University of Montana School of Law. One of the things, as I reflected on really kind of a tenure point in my legal career, was that when I queried my classmates about their professional satisfaction in the practice of law, I just, frankly, wasn’t getting a response that was positive. So, when you think about the fact that folks have went down a course in terms of selection of a professional career and to not be finding professional satisfaction, and to almost actively be encouraging their kids to not think about pursuing a passion in law, it just gave me a belief that there’s something systemically broken in our profession.

Again, great things happening in a lot of different respects. I think our profession is one that has … I’m always driven by seeing organizations and individuals realize their potential. If we think about the legal profession, I just kind of reflected on the notion that I don’t think our legal profession is realizing its potential. Part of it has to do with the manner in which there’s just a nature of unhealthiness undercurrent, beneath the hood a little bit that is pulling away from our profession, realizing its potential.

I happened to be in a class of, graduating class of ’75, at the University of Montana and have had to endure three suicides in our class. Again, you just sit there and go, “What’s going on? Why is this happening?” It’s not always related to the law. Obviously, we are human beings before we are lawyers. We always have to remember that, but I’ve spent a lot of my time really thinking about why are some of these things occurring? In my day job here at ALPS, I spent a lot of time working with State bar associations and doing strategic planning. I know how much this issue affects members of bar associations.

So, I just felt like I’m an accidental leader in some respects in this movement, but I was drawn to it because I believe in the potential of our profession, and in working toward making it better. I felt like if I have some skills and some passion, and if I can somehow advance the conversation that this would be an appropriate venue to get involved. I happened to get introduced to the well-being movement by somebody who also, Bree, you know very well. That’s our dear friend, Jim Coyle out of Colorado.

BREE:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

Jim would be incredible, and Bree, we got to get Jim on to the podcast, because I think that he was single-handedly responsible for seeing something in me and seeing somehow how my perspectives would add perspective and flavor to our discussions. Jim was an original co-chair of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, after having sat and served with distinction in the office of the Disciplinary Counsel and Attorney Regulation, I guess they call it in Colorado. So, Jim introduced me and said, “You got something to give to this movement.” Invited me in, and it’s been a wonderful and rewarding journey thus far, and we still have a lot of work to go.

BREE:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m hearing your story, what brought you to the movement, and that’s a first for me. It really strikes me that between our two stories, it encapsulates what the issues that the National Task Force is working on. I come to this because I have a history of basically impairments, or the depression, and substance use disorder. We’re really about, the national task force, is really about trying to provide, make sure that there is treatment, there are resources, there’s education and information about that out there. There’s providers who can talk about that.

But it’s also really about, so much of what we wanted to do is about the fact that so many of our colleagues are not thriving in the practice of law. What a loss, what a loss personally, and what a loss to the profession, when we’re not able to work up to our full capacity. So, I think this is a great partnership, Chris.

CHRIS:

Yeah, it is. I’m excited for the journey. I do think that I wanted to give a little bit of a preview of who our intended audience is, because I think that that’s an important part of why we develop the podcast series in the first place. This podcast series is specifically designed for folks who are taking an active leadership role in the well-being movement, for you to hear from others around the country. To learn their stories and learn about their expertise so that you can find and connect dots into resources that you need to help us move this movement forward. There are other podcasts out there that I think focused on individual lawyers.

There’s, obviously, mindfulness, meditation, eating well, taking care of yourself. Those are very important attributes to taking each lawyer individually and comprising our legal profession. Our goal, I think, in this particular podcast is to think about those who are thinking about it holistically, thinking about it in terms of how they can move the needle at the local level. So, this is a podcast that’s specifically developed for all those folks who have a real passion in becoming leaders in our movement, and connecting those folks through the sharing of information and education,

BREE:

Right. We’ve always, the task force have always been about really looking at systemic change. We said from the very beginning, we’re going to try and lecture individual lawyers that they need to eat their vegetables and exercise, because we knew that and an individual lawyer can meditate, and run, and eat all the broccoli in the world, but they can’t change the systemic issues within the legal system that make it almost impossible for everyone to be able to really thrive. So, that’s what we’re trying to get at, the big picture stuff.

CHRIS:

Yup, and Bree, you and I, we have a goal, right? That we want to keep these episodes to probably 20 to 45 minutes. We’re targeting probably two podcasts a month as we look to continue to add new guests and new perspectives to this podcast series. So, Bree, we got to wrap this up. We got a lot of preparation to do as we nail down future speakers. We’re excited, I think, by the journey that lies ahead. So, I’m wishing you well. This is Chris.

BREE:

And Bree.

CHRIS:

We’ll sign off. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back with a podcast probably in a couple of weeks. Thank you.

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