Transcript:

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, Well-being friends. Welcome to the Path to Well-Being in Law podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Well-Being in Law. Obviously, Chris Newbold here, executive vice president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. We’ve been very clear on what our hope is for this podcast and that’s to introduce you to people doing awesome stuff in the well-being space as we work to build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the profession. I am joined once again by my fantastic co-host, Bree Buchanan. Bree, how are you?

BREE BUCHANAN:

I’m doing great, Chris. And when you started, just there was a little bit of introduction of yourself, I realized we’re well into our 17th or 18th episode of the podcast, which is really exciting. And I just want to let everybody know who we are a little bit again and why we’re doing this if people didn’t listen to the first episode. And Chris is a great podcast host, he’s also an integral part of the Institute for Well-Being in Law, which is who is bringing you this podcast series. He’s our vice president of governance and I have the great privilege of being the board president of the Institute. And so just giving you a message from that and the progress that we’re doing is it’s really exciting to be able to host this podcast, get more involved in communications and spreading the word about the work of the Institute and the well-being movement and getting ready for our annual conference in January of 2022. Lots is happening in regards to the Institute. And so, just a little message for our listeners there.

CHRIS:

And it’s been a wonderful five to seven years since this movement started and there’s been one constant in the development of this movement and it’s been Bree Buchanan. In terms of being the original co-chair on the national task force on lawyer well-being, Bree has just invested countless hours to give back to the profession through this work and Bree, we’re just so fortunate to have you and to continue to have your leadership of this movement. It’s important and I just want you to know how much we all appreciate it.

BREE:

Thank you. I’m glad this is a podcast and not a video because I’m a redhead and I blush easy so I’m flaming red right now. Anyway, to our guest.

CHRIS:

Let’s get to it. Let’s get to our guest. Again, we love our guests because our guests are bringing interesting angles and I think it’s so important that we think about the collective holistic sense of well-being. And one of the areas that I think really catapulted the movement was the fact that we could actually for the first time, based upon a couple of groundbreaking studies, that we could rely on data to drive the well-being movement. And again, we are an evidence based profession, so the ability for us to really kind of put some numbers behind and some statistics and some scientific nature to the well-being movement, I think it’s been really critical in terms of catapulting what we’ve been working to do to engineer the culture shift. This is again, part two of our, kind of our research focus. We had Larry Krieger on previously and are really excited to introduce you and our listeners today to Matt Thiese. And so Bree, why don’t I pass the baton to you to introduce Matt and kick off the podcast?

BREE:

Sure. Matt, Professor Thiese is really, I think the key position that he holds in the movement right now is to be a lead researcher and looking at what’s happening with lawyers today in regards to their well-being and really assisting us getting that data so we know what to do, where to go, what to work on. Matt is an associate professor in the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Utah. One of 18 centers funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention across the US. He’s deputy director for the center, director of the occupational injury prevention program and director of the targeted research training program. Matt has a PhD in occupational epidemiology, a Master’s of science in public health and is a prolific writer, having co-authored 99 peer reviewed articles, 46 practice guidelines and 19 book chapters. Whew. Matt, welcome.

CHRIS:

Busy. Busy guy.

MATT THIESE:

Thank you very much. Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

BREE:

Yeah. I warned you a little bit, we have this question, first question we ask all our listeners about what brings you to this work because we found everybody has something that’s driving their passion and for you, it’s interesting because you’re not a lawyer. You come out of the sort of the field of occupational health, which is a new kind of construct for me to think about all of this work that we’re doing. Let me ask you the question, what in your life are the drivers behind the passion, your passion for this work?

MATT:

Sure. I’ll start sort of broadly and then get into a little more specifics related to lawyer well-being but just generally occupational health and safety for me is really important. One of my first jobs was working as a mover. I worked as a mover for one day and working there it was during the summer between high school and college. And when you have people in the profession telling you, “Get out, go do something else. This will just tear you apart,” it really makes you look and think and say, “Well, you’re here, you’re 50 years old. You’ve been doing this for 35 years. Why are you here?” And it’s got to be able to be better. There needs to be a way to improve it. That’s what got me into occupational health and safety originally and I’ve just really, really enjoyed it.

MATT:

We all spend so much time at work, whether we like it or not. And I think any way that you can make that healthier and safer is good for you as an individual but then it’s also good for those around you, whether it’s your business or your family or both. In terms of law specific, all of my interactions with lawyers have been really positive. And I know a bunch of lawyers. I know a lot of people who went to law school and decided not to actually go practice law and a lot of reasons that they cited were because of the mental challenges, the stress, the depression, that type of stuff. And then I have a neighbor across the street who was really involved and said, “Hey, we would like to be able to have some data to help guide decisions.” And I said, “Hey, that’s actually something that I know about. What can I do to help?” And that was in 2019 and we’ve just been off to the races since then.

BREE:

Wonderful.

CHRIS:

Again, thank you for your work. We’re excited to kind of talk about some of your findings and your first foray into the legal space. Professor Thiese, talk to us about, you’re an occupational epidemiologist. That’s something that I certainly don’t have on my resume. What sorts of things do you study? What’s the goal of your work?

MATT:

Sure. And please call me Matt, unless I’m in trouble, then call me Matthew. And so as an occupational epidemiologist, before the pandemic, epidemiology, I’d say I’m an epidemiologist to people and they say, “Oh, so you study skin diseases? Or what exactly do you do?” The pandemic has been good in that sense, if there’s any type of the silver lining, it has really helped highlight the importance of individual health and having data to make these types of decisions. I’ve done all sorts of different things. Another area of interest for me is transportation health and safety. Truck drivers have all sorts of different challenges. Some of them are oddly somewhat parallel to law professionals but there’s all sorts of other things going on with them too. I do all sorts of stuff. Really anywhere your job overlaps with your health, whether that’s physical, mental, looking at different types of exposures, chemical hazards, electrocution, slips, trips and falls, automobile crashes, interactions with clients and violence, all of that type of stuff.

BREE:

Yeah. Matt, you started to intersect with the legal community. I think it came about with the Utah Supreme Court’s lawyer well-being task force and made a recommendation that there needed to be a study of their lawyers in their state to see what is sort of the condition of their well-being. And so how did you come to become a part of that? And what happened with that process?

MATT:

Sure. I don’t think actually I am the person who came up with a recommendation. I think that really was the committee had the foresight to say, “Look, we don’t even know where our attorneys are on the spectrum. How are we doing? Are there pockets of attorneys that are doing better or worse than others? Are there other individual factors, personal factors? Where do we stand? Basically, let’s get a metric at the beginning and then can use that data to make informed decisions.” And then I knew some lawyers who were on the committee and they came to me and said, “Hey, can you just come talk with us about this?” And I said, “Absolutely that’s right up my alley.” We started having a discussion about doing a baseline assessment piece of all lawyers, which then expanded to lawyers and law students and other law professionals like paralegals and legal secretaries to get a baseline.

MATT:

And then the plan was to do a subsequent followup or a series of follow-ups with those same individuals. In epidemiology terms, that’s called a prospective cohort study. You’re getting a group of people and then following them through time, that’s better than just taking a snapshot at time at different time points of just a random representative sample. It’s better to have the individual people. That was the plan. That was 2019. And then the pandemic hit and everything sort of went sideways in terms of being able to contact people in research and everyone’s mental health. And now that we’re sort of coming back out of that, we’re planning on doing our first followup of the same group and then we’re actually probably going to end up using that as our new sort of baseline data element, just because so many things have changed due to the pandemic.

BREE:

Yeah. And just to follow up, so it was the Utah state bar that actually commissioned for you to do the research, is that right?

MATT:

Correct. Correct.

BREE:

Okay, great.

CHRIS:

Matt, what was the lawyer study? Explain for our listeners, what was the objective?

MATT:

Sure. The objective was to identify, there were a couple. The first was to try and get as representative an assessment as we can of lawyers in Utah, practicing lawyers and in a whole range of areas. We have in our, and it was just a one time survey. It was done online at baseline. We asked about the big ones. Obviously depression, anxiety, burnout, alcohol use, other substance use and abuse. But then we also wanted to ask questions about other aspects of an individual’s well-being. We asked about engagement, satisfaction with life, physical activity levels, chronic pain and chronic medical conditions, family life. And we wanted our goal was to keep it short so that we can get a lot of participants. And then also really once we have that baseline, look both within the lawyer population to see if we can identify pockets of individuals, whether that’s the type of law they practice or their practice setting. One of the big questions that we had was is there a difference between urban and rural lawyers? That was one.

MATT:

And then we also used a lot of nationally validated questions and questions that are used nationally so that we could also compare Utah lawyers to general working populations or other large groups. It wasn’t just sort of an echo chamber of saying, “Oh well, within Utah lawyers, this is what we see.” But really be able to say, “Okay, Utah lawyers compared with general working population other lawyers in other states, what are the differences or what are similarities?” And then ideally, and we’ve been able to do this highlight sort of some of the challenges statistically to say, “Okay, this random chance? Or is this actually something that in epidemiology is statistically significant and that is beyond what we would expect just by random chance?”

CHRIS:

And what were your response rates just in terms of again, the scientific validity is always important in your field. I’m just kind of curious on what level of engagement you had from Utah legal professionals.

MATT:

Absolutely. I’m going to answer that in that sort of a three stage approach. Our first way of recruiting participants was to do a stratified random sample. We got the entire list of active bar members and randomly selected 200 who are rural and 200 who were urban. Send them email invitations asking them to participate. Our participation rate from just those email invitations was surprisingly high. Traditionally, if you were doing this type of a thing, you could get it participation rates in 20 or 30% would be great. We were upwards of 68% from all of those participants. We got a lot of participants that way. We also went to bar conventions and just set up a booth. I have a team of research assistants who were armed with iPads and during breaks or before meetings started and stuff, we just asked if people would be willing to participate, if they have not participated already. It took about our survey was only about five or six minutes long. We had a fair amount of people participating that way.

MATT:

And then our third route was actually having entire law firms come to us and say, “We would like to know where our firm stands. And not only that, we would like to know where everyone in our firm stands, not just our attorneys.” We have 13 different firms of all varying sizes, who we invited to participate. And participation rate for that, depending on the firm was between, I think our lowest was 83% and our highest was 97 and change. Great participation rate. Being a scientist I said, “Okay, is there meaningful differences between these three groups?” Is there in an epidemiological term, is there a self selection bias? Are the people who were at the conferences more likely to participate? Or the people who were in the firms more likely to participate and vice versa? Looking at it, all three groups were statistically equal on almost every metric that I assessed. Not just not statistically different but statistically equal, so interchangeable from a statistical sense. I was nicely relieved and confident that this actually is a pretty good representation of what we have going on here in Utah.

CHRIS:

You can see you get commissioned, you want to be able to survey the Utah lawyer community. You want to figure out why this is happening and how they can best address the issue. You get great response rates. What did you find from the study?

MATT:

We’re still analyzing stuff. Like any good researcher you want to, one, answering one question begets gets three more. But we’re looking at several different things right now. One was looking at comparisons between amounts of depression and among Utah lawyers at compared with the general working population in the United States. We’re comparing with individuals who are at least employed three-quarter time in the United States, compared with our attorneys and found that our attorneys are not doing very well. We’re calculating odds ratios. An odds ratio of two, for example, means that you’re twice as likely to have whatever outcome if you’re part of that group. For us looking at depression, the diagnosis and I’m getting a little bit into the weeds here so I apologize, but likely having a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, our attorneys in Utah were five and a quarter times more likely to have that level of depression as compared with the general working population.

BREE:

Wow, that’s really significant. Just to underscore that, over five times the rate of depression of the general working population, is that right?

MATT:

Yeah, as compared to the general working population. And that was even after controlling for different, we call them confounders. Other factors that may play a role in that. Age differences or gender differences, other chronic medical conditions, that type of stuff.

BREE:

Yeah. Did you dig into gender differences? Is that something you are able to talk about at this point, a difference in depressive issues between men and women?

MATT:

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. In our data, lawyers were about, they were more likely. In general, our lawyers were more likely to be depressed. However, women were more likely to be depressed than men, which also parallels what you see in the general working population or in any other subsets of population. And I’m actually trying to find the exact number because being a scientist, I like to give you that full number. But it was meaningful. We also had our older attorneys were less likely to be depressed compared with the older general working population, which actually is also something that you would expect. It’s called the healthy worker effect. And so people who are depressed tend to go try and figure out and solve their depression. Try and get into a better situation. Because everyone’s spends so much of their time working, that’s one of the common things is people choose a different profession or a different subset of their profession. That healthy worker effect also suggested that what we have here probably actually is a really solid data sample from which to draw some conclusions.

CHRIS:

Go ahead, Bree.

BREE:

Well, I know that this has been written up, there was an article in the Utah Bar Journal and then there was another peer reviewed article that I had read. And how has this been received? Do you have a sense that the bar people are surprised at the rate of sort of distress among their members?

MATT:

I’m going to say yes and no. I think that directionally, there was not a lot of surprise. Looking at ABA report and other research that’s out there, it’s yes, there is increased rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol abuse. Those are really the big ones. And I think generally everyone on the committee, in the Utah bar and probably most practicing attorneys say, “Yeah, that’s totally believable.” I think the part that really was most moving was the magnitude of that relationship. More than five times more likely to be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder but then it gets even worse when you look at the severe group. Our metric that we use is one that’s commonly used, it’s called the Patient Health Questionnaire 9, it’s a nine question battery. It’s been well validated to be related to more than 90% accurate for diagnosis of depression and major depressive disorder. The severe people are those who are contemplating suicide or have had suicidal attempts that they’re at the far end of the spectrum. Our Utah attorneys were more than 18 times more likely to be in that category as compared to the general working population.

BREE:

Wow.

MATT:

Those magnitudes of numbers, when you think about, okay, relationship between things like smoking and lung cancer, you’re about two and a half times more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke. We’re talking 18 times more likely to be severely depressed if you’re a Utah practicing attorney as compared to the general working population.

BREE:

Wow.

CHRIS:

Matt, on the front end, did either you or the task force go in with any kind of hypothesis to begin with? Or was this more designed as a kind of compare and contrast national data with state based data?

MATT:

Yeah, so I definitely did have some hypotheses going into it. One thing that was really great about this relationship with the state bar and the well-being committee was, they said, “This is your domain. These are things that we’re curious about but you come up with your hypotheses, you develop the questionnaire.” It was completely under my purview, which I think also helped with the recruitment aspect in that it was a recruiting effort done by me through the University of Utah. We used our institutional review board. Everything is strictly confidential, even going through, even with the firms, none of the firms received any individualized data or any potentially identifiable data. The bar does not get any of that. There’s some benefits to that but in terms of actual hypotheses, yes.

MATT:

I mentioned that there potential relationship between the urban and the rural to see if there’s differences in well-being there. Looking at different types of practice, whether criminal litigator or transactional law, so on and so forth, as well as looking at the size of the firm. Whether people are solo practitioners or part of a larger firm and trying to actually take all of that into account at once. If someone is a sole practitioner in criminal law in a rural setting, is that sort of just an additive effect in terms of challenges there? Or is it compounded? Or is it sort of somewhat mitigated? Being able to gather enough data to be able to identify some of those relationships was where we were going from the onset.

MATT:

And then also in my previous work in terms of other working populations and their mental well-being, I knew that things like physical activity, social support, both in the workplace as well as outside of the workplace can have a very positive aspect on both prevention, as well as treatment of mental challenges, mental health challenges. Those are some of the hypotheses that I had created going into this and was able to then tailor the questionnaire to address all of those, both like I said, internal comparisons, as well as comparing with other external groups like general working population.

BREE:

One of the things, Matt, that we are trying to do with the podcast is to sort of spread the word about strategies, ideas, policies, et cetera, that other state well-being taskforces can pick up and run with. And so a question, just how replicable is this process? You are doing this with Utah lawyers but say there is a task force in Colorado or another state that wanted to do this. Could they pick this up and deploy the same sort of survey for their bar members?

MATT:

Absolutely. I think not only the same survey, similar methods but then I’ve also, I’ve had some conversations with other states and other states have different challenges too. Being able to modify this and ask some other scientifically valid questions to address some of their sort of conceptual questions or anecdotal information that they may have. But it can easily be rolled out and it’s something that I think is actually a lot of fun to do.

BREE:

Good.

CHRIS:

It feels like there’d be some benefit of actually having again, some standardization across the states that allow us to kind of compare states, yet providing them the ability to be able to narrowly tailor some questions that are specific to our state. Like for instance, I live in Montana, the plight of the solo rural practitioner is something that maybe kind of critically important to look at it relative to a state like Delaware where all the lawyers are kind of more concentrated. But yet it certainly feels like there’d be some benefit there.

MATT:

Yep. Absolutely. I wouldn’t go as far necessarily as benchmarking. But I think that being able to have similarities as well as differences pointed out to say, and one thing, another thing that I’ve found in doing this research is that a lot of attention is paid to the negative side of things. Depression and anxiety, what are the big risk factors there? But there’s the other side of the coin about, okay, who’s being really successful? What are the people who are mentally healthy? What do they have in common? And then how can we help to reinforce that? And then, so being able to look within sort of some of those subsets too, can help provide more information. But I absolutely agree, having some similarities across different states would be able to sort of say, it answers that question, how systemic is this? Is this something that’s more isolated to our bar? Or is this something that’s more of a systemic question across the entire United States? And then how those may have different potential solutions, both on the positive and the negative side of the fence.

CHRIS:

Yeah. I think this is a good time for a quick break here from one of our sponsors. I would like to kind of come back, I think maybe after the break and maybe talk about whether all the data is grim. And whether there were some nuggets that you picked out of the Utah study. And then talking a little bit more about just kind of barriers to thriving in work in law firm environments and other legal environments. Let’s take a quick break and we’ll be back.

Advertisement:

Meet VERA, your firm’s virtual ethics risk assessment guide. Developed by ALPS, VERA’s purpose is to help you uncover risk management blind spots from client intake, to calendaring, to cybersecurity and more.

Vera:

I require only your honest input to my short series of questions. I will offer you a summary of recommendations to provide course corrections if needed and to keep your firm on the right path.

Generous and discreet, VERA is a free and anonymous risk management guide from ALPS to help firms like yours be their best. Visit VERA at alpsinsurance.com/vera.

BREE:

Welcome back, everybody. And we are here today with Professor Matt Thiese and talking about his study of the Utah bar population and also the potential of replicating that around the country. One of the things I saw, Matt, in the write up of your research that you got some information of barriers that were identified by your survey participants to thriving in their work. And I think that’s really instructive for the rest of us. Could you talk a little bit about that?

MATT:

Sure, absolutely. In the survey we asked both, what are some things that help you thrive and enable you to be able to thrive in your work? As well as your barriers. And there were some consistent answers across all the different domains, regardless of age, gender, type of law practice, practice setting in terms of small firm, large firm, rural, urban. Challenges were actions of other attorneys at their firm or frustrations with opposing counsel. Those were two different obviously responses but talking about individual, other attorneys that they work with. Whether in an adversarial role or in a complimentary role. Others were billable hour requirements, client stress and or pressure. Just external pressure from clients and then inflexible court deadlines. Those were the big five sort of umbrella categories that prevented them from doing well or thriving in their job.

CHRIS:

And Matt, I think the other thing that I think is interesting about kind of going about a data driven approach, I think sometimes the fear is we get the data and then the data sits on the shelf. One of the things I love about what’s happening in Utah is, the Utah state bar’s well-being committee is now looking at really kind of more actionable plans to be able to kind of advance the well-being dialogue. And I know one of the things that they have you doing at this point is assessments for legal employers. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

MATT:

Sure. That was sort of an organic thing that happened, that came about from this project with the state bar. The bar said, “Let’s just get a sample of practicing attorneys in Utah and then go from there.” Throughout that process though, we had several managing partners who came and said, “I would love my entire firm to take this and be a part of this.” I was able to expand this to use firms, we have like I said, 13 different firms right now who are participating and we invited everyone in their firm to participate. Again, it went through the university so the firm doesn’t get any individual information but we are providing information back in a aggregate form to be able to say, “This is where your firm stands and this is how your firm compares with other firms.” And these other firms are de-identified. Your firm versus firm A, B, C and D who are comparative in size or that type of stuff, as well as the larger general population that we have participating.

MATT:

It’s been really great. It’s been well received. I think firms who are participating are sort of those firms that really want to do something better. They either have something in place and they want to assess how is this making a difference? Or they’re thinking of getting something in place, and saying, “Where can we get the largest bang for our buck really?” And they’re concerned about making sure that their lawyers are happier and healthier and therefore more productive, more likely to stay with the firm. And really it’s a winning situation if you can identify those aspects where people in your firm need more help and then go to the evidence for what’s out there to actually provide that. Does that make sense?

BREE:

Yeah. Yeah. Matt, you’ve got this background just sort of general long, wide view around occupational health. And so here you come to the specific part of the working population. You’ve got a little bit of data around lawyers. You’re starting to hear some feedback around what’s happening with legal employers. Just imagine we’ve got in your audience, some law firm managers, human resources staff for law firms, based on what you’ve learned so far do you have any advice to give them, to help them have thriving, successful lawyers? And as a result of that, a more profitable and successful firm?

MATT:

Right. Yes, in terms of based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s definitely some things that can be done to improve. Taking a step back and saying, all right, I’m going to take an even bigger step back. We’re generally have been focusing here on this discussion on depression, but there’s a lot of other issues, burnout, anxiety. Looking at the evidence though, for those for prevention and treatment for those, there’s some big things like individual therapy, medication, but there are challenges with those as well. There’s cost barriers, the time for those both in terms of needed, if you’re going to a therapist but then also medication takes, SSRIs, anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication takes three weeks to kick in. If you have someone who’s depressed, three weeks can be an awfully long time.

MATT:

But some of the other treatments out there are actually really easy to implement and there’s very little side effects. Two that I would highlight would be physical activity and we have data that’s not published yet but found that if you’re physically active meeting the standard of most days a week for at least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, so getting your heart rate up enough that you can’t carry on a solid conversation, you have to sort of catch your breath, lawyers who were that level of physical activity, so four or five days a week, we’re about a third, three times less likely we’ll say it that way, three times less likely to have depression or anxiety. If they worked out six days or seven days, they were about between five times and seven times less likely to have depression and anxiety.

MATT:

Implementing some, and then there’s all of the other benefits. Implementing some type of workout, moderate or vigorous workout activity is something that has demonstrated efficacy in other domains. And these preliminary data look like they would help. And then there’s the cardiovascular benefits and all those that go along with it, as well as increased productivity after the physical activity, that’s a whole other domain that we could talk about maybe at a different podcast. And then another thing is cognitive behavioral therapy and that’s a treatment that sounds large and onerous but it’s really just being able to approach problems differently and being able to think about things and it can be self directed or you can work with a therapist on it but it’s pretty immediate in terms of results like physical activity but it’s easy to do and it can help people, whether you’re severely depressed, actually, if you’re severely depressed, you should probably be seeking additional help beyond just cognitive behavioral therapy and physical activity but all the way to minimal or no depression. People are reporting better engagement, better focus after both physical activity and cognitive behavioral therapy.

MATT:

Those are two very specific. Maybe they’re a little too specific for what you were going for. Other evidence out there in terms of mindfulness and meditation is somewhat mixed. Mindfulness, meditation, psychological capital, those all in general populations have been mixed efficacy but in attorneys, they may be more efficacious.

CHRIS:

And I’d love to kind of spend the final few minutes talking just a little bit about the replicability of what you’ve done in Utah in other, not just states, but either state bars, local bars, county bars, specialty bars. There are so many opportunities for us to continue to utilize survey techniques as a way to not just to engage and learn more about the constituencies that we serve. But as you know, surveys can also be great educational tools at the same time. And I just would love your perspective. If again, a lot of our listeners are members of task forces, they’re advocates for well-being in their local communities, just how easy is it to kind of execute on a survey tool? Can anybody do it? Just your recommendations for the time, the cost, the structure, obviously when individuals like you have done it before, others have kind of learned on your dime, so to speak. And so I’d just love your perspective about the replicability of utilizing survey tools as part of our well-being strategy map.

MATT:

Absolutely. Ours was done almost exclusively online, so it’s super easy to do. You can implement it. You can have actionable data in a matter of weeks. Ours was all done online and with a few exceptions, we had a couple of opportunities where individuals wanted to talk on the phone or do a paper copy. Email invitations, online data collection aspects in terms of even returning results, a lot of that has also been done online through video conferences and that type of stuff. The whole thing from soup to nuts I think is relatively easy to actually implement.

MATT:

One of the cautions that I do have though is making sure that it’s scientific. Anyone can come up and create a questionnaire but to actually come up with a scientific question, a scientific survey that’s using questions that have some validity and comparability is important. And then also your sampling technique. That’s always a challenge in that when you’re enrolling people, are there biases? Is there a selection bias like I mentioned earlier, where only people who are healthy enough to be participating, mentally healthy enough to be participating are participating? You therefore have a biased sample and any results from that would be either deeply discounted or practically useless.

CHRIS:

And are you interested in continuing to aid either institutions, entities, taskforces? I know that you’ve had limited work in the legal space but it sounds like you’ve enjoyed what you’ve done thus far.

MATT:

Yes. Short answer is absolutely yes. Can I give my email address and say reach out?

CHRIS:

Sure you can.

MATT:

Please, I would love to participate and help in any way I can, whether that’s running the entire thing or anything sort of that. My email address is matt.thiese M-A-T-T dot T-H-I-E-S-E@hsc, for Health Sciences Center, .utah.edu. And I would love to help in any way that I can. Like I said, this is a career focus for me. I’ve done a lot of work in terms of mental well-being and psychosocial health in other domains. But I really, really enjoyed working with attorneys. I think that it’s very, very important. And I think that there’s a lot of opportunity here to actually do good.

MATT:

One of the things that you asked me before was how I fell into this. I was actually planning on going to medical school, was accepted in medical school and in talking with some of my mentors, they said, “You’re great at science, you’re great at epidemiology and you can actually do more good doing scientific research in epidemiology than seeing patients on a one on one basis and trying to get them to change their behavior.” This is absolutely something that is my career focus and I want to help. Can I be more emphatic about it than that?

CHRIS:

This guy wants work. This guy wants work.

MATT:

No, and that’s the thing, it’s not necessarily work. I have a bunch of other stuff going on but in academia I have some of the ability because I’m not out, this is not a business, a profit making business for me. I obviously need to cover my time but I want to be able to help out. And so whatever.

CHRIS:

Well, I think it’s interesting, Matt, and again, I think we should always try to end these on a high note that you’ve also tried to look at it in your Utah findings, what aspects of their job help them do well or improve their well-being. And I think it was, and I think these are tips for really any work environment, which is if you work in an environment in which you enjoy working with others, in which you’re intellectually challenged, in which you have flexibility in your work schedule to some degree and that you know that your contributions are both recognized and valued, that that’s a recipe to drive well-being higher.

MATT:

Absolutely.

CHRIS:

And those are things that anybody who sets the tone for a culture, anybody who’s in HR, anybody who’s in management, those are tips that go across industry. They’re not unique to the legal environment but it is important in terms of just the notion of how we treat people ultimately drives whether they find their contributions and their commitment worthwhile and whether they will actually want to stay there or not. And those who don’t generally then go down one path and those who do you generally have higher productivity, better results. All the reasons why corporate America has kind of I think generally leaned in on well-being as a creative to the bottom line. There’s an economic element to it but also frankly, the right thing to do.

MATT:

Absolutely correct. All of those things that you listed really speak to engagement. And even in the data that we’re seeing, you said, it generally leads to better productivity or generally leads to less turnover. I would say most of the data that’s out there says it does. There’s very few exceptions to that and it’s just a matter of the magnitude of that relationship. Having people stay engaged and really that creativity, intellectual challenge, I think is one of the things that came up often helped and reduces, it sort of tempers the negative aspects of things and makes people more resilient and able to handle, less likely to burn out, less likely to be depressed, more likely to be productive. All of that great stuff.

CHRIS:

Matt, one final question, on the Utah study you’ve cited a couple times preliminary data. Is there a point in time in which preliminary goes to final data and something is released?

MATT:

Yes. The depression versus the general working population that we’ve talked about, those are final. We’ve looked at those, we’re confident in those. In terms of preliminary data, we’re looking at burnout and engagement. We’re looking at substance abuse, alcohol abuse issues. We’re looking at physical activity and then we’re also doing similar things with students. The challenges with those are just being able to make sure that we’re dotting all of our I’s and crossing all of our T’s from a scientific standpoint and making sure that we’re taking everything into consideration there. And then it goes through a peer review process. We have three separate papers right now that are undergoing the peer review process and then several others that are nearly ready for that. And then dissemination, I would love to help have you guys help disseminate some of these findings and be able to continue to have a positive impact on attorney well-being.

BREE:

Absolutely. Matt, I’m so glad that you are on our team. Really important piece of this. Well, a wonderful 45 minutes or so with you, Matt. Thank you for spending your time today and dedicating so much of your energy and your expertise to helping us lawyers have to be more likely to thrive in our profession. And for our listeners, please join us again in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be continuing our miniseries on those who are doing research and scholarship in the area of lawyer well-being. Thank you, everybody. Stay safe, be well.

CHRIS:

Thanks for joining us, Matt.

MATT:

Thank you. My pleasure.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email