In Episode 6, Bree and Chris begin an important trek around states taking notable leading roles in the wellness movement based on their work, innovation and programming. Catapulted by the leadership of original National Task Force on Lawyer-Well Being member Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons and his colleague Justice William C. Mims, the Commonwealth of Virginia has quickly found itself in the category as “trailblazers” after its creation the Virginia Lawyers’ Wellness Initiative. Virginia’s commitment to well-being was ignited by the release of the ground-breaking report “A Professional at Risk” in September 2018.
To discuss advancements in Virginia, Bree and Chris welcomed two dynamic leaders to the podcast working on the front lines of the well-being movement in the Commonwealth. Margaret Ogden serves as the Wellness Coordinator in the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia, where she’s tasked with improving the mental health and wellbeing of Virginians in the legal profession through education, regulation and outreach. Joining Margaret was Tim Carroll, executive director of Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, which has reimagined its mission, vision and program work in light of addition funding made possible through work and recommendations of the Virginia well-being community.
Hello and welcome to episode six of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being Podcast Series. The Path to Well-Being in Law. I’m your cohost Chris Newbold of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And our goal here is simple, to introduce you to cool people doing awesome work in the space of lawyer well-being, and in the process build and nurture a national network of well-being advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the legal profession.
I’m joined today by my friend and fellow co-chair of the National Task Force Bree Buchanan. Bree, welcome.
Absolutely. Welcome everybody. Glad you’re here joining us today.
Good. And today we’re going to start a move down into the states, and I think our first five or six speakers have really been driven more by some of the national outlook and some of the research that’s been done into the lawyer well-being space. And as we know, movements generally are driven by those at the grassroots level who live it day-to-day, who are trying new ideas. In other words, serving as laboratories of democracy or laboratories of new ideas. And in any movement, you need a few leaders, a few examples to jump out in front. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen out of our friends in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Across the country we’ve seen a swelling of task forces, work groups, round tables coming out of state bars and state supreme courts, and there are some lessons to be learned from the Virginia experience and their roadmap. And there are no two better guests than our duo today, Margaret Ogden who’s the wellness coordinator for the Virginia Supreme Court and Tim Carroll who’s executive director of the Virginia Judges and Lawyers’ Assistance Program.
Bree, would you be so kind as to introduce our guests?
Absolutely. Great. Just so excited. Margaret and Tim, thank you for joining us today. What’s going on in Virginia really is a shining light for the rest of the states across the country. So we’re delighted to have you as the first group of state national task force people on our show.
So Margaret Ogden, as Chris said, she’s the wellness coordinator in the Office of the Executive Secretary, the Supreme Court of Virginia, which is one of the new positions that’s being created by the Lawyer Well-Being Movement. And we have a few other states that are doing that as well. A lawyer by training, Margaret began her career in the Roanoke City Commonwealth Attorney’s Office prosecuting criminal cases and then went on to defend criminal cases throughout the Roanoke and New River Valleys.
Prior to joining her job where she currently is now, I think this is so interesting, Margaret, you served as the staff attorney for the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness. What an interesting position.
And then Tim has probably one of the most unusual backgrounds I have seen for a Lawyers’ Assistance Program director, and it’s been brilliant. I met Tim five, six years ago, and immediately identified him as somebody who has a special kind of knowledge that he brings to the Lawyer Assistance Program that has really enabled them to just take off with the program they have in Virginia.
So he’s the executive director of the JLAP there. He grew up in Virginia, and then joined the US Air Force after high school. And after 28 years of service and assignments around the world, he retired at Anchorage, Alaska where he became the chief executive officer of a fisheries related business. Fish and lawyers, I don’t know. I’m sure you’ve made a connection there at some point.
In 2014, he returned to Virginia and assumed his current role in 2015. Mr. Carroll has an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Alaska and a masters degree in business administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.
So Margaret and Tim, welcome. We are so glad you’re here. Chris and I always start off our program asking our guests a question about what brought you into this space? Because we really have seen the people that do so much of the work have a passion for it. And so we’re really curious about what drives that passion.
So Margaret, what brought you to the Well-Being Movement? What experience in your life is a driver behind your passion for this work?
That is a wonderful question, and thank you so much, Bree, for having us just as a preliminary matter. And thank you for that introduction. As you touched on, my last position was a policy position working for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. And I got very interested in how court policy shapes not just the practice of law but access to justice, a court user experience, and really the lived promise of equal justice under law and how court policy, which might seem on its face kind of neutral and bland, can have a huge impact on that.
So the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission is kind of cool because they appoint from all three branches of state government to look at racial, ethnic, and other marginalized people who may have bias against them in our court system and how policy can be used to combat that. It’s a great organization, and it works out of a Supreme Court report from Pennsylvania from 2005.
And so when here, the Virginia Supreme Court had put out a report on wellness in our legal profession, I just think it’s a fascinating institutional response to seeing how the regulation of our profession, how court and bar policy impacts those people who are actively involved in it. And the wellness of lawyers is so important.
I don’t mean to only talk about policy. I have what I call a recreational interest in mental health and well-being. I was first diagnosed with anxiety when I was in law school, and working with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, diet, exercise, creative outlets, I’ve managed to kind of handle that to varying quality within my law school and early professional career. So I love to talk about this with my friends. This is something that I’ve been very open with and I think young people… I still consider myself young people. I’m still a young lawyer by the Virginia State Bar’s definition of that.
So I think that we’re seeing a culture shift that is just happening with age in terms of talking about mental health and substance use. I’m also the granddaughter of two alcoholics, so I’m very lucky that I have… I don’t mean to say I’m lucky that I have this that runs in my family because certainly these are major issues that face our profession. But I’m lucky that I was raised with an awareness of them. So that when I started to experience these issues within my own life, I could seek expert help because they’re really not things that you can deal with on your own, especially if you’re in a profession of public trust, like the law. And so that’s why selfishly I’m very interested in this.
And being a Virginia lawyer, seeing our courts write about this with the level of product that came out of these court reports, the level of thought, research, really data-driven best practices that have been generated, for me it’s the perfect intersection of policy wank and anxiety brain.
That’s great. That’s great, Margaret. Thank you for sharing that about your life. We really appreciate adding to the story.
So Tim, what brings you to the Well-Being Movement and to the LAP, the Lawyers’ Assistance Program world? What drives your passion to this work? Because I know you have a passion for it.
Well, first off, Bree, I want to thank you and Chris for inviting us to join in this. And I can’t tell you what a joy it is to work with Margaret as we carry this mission forward. We really do have a great team here in Virginia, and I’m very proud of the team and the great work that’s happening here.
As you said, my path to a lawyer assistance program was a little bit unorthodox if you will. When I came back to Virginia, I was basically retired and I wasn’t looking for a job anywhere. And this opportunity crossed my path, and I saw the middle name. So Virginia, the program used to be called Lawyers Helping Lawyers. And somebody put this in front of me, and I thought, “Lawyers Helping Lawyers, what do I know about that? What do I know about the law? What do I know about lawyers?” And as we talked, I got really focused on the middle name of that organization, and that was helping. And I’m at a place in my life where I want to help others, and this is certainly a place to do that.
What really drove me towards the wellness, basically harkens back to my Air Force career. When I first joined the Air Force and I won’t date myself anymore to say it was in the post-Vietnam era. The Air Force was really in a state of flux from post-Vietnam. And what I saw around me were a lot of people who were drinking, a lot of people who were smoking. I’d go to the chow hall and see the really, quite honestly, not the most healthy food choices that were available. And a good number of my friends who were still involved in drug use while in active duty. I saw a lot of my friends who were falling victim to those vices, and really I lost a few friends as a result of those things.
Over the course of my career, the Air Force really transformed itself and really moved more into a well-being and a wellness posture with smoking cessation, deglamorizing alcohol, really taking a hard stand on the drug use, and really transforming the chow halls to basically have a wider variety of healthy choices than unhealthy choices. We saw fitness centers having a newfound focus on the equipment and the programs that were being offered. And I saw a institution, the United States Air Force go from that post-Vietnam era to a wellness era, and that really effected the readiness of the Force, which we needed, as you know for the conflicts that we had in the ’90s and beyond. So I saw a massive worldwide institution like the United States Air Force that could make that change in culture and transforming itself.
So when I joined the Lawyers Helping Lawyers organization, I saw us as a larger reactive organization. We would kind of play Bop-It. Someone would come to us for help, and we would help them. But we weren’t really doing a tremendous amount of outreach and really trying to change why people were coming to us because we were so small. When I joined, I started part-time, had a full-time counselor. And with a staff of 1.5, all’s we could do was be reactive. And I saw the proactive side was one that we’d have to embrace the well-being. And I was thrilled when I heard that the ABA was undertaking the National Task Force on Well-Being because I really saw that as an opportunity to transform the culture of the legal profession.
And to say that I’m passionate about it would be an understatement. I’ve lost friends to suicide. I’ve lost friends to poor eating habits. I’ve lost friends who were drinking and ultimately cost them their lives. For a profession as critical as the law, something as critical as what we have right here, it wasn’t a large leap for me to get passionate about helping our lawyers, our judges, our law students, the entire legal profession in any way that I can.
So I’m honored to be here. I’m just a little piece of the puzzle, but that’s really how I got here.
Yeah, great, Tim. But an important piece of the puzzle. Tim and I have had conversations. My father was career Air Force. So again, I think there are some examples out there for shifts in cultures that need to be studied and evaluated as we think about our path forward in the legal profession.
But let’s turn our attention to Virginia, and I am a firm believer that leadership really starts at the top. And we’ve been really I think blessed in Virginia with folks who have seen the need for this issue to come to the forefront. Bree and I, as original kind of members of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, it was your Chief Justice Don Lemons who really brought the judicial powerhouse I think to the discussion. And I know the reason that we have Margaret in the positions that we do is because some folks I think in Virginia saw a need and then started to develop a plan, bring together the right parties.
So Margaret, maybe if you could kind of walk us through how did the Virginia Supreme Court ultimately find its way into launching the Well-Being Committee, and how did that ultimately came some revenue opportunities that created the infrastructure necessary to flow down to the things of the world and other programs in the state? So I’d just love for our listeners to hear about the journey of how Virginia got to where it is today.
Yeah, of course. And I’m kind of late to the party in this journey because I started in my position on October 25th of 2019, and I will keep that date in my mind forever because five months later our whole profession changed. But we need to back track it up because I am the culmination of many people’s efforts, far smarter minds than me, and far larger levers of power needed to be pulled before we even get there. So what you have, as you mentioned, our Chief Justice Donald Lemons sitting on the National Task Force seeing these numbers coming out of these national studies. And I can’t thank you all enough for highlighting not just the statistical data but this call to action that goes down to the states. We have some very preliminary data. We want more data, and we also recognize that this might look different in different states. This might look different in different practice areas. Let us empower states to go out and investigate how their state is regulating the profession and what can be done to shift the culture within these laboratories of democracy.
So that call was heated in Virginia, and Justice William Mims headed up the Virginia State Supreme Court Committee for Lawyer Well-Being. And that committee drew not just from the judiciary, although all levels are represented there. In fact, a court of appeals, which is our intermediate court of limited jurisdiction. We have the circuit courts, which are our higher level trial courts, and then the general district courts, which traffic, misdemeanors, preliminary hearings. We’re recognizing that all of those court actors are facing different occupational risk and seeing different pieces of really lawyer unwellness.
So all of those folks we have the law schools. There are eight in Virginia, and all eight of the deans participated in the first law school summit that came out of this report. So it was a ground swell effort amongst academia. And then you also have the regulators, the state bar, ethics council, the disciplinary board coming to bring their expertise to the table and talk about the way the rules of professional conduct and our ethical obligations are playing out with lawyer empowerment.
And then finally, you have the private sector attorneys. This incredible organization of folks from bar organization, from employers, representing small firms, large firms, that are all kind of doing their own wellness thing before this even started. They’re doing this at a volunteer level. They’re taking this on on their own because they’ve seen these problems. The statistics didn’t really come as a shock to people.
I think if anything, just anecdotally, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop for people to get more comfortable talking about these problems, and the numbers will probably go up as we destigmatize more of these conversations. But that means that more people will get help, and Virginia did a great job of bringing all these stakeholders together to put out a report that focuses on real tangible recommendations. Things that can be done that signals to the profession that this is a priority and that it’s not a burden that you need to add to your already busy life to take care of yourself. That this is a foundation upon which your professionalism and your ethics are based. So much to the point that it’s now been added as a comment to Rule 1.1 in our Rules of Professional Conduct that governs competency, that lawyers need to have the physical, emotional, and mental competency to practice law.
To see all of these different stakeholders really grasp onto this, and say, “Yes, we think this is important. Yes, we can make changes to our rules and our policies. We’re going to hold up the mirror of self reflection. We don’t like what we see, and rather than go to despair, we will be called to action.” Because here’s the other thing, it then required going in front of the General Assembly to get a state bar’s due assessment to every active member of the Virginia State Bar. It’s $30 a year. It started to be assessed in July 2019, and just because of the way our state government is structured, that required an act of the General Assembly.
To me, I love all branches of state government equally. But if someone says, “Margaret, you have to go to the General Assembly and get us money,” that’s the worst hill to try to climb. But if anything, that shows you how much belief there was in Lawyers Helping Lawyers because that is where the bulk of that funding was dedicated to go. It wasn’t just, “Oh, we’re going to assess a fund, and who knows what will happen.” No. There was a really roadmap in this report that said, “Lawyers Helping Lawyers has been doing this forward since 1984. We believe in them because they’re using evidence-based best practices. They have volunteers throughout the Commonwealth who have gone through these issues that have turned their careers around, and all they need is the money to expand.” If they build it, they will come. To the point where you convince the General Assembly to do that, I think really shows a strong momentum.
And I’m also biased in favor of this because that also funded my position. So if we have Lawyers Helping Lawyers existing as a separate nonprofit, it’s not part of the court system. And that’s important because confidentiality is prime with these issues. We want people to be comfortable calling up Tim and they know they don’t get me. But also it’s important that the court bring the weight of its institutional gravitas to say, “Hey, go seek help. Let’s destigmatize help seeking behavior. Seek it proactively.”
So I’m excited to be living in the court and talking about institutional policies, talking education outreach. We’ve been putting out a bunch of CLEs. Our virtual judicial conferences now have a wellness component. I say virtual. They were virtual this year. Hopefully that will not continue into the future. But more of this kind of generalized health and wellness from an institutional level is what this ground swell of specific recommendations worked up to build.
Margaret, remind me when the report… I’m pretty certain that you were the first state to produce a comprehensive report on well-being, right?
One of the early ones. I don’t want to step on any toes. I know Utah and Vermont put out early ones too.
You guys were first.
Take it. Take it. It’s yours.
Remind me of the date there because a lot of our listeners will be tuning in from other state task forces, and I want them to kind of understand. What is so unique I think about what Virginia has done is there’s a lot of reports that come out of study and saying, “We need to do this. We need to do that.” Really what everyone in Virginia should be so proud of is the fact that you took words and you translated it into action. And oftentimes it doesn’t happen with task forces and so forth. Sometimes it’s you write, author a report, and you maybe check off some low hanging fruit. But you guys have really systemically changed the playing field of this particular issue as it relates to Virginia.
So the report comes out in 2018. You got to think that the most substantive impacts of the reports were… And you already mentioned it. Rule change to the rules of professional conduct, that includes well-being, and a comment to the duty of competence, right?
You basically set in play, and we know generally, and Bree and Tim can speak to this firsthand, that lawyer assistance programs around the country are generally underfunded. ALPS is a malpractice carrier we give a good chunk of money to, what was formally Virginia Lawyers Helping Lawyers. But across the country, there’s just not enough fuel in the tank for Lawyers’ Assistance Programs to have enough impact and really take on not just the safety net but also the big picture realm of well-being. So explain for our audience then, report comes out in 2018. Justice Mims, who is really an unsung hero in all of this, but even Justice Mims, the Virginia State Bar and its leadership, and Lynn Heath produced an occupational risk report that’s really critical as well. Kind of talk us through when did the money discussion start? When does it pass the General Assembly? And what ultimately does it do to transform the revenue side that enables us now to do so much more?
I think you’re exactly right. I mentioned Justice Mims briefly as the head of this committee, but I want to sing about this hero because I really do think that not only is he just an excellent human being, he’s someone with an incredibly nuanced understanding of our Virginia state government. He is one of the few people in the history of our Commonwealth who’s held highest positions at the top of each of our branches of government. He served in our state house. He was the Attorney General. So this man understands what it takes to create a culture shift within state government. And I don’t know when exactly it goes to the General Assembly. I am still back in Pennsylvania in 2018. But in enough time to get the first bar dues funding assessed in July of 2019 on our annual state bar assessment. And part of this is also very good timing with the Client Protection Fund. That had been doing very well, and so those dues were lowered, which I think makes it more palatable to slightly increase and establish this fund entirely.
And then finally, there’s this other piece that I want to touch on too is the Virginia Law Foundation and Virginia CLEs contributions because this all works much better when well-being is recognized as a key part of lawyer education, and in Virginia, we have mandatory continuing legal education. And that CLE board was very quick to change their… Well, amend an opinion, Opinion 19, to make it more clear that well-being programming should be approved for CLE credit. And the Virginia Law Foundation, Virginia CLE is one of our largest state providers. They signed on to say, “Hey, we’re going to provide a well-being library that we’re going to replenish every year online, and we’re going to offer two of these free to every lawyer, judge, and law school student in the Commonwealth every year.”
To me, that shows not just the funding coming from attorneys and going through the General Assembly, but also stakeholders saying, “We’re going to be sure that attorneys see the value for their funds hopefully so that it is an easier sell to everyone who is in the bar to take this on collectively.” Look, you’re getting something out of this even if you yourself are not going to seek the services of Lawyers Helping Lawyers.
So let’s bring Tim in on this, and Tim, I was listening to Margaret’s earlier answer about what all the work and support for the Lawyers’ Assistance Program there in Virginia and with my ears of a former LAP director, and it must be so wonderful to work as an ally with somebody who so gets what an LAP is about.
So Tim, what I wanted to ask you is talk about this process of what happened in Virginia from the Lawyers’ Assistance Program perspective. How did this come about and how did you all fit into this process?
Yeah. So after the ABA Hazelden Betty Ford, after that survey came out, that was really the call to action. I know the ABA responded to that with the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. But we didn’t sit on our honches here in Virginia. We said, “What can we do about that?” And we took the numbers out of that survey and overlaid it on Virginia. With our population, we could assume that if the ABA Hazelden study was accurate, that we have upwards of 12,000 attorneys in Virginia who are operating from some level of impairment. And when you can use that as a talking point, you really get people’s attention.
I’ll just insert real quick, thanks to ALPS back in 2014, the College of William and Mary Law School did a survey of Virginia attorneys. And while it wasn’t peer reviewed and it wasn’t published, I’ve seen it. And I can tell you that the numbers track very closely in Virginia to what the national report said.
So I can speak with confidence so that we have upwards of 12,000 who for one reason or another are operating from some level of impairment. And we looked at what we were doing, what was the LAP doing? And we had on average about 100 new clients a year with our staff of 1.5 and one counselor. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. So of course we went with our hat in hand and asked for more money so we could get some more staff. Dollars are tight. You can’t expect everybody to just open up their coffers. So we built a business plan based on best practices that we saw around the country with other LAPs, based on what we saw the needs of Virginia being. We didn’t put a dollar figure on it until after we had built the plan, and then we said, “What would something like this cost?” Because we wanted to be a best practice lawyer assistance program.
We took that to the state bar. We took that to the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association. We took it to the Law Foundation. We pretty much paraded that all over anybody who would listen, and everybody said, “Yeah, that looks really good. That’s really nice, but there’s not a pathway for funding for that.” So when Chief Justice Lemons came back from the National Task Force and he challenged or tasked Justice Mims to head up the committee in Virginia, that committee was… I hope you’ll be able to provide a link to the report. It’s a profession at risk. It’ll outline who all was on that, but take my word for it, it was the key stakeholders in the legal profession around the Commonwealth of Virginia. Some real movers and shakers.
The very first briefing that that committee got, after Chief Justice Lemons tasked them, was our business plan. That was the first thing they heard. And gave us the opportunity to pitch the need, to pitch the studies that had been done, and what we proposed to do about it. So that committee really took off with the challenge from the chief to study the National Task Force report and look at ways to implement that in Virginia. And they were armed with our business plan sitting on the side.
So it was very fortuitous timing for us, but if you also look at the composition of that committee, there are several former and active board members from the Lawyers’ Assistance Program who served on that committee as well. So they knew what they were talking about. They knew the issues at hand and were very obviously, very well-versed in the legal profession of Virginia to be able to make the recommendations that they did.
So to say that we were on the sidelines would be wrong. To say that we were in there with our sleeves rolled up would be correct, and that was only because Chief Justice Lemons and Justice Mims invited us to play an active role in that committee. I didn’t serve on the committee, but I was an advisor to each one of the subgroups of that committee. They could reach out. We could give them our two cents. We could help guide them through their discussions. And we weren’t doing that with a parochial view towards the Lawyers’ Assistance Program. We did it with a parochial view towards what’s best for the legal profession in Virginia.
Yeah. Well, this is a good probably break point here because I think it kind of sets the tone for revenue source in hand, action plan in hand, and kind of where things come with Margaret coming onboard. Let’s take a quick break, and we’ll come back and hear the rest of the Virginia story.
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All right. Welcome back. And we are talking about Virginia and some of the trailblazing work that Virginia has done on lawyer well-being. Margaret, let’s shift the conversation back to you. So the assessments made on Virginia lawyers and that generally, roughly creates about $1 million in revenue annually. I’d be curious as the first wellness coordinator for the Commonwealth, what do you work on? How do you think about your day? And ultimately, what’s the game plan? What do you hope to achieve as you think about the allocation of those resources relative to making a difference?
Right. It’s smart to think about it in terms of allocation of funds. We have the Lawyers’ Assistance Program, formerly Lawyers Helping Lawyers, getting the bulk of that funding allocation every year to expand their staffing. And this doesn’t just allow them to provide direct services. It also allows them to really beef up these education and outreach efforts, and that’s where my position comes in. Because we recognize that even though impairment is a very large problem in our profession, statistically the majority of lawyers will not themselves become impaired over the course of their career. But we can all do a little better. Even if we are not at the level of relying on substances to get through our day to the detriment of our clients, because of the unique occupational stressors of our profession, we are at greater risk for things like burnout, and that means we need to kind of take on more protective habits on our daily basis to ensure that we’re meeting these higher standards.
And I think that’s where my position comes in is looking at education and outreach on more general health and well-being. I love the Six Areas of Well-Being from the National Task Force report. That’s a really great way for me to talk about it to attorneys because I think past workplace well-being efforts kind of have all focused on step challenges or weight loss, really physical fitness, and that can be isolating for a lot of people, particularly attorneys and particularly with an aging population. So I want to be sure that we’re talking about wellness holistically, and we’re talking about it on an institutional level.
I think of Tim and Jim and Barbara and Angeline and Janet, the staff over at the Virginian Judges Lawyers’ Assistance Program, five people now, as really having the individuals covered. And I think of my role as the institutions and the stakeholders. Making sure that the associate deans of all of the law schools are talking to each other every month about trends in well-being among their students and what programs are working. This is my favorite monthly conference call, and I just sent out the agenda before this. So I’m very excited about talking. We talk every month, me and the associate deans of the law schools about what they’re seeing.
In terms of coordinating judicial response, so my position very smartly I think was housed in the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court. In Pennsylvania, our version of that was called the Administrative Office of the Courts. Think of it as the administrative arm. So HR lives there, court IT. And thinking that wellness is so pervasive that it needs to be part of our administrative function I think is very forward looking.
Yeah. Specifically I’m within our educational services department, and that’s the group that puts on our yearly judicial conferences for all of our judges and then a bunch of other groups that the court has some education responsibilities for, like clerks, magistrates, other court personnel. And this is really exciting because having wellness on the judicial conference agenda blows my mind. When we were going to initially be in-person this year, I had an entire Wednesday afternoon of wellness activities. Justice Mims was going to be leading a jogging group. This was really fun to plan activities for the judges because they don’t have necessarily the same strict CLE requirements that lawyers do, but showing them that wellness can be something they can incorporate into their conferences, that they take it on almost like a perk. And that it’s led by their colleagues, not only does that help us just in terms of budgeting, we’re not bringing in really expensive outside experts. But I think things are more exciting when you see your buddies doing them.
So we were able to transition that virtually, have a booklet made, and still do a couple Zoom sessions. And it’s having the funding and the staffing in place before the pandemic I think was super key because it’s much easier to adapt when you already have a person who’s working in that space.
So law students, judges, and then of course lawyers, they make up the bulk of my outreach efforts, and the court is never going to be entirely taking over continuing education for lawyers. Thank goodness. No, I would never be able to do that on my own. But working with the folks who are doing that. So the Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations, presenting to them, and enabling and empowering our local and affiliation bars to incorporate wellness education into their programs. Working with CLE providers to… Especially when we do virtual programming, take into account some well-being. Not back-to-back-to-back in front of a screen, acknowledge Zoom fatigue, build in spaces for people to walk around and get moving.
So every day is a little different, which is fun because I am serving a few different audiences, and we are talking about organizational and institutional response to support healthy habits.
Margaret, I love how you’re able to come in because you’ve got that position there, and you’re thinking about this obviously every day, and are able to put so much energy in it. And the conference, I looked at the agenda, I read the booklet. It was really impressive and that you have… This is so key, you have this very visible support from the top of the legal profession in the Commonwealth, and that’s so key. You guys are so blessed to have that.
Tim, I wanted to ask you, what can you share with others, anybody who’s working on this, and especially the Lawyer’s Assistance Programs, if they want to start some sort of statewide, multi-stakeholder committee, commission, task force, what advice would you give to them?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve actually talked with some of the other directors who have called and asked, “How did you do that?” And I really had to think about, but I didn’t have to think very far because it was such a upfront activity that we were involved in. I guess the key to the LAPs is really to accept that for people to trust you, they have to know you. They’re not just going to pick up a phone and call 1(800)LAP. They could call 1(800)ADDICTION CENTER. They could call wherever they want, but they have to know us if they’re going to trust us. They have to trust that we are competent in what we do. They have to trust that we will hold their confidentiality. And they have to trust that we can help. So that’s really the cornerstone of the LAP.
We built our business plan from that cornerstone. How do we get out, and how do we get known enough to be trusted? The first step is to have a plan. No one is going to throw money at the LAP if the LAP doesn’t demonstrate what they’re going to do with it. So the very first step is to build a plan, build a business plan, build a plan. The second step is to engage the stakeholders at every level. At the top, the middle, the grassroots, wherever it is, engage all of the stakeholders so that they buy into that plan. And then of course, have a champion. Our champion was Chief Justice Lemons. I’m going to say our co-champion was Justice Mims. Having those two at the very top of the profession in Virginia looking out for the LAP and looking for how could they make the biggest difference to the entire legal profession and seeing that we were ready to do it, that was really the key to our success.
So just basically to summarize it. If you want to do what Virginia do, build a plan, engage the stakeholders, and… Excuse me. Build a plan, engage the stakeholders, and make sure you have a champion somewhere, preferably at the top.
Can you spend just a minute on your program has really been transformed through the additional funding. So I want to give our listeners some insight into when you have a… I don’t even know how much more revenue you had from before, but obviously you had a plan. Where are you at in your plan, and how has this fuel from Margaret’s office and the State’s Supreme Court done to transform your program?
Yeah. If we’re going to hire people, we have to have money. We have volunteers. Let me get that out there first. The foundation of our program is volunteers. We have not been successful since 1984 up to 2019 without our volunteers. You can’t do it with a staff of one; you can’t do it with a staff of 1.5. So the way we’ve transformed what we do includes the volunteers. That piece is constant. It has never changed. What we’ve done though, volunteers have full-time jobs most often. As any nonprofit has found, getting the time from a volunteer. They’re willing to do it, but sometimes they just don’t have the time.
So what we did was established a… If you’re familiar with the geography of Virginia, there’s Northern Virginia, which is sometimes referred to as another country. There’s Southwest Virginia that really is another country. And if you’re going to work in Southwest Virginia, you’ve got to understand the culture, you’ve got to understand the geography, you’ve got to understand what it means to be a lawyer or a judge in Southwest Virginia. When we say Southwest, and if you want to pull out a map and look, that’s not Roanoke. Get that clear. It’s farther out.
So we hired a licensed professional counselor with the moneys that we were given. That I said when I came onboard, the very first dollar that I would spend would be on somebody in Southwest Virginia. So we got Angeline out…
Oh, looks like we might have lost Tim. Margaret, you aware of kind of the three areas around Virginia [crosstalk 00:46:14]-
Oh yeah. Definitely. And this is actually kind of a little fun story on my first week of work, I went to far Southwest Virginia. And I say far Southwest because I started my practice in Roanoke, and I made the mistake of saying Roanoke was Southwest Virginia. And the folks out in Grundy, at Appalachian School of Law quickly corrected me because that’s another three hours past Roanoke. Virginia is enormous, and Angeline is very cool. She’s out there in Rural Retreat. She’s from that area. So she’s been working very closely with Appalachian, the law school there and also just with serving the population of attorneys there. Because of the nature of the geography, the population is really under resourced area when it comes to mental health and substance use. So I think just having a presence there of someone who is from there and understands that area has been immensely helpful for cultivating that relationship, not just with the law school but with the bar and with the courts there as well.
So sounds like the strategy that Tim’s organization is employing is more licensed professionals closer to the ground with broader geographic focus on-
Exactly. And having folks who are there who are building those connections with these stakeholders who are already in place. So we have our eight law schools around the Commonwealth. They’re great and not just for their education but for their alumni networks and for their educational programming that they send out with their law students.
The other piece is bar associations locally and then building relationships with treatment providers locally too. Making sure that mental health professionals are comfortable treating lawyers so that there’s this really strong referral network. A lot of people have started calling JLAP not to be in a longterm, monitored, formal relationship. I get to see these numbers in the aggregate every month as part of our reporting. I never see any individual clients of JLAP. This is the great thing about them remaining a separate, independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. But they are very transparent in their aggregate numbers, so we can see that people call them all the time to just ask, “Hey, I need a therapist in my area who will work with me as an attorney,” or, “I need a marriage counselor,” or, “Do you have the number for rehab place for my kid?” It doesn’t need to always been an intense relationship. JLAP is there for whatever struggle a legal professional is having where they are, and they’re developing those local relationships so that they can give people resources in those locations.
Excellent. Again, Virginia is such a cool story, right? And it looks like Tim is joining us back for hopefully the final question here. Tim, we successfully passed the baton onto Margaret. We’re still rolling. She did great. Let me just ask you one final question, which is you guys are now a year, year and a half, two years into your plan and starting to probably really see results. And I’m sure there have been stumbling blocks and some things that have really surprised you. Just would be curious on lessons learned either the hard way or lessons that you think that are worthwhile for our listeners to hear in terms of things that have been really successful.
Well, I’ll piggyback. Don’t let your power fail and take your internet with it. Sorry, my apologize for that. I think the lessons that we’ve learned are to get all of the stakeholders engaged. Really Margaret has been an amazing, amazing addition to our team. From day one, Margaret came down and talked to us about what she viewed her role was, about how we could work together. We do have that clear line of separation in terms of the client load, but we do have an incredible collaboration in terms of outreach, in terms of getting the word out, in terms of being present and support around the Commonwealth. I guess I didn’t have a vote in Margaret being in that position, but whoever did hit the gold mine. So if there is a lesson to be learned, make sure that you hire the right person to be your wellness coordinator at the very top.
Make sure that you’ve got constant communication with your stakeholders. The various bar associations, the top level bar associations, the local bar associations continually engage with them to make sure that you’re carrying the same message and that you’re supporting the needs of their constituency is. I think that those are the most critical things to the success that we have.
Of course, our amazing team that I hope Margaret was able to talk about. We just have an amazing group of people. It’s a joy to work with and top to bottom, all of the bar associations, the court, state bar, this is just a perfect world here in Virginia.
Feels a little bit like a symphony with Margaret as the conductor and when every piece comes together, you can really make some pretty sweet music.
Yeah. Well, again, thank you both so much for joining us on the podcast. I’m sure there are listeners who might be interested in contacting you. With your permission, I think we’d like to include your contact information when we post the podcast so the people can contact you directly and hear firsthand the stories. And we certainly will be keeping our eyes on your successes as we continue to move forward because again, we need states like yours to be leaders up front and to be able to kind of demonstrate the type of change that can occur. As somebody who watches Virginia lawyers quite closely, me on the malpractice side, I know that there’s a lot of pride in the legal profession in Virginia. And I think that that probably also speaks to why this has become an issue that folks have been about to rally around. There’s just a high quality of lawyering that goes on in Virginia, and I think the focus on well-being is a natural compliment.
Oh yeah. Lawyers from Virginia started our country. I’m always proud to be a Virginia lawyer, and I’m also always proud to talk to lawyers from other states and Commonwealths about what we’re doing. And also, we’ll talk about failures too. The important part of this conversation is honesty and vulnerability. So please share our information, and we will Zoom into courtrooms around our fair country.
Thank you, Margaret.
I would say just unlike my last two jobs, we do not have trade secrets. We are willing to share anything that we have with anyone at anytime. So yes, spread our contact information out. We’re at the other end of the phone or the other end of the email. We can help anybody. We’re here to be a partner.
Excellent. Well, again, thank you both for joining us today. We’ll be back with the podcast in a couple weeks. Until then, be well.