Martha Knudson, J.D., MAPP is the Executive Director of the Utah State Bar’s Well-Being Committee for the Legal Profession working with Utah’s judges, lawyers, and law students to enhance engagement, performance, resilience, and overall well-being. As part of her role, she also advises researchers at the University of Utah conducting empirical research of lawyers and law students in the western United States. Prior to working in the well-being field, Martha practiced law for almost 18 years. She earned her law degree in 1999, graduating magna cum laude. After passing the bar Martha became a litigator in private law-firm practice where she rose to the rank of shareholder. She later became General Counsel of a leading real estate management company where she was provided legal over-site on all aspects of the company’s national operations, advised leadership, and worked with the messy reality of keeping a business and its people thriving. In 2015, Martha earned a master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from The University of Pennsylvania where she has since served as an Assistant Instructor to the graduate program. Martha also works with private clients and regularly speaks and publishes articles on well-being in the law. She recently contributed a chapter in the book The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness.
Transcript:

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello, and welcome to episode eight of The National Task Force on Lawyer Wellbeing Podcast Series, The Path to Wellbeing in Law. I’m your cohost, Chris Newbold, the executive vice president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And our goal here is simple, to introduce you to cool people doing awesome work in the space of lawyer wellbeing, and in the process, build and nurture a national network of wellbeing 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 Taskforce, Bree Buchanan. Bree, welcome.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Thanks, Chris. Good to be here.

CHRIS:

Yeah. And today, we’re going to continue an evolution that we’ve done over the last two podcasts, which is kind of a march around the states. We started in Virginia. We spent some time with Heidi Alexander in Massachusetts, and we really do kind of feel like the states are really kind of getting out front, testing new wellbeing initiatives and commitment, making investments in wellbeing in terms of the health of their members and the health of the profession. And as we know, movements generally are driven by things that happen at the grassroots level. And so today, we’re going to kind of continue that. And a few states have jumped out front. One of them is the state of Utah. And we’re very excited to have us joined today by Martha Knudson, who is the executive director of the Utah State Bar’s Wellbeing Committee for the Legal Profession. And Martha is the byproduct of some work that’s happened in Utah, and we’re really excited about some of the things happening in Utah and excited to welcome Martha to the podcast. So Bree, would you be so kind to introduce Martha?

BREE:

Absolutely. And Martha, just welcome. We’re so delighted to have you. So Martha Knudson, prior to working in the wellbeing field, she practiced law for 18 years. She was a litigator in a private law firm practice. She was also general council of a leading real estate management company. And then, of course, I imagine there’s a story here, hopefully we’ll hear it, in 2015, Martha’s career took a turn and she pursued … Well, she earned at that point in time, a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. And she now regularly speaks and publishes articles on wellbeing in the law, as well as the great work that she’s doing at the Utah bar. So welcome, Martha.

I wanted to … We always ask our guests a question at the very beginning. And it’s about what brought you to the wellbeing movement, what experiences in your life are really drivers behind what I know is that you have a passion for this work.

MARTHA KNUDSON:

That is a great question. And as you so deftly noticed, there is a story. I was attracted to the wellbeing in law movement for very personal reasons. Because I really suffered from burnout, depression, and anxiety that got kind of manifested when I was in private practice, about the third year of practice at my firm. I remember just suddenly not being happy. Life had no color. I felt like I was going to grow old and die behind my desk, but I kept putting my head down and working and working because I wanted to excel in the profession. I wanted to learn how to be a litigator. I wanted to make partner, and I did all those things. Right?

But it wasn’t like … I always thought, “I’ll be happy when.” But by the time I got to 10 years into my practice, I was miserable, burnt out, all the rest, and so I walked away from my partnership, and thought I was just washing my hands of it. I really figured that I could either do well as a lawyer, or be happy in my life. So retirement didn’t last long. I got talked out of it to go work for a great company as their general counsel. And as I made the decision to do so, I thought, “I want to do this differently. I want to see if I can do well at work and as an attorney, and be well in my life.”

So I went out and I started doing research. So all good research is me-search. So I came across, as I’m looking. How can you thrive in your career in your life? So I found the science of positive psychology, which is really the science of optimal human performance and thriving. And I learned about focusing on strengths and protective factors, and how to work better with my emotions and cognitive processes, and all the different things that science tells us goes into increased wellbeing. And I learned that doing well, or being well in your life, really drives doing well [inaudible 00:05:31]. Yeah. I’d be making a false choice.

So that is what led me back to school, so ended up going and getting my master’s degree while still working full-time and remodeling my house. So that actually probably was not the best wellbeing choice, little overloaded there. But yeah, and as I came out, I made the decision to step back from the practice in favor of serving the profession.

BREE:

Yeah. I just want to echo some things that you said earlier that really popped out to me when you talked about being in the practice, and you said, “Life had no color.” And that’s just a great phrase, really. When I was with the lawyer’s assistance program in Texas for about a decade, and I heard that, and I could just envision that as when I had so many people call, they were just really unhappy in their lives and unhappy in their practice. And it was manifesting as depression, or anxiety, or et cetera. Yeah, I just wanted to kind of capture that a little bit.

CHRIS:

Yeah. And Martha, what a bold move. Right? I mean, most people don’t have that willpower to be able to say, “I’ve climbed the mountain. I’m at the partnership level,” but then to really kind of look inside and say, “But am I really, truly satisfied in where I’m at?”

MARTHA:

Well, thank you. It felt like a lifesaver for me at the time. But I know I had lots of colleagues that … Well, it was interesting. I had some that were scratching their heads. But I had others, I had partners that came into my office and said, “I will deny this if you ever use my name, but I wish I could do what you’re doing. Go. Run free. Be free.” And that was interesting to me to hear that from people that they were envious of the decision that I was making. And it’s too bad because it doesn’t need to be that way. And the more that I’ve learned about the science of wellbeing and performance and the rest, and the more I interact with attorneys on this end, it really doesn’t need to be that way. The law is an incredible profession, and we all deserve, and frankly, society deserves for lawyers to be doing well.

BREE:

Well said.

CHRIS:

Well, let’s talk a little bit about Utah. Right? And I’m curious, and I have a little bit of experience with Utah because I was actually on your task force, although not as probably actively involved as I should have been, but which oftentimes happens. But obviously, the Utah Supreme Court, you have a couple of great leaders in Justice Paige Peterson and your former bar president, Dickson Burton. And you guys get going, and you launched this task force. Talk about that process and how that came together, how long the task force worked, and how you finished that phase of where that phase took you, and where we are now.

MARTHA:

Great. Well, so it really was the brainchild of Chief Justice Matthew Durrant. And this came as a result of the incredible task force report that you folks were a big part of. So Justice Durrant and Justice Peterson, they just dove into that report, and they answered the call that was made to states, bar associations, courts, et cetera, to take a look at lawyer wellbeing. And so they brought in Dickson Burton, who was an incredible leader, and they formed this task force. And it was really important to Justice Peterson and Dickson Burton to have thought leaders on this task force, thought leaders in firms, in law schools, in small practice, solo practice, across the courts, different judges, and to also have different experts be a part of this because they wanted to put something out that people would notice and listen to.

And so I was fortunate enough to be on this task force because of the combination of my experience practicing law and my positive psychology expertise. So we sat down together about once a month for I think it was nine or 10 months, and we really used that national task force report as a blueprint for how to operate. And we followed along with the recommendations that were in that task force report, which was beautiful not to have to reinvent the wheel. And we came up with different recommendations for the various stakeholders in the Utah legal profession, for example, the courts, lawyers, law students in law schools, the bar, regulators, et cetera.

And one of the primary recommendations that the task force made, and this was near and dear to my heart, was to have a baseline assessment done using scientific measures by the science guys to figure out where Utah sits. We have that national study, which was so instrumental in galvanizing this movement. But does Utah look just like that? Are we the same? Are we different? Are we better in some areas, worse in others? And we also wanted to try to drill down to see. Are there pockets of different types of practice, or age, or whatever, or rural versus urban, where lawyers are doing better, or lawyers are doing worse? So we can get some clues on where we should be focusing our efforts.

So we are working with the University of Utah School of Medicine, an occupational epidemiologist named Dr. Matthew Thiese. And he came in and we worked together to put a survey out. So that is, so the recommendations and the beginning of this lawyer study kind of started at the same time. And in the midst of all this, the decision was made to convert the task force to a permanent standing committee under the Utah State Bar’s umbrella. And the purpose of the task … Excuse me. The purpose of the committee is to carry out the recommendations of the task force. And so that is where we are now, is we are working on those recommendations and the study is … We have results back on the baseline study, and we are still analyzing data and working forward on that as well.

BREE:

I had heard about the study that you were doing, and really excited about it and the implications that it can have for other states as well. Do you have a sense of when it’s going to be completed or the data will be available?

MARTHA:

Yes. I actually can give you some of the data now. So we continue to pull in more data using the same survey. But the preliminary data was made available at the beginning of 2020. And I’ll tell you a little bit about that. And then we continue to collect data as we go along, and the study will morph. But the preliminary data that we are seeing is there’s some good and there’s some troubling. Let’s start with the positive. Right? So we are seeing actually, there are areas that lawyers in Utah are doing really well. About 46% of us have a moderate or high level of job satisfaction, which is awesome. And there’s things that lawyers have answered when we’ve asked, dug in on why that is. Lawyers in Utah that say they are satisfied with their job, they really enjoy collaborating and working with others. They like that connection piece, which we know from the science, how important that is to motivation and wellbeing and performance.

They like intellectual challenge. Those folks enjoy knowing that their contributions matter, that they have a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. And all those things are really great to find that out because we’re seeing that those are areas that are right for us to go and see if we can create more of that for more of the population.

BREE:

Absolutely. Yeah.

MARTHA:

So those are the positives. There were some really troubling results though that we found. So as we did this research, we were really mindful about how we set it up because we used a lot of different measures. But one measure in particular that we used is called the PHQ-9, and it’s a measure that is used a ton. There’s really reliable, valid, and it measures depressive symptoms or likelihood to have clinical depression and also measures suicide, or your suicidal ideation and those kinds of things because that’s something that we’ve been concerned about because of what we’ve seen nationally and also anecdotal evidence. And we also chose that measure because there is a national data collection set that comes out every couple years called the NHANES. And we wanted to be able to compare what our population here in Utah, the Utah lawyers, look like compared to people in the national general working population. How do we compare?

So what we found is that lawyers in Utah are five times more likely to experience depressive symptoms than the general working population. About 44.4% of responding lawyers reported feelings of depression. And from our data, we are seeing that it indicates about 15% have a serious depressive disorder, and that is really troubling.

BREE:

That is. And so Martha, let me ask just real quick. When you talk about comparing lawyers with the working population, is that just all workers in the population? Or is that lawyers?

MARTHA:

That’s all workers in the population.

BREE:

Okay. Okay.

MARTHA:

Yeah. So we want to see: If you’re a lawyer, rather than just generally employed individual, does that increase your risk of developing some of the occupational hazards that we too often see in our profession? And so along those lines, I’ll give you two more numbers, and then but I think there’s a lot more encouraging that’s coming out. But we’re seeing about 48.7% of the Utah lawyers responding are reporting some level of burnout. And burnout I think is something a lot of us can relate to on some level. And it’s very common, can happen to anybody in any job. But it is a risk factor for developing some of these other more serious problems that we see.

BREE:

And Martha, just real quick. Is that 48.7 burnout, percent of burnout, I assume that’s pre COVID. Right?

MARTHA:

Yes. Yes. This is all pre COVID data. The data that we collected is pre COVID that’s going into these numbers that I’m telling you. And then we’ll see. I’m curious as we move forward with continuing data collection, if we see an uptick in some of these, both positive or negative. Right? Because it could be that we see some positive things come out of that as well. But one last number that I’d like to just share with you because it is really guiding a lot of our work here in Utah and I think it’s something that nationally we all should be paying attention to.

So there is a question in that NHANES measure that we talked about that asks: How often do you have thoughts of being better off dead or of hurting yourself? And what we have found is that lawyers in Utah are 8.5 times more likely to report thoughts of being better off dead or hurting yourself than compared to the general working population, and that is very sobering.

BREE:

That is. Let me real quick, because I think people will be listening, and they’re trying to compare thinking about their state compared to what you’re talking about. How many lawyers in Utah? What size is the bar?

MARTHA:

We have a little shy of 10,000 that are active.

BREE:

Okay. Yeah. That’s helpful.

CHRIS:

And your survey sample size ended up being generally what?

MARTHA:

Our survey sample size was about 700, so we had a statistically significant number. And we sampled from across geography, age, gender, all the things. So we have a really good sample that is very reliable.

CHRIS:

Yeah.

BREE:

That report, has that been written up, reduced to writing, and is that available anywhere?

MARTHA:

So the preliminary numbers that I talked about today, they are available. They came out in an article to the Utah State Bar. They’re available on our wellbeing website, which is wellbeing.utahbar.org, under data on Utah lawyers. And then there are, we’re drilling down even further into the data on a lot of the other measures we’re looking at. And we’ve got some articles that are out for publication right now, and so those are not available yet, but they should be available hopefully within the next few months. [crosstalk 00:20:30]. And I’m happy to answer questions to anybody that’s interested. Or I could connect them with our researcher. I know Dr. Thiese has been speaking with several other states about using the same survey we developed, and all of us working together on this.

BREE:

Great. Right. So for people who are listening, if you scroll down if you can see this online, in the transcript, we’ll have links that Martha was just talking about if people want to be able to access that.

CHRIS:

Yeah. Martha, first of all, I want to commend again the leadership there because I think, I mean, obviously, we’re an evidence-based profession. Right? And I think that probably goes to kind of one of the things that you were thinking about, which is we need to be able to document the issue as it relates to Utah lawyers to then kind of know where we’re at and where we need to get to. I’m curious how much you needed to spend for the survey because I know one of the things that I oftentimes recommend to state task forces is some type of a survey apparatus. Sometimes it’s more of the informal, unscientific method, which is still important because you’re still doing a lot of education through the survey tool itself. You went a much more kind of academic scientifically based method, so I’m just kind of wondering what type of resources you invested to be able to produce that.

MARTHA:

Well, we pulled a rabbit out of a hat a little bit here. And the bar originally, and the courts were thinking of hiring a survey company. And myself and a couple other members of the task force really lobbied against that because we wanted to have that evidence-based scientific survey, so we could know that what we were asking, we were getting correct, reliable answers. So then we can measure again to see if we moved the needle, all those things. And we were fortunate enough to have connection to Dr. Thiese, and he comes at it from the population standpoint instead of an individual, looking at what’s going on in the population.

And we talked to Matt, and he was willing to pitch in and do this for us for a very reasonable sum. At the time, I believe we paid him less than 15 grand to do this. And I’ll tell you, he has put in so much time and effort and resources above and beyond that amount, that it’s been phenomenal. And I know he’s very willing to work with other states on this and to help them out and do what he can with the resources that they have. But also, we’re out right now in the community talking to other organizations, working on getting grants because what we’d like to do with this research is expand it far beyond Utah and start doing some interventional studies where we get in and you tweak something to see if it changes.

And Dr. Thiese and his partners are out there right now trying to find grant money so we can do this. So support of anyone listening that would like to be involved in this is invited.

CHRIS:

Yeah. Very interesting. And I’m curious whether the scope at all addressed any of the corresponding causation issues. Or was there any movement into that area in terms of just the overall scope of the survey?

MARTHA:

Yes. The data that’s come out thus far has been very focused on what we’re finding with some of these outcomes, I guess, if that’s the right way to say it. But we also, we could’ve had a huge, long survey. And I was like, “Let’s add this, and let’s add this,” and using all my positive psychology background. But we decided, we pinpointed a few areas to look at, to see if we could get some clues. Right?

So one of the areas that we are looking at, and did look at with the survey, is social support, and the perceptions that people have that they are supported, belong in their organizations, in the community, in their lives outside of work. So social support is something that is incredibly important, and we are doing the analysis right now to see correlations between perceived social support and where you sit on some of these other measures. So we looked at that, we looked at work engagement. We looked at how often people are moving, on the physical movement piece of that. I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the survey.

But yeah, we are definitely trying to look at the causation piece, and that’s something we will continue to dig into because this survey, we see it as a real starting point because that’s what we want to do, is get to the causation. Right? We want to see what’s going on and why this is happening. So this gives us a place to really drill down. For example, if you see one area of practice, like family law, and if we see that folks in family law tend to be having a harder time with some of these wellbeing measures than others. What are they doing differently? So we can go back and work with some of these same study participants. The University of Utah can. This is all confidential. Right? I don’t know who said what, and nor should I know, nor should the bar know. And they won’t. But to see what clues we can get, so then we can start build out some … To find out the cause, and then build out interventions.

CHRIS:

Yeah. Awesome. It’s interesting having kind of looked at this issue and monitored obviously over the last several years that the growth of the scientific approach in our space is something that is a real opportunity for us. And I think we’re all thankful that both you and Utah in general is kind of jumping out in front because I think that documenting the issues and understanding causation, that’s going to allow us to ultimately to be more surgical in our approach on what levers we need to pull to improve the overall wellbeing of the profession, which obviously then leads to a better legal system in general.

MARTHA:

Right. One thing I didn’t mention that I’d love to just throw out there for all the listeners is the focus that Utah is moving toward on organizations. As part of our study, we have enrolled, oh gosh, I can’t remember the exact number, but I think it’s nine, between nine and 12 law firms to participate in the survey as an organization. So we can start to suss out: Why is one organization doing better than another? So we can see some clues there because organization and culture has such an incredible impact on wellbeing. We talk about wellbeing a lot as individual things that we all can do, and they’re very important. Right?

But the fish bowl that we swim in is just as, if not more so, important to our wellbeing. So the more we can see what our culture is like, what our organizations are doing that help our wellbeing, and that could cut against it, I think the more we can really get to the bottom of what’s happening to cause some of these problems. And what are people doing that are lending … What are organizations doing that are helping lawyers to thrive?

CHRIS:

Yeah. Well, let’s take a break here. I’d like to come back, Martha, and talk more about just kind of where you’re at in your day to day, what you’re hoping to accomplish as you kind of think about the various pathways that you’ve selected to pursue. And then obviously, words of wisdom that you have for other states who are embarking either on this journey or embarking on the journey, so let’s take a quick break and we’ll be back.

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BREE:

Welcome back, everybody. We’ve got with us today, Martha Knudson, who is the director of the Utah Bar’s Wellbeing Committee for the Legal Profession. And we’ve been talking about some really interesting data that’s coming out of the survey that they’re doing. But Martha, I wanted to hear. What else is the committee working on right now?

MARTHA:

Well, there’s a lot. Let’s see if I can give you some broad areas that we have been working on and seeing some success. One area that Utah has really done well with is communicating that wellbeing is important. And we’re doing so using several mediums. We regularly have wellbeing related articles in our bar journal. At every CLE conference that we have, there is a track that is discussing different wellbeing related areas, so we’re seeing that. We’ve got social media that is posting. We are using our monthly e-bulletin and putting out little wellbeing bites and news on that area. So we’re really promoting and getting out and talking about the importance of wellbeing. And we’re seeing that branch to beyond the wellbeing committee into other committees that are starting to take up the same push with the importance of wellbeing.

We’re also working on increasing education and teaching people about what are the protective factors to some of the things that we’re seeing. And also, many of us don’t ever experience those things. But how can we go from where we are to even doing better? How can we really thrive in the practice of law? And it was recently after COVID hit, we did a three part resilience series for lawyers, and had an overwhelming response. I was amazed. We had over 500 people on every session that we offered.

BREE:

That’s amazing.

MARTHA:

Yeah, that was super encouraging to see lawyers talking about that, so we’re doing those things. We’re working on stigma reduction. We are really pushing awareness of resources available. How do you get access to them? Gosh, what else? I could go on and on. We’re working on amending some of the rules of professionalism to expand the definition to allow for more programming in that area. And that is something is very supported within the MCLE board and the rest, and that’s pending.

BREE:

That’s great. That’s such an important piece.

MARTHA:

Yeah. The law schools are doing awesome things. Both law schools have dedicated counselors for the students, so we’re really seeing a push. But right now, so much of it has to do with education, getting people to recognize or understand. What is wellbeing? Why does it matter? And how do we start? And we put together a couple of phase one best practices for organizations and individuals to give people that place to start.

CHRIS:

Yeah. One of the things that we talk a lot about on the podcast and encourage our guests to opine on is: What are ultimately the drivers of the culture shift that we’re trying to engineer? And it sounds like in Utah, you’ve put a lot of your marbles into the education space. The more that we can make people aware, the more that we can build a set of practitioners and others associated with the legal professional that are aware of the realities of our profession, that’s going to go a long way in terms of ultimately having us think through just a different lens than we do today.

MARTHA:

Right, right. And I think in Utah, we put our eggs in, let’s see, probably three broad baskets. I might add one as I speak, but we’ll see. So one would be research. Where are we? So we know where we are and where we’re going. We talked about that. The other one is education. What is wellbeing? And why should you care? Even if you don’t care about people being happen, even though it’s the right thing to do, you should care because it makes you a better lawyer. And better lawyers can pack the bottom line. Right? Organizations, your lawyers are your assets, so that.

And number three, resources, providing … What are the things that people can build within themselves and within their organizations? Which is part of education. Right? What can you do to actually start to move the needle? Where do you start? So those are probably the big three that we have focused on first. And within those, there’s just so much stuff going on. But yeah, that’s really where we’re starting because if you want to … Culture change is hard. Right? It is very hard to turn the Titanic. Well, I guess that’s probably not. I shouldn’t say Titanic. It’s really hard to turn a really large ship. Lawyers are not the Titanic. That was probably a bad use of example.

But culture is hard to change, and it takes education. It takes leaders being willing to stand up and talk about why wellbeing is important, and then walk the talk. This is COVID and the coronavirus is actually something I think, one of the silver linings is that I think that is going to drive a culture change because it’s been speeding up the process of getting our profession to recognize that wellbeing is bound up with everything that we do as a lawyer. Our wellbeing is vital to our ability to practice well and do so sustainably. And so where it was even eight months ago, we’re starting to see the conversation get bigger and bigger. But it’s also easily put by leaders and a lot of organizations kind of pushed aside, or pushed off to HR or something, that just HR deals with.

And now we have this situation where work is disrupted, and things have gone a little bit bonkers. And you have law firm leaders that are recognizing they have to care about the wellbeing of their people if they want this workforce to be sustainable. And so I think that is going to drive culture change in a really positive way.

CHRIS:

Those are interesting insights. I think we’ve all spent time in our shelter in place positions, and just had a lot of time to reflect. Right? What is it that we want? And what is our position? What is our family? What is our firm? I’m really kind of thinking about those big picture issues that I think you’re right, that the pandemic has been a very interesting time I think, and potentially a real disruptive force for the betterment on the wellbeing front.

MARTHA:

Agreed.

CHRIS:

Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about, Martha, your role. You’re the executive director. I presume that you’re working full-time. But talk to me about just kind of your commitment because we do need folks who play the point guard position and can kind of lead the symphony, if you will. And I’m just kind of curious on you and your role with the Utah State Bar.

MARTHA:

Yeah. My role with the Utah State Bar looks a little different I think than my counterparts. There’s the few of us out there. So I actually am not a full-time employee of the bar. I contract with the bar for about 10 hours of my time a week to focus on wellbeing efforts and to take the recommendations of the task force and now the committee and move them forward. And this is really, this position was really the brainchild of Justice Paige Peterson, who she thought, “We have all these great ideas, and we have all these folks on the committee and in the court and the bar, who really care about wellbeing.” But unless you have somebody that’s paid for it, it’s really difficult to make that the top priority. Right?

So that’s my relationship with the bar, so I do that work. And then I do other things as well. But yeah, that’s how it’s worked out. And it’s really been interesting to me how much we can get done with that amount of time. [crosstalk 00:38:42].

CHRIS:

I think there’s oftentimes, we kind of feel like, boy, if we can’t have a full-time person, we’re just not going to be able to make a difference. And I think that you’re proving in Utah that in fact, with very limited resources and a limited allocation of a state bar, a state supreme court, you can actually make a huge difference with something that’s far less significant than what we’re seeing in states like Virginia and Massachusetts, where you’re actually seeing kind of lawyer assessments on bar dues. Right?

MARTHA:

Right.

CHRIS:

That there’s some real opportunity out there for smaller states, let’s call it states less than 25,000 lawyers to really invest in wellbeing, but to do it in kind of innovative and contract labor-based ways.

MARTHA:

Right, right. Yeah. I think that it would be absolutely wonderful to have access to more resources. And we’ll see where that all goes, not just in Utah, but in other states. But I think if you want to get your state moving forward with wellbeing, you certainly need to have a group of thought leaders in the community that people listen to, so you need a group of those folks. And then if you can have somebody that is dedicated [inaudible 00:40:05] with their time, paid, to moving initiatives forward, I think that makes a huge difference. And I would say it’s very important to have an attorney do that if at all possible.

The benefit that I have with my position, and I’m certainly not super unique in this, I guess I am to some extent, but that I have … I practiced law for 18 years. I know what it’s like to be a law firm partner. I know what it’s like to be general council and run cases and try cases and do all the things. So I know what it’s like. And then I also have the positive psychology expertise side of it. So you don’t have to have necessarily that expertise. But I think to have someone that has experience as an attorney take this forward is something that does make a difference. But it is definitely something that states can do on a limited budget.

BREE:

And so Martha, I’m just really, one of the things we like to ask is: What are the secrets to your success, your state’s success so far? And one common theme, which I definitely see in Utah is that you have strong leadership from the Supreme Court in getting this started. Are there other secrets to your success that you want to share that you haven’t already?

MARTHA:

Well, yeah, you’re right on the strong leadership. Having folks that are visible in the community and that walk the talk is a definite benefit. Right? That’s a secret to our success. I think the science side of it, really look at evidence based decisions is something that is valuable. Another secret to the success that we’ve been seeing, I think is a willingness of those same leaders that we discussed being able to be vulnerable and authentic about why their wellbeing matters and what they do to take care of it.

And we’ve had a push, and this is part of the anti stigma campaign too, we’ve had several of our leaders that are on the committee and otherwise, stand up. And of course, we’ve had some that are in recovery and have said, “Hey, look. This is my path. This is what happened to me. This is what I do now to stay on track.” And then we have others though that say, and well respected in the community, that we’ve had panels and that have stood up to say, “Look. This is how I take care of my mental health.” The old stereotypical law firm male partner, I go to therapy every couple weeks. I schedule time to do this. I schedule time with my friends. I make sure I do this. And so we have those leaders that people are like, “Well, that guy can do this. I can do this.” So I think that is huge.

BREE:

It is.

MARTHA:

And also, I have to give a shout out to the culture of the Utah Bar. Folks here tend to be pretty helpful and care about each other, so that has been a secret to our success, is just that we have that culture.

BREE:

On the flip side, are there any things I guess that you’ve learned the hard way that you’d want to warn other folks about trying to follow in Utah’s footsteps?

MARTHA:

Yes. One of the big ones that I keep seeming to have to learn and tell myself and our committee, we have to tell ourselves, is you can’t eat the elephant all at once. It is small steps. Right? One step at a time. And celebrate small wins, and recognize that, hey, look where we were five years ago compared to now. So one small step at a time and recognize that this is a marathon, not a sprint because it’s easy for me to get in my head and start thinking, “Oh, we should already have this all done by now,” which is crazy talk, but that is … So you can end up getting in that bucket.

Another lesson that I have learned the hard way through a lot of different experiences, but I’ve tried to use that lesson now, is the more you can make small shifts in things that are already happening, meet people where they are, and make small shifts. For example, we want to get the message out about wellbeing. And so I thought, “Some states have done a whole new wellbeing newsletter, all these things,” and that’s wonderful. But we don’t have the budget or the bandwidth to build that up. So how can I use what’s already there to start pushing that message out? So that is a big lesson.

And also, another thing that I’ve had to keep reminding myself, and I think I said this, meet people where they are. So in the world that I have become immersed in with wellbeing, both working with the University of Pennsylvania positive psychology program, being on the wellbeing committee, talking to all you folks nationally, is you start to forget that there’s a lot of folks that still need … They don’t know what we’re talking about with wellbeing. They need to understand the basics again, and again, and again, and again, and again. So that’s you can’t just say it once and then jump to the next five things.

BREE:

They don’t see the world through our eyes.

MARTHA:

Exactly. Exactly. You’ve got to meet people where they are.

CHRIS:

Heidi, one … Sorry. Martha, one final question. Optimistic or concern about what lies ahead on the wellbeing front?

MARTHA:

Optimistic. I’m optimistic. I think that we’re waking up as a profession. And silver lining of coronavirus I think is helping that. And I’ll give you a little story maybe that would highlight this. When I was a young lawyer, nobody talked about this stuff. And I think that’s probably pretty common. It was definitely not unique to my organization. And if anything, if somebody struggled, the answer was, oh, they can’t cut it. Right? I don’t hear that anymore. I am very optimistic about that. People are talking about it. They are talking about not just the preventative proactive stuff, but they’re talking about their own struggles. And so that is making me super optimistic.

look what’s happening nationally with the organization that you two have been so instrumental in putting forward. We have research that we’re learning more, so I’m optimistic.

CHRIS:

Well, excellent. Well, Martha, we so appreciate you coming on the podcast. Your presence and the Utah State Bar’s commitment to wellbeing is in fact one of those small wins that adds up to kind of where we’re trying to get to in this long marathon. But it certainly is exciting to know that we’re in good hands as our leader, as you lead in Utah. Right? And I think again, we need to be thinking about ways that we can firmly have people at the grassroots level around the country who are just focused and excited about this particular issue because the bigger our army gets, I think the more success we ultimately will have.

MARTHA:

Agreed. Agreed.

CHRIS:

Yeah. All right, Bree. Any final closing comments?

BREE:

That’s it. Thank you, Martha, so much for being with us today. Exciting stuff.

MARTHA:

Well, thank you for having me. I love what you all are doing nationally. Keep it coming.

CHRIS:

When I heard your kind of notions of research and education and resources, it made me really think about a lot of those early discussions at the national task force level, so it’s nice to know that we’re aligned I think in understanding what the drivers are to this movement and ultimately where we’re going.

MARTHA:

Right, right. Agreed.

CHRIS:

Good stuff. Thanks. Thanks, Martha, and we’ll be back in a couple weeks. And until then, be well. Thanks for joining us.

MARTHA:

Thank you.

 

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