May 6, 2020 – As if lawyering isn’t stressful enough, attorneys are now dealing with the added anxieties of a global COVID-19 pandemic and keeping their law firms and organizations afloat while trying to counsel and advise clients at the same time.
“What could possibly make a lawyer’s life harder than to have to practice under these conditions, at home with family to take care of, or by yourself, working remotely to try and help your clients who are undoubtedly struggling as well,” said Mary Spranger, who manages the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP).
In a recent State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® program, Lawyer Well-Being Tips 2020, Spranger and other panelists discussed what lawyers may be experiencing during this time and offered strategies and tips to stay productive and mentally strong.
“Even during the best of times, we ask lawyers to do a lot, to do a big job for a long time under very difficult conditions,” Spranger said. “And now, with the global pandemic, we have added a most difficult condition. We’ve added what could be considered an existential crisis onto the workload that all of you are already experiencing.”
“Now more than ever, it’s time to put into practice some of the wellbeing tools that we always suggest to people in order to keep themselves well,” she said. Lawyer Well-Being Tips 2020 was available for free as a webcast replay on selected dates.
“Even during the best of times, we ask lawyers to do a lot,” says Mary Spranger, who manages the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP).“With the global pandemic, ... we’ve added what could be considered an existential crisis onto the workload that all of you are already experiencing.”
Law firms and departments can be hard-charging and demanding places, and lawyer well-being may be an afterthought or no thought at all. You may feel overwhelmed and stressed. But what if you took time out of every day to stop and smell the roses?
According to Julie Bonasso Krolczyk – a lawyer and lawyer coach at Madison-based Reveal Your Power – making time for appreciation, practicing gratitude, can have major psychological, social, and physical benefits. And evidence-based research proves the concept works.
Studies show that the simple act of writing down a few sentences about those things you are grateful for, or telling others about your appreciation for them, has positive impacts on a person’s emotional wellbeing, and leads to other benefits.
“A consistent and intentional gratitude practice can impact cognitive functions, improve memory, improve focus, encourage creativity, improve problem solving skills, and improve our energy” says Julie Bonasso Krolczyk, a lawyer and lawyer coach at Reveal Your Power in Madison.
On the flip side, those on the receiving end of gratitude – associates or colleagues – may feel more motivated. Thus, in a time of global pandemic, simple acts of kindness, or gratitude, can go a long way toward lawyer well-being and keeping the team focused.
“A consistent and intentional gratitude practice can impact cognitive functions, improve memory, improve focus, encourage creativity, improve problem solving skills, and improve our energy,” noted Krolczyk, who provided tips on how lawyers can implement a simple gratitude practice into their personal and professional lives.
1) Show authentic caring. Ask people how they are really doing, how their families are doing, and whether there is anything you can do to provide support.
2) Show a token of appreciation. A personal email that you send to one of your employees, or maybe just a tiny gift. Send them some baked goods, says Krolczyk.
“I know some of you may be rolling your eyes that I’m sounding a little too cute, but I’m here to say that when I implemented this practice in a large group of people … it helped improve productivity, creativity, cognitive function – all those things that we as attorneys really need now, more than ever,” she said.
3) Ramp up your attention to your clients. “They are suffering in their own ways,” Krolczyk said. “Again, a little bit of appreciation can go a long way. It’s not complicated, but it works. And for anyone who wants more specifics about how to institute a gratitude culture organizationally, or how I do this for myself and my family so that I can show up creatively, productively, and energetically at work – please let me know.”
National Lawyer Well-Being Week (May 4-8)
This week is National Lawyer Well-Being Week, which coincides with National Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being maintains many resources on lawyer well-being for individuals and organizations.
The State Bar recently spoke with Wauwatosa-based attorney Lindsey Draper, a member of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. Draper discusses what the task force is doing to put lawyer well-being front and center in the legal profession.
Staying Strong Mentally
According to Paula Davis Laack, a Wisconsin lawyer and founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute in Elm Grove, there are specific triggers that can undercut an individual’s mental strength and the ability to deal with adversity.
Those include: 1) times when situations are unclear; 2) when something you value is at stake; 3) when you are run down, stressed out, or depleted; or 4) when it’s your first time doing something. Under a global pandemic, we are experiencing all these at once.
“Mental strength is really important … because it’s so closely tied to and linked to resilience,” Davis-Laack said. “Resilience helps you not only bounce back from challenges, both the little adversities that we deal with, all the way up to the big adversities and challenges, much like we are dealing with right now.”
So how does one mitigate the decline of mental strength in challenging times? Davis-Laack offered a few tips that focus on thought process and mindfulness.
“Positive emotions play a very strong role in resilience, so being able to leverage them in key times is really important,” says Paula Davis Laack, a Wisconsin lawyer and founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute in Elm Grove.
1) Don’t catastrophize. This worst-case scenario thinking occurs when a there’s a stress-producing event and in five minutes you have yourself living in a van down by the river. “It’s all going bad and you think there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said.
How do you deal with that? Step one: think about what is the stress-producing event and write it down. Step two: write down the worst case scenario. Step three: write down the opposite or best-case scenario.
“Thinking about the best case scenario really helps us to relax us mentally and physically,” Davis-Laack said. “Positive emotions play a very strong role in resilience, so being able to leverage them in key times is really important.”
“Then you are better able to identify what is most likely scenario. This doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be all positive, but at least you are not in worst case scenario doom and gloom land like you were before. And then you can create your plan of action.
“You are able to start to think in a purposeful way about what you can actually do to put one foot in front of the other and have a measure of control or influence.”
2) Create some perspective. That is, instead of thinking about what you cannot do during this time, think about what you can accomplish, says Davis-Laack, who speaks nationally at large conferences and counsels groups on resilience in workshop settings.
“I wish I could be teaching and training and speaking to large groups, but if that’s not going to happen, another way to look at this is that I will have more time to continue writing my book and to work on other content,” she said.
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
3) Savor something. Think about a good past memory or experience. Savor something in the present – the smell of spring – or something you may be looking forward to in the future. Taking in a simple pleasure or good thought can help your mind refresh.
4) Revisit your values. It’s also a good time to clarify your personal and professional values, and determine whether you are meeting those values. As an organization, revisit the organization’s values and assess whether the company is living up to them.
“You can use this time to sit down and talk with your family about the things that are really important to you as a core unit, and ask whether you are living that way and what you could do moving forward,” Davis-Laack said.
5) Find the helpers. “Anytime we are in a big crisis like this, there are always good stories, there are always places to look for people who are willing to help and who are stepping up,” she said. “This was inspired by Mr. Rogers. He always used to say that when he was scared as a young boy about whatever was happening in the world around him, his Mom would tell him to look for the helpers. So look for the helpers.”
Lawyer well-being is not an all or nothing proposition. According Krolczyk and Davis Laack, there are small mental exercises that lawyers can do now to help stay motivated and mentally healthy. Collectively, small things can make a big difference.
WisLAP is Confidential and Here to Help
Feeling overwhelmed? The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) is a member service of the State Bar of Wisconsin that provides free confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families in coping with substance abuse or dependence, mental health challenges, or other stressors that negatively impact the quality of life and the practice of law. The program is designed to help members and their families build on their strengths and to provide support through services that promote physical, mental, and emotional health. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
WisLAP offers the following services:
- Initial evaluation
- Peer assistance
- Education, including CLE programs
WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
WisLAP Manager: Mary Spranger (800) 444-9404, ext. 6159
WisLAP Coordinator: Jason Magill (800) 444-9404, ext. 6151