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“Walking the Walk” on Lawyer Well-Being | Bree Buchanan

Serving clients as their advocate takes a toll—mentally, emotionally, and physically. Bree Buchanan, Senior Advisor at Krill Strategies and former director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, is all too familiar with this problem. After years of representing clients in traumatic cases, Bree relied on alcohol to cope. As she began her recovery, Bree developed a passion for helping other lawyers take care of their own well-being. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Bree joins Todd Smith and Jody Sanders to share her experience and tips on how attorneys can care for themselves and others. She also discusses her role at the Institute for Well-Being in Law and their efforts to reshape the profession to support attorney wellness and recovery.

Listen to the podcast here:

“Walking the Walk” on Lawyer Well-Being | Bree Buchanan

Our guest is Bree Buchanan, the Senior Advisor at Krill Strategies. Welcome to the show, Bree.

Thanks so much, Todd and Jody. I am delighted to be here.

We are very excited to have you, especially in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. We do intend to get this episode produced and released during the month of May 2022. We are super excited to have you on to talk about the topics in which you happen to be an expert. Before we launch, let’s talk a little about your background. You are a lawyer and a lot of folks here in Texas will know your name for reasons that we will get into before too long, but let’s talk about who you are and where you come from.

Texas-born and bred. I have been a lawyer for many years. I went to UT Law and graduated from there in ’89. At that time, it was my dream job. I started out with legal aid in Austin. I was a legal aid in the society of Central Texas. I did domestic violence work, and then I went from there to have my own office for all of you folks, who are solo practitioners. I feel your pain. I could do it for 54 weeks and I threw in the towel.

That was the hardest thing—having your own office. I got to go up from the front lines and then get into the ivory tower or policy and the think tank world about domestic violence. I went to the Texas Council on Family Violence. I did lobbying for a number of years and then got pulled back to UT Law. I was the Clinical Director for the Children’s Rights Clinic.

That was a tough time. I went from years of representing domestic violence victims to representing children, family violence and kids in foster care, which has certainly been an experience that took its toll on me. I ended up with a shift in my life. I got to the point where the things that I was doing to cope with the stress and the difficulties and the existential pain of living with representing those folks in those kinds of cases.

My story is out there. I ended up self-medicating with alcohol, developing an alcohol use disorder, and then when I got into recovery several years ago, that changed my life. I went to work at the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, was there for ten years, and ultimately became the director. I’ve got to do about anything you can think of over the course of my career. I spent that time at TLAP helping Texas lawyers. I would speak to hundreds of lawyers a year who were experiencing all kinds and types of distress.

Maybe it is a substance use issue, but also the depression, anxiety, burnout, and lack of purpose and meaning in their careers. That set me on a path to be able to take care of my own well-being because I was working on it with other people all the time then it got me to where I am now working with Krill Strategies and the Institute For Well-Being In Law. It has been an amazing career path for me. Some bombs, but amazing in and of itself.

Probably most of our readers are familiar with TLAP, but would you mind giving a quick elevator pitch for what they are and what they do?

The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program provides supportive services and resources to law students, lawyers, and judges who are in the State of Texas. When somebody calls, they will get one of the staff members. The conversation is confidential by statute. It can be anonymous if you are concerned, and you could be calling to explore if you are having struggles yourself or, as well, if there is somebody you know and care about who is also struggling.

You can call for those two different purposes. The folks at TLAP, the people who are experts in this area, will give you resources and connect you with behavioral health supports. It is a real one-stop shop for the legal profession in Texas to find out and get connected with the resources they may need in the behavioral health arena.

How long had TLAP been going when you first joined?

I think it was already in existence at least 20 years. Mike Crowley was one of the originators. It may be a name that rings a bell.

It does. One thing you mentioned is the confidential nature of it and being able to be anonymous if someone calling chooses to be. We are going to talk a lot about the mindset of lawyers when it comes to well-being as we have this conversation. I thought I would go ahead and throw out there and emphasize the confidential nature of it because I have heard lawyers talk over the years about, “You have to be careful because TLAP is the State Bar.”

I know that to not be true. It is important to emphasize that TLAP is funded by the State Bar and the lawyers’ party list, but there is an absolute wall of communication between the State Bar and the folks who work for TLAP. The information does not flow from TLAP to the State Bar. Can you speak to that?

Absolutely. There is a literal wall and a figurative wall. The offices are in the bar, but we’re behind double-locked doors. No one has access to our database where we keep our resources. It is a closed system. We do not take identifying information from people who call. If somebody wants to call and not give their name or give any identifying information, that is absolutely fine. We can provide services anonymously.

So, if somebody is not completely convinced that the data or information will be secure, simply do not give us your name and we can still help you. The Lawyers’ Assistance Program community across the country is explicitly aware if there is any concern about the anonymity of a color, people just won’t call. So, the Lawyers’ Assistance Programs, the LAPs, have bent over backward to make sure that there is true anonymity and confidentiality and that we do everything we can to make people believe and feel that they can call and speak with anonymity as well.

I am glad that you wanted to be able to speak to that because I want to dispel any rumor whatsoever. It is critical that lawyers have confidence in the confidentiality factor.

To say it out loud explicitly, TLAP does not share information with discipline. Discipline does not come to TLAP to ask for any information. There is a complete Chinese wall there, and it is respected by all parties. There are not ever even any attempts to penetrate that. Confidentiality is highly respected by members of the bar, the State Bar, discipline and the board of law examiners, and all the different parties and players that are in the legal profession and its governance.

You mentioned the Institute For Well-Being In Law and I omitted to introduce you as having been the founder of that, I believe you told us, back in 2006. Tell us about the institute and what it does. It seems like it is a self-explanatory title. Talk about the institute and your role in that.

I would love to because of the development of this and the arc of its creation tracks along with the development of the well-being movement in the United States, which is Well Being In Law Movement. It has grown to become a global movement. In 2016, the LAP community finally had some good data out of some national studies that showed us definitively the disproportionate rates of disordered alcohol use and behavioral health problems, such as depression and anxiety, among the legal population.

There were a variety of National Bar Associations that look at these types of issues, the LAPs, the NOBC, and the Bar Council. We got together and said, “We have this window of opportunity. We finally have good data. We have an opportunity to do something about this.” At that point in time, we created the National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being.

group of people around table in an office setting

Lawyer Well-Being: These younger lawyers are more interested in work-life balance than they are in compensation levels.

We wrote a report to the profession and it contained 44 recommendations to different stakeholder groups because what we looked at and what we were wanting to do is create a culture change in the profession, so that report did not focus on making recommendations to individual lawyers. We exist to bring about systemic change and cultural change to the profession.

We wrote this report to the different stakeholder groups. The judges, regulators or bar council, or the law student community to give you a sense when I say stakeholder groups. Our biggest fear is that report, as they often do, would sit on a shelf and nobody would pick it up. It was the exact opposite. I will tell you everything that we have tried since that has been met with open arms and open doors.

We have been off to the races. Immediately upon publishing that in 2017 the Conference of Chief Justices endorsed it, and immediately after that the American Bar Association did. We started a big piece of our work. It was to start creating State Task Forces on Well Being In Law around the country. Looking at this on a state-by-state initiative to check out what are the different policies, practices, procedures, and cultures within our state that may be a drain on a lawyer, law student and judicial well-being.

To date, we have over 30 states that have done that. We saw over time continuing interest and growth in this area, including starting our own podcast, The Path To Lawyer Well-Being In Law. We have been doing that now for a few years, but everything that we turned our hand to is met with great interest. A couple of years ago, we decided we could knock this band of loosely organized, passionate volunteers who just could not keep up with the work that was being demanded from us.

We created a think tank, the Institute for Well Being In Law, which is at LawyerWellBeing.net if folks want to check that out. Our mission is around that cultural and systemic change in the profession such as the well-being and the considerations for the humanity of the participants in the profession become a priority for the profession.

Do you feel that those conversations have accelerated over the last couple of years with everything that has happened around COVID and whatnot?

They have taken off. When we started speaking and going around the country sharing this information, we saw that there were still a lot of stigmas attached to these topics and a hesitancy to speak about them publicly. From around the stigma that still attaches to behavioral health disorders, which is amazing because these are medical diagnoses, but we still feel like there is some level of shame for people who experienced these issues.

People do not want to talk about it. They do not want to ask for help. That is the world we found ourselves in 2017. Along comes the pandemic and all the societal unrest that has occurred in 2020. We have seen a tremendous drain on the well-being and behavioral health of members of our profession, such that the stigma around it or talking about these topics has dissipated over the past few years.

We do not see that anymore, and we see a true desire from—we will talk about the big law sector—to dig in and address these issues for the people that make up their firms. Even though the majority of the profession is not employed through big law, they still tend to drive the culture. We are seeing in the largest firms around the globe a real focus around these topics, such that they are creating well-being committees, directors of well-being that are being situated or positioned along with their DEI directors, and diversity equity and inclusion directors.

A real concerted effort to address these. Seeing that when big law steps into the space, that starts to create more conversation. Over the past few years, there have been a large number of articles on these topics in the legal media. A lot more coverage eases the conversation and makes it more open for us to talk about, to think about it, and to figure out what some of the solutions are.

We have heard from judges about the pandemic. We made a 100-year advance in technology and in law directly attributable to the pandemic. It seems like there has been a similar effect with respect to the mindset of attorney well-being. Do you think that if we had not had the pandemic, would we be making these same advances?

Isolation is such a driver of poor behavioral, physical, and mental health. Click To Tweet

We would not at the same rate, and I can say that we would with confidence. If you look at the changing demographics of the legal profession and who is starting to move out of the profession at the higher age levels and who is coming in, in particular. If you look at the generations that are starting to enter the legal profession right now, these young people are not, in any way, hesitant to talk about these issues.

What we are seeing from studies is that these younger lawyers are more interested in things like work-life balance than they are in compensation levels. They were more willing to talk about it and putting it out front that this is what they want their life to be like as a lawyer and this is what they expect out of their employer. Inherently, for the passage of time, as we see these new generations come to the helm of the legal profession, it’s going to change, and we’re here to help accelerate that, and the pandemic, unfortunately, has had an accelerant effect as well.

That is one of the criticisms I have heard from people on this issue is that some groups are maybe throwing a band-aid approach of here is a link to a mindfulness podcast or something like that when it is not addressing the systemic problems, but it sounds like you all are working to change it on both levels.

We do provide programming around well-being topics that are available for individual lawyers. The real meat and potatoes of what we are trying to do is to develop strategies for legal employers to instill better policies, practices and procedures. We have an initiative right now with a Conference of Chief Justices and the National Center for State Courts to develop a variety of programming materials, recommendations and policies for the judicial community. What can judges do to promote their own well-being? Not only judges, but also court personnel and staff who have really been through the wringer (everybody has) with the pandemic and all the changes that it has brought.

The judges get lost in this conversation sometimes. They are unique in the sense that they are even more isolated. They are generally more isolated in their day-to-day than lawyers are because they can’t have conversations with lawyers about the cases and things like that that ordinarily would help them process. Like all the lawyers during the pandemic, they were left with having to hold court over Zoom and feeling even more isolated than usual. I am glad to hear that you all are addressing judicial well-being and mental health in this process too because it winds up being an afterthought all too often.

One thing that you mentioned is isolation. That is such a driver of poor behavioral health and physical health, too. There was a study conducted a couple of years ago around loneliness and looking at the different professions. I do not know if you saw that, but I give you one to guess where lawyers ranked in that scale. We are number one. We are the loneliest professionals. It sounds like that would be a song or something.

Given what judges are dealing with and the constructs of their office, duties and rules, they are even lonelier than lawyers and that is a real driver of depression and anxiety. It can open the door—just like my years of working at a lab—for anybody to begin to abuse substances when you are cut off and denied. These are essential human relationships that we need to function well. Judiciary takes a hit in that regard.

Let’s switch over a little bit to some individual advice. We talk about individual lawyers and law firms. What are some things that you are seeing or advice that you have for them in ways to enhance well-being and think about cultural change?

Let’s start with the legal employers and what I would suggest. Under the idea of the model, particularly, the bigger law firms tend to drive cultural change and what we are seeing there. That is the idea that some of these practices will trickle down to other firms and medium-sized firms. When you are dealing with solo and small firms, that is a different matter and we can take that up in a different conversation or some questions.

With the larger firms, what we are recommending and seeing them do is to create a structure where this is embedded within the firm. That means creating a well-being committee or whatever they might decide they want to call that. Have a dedicated space and time to look into these issues and probably the most important piece of advice around that is where you situate that committee within the structure and the hierarchy of the firm.

It is critical that you have people who are in leadership that are part and who are leaders of that. People in the firm, when you want to change culture, that is one of the hardest things you can do. That is only going to occur when you signal to your staff that this is an important consideration to the leadership so they have to be there.

envelope symbol

Lawyer Well-Being: The emails about well-being programming need to come from the leaders on that committee or within the firm.

The emails that come out about maybe some well-being programming need to come from the leaders on that committee or within the firm. When I go to speak to firms, I always ask, “Could you please have someone in leadership or your CEO introduce me?” That signals that this is important and of value to the firms. The structure that is going to look at this on a regular basis and make sure that is well-aligned within the structure of the firm and that you have leadership direct involvement with that. That is a piece of it.

The next of it is to start looking at what are the policies and practices within the firm that may be impacting the well-being of our lawyers. There are these policies and practices, and then there is direct programming. Where we can get off track is a lot of people think that when they think of well-being and wellness, that is like the fun runs and we have the therapy dogs come. That is lovely, but it does not move the dial. It is important that you can do those things, but please do not stop there. In fact, do not start there.

Take a look at that nitty-gritty boring stuff. What are your personnel policies about mental health, to give you a hypothetical. This is something that firms are seeing across the country. More people are coming to HR with severe mental health breakdowns. People that are no longer able to function in their job, that have gotten beyond the pale of where they should go in their mental health.

If you have somebody that is experiencing that in your firm’s ranks, ask the question, “Would that person know who to go talk to? Would they know what our firm’s policies are around asking for leave? Do they know if they want to leave and take 30 days, how do they get back in? How do they get on ramped and back in? What is the reintegration process? How will this be treated in regard to confidentiality within the firm?”

If you are opaque about those issues and those questions, people are not going to come forward and ask for help. We are not going to change the stress of the legal profession. I do not think we would want to. That is some of the things that lawyers thrive on, but we know these issues are going to come up. The whole issue here is that we can prevent them when we can, but when it happens we need to have the resources available and we need to have a clear path.

There is nothing that a lawyer cares about more than his or her reputation, and we still have a stigma around these things. We have to be explicitly clear about what people need to do to get help, how they will be treated, and how they will be brought back into the firm. If you do not have that transparency and clarity, people are going to continue to hide until they can no longer function as lawyers. We see those cases in the legal media where someone has taken their own life.

We know that is the worst-case scenario, and it happens with some frightening regularity across the profession in the United States. Let’s get ahead of that. Let’s stop pulling those people out of the river that have fallen in and figure out all the different strategies we can to keep them from falling into the river. This transparency on how to get help is a huge issue. There is that piece right there that is looking at what are we doing around prevention and making sure we are not paying lip service to it.

In a firm, one way you can start embedding the emphasis on well-being and behavioral health is to embed this within your annual review process. Do you have a module or a section when you are going through an annual review or whatever your rate of review process is to address that? Let’s see what that lawyer is doing.

Did they take a vacation or did they bank it all? What are the utilization rates of the well-being programming that you are doing? How are they doing? What is their view on how the firm is doing and the creative space where this is going to be structured and consider giving some priority bonus points, something that people that score well on their annual review?

We are creating a space for the conversation. We are creating a system to let people know this is important and it is tied directly to your performance review. A word about vacation is when you look at the studies around people that take a vacation and who do not. You then survey them around their sense of subjective well-being. How do they feel that they are doing? Are they thriving or not?

There is a direct correlation between the number of days you take on your vacation and your sense of subjective well-being. If we can make within a firm that we value people taking the vacations and we want you to rest and rejuvenate, and then come back refreshed so you can do it all over again. Being able to send that message and create those processes within the firm is a way to move the dial on this. The things that I have told you right now do not cost the firm any money. That is a bonus.

If you don't have that transparency and clarity, people are going to continue to hide until they just can no longer function as lawyers. Click To Tweet

I love that description and that almost a checklist of things that firms can and should be doing if they are serious about prioritizing well-being. The one thing you said early on in terms of the structure was that it needed to be treated on par with the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that we see across the board in so many firms these days.

That gives us a real sense of how seriously firms would be treating lawyers’ well-being because Diversity, Equity, Inclusion or DEI is very common across the board, especially in the big law firms. I have read and seen well-being initiatives in those same firms, but to frame it that way gives us a sense of how important it is because law firms think DEI is very important.

One question maybe that young lawyers would ask themselves when they are looking for a permanent position in a law firm is, “How has well-being been treated by these firms?” We are pretty active on Twitter and one nice thing about that is we get to see what young lawyers think a lot. It is interesting that it does seem to be some cultural change at least among the younger set. They are treating this as being very important. They are making choices of where they go to work.

If law firms have a reputation as being a sweatshop that is going to churn you out or people are making those lifestyle decisions, even calling it a lifestyle decision has a negative connotation because they are seen as not necessarily wanting to work that hard. That resonated with me when you put this whole concept on par with DEI is how seriously law firms generally need to be taking this.

My vision, very succinctly, is that you will start going to these major law firms like the Am Law 100s. You will see they have DEI and diversity on the top of the buttons about their staff. There is DEI and there will be a button too for well-being. When we start seeing that when we land on the homepage of a major law firm, I think that we will truly have arrived.

These initiatives are important to the younger people that are coming through. I believe they do want to work hard. They also want to know that they are going to go to work to someplace where their humanity is respected. For me, that is what it boils down to, “Do we respect people as human beings?” Another example of a policy that I would encourage employers to look at is what are your expectations, explicit or implicit, around availability?

If you get an email at 9:00 at night, are you expected to respond to that email regardless by 8:00 in the morning? A lot of the firms are starting to look at figuring out how to put some guard rails around that. Institute some boundaries and some basic sanity. People have to get sleep. We also know the legal profession is sleep deprived too. That is an accelerant around these behavioral health issues.

Everything physically starts to fall through the floor when we are chronically sleep-deprived. How can we do that? Do we have a policy? What if the supervisors of associates and staff tell people about this and more important than anything else, than policies, than what people say? It is what people do and it is what the leaders do.

The leaders of the firm need to get out in front of this and be vocal. They need to talk about it and they need to walk the walk. I would love to see law firm leaders take their vacations and let people know and even send out an email saying, “I will not be available during this period. I am on my vacation. I am going to block out some time. You can’t reach me.” Sending that signal that it is okay, that will shift actual behavior. We then start walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

It takes me back to the beginning of my career when, as a young lawyer in a large law firm, those expectations were not expected. I was around when the first set of BlackBerries came out. I know Jody at one point owned a BlackBerry. Although he maybe got his much later than I did because he is a few years younger than me.

I remember thinking, “This is great. I can check my email anytime day or night.” Here I am years later, and it is like, “I do not want to check my email anytime day or night.” No one should expect to reach me at 11:00 PM or to get a response. That resonates with me and I agree 100% that it does start at the top. A law firm can institute all these policies, but they do not mean anything if there is no action behind them.

three people looking at document on a table

Lawyer Well-Being: There’s nothing a lawyer cares about more than their reputation. We have to be explicitly clear about what people need to do to get help and how they’ll be treated.

You are spot-on from my perspective that it comes from leadership. If we see leadership doing the things that the law firm says or within expectations, it makes it so much easier for a brand-new lawyer to follow suit and see that this is how it is and the culture of this law firm. The firm is not only talking the talk, but the leaders are showing us that it is walking the walk because that is how these folks learn. It is through example. One of the things that this younger generation now is good at is seeing through facades. For a law firm that wants to adopt these policies, maybe for client relations purposes, but does not intend to follow through, I do not think that is going to work out very well. It is my humble opinion.

How much progress would you say we have made in the last few years on this? Several years ago, I do not think this was something that was talked about hardly at all. Now, I feel like it is talked about a lot more, but how much actual progress do you feel has been made?

We are starting to put our foot on the path. As a profession, we are putting our foot down to begin the first steps on the path toward creating a culture change. Of course, we all know that the most difficult piece is getting over the inertia and, in this case, stigma to be able to take that first step. We have done a lot of the hard part. We’ve got people to start talking about this. We have the legal media paying attention to it and writing about it regularly, which increases awareness.

We have different groups starting to come online to look at this. I will tell you that the space of people providing programming around this has exploded over the last few years. People who come and speak and work on these topics for the legal profession are another indicator. Until we start seeing some of these policies, practices and rules changing, we won’t start hitting our stride on that journey.

As an example of something that we are seeing, I am going to move from the law firms talking about rules and regulations for the governance of the legal profession. An area that is taking hold and a lot of changes are occurring around the country is the admissions to the practice itself. We know that there is a character and fitness component to the bar admission.

What studies have shown us is that because law students have gotten the word through the air that they are going to be asked about their behavioral health history. Even though when I was the LAP director, I had folks from the Board of Law Examiners coming and stand up right next to me and say, “We do not want to know if you go see a therapist because you broke up with your boyfriend,” that type of thing. They have been very clear.

When you talk to the students themselves, they will not access behavioral health supportive services of any sort out of this terror that they will have to report it and then they won’t be admitted to the bar, they will never get a job, and they will live under a bridge or sleep on their parents’ sofa for the rest of their life. That is the thought process we have.

Now that we know from studies that there is no linkage between somebody having an experience of major depression in college with their ability to practice law with their rate of discipline or malpractice, there is no correlation there and no reason to inquire about that. States are increasingly changing those questions or taking them out altogether and we are seeing that across the country. That is something.

If we can change those questions around the character and fitness or remove them, what you do is you make it okay for the law students to go and get help for that depression or progressing alcohol use disorder. We want them to do that before they become members of the profession. I like them to start working on it early and get it under control. That type of systemic change can make a difference in how people move through the profession and their willingness to access help.

Do you have any advice for lawyers, whether younger or older lawyers, to self-advocate for their own wellness or the wellness of their peers?

I believe it is vitally important for individual lawyers to develop an awareness about their own level of well-being. I think of it as a behavioral health hard hat area for the profession. It is, in some ways, a danger zone for lawyers. We know this and so what I have preached to law students in particular and young lawyers and lawyers across the board that it is vital to develop your own self-care plan that you are going to implement and modify over the course of your career.

Let's stop pulling those people out of the river and figure out all the different strategies we can to keep them from falling into the river. Click To Tweet

If you are going to do this incredibly difficult work, high sustained chronic stress for 40 years or more, you must attend to your own health and have a plan. Whatever that is, we are all experts on ourselves. Whatever may work, that is one of the most essential pieces of advice that I can give to any person in a profession.

Have a plan and be regularly looking internally and assessing, “How am I doing?” If your well-being drops below what you think it should be, you can recognize that by, “How are you feeling or how are you behaving towards other people if that takes a dip?” When the warning signs and the red lights come on, what am I going to implement to help bring me back up? A real strong strategy that I talk about a lot these days is making sure that we have opportunities for respite and rest that we are building into these big pushes of work and effort that we have within the practice of law. Those are some of the ideas.

I will say it a little more bluntly to law students and young lawyers. You are not bulletproof. I like the rest and respite approach in the self-inventory and analysis. I am sure that there are tools out there by which a law student can evaluate their own well-being. One question I had as we were having this conversation was what role should or do the law schools play in developing that self-awareness when it comes to well-being?

You are in a situation where it is such an achievement-driven system. “If I study or work harder, I will do better than so-and-so on that final exam.” Have you heard about any trends in and among the law schools and what should the law schools be doing to help promote well-being at that stage of one’s legal career?

Since the publication of that report in 2017 which included an array of recommendations to the law school community, this has been taken to heart. We did a survey of law schools years ago to look at what is being implemented around the country. We heard from half of the law schools and we saw that there have begun efforts to implement well-being programming and strategies for that within the law schools.

For example, well over a majority of the responding law schools have developed some mindfulness or meditation programming that they can offer the students. That is valuable. That is putting your toe in the water around these issues. I think what we need to see, which has happened haphazardly but needs to happen more consistently with the law schools, is we get to leadership again.

Who are the true leaders of the law firm? That is tenured professor faculty and those women and men are on almost deity status with the students there. For those professors to start taking into consideration what they could say to their students if every course had, at some point, even if it is ten minutes by the professor. In a professional responsibility course, we asked for a full class where the professor stops and talks about what it is to be a lawyer. These formation issues from becoming a lawyer, how difficult it is, and how the students need to pay attention to this would be incredibly valuable.

If one of the leading professors in part of their curriculum took ten minutes out to say, “This was a period of time in my legal career when I struggled and had a hard time and this is what I did, I want you to be thinking about this over the course of your 40- or 50-year career.” That is golden. That takes almost no time, no money, and will do more than anything else.

The other thing we can do, and we can start looking at the ABA standards that are being modified, are mandates. Involved within the curriculum a certain number of hours around instruction on well-being issues. That has been contemplated by the ABA. They have not gone there yet and they may, so we can create these mandates which will help but have the buy-in from the leadership, the top of the law schools to create a space for this and a priority within the deans of student affairs. This is an issue area that they are going to talk about and do programming for their students.

Jody asked you about how much improvement we had seen over the past ten years and how you would describe that progress. You say, “We have put a foot on the path.” I am going to ask you to stare into your crystal ball for a minute. I won’t hold you to a firm prediction because I know how difficult that can be. Where do you see us, honestly, given your experience and what you see going on in the industry right now? How much progress should we expect to make in the next ten years based on our current trajectory, the influence of the pandemic, and accelerating that progress?

It is reasonable to expect and I do predict that we will have continued focus. This is not a flash in the pan or a flavor of the month thing because it has struck a chord with members of the profession. Let’s get honest here, we also know it affects the bottom line for the practice. When we look at the law firms, there is a direct business case here around profitability.

woman holding red heart

Lawyer Well-Being: If you’re going to do this incredibly difficult work, you must attend to your own health and have a plan.

We are in the midst of the Great Resignation and this brain drain, attrition and lateral frenzy within the legal profession. One of the ways that you can stem the tide of that is looking around well-being and understanding that when you have a firm, an employment setting that is in flux like so many are right now, that is detrimental to the well-being of everybody.

With the direct connection of the dots between this and profitability, I do believe that it is going to be an ongoing concern. I expect that we will increasingly see firms moving from what we are seeing in the Am Law 100 down to even mid-sized firms to institute, actual person or committee, within the structure of the employer.

That is going to look at that and address these issues. Perhaps it is a well-being director or committee as well that you are going to start seeing infrastructure within law schools where they have people that are dedicated to this area. Where you have State Bar Associations as well as Local Bar Associations that will have well-being committees that are looking at this. We have implanted within the structure of the profession this focus like we have a civil procedure.

This is a focus that is implanted and embedded within the firm. I believe we are starting to see that in the judiciary as well, where some of these higher levels like the National Center for State Courts and the National Judicial Organizations are starting to build a real focus around this too. Once it becomes institutionalized and we can get it in policies, procedures and committee structure, that is what we are going to see because that is the trend and that is going to help propel the well-being in law movement.

As we wrap up, it is our tradition to always ask for a tip or a war story and you can give some great tips. I do not know if you have more or if you have a war story you would like to share that we would love to know in closing.

When I was thinking about this for appellate lawyers, I already talked about how the law is the loneliest profession. When you are in appellate law, it seems that the thought that you are going to spend even more time behind a computer screen and isolated. I would say to your readers to think about and assess how are you connecting with other people? What do you need? Are you an introvert? Probably.

Are you an extrovert? Even introverts need to have a human connection or we stop functioning as well. We do not operate on the same level. Our resilience is not as strong, that ability to bounce back when we take the hard knocks or do hard things. When you have created a life and a career that avoids other people, my advice is to get out a piece of pen and paper and write down the name of three people that bring a smile to your face.

This is somebody, maybe they were at your wedding or somebody that you have not seen in a long time, but this person makes you smile and reach out to that person. I would say send them an email and say, “Let’s get on a Zoom or let’s have a cup of coffee,” and create a space for face-to-face interaction, not Facebook messaging, not Twitter, and not email.

What you are doing is banking some resilience. You are building your resiliency and your well-being capital by having these very positive, meaningful, important interactions. If you let it happen organically, we know what happens too. It does not happen because we are too busy. With great intentionality, create the space for those things to happen. It will put a smile on your face.

It certainly will and that is great advice, Bree. Thank you so much for that tip and thanks again for being with us. We are super grateful. You have given us a tremendous amount of information in our time together. Thanks for agreeing to come on the show. We appreciate it.

It has been a real pleasure. Thank you both.


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About Bree Buchanan

Bree Buchanan draws upon her extensive professional knowledge and experience to help legal employers excel in creating a culture of well-being. She is founding co-chair of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-being and is a co-author of its groundbreaking 2017 report, The Path to Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. In December 2020, she was appointed Board President of the newly formed Institute for Well-being in Law, a new nonprofit dedicated to bringing about systemic change in the legal profession such that considerations of well-being become central to the practice. Ms. Buchanan previously served as chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs (2017-2020).

Prior to joining Krill Strategies, she was the Director of the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program, where she regularly worked with individual lawyers experiencing behavioral health issues, and with legal employers who were seeking resources and support for their staff. Her tenure with that program followed a two-decade legal career which included positions as a litigator, lobbyist and law professor. As Senior Advisor with Krill Strategies, Bree provides consultation on issues related to lawyer well-being and impairment for major legal employers.

Ms. Buchanan is a frequent speaker for international and national law-related organizations, as well as global law firms on strategies for lawyer well-being and impairment. In 2018, she was awarded the “Excellence in Legal Community Leadership Award” by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. She has shared her own story of recovery as a featured guest on podcasts in the United States and Canada. Ms. Buchanan’s writing has appeared in Law Practice Today, Judicature, The American Lawyer, and Family Lawyer Magazine, as well as Lawyer Health and Wellbeing: How the Legal Profession is Tackling Stress and Creating Resiliency (Ark Group, 2020).

In 2018, she graduated from the Seminary of the Southwest with a Masters in Spiritual Formation, where she honed a deep interest in the intrinsic link between meaningful work and personal well-being, as well as in assisting individuals with vocational discernment. Ms. Buchanan tends to her own well-being by engaging in a regular meditation practice, cycling, rowing, and being willing to ask for help when she needs it.

Email: Bree@prkrill.com

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