There’s a reason that SAP, Google, Aetna and IBM all have Chief Mindfulness Officers–they are explicitly trying to address the emotional fallout among their ranks in tech-revolutionized workplaces. But those working in legal workplaces are also feeling emotional fallout, from technological pressures, isolation and other major stressors, as the Law.com Minds Over Matters project conducted over a full year makes crystal clear. So it is encouraging to see that there are those at the top in law starting to step up to support those at risk.

Dentons recognizes that in looking at the legal workplace of the future, “people are going to continue to be the differentiator,” in that “the critical part of the legal workflow will be the human interactions and the humanity that we bring.” To that end it has developed a comprehensive program called NextTalent that has resulted in some substantial programs, promisingly innovative but still rare in the legal world, which emphasize the development of emotional intelligence: “Dentons sees its NextTalent initiative filling the need … for the next generation of lawyers [to] be globalists and adaptable to working with different people from different backgrounds and different cultures from across the world … by focusing on emotional intelligence.”

So the firm is piloting several programs in different countries to see what works best, including introducing various assessments to see which helps their people best understand and improve their EI skills, offering eight-week mindfulness programs, and experimenting with teamwork and leadership trainings borrowed from other industries.

One Dentons pilot program called Ginger Emotional Support, an on-demand component of their “Wellness for Life” initiative, has been instituted in 6 California offices, Phoenix and Honolulu, offering coaching services by text, video or in-person. If needed, an onsite wellness coach can help address professional or personal issues through direct counseling or by making referrals. That is in addition to the firm’s “headspace in the workplace” pilot program which promotes meditation and mindfulness for enhanced mental health.

More recently has come Dentons’ appointment of a Warsaw tax partner as “Chief Mindfulness Officer” for Europe, specifically charged with, of course, developing lawyers’ emotional intelligence.

“It is odd that we’re all spending tens of millions of dollars on new tools and new technology for the legal talent we have, but we’re not spending even more on finding ways for these lawyers and professional staff to find more fulfillment in their jobs,” Joe Andrew, Dentons’ Global Chair, notes. As Jay Connolly, Dentons’ Global Chief Talent Officer, puts it: “I want our talent to wake up in the morning and think, ‘I love coming to work. This is where I want to be.”

Even if your firm or department hasn’t caught up to to providing these types of programs, there are always other avenues, like the myriad podcasts, for example, that lawyers everywhere can access to help assess, explore and build their personal and interpersonal skills. Among many are those provided by the ABA (including specifically for law students)Stanford Law School, the Florida Bar, the Happy Lawyer Project, and Lawsome.

Let us hope that this is the beginning of a race to the top–to develop the emotional intelligence of lawyers worldwide, a goal benefiting all the stakeholders in the legal firmament.

 

We are proud to announce that Ronda Muir has been chosen as a Fellow-Elect of the College of Law Practice Management, with her induction to take place at the College’s 2019 Futures Conference on October 24-25 in Nashville, Tenn. Muir will be serving on a panel discussing “Resilience and the High-Performance Culture.”

The College of Law Practice Management was formed in 1994 to honor and recognize distinguished law practice management professionals, to set standards of achievement for others in the profession, and to fund and assist projects that enhance the highest quality of law practice management.”

Join us there for a two-day conference discussing some of the most pressing issues and innovative solutions in law practice today.

Starting with the class of 2023, Yale Law School is joining a couple dozen other law schools, including Harvard, Penn, Georgetown and NYU, in offering applicants the opportunity to take the GRE instead of the LSAT as an entrance requirement. The question, logically enough, is whether that change in entrance exam will make any difference in the makeup of the class.

Peter Salovey, Yale University’s current President, was the Yale psychology researcher back in the ’90s who, while still formulating his theory of emotional intelligence, studied mood, including whether mood affects deductive or inductive reasoning abilities. To that end, in his surveys of participants, he used questions from the LSAT as examples requiring deductive reasoning. He concluded that a depressed mood produced significantly better performance in deductive reasoning (which starts from a general premise and analyzes whether specific instances are included within that premise), while an elevated mood produced better performance in inductive reasoning (which arrives at a general premise from specific instances). One logical fallout of that study, therefore, is that those who do well on the LSAT, while making them more likely to be accepted into law school, are also more likely to be feeling somewhat “down,” and more susceptible to depression or other evidences of poor mood regulation.

The GRE, in contrast to the LSAT, uses more instances of inductive than deductive reasoning in its questions. Therefore, those with more elevated moods may well do better on that exam than they would on the LSAT. As a added dividend, they also may be less likely to suffer from the scourge of depression that has been documented by, among other studies, the 2016 ABA-Hazelden study, which found over 28% of surveyed lawyers suffering from clinical depression, a whopping six times the national average, and almost half relating instances of depression over their career.

Let’s hope that the GRE helps put lawyers as a group on a more stable and uplifting emotional platform.

 

Muir and Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence were both cited in the IBA article entitled “Why Lawyers Need to be Taught more Emotional Intelligence.” Author Polly Botsford reaches out to several authorities on emotional intelligence around the globe and reports that lawyers are becoming more aware of the need for emotional intelligence in the practice of law and also for improving their own.

Only a month after Morgan Lewis announced hiring its “Well-Being Director,” Kirkland & Ellis unveiled a firm-wide Wellbeing Program for its 2,500 attorneys and staff to help address mental health and substance misuse issues that the profession was flagged in the 2016 ABA and Hazelden study as being at high risk for. Among 13,000 licensed lawyers in the study from across the country, 28% suffered from depression, 23% dealt with chronic stress, 21% struggled with alcohol over-use and 19% experienced disabling anxiety.  The goal is “to reduce the stigma around talking about and getting help for mental health and substance misuse issues,” including simple anxiety and stress, as well as more serious issues such as bipolar disorder or clinical depression, says the director of the program Robin Belleau, an attorney and a licensed clinical professional counselor who formerly was the executive director of the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program.

She will emphasize three core components — resilience, connection to get help, and fitness and nutrition, and will make available two apps, one focused on activities such as mindfulness meditation and proper sleep hygiene, and another on moderating potentially addictive behaviors.

One of the keys to the likely success of this program is the endorsement and commitment of Jeffrey Hammes, chairman of Kirkland’s global management executive committee, who has asked for “a more open and transparent dialog about mental health within our profession.” In addition to signing, along with dozens of other law firms, the ABA pledge to develop a seven-point plan to address substance abuse and mental health issues, he said, Kirkland & Ellis has gone beyond those guidelines because it wanted to make sure the firm responds to Kirkland lawyers with a customized program.

Associates no longer get much of the on-the-job-training that firms once provided, usually at the client’s expense, to fill in the gaps between the theory they learned in law school and the realities of practice. And now there are more obvious gaps in the ability of young associates (and much older ones, as well) to competently represent clients in the digital age. While legal providers languish in this area (at the same time they are talking a good “innovation” and “technology” game), a McKinsey report quantifies the advantages of data-competent organizations as 23 times more likely to acquire customers, six times more likely to retain customers, and 19 times more likely to be profitable as a result.

But becoming digitally competent is not the only hurdle facing lawyers who want to be 21st century experts. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report (executive summary) identifies the skills required in the digital age as critical thinking and problem solving–that mainstay of legal expertise, but also includes “social skills”–notably emotional intelligence and collaboration, which they maintain are now not only equally important workplace competencies but will be in higher demand across industries than “technical skills.” Over just five years, emotional intelligence has made it into the top ten skills, joining creativity, cognitive flexibility, and people-management skills. These are the skills that are largely ignored in legal academics and also are likely to actually decline during law school, as has been found in medical schools.

These “soft skills” are also essential to other results, including perhaps the biggest hurdle to practice improvements: innovation and change management—persuading historically recalcitrant lawyers to engage in constant analysis, improvement and training in response to needed advancements in a constantly changing environment.

If our law schools and/or our legal places of employment don’t start putting a premium on social skills competence, traditional lawyering will quickly go the way of other disrupted industries.

You might be wondering what the two have to do with each other–botox and emotional intelligence. The heading could have also linked emotional intelligence with psychotropic drugs and even with the use of social media and other technology. All are candidates for blame in the reduction over the last few decades in our society’s level of emotional intelligence (EI), and particularly of empathy. Why?

The rise of social media and other technology as a preferred mode of interacting robs us of the face-to-face social learning that builds and exercises our EI. After preteens are deprived of their screens for only a few days, for example, forcing more interpersonal social interaction, they register significantly higher emotional perception abilities.

Another trend that may be lowering the general population’s EI is the increasing use, especially by young people, of prescribed antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs, as well as illegal drugs like opioids and heroin, that dull or hide emotional sensations, making them “emotionally illiterate,” as one researcher contends.  Of course, medication is oftentimes appropriate or necessary, but both legal and illegal drugs can inhibit our ability to experience at least part of our emotions, and can therefore deprive us of the opportunity to learn from them and eventually manage them better.

Then there’s the rising use of botox for both cosmetic and medical reasons. As a recent article points out, eliminating the facial expressions that hopefully avoids wrinkles or migraines also reduces our experience of our own emotions and lowers our expression of emotional cues, which has an impact on how well we both communicate our feelings to others through facial expressions and also how empathic we feel for others. “Mirroring” others’ facial expressions has been shown to help us tap into what someone else is feeling by reminding us of the physical expressions we have had during our own emotional states.

So no botox, drugs or social media? Of course not. But for those of us working on improving our emotional experiences and communication, a botox or screen vacation, and certainly an illegal drug vacation, might be a step forward.

This tragedy is starting to get sadly repetitive. Yet another major player in BigLaw has died. The chair of Baker McKenzie, who had taken a leave of absence because of “exhaustion,” passed away “unexpectedly” last month at age 56 with no cause indicated. Paul Rawlinson had been appointed global chair of the firm in 2016 and was based in London, overseeing 6,000-plus attorneys in about 80 countries. Rawlinson pushed Baker McKenzie to embrace new technologies, such as a new type of video email.

There has been much written about the wages of lawyers’ stress on our productivity, health and peace of mind. According to research from the Journal of Applied Psychology, stress has increased 20 to 25% in the last 30 years, with nearly a third of Americans rating their average stress levels as extreme (8,9, or 10 on a 10-point scale where 10 corresponds to “a great deal of stress”).

One might have seen Rawlinson’s recognition of his depleted state and his move to take a leave of absence as a promising step toward recovering. But there is also interesting research that has found that, in addition to the effects of the stress itself, our perception that stress is weighing negatively on our health makes the impact of stress on our health even more lethal.

According to the study, “Both higher levels of reported stress and the perception that stress affects health were independently associated with an increased likelihood of worse health and mental health outcomes. The amount of stress and the perception that stress affects health interacted, such that those who reported a lot of stress and also recognized that stress impacted their health a lot had a 43% increased risk of premature death.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, stressing about stress is what makes stress America’s 12th biggest killer, greater than AIDS or homicide.

So our fearful and negative reactions to our experience of stress is a factor in making that stress deadlier. Many lawyers talk about stress as a function of external factors, without examining their own reactions, which is the only part of stress that we actually have control over. How do we manage those reactions?

As one lawyer points out, this is where a mindfulness practice helps. By getting to know our individual, negative knee-jerk reactions to external stressors, we can start the process of changing our automatic thoughts and behaviors. We can reframe our negative thoughts about what stress means to our health and we can internally watch our physical changes, such as breathing and posture, when confronted with stress, and begin to modulate them intentionally. We can exercise or go outside (beyond the concrete) for a walk to help interrupt negative ruminations. We can also give ourselves the kind of care we would give someone else we cared about who was suffering from stress–whatever boosts one’s spirits. It’s as much the constant negativity as the stress that does harm.

Our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Paul Rawlinson and our wishes for recovery to all those suffering from stressing about stress. May you rest in peace, at least some of the time.

In a move that hopefully signals the beginning of a much-needed and potentially powerful trend benefiting lawyers everywhere, Morgan Lewis has hired its first Director of Employee Well-Being to implement its program called ML Well.

Continue Reading Enter the Well-Being Director