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

Gordon Caplan, the co-chair at the AmLaw 100 law firm Wilkie Farr who was caught up in the FBI’s recent college admission scandal, was recorded saying, while discussing plans to fraudulently get his daughter into college: “I’m not worried about the moral issue here.” Then he made an interesting comment: “To be honest, it feels a little weird.”

Continue Reading A Feeling for Ethics

The Mental Health in Law Society’s 2019 Symposium at the University of California at Irvine School of Law to be held on March 22 and 23 will be examining different methods for wellness development in legal education and in the legal profession. Muir will be on the Saturday morning panel with Anne Brafford, the author of Positive Professionals, and Patrick Krill, the author of the 2016 ABA Hazelden report on the extraordinary signs of distress in the legal industry.

Muir will be discussing emotional intelligence, the role it plays in developing wellness and how legal institutions and organizations can help increase emotional intelligence.

A recent survey by Robert Half Legal found that 83% of law firm respondents noted increasing demand over the last year for legal services. That is a welcome new trend after years of lower demand and lost legal jobs. But that promising development comes with a new challenge for legal employers–hiring the best legal professionals to provide those services.

Continue Reading Addressing Firms’ Greatest Challenge

Muir spoke to a packed crowd of members of the Columbia SC Inns of Court–litigators, judges and law students–on Tuesday, February 19th in Columbia, South Carolina on Emotional Intelligence and the Law. Topics touched on were lawyers’ attitudes and scores regarding emotions–with a short quiz for the audience, the impact that emotions have on our perceptions, judgments and performance, and how to increase our emotional intelligence.