Jackie Grant is promoting lawyer wellness as president of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA). Under her leadership, the NCBA annual meeting being held at the Biltmore Estate this month focuses entirely on wellbeing in our profession. I sat down with Jackie in a beautiful conference room overlooking downtown Asheville at Roberts & Stevens PA, where she is partner. I asked her about her perspective on lawyer wellbeing and on choosing wellness as the annual meeting theme.
Laura: What inspired you to include lawyer wellness as part of your platform as NCBA president?
Jackie: Incoming Bar presidents are tasked to address the most pressing issues in our profession. During my year as president-elect at the NCBA, I attended several ABA meetings and the National Conference of Bar Presidents meetings. In each one of those meetings, rising stress among lawyers and administrative staff was a recurring theme. This theme emerged locally as well; our NCBA Leadership Academy survey revealed that lawyers entering the academy are experiencing increasingly higher levels of stress. I chose to build wellness into my platform because this is a perfect time to address lawyer wellbeing. It is important for lawyers to be well in order to provide good service to our clients. To be of value to the public, we have to be well; if we are not well, we can’t take care of others.
Laura: What is unique about your perspective of wellness?
Jackie: In my experience at ABA or National Conference of Bar Presidents meetings, when people talk about wellness, they talk a lot about the stress our profession is under, but rarely about solutions to stress. While there are some great programs to help lawyers—including our NCBA BarCARES program—most of the programs catch you on the “backend” of stress—once you’ve already succumbed to it and are dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues. I’m interested in catching stress on the “front end,” so that people learn the tools to manage stress and anxiety so that it doesn’t get out of control. I’d like our profession to learn what we can do to keep ourselves well so that we don’t have to turn to substances to get through the day, or need to take time away from lawyering to recover from chronic stress.
Laura: What do you see as some of the major challenges in our field to lawyer wellbeing?
Jackie: There are a number of issues that account for why lawyers are under more stress, including billable hours, the increasing complexity of the law, and the heavy workload for lawyers on account of fewer new lawyers entering the profession. Technology has also changed the expectations for lawyers. When I started practicing law, we did not have cell phones or the ability to work remotely. Now, we can work anytime and anywhere, making it difficult to “unplug.” In addition, there are a lot of lawyers who have high expectations for themselves, and want to “do it all”—graduate law school, get married, start families, get on the partnership track, and be involved in community and professional activities. I’m not saying that you cannot do it all, but you need to find the time to do things that you enjoy and make sure that you’re doing what you want to do, and not just doing things that somebody else wants you to do.
Laura: What do you do to support your own wellbeing?
Jackie: [Chuckling] Well, I will say that over these past two years I haven’t had a lot of free time. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I have to schedule an appointment with myself to work out! I try to work out at least three times a week, and every other month or so I spend a couple of hours at a spa. That is my opportunity to have complete quiet, unwind, get a massage, and read a book. We have to unplug; if we are always plugged in, we become exhausted and we burn out. We have to find other things beyond work that we enjoy doing, even if it’s just reading a book that gives us a break from thinking about the law.
Laura: What kinds of things do you think firms should do in-house to promote and support lawyer wellbeing? Is there anything specific you are doing at Roberts & Stevens that promotes lawyer wellness?
Jackie: Law firms should have a culture that supports attorneys’ wellbeing, including encouraging them to disengage from work by taking vacations, and not expecting them to be available 24/7. Firms should also offer more mindfulness courses and encourage younger lawyers to participate in enjoyable things. Here at Roberts & Stevens, we have a more relaxed atmosphere than some firms. We do fun things during the work day like celebrate people’s birthdays; this gives us a few minutes away from our desks and time to socialize together. We also have a firm picnic at the baseball game and holiday events with the whole staff. Although we have an expectation when it comes to billable hours, we focus more on the quality of work. When deciding compensation, we take into account things such as activities in professional organizations and community involvement. This helps our lawyers understand that we want them to have outlets that give them joy and support their overall wellbeing.
Laura: The NCBA Annual Meeting’s theme this year is “wellness.” What do you hope the participants experience during the conference and take with them when they leave?
Jackie: I hope participants have a mind-altering experience. What I mean by that is: I hope they literally leave with the tools they need in order to better manage their time, their stress, and any other issues they may be having. I’m envisioning a lightbulb coming on for folks who have never thought about wellbeing before. I envision them saying, “OMG, I’m ready to take this on…I’m ready to do this!” I want people to leave the annual meeting feeling relaxed, with a rejuvenated mind and a rejuvenated outlook so they go forth thinking, “I’m going to spend a little more time doing this; I’m going to work in some time to do that...so that I can be of value to my clients, my firm, my practice, and my community.”
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If you’d like to participate in this first-of-its-kind NCBA Annual Meeting, find out more at ncbar.org/members/annual-meeting. If you are unable to attend the meeting, take a moment to reflect on Jackie’s comments. Ask yourself or talk with a colleague about how the legal field has changed since you started practicing:
· What shifts, large and small, have you experienced that have either supported or challenged your wellbeing?
· What changes would you like to see at your workplace in the next two years to support you and move our profession toward greater wellness?
If you do attend the meeting, I’ll be delighted to see you there on Saturday, June 22, when I’ll present a brand-new CLE called “Tapping into the Intelligence of the Body to Optimize Your Life.” During the presentation I will teach three tools designed to help you work from an optimal state of physical calm and cognitive clarity. One tool will involve connecting with your nervous system to feel calmer, another will focus on tapping into your body’s wisdom to build your resilience, and a third will help you re-wire your brain to optimize your ability to think clearly.
Laura Mahr is a NC lawyer and the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing mindfulness-based coaching, training, and consulting for attorneys and law offices nationwide. Her work is informed by 11 years of practice as a civil sexual assault attorney and 25 years as a student and teacher of mindfulness and yoga, and a love of neuroscience. Find out more about Laura’s work at consciouslegalminds.com.
If you would like to connect with other lawyers who are curious about how mindfulness and meditation builds resilience in the practice of law, join Laura as she presents at these upcoming events:
North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys Annual Meeting, June 15, 2019, Asheville, NC, “Love Your Work. Love Your Life: Five Mindfulness Tools” ncada.org/event-3034906
Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators Meeting, June 19, 2019, Charlotte, NC, “What Every Legal Administrator Needs to Know about Mindfulness” alacharlotte.com/form.php?form_ id=13
North Carolina Bar Association Annual Meeting, June 22, 2019, Asheville, NC, “Tapping Into the Intelligence of the Body to Optimize Your Life” ncbar.org/members/annual-meeting
Mindfulness for Lawyers: Building Resilience to Stress Using Mindfulness, Meditation, and Neuroscience (online, ondemand CLE), consciouslegalminds.com/register