This was my first ACC annual conference since 2013, and it was so wonderful to be back! So much has changed in the world since then, but the many things that I love about ACC have not. The conference has a family feel to it; even though there are thousands of attendees, people are generous with their time and knowledge and make it easy for even the newest members to feel included. Beyond the people, there’s of course great swag (shout out to Littler on the cool packing cubes!), sessions, and networking events.
Two of my favorite sessions were “Well-Being in The Legal Department: Fact or Fiction” and “CLO’s Point of View: In-House Pro Bono, DEI, and Social Impact.” This post includes perspectives on the wellness session, and my next post will focus on the pro bono session. Here we go!
The Well-Being Session
- Rebecca Collins, Chief Legal Officer, Lincoln Benefit Life Company
- Jeffrey Compangano, General Counsel & Vice President, The Word & Brown Companies
- Jill Kalliomaa, Senior Legal Counsel, Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation
- Ashley Miller, Associate General Counsel, Capgemini North America, Inc.
- Stacey Shaw, Associate General Counsel, Likewize Device Protection, LLC
At 9:00 am with my coffee intake not yet high enough, I wasn’t ready for the “energizer” activity, but I have to say, it was just what I needed! At the center of each table, there was a single lei — the panelists asked for one volunteer from each table to put it on.
In a matter of minutes, music began to play, and the room transformed into a dance party! Each person wearing a lei was asked to come up to the front of the room and share a favorite dance move. The rest of the room was asked to get up and follow along as each person wearing a lei took their turn sharing a move. It was the perfect way to start a well-being session, pushing all of us to be in the moment and to just have fun. It also helped people feel open to sharing during the session, since we had already pushed past our comfort zones (or at least I did!).
The session had a great mix of facts that covered the challenges of the legal profession, while also offering practical ways that legal departments could make a positive impact on team wellness.
Challenges of the Legal Profession
The numbers are bleak when you consider the level of depression and substance abuse within the legal community. Panelists referred to the 2017 “Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change” report which noted that the legal profession has higher rates of addiction and depression. Between 21 and 36 percent of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, and approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.
The panel then posed a question to the audience: “Why do you think the rate of depression and substance abuse is so high in the legal profession [and higher than in other professions]?” Many of the responses centered on general personality types of lawyers, expectations placed on lawyers, and how lawyers are trained. Here are a few examples of responses:
“We are trained to find issues,” “We are brought in to fix things,” “We are paid to solve problems,” “We tend to be perfectionists,” and “We are paid to be professionally paranoid.”
Underlying these responses was a sense of being time-strapped, as well as finding it difficult to unplug for even a few minutes during the day. Audience members also shared concerns about the stigma of depression and how talking about mental health concerns is more difficult than talking about other physical health issues.
How Legal Department Leaders Can Make a Positive Impact on Team Wellness
Each panelist shared 3–5 ways they support positive wellness within their departments. Following are the high-level themes:
- Create supportive environments: It’s important for team members to feel comfortable raising concerns and challenges, feel appreciated and supported by leadership, and have adequate resources to perform their jobs.
- Find opportunities for team building and connection: This could include something as simple as starting meetings with a 30-second check-in around the table (or virtual table). Other ideas shared were: providing the team with journaling prompts and providing a few minutes during a meeting to journal; using a Squiggle Bird exercise or other creative team activities to energize the group and build collaboration and creativity; and doing a team workout or wellness class.
- Encourage yoga, meditation and other well-being activities: Yoga and meditation can calm your mind and help you put things into perspective. While it’s not for everyone, the panelists encouraged the audience to give it a try and share this with their departments. One panelist noted that Microsoft recently partnered with Headspace to provide daily meditation moments directly through Microsoft email accounts. Another panelist suggested getting away from your desk, whether taking walking meetings or scheduling “unplug” time on your calendar.
- Promote balance and be a role model: If you are encouraging team members to take breaks or a mental health day, they need to see you doing the same.
Finally, there was an interesting conversation regarding the difference between resilience and transformational growth. Resiliency focuses on your ability to bounce back from difficult situations and handle them again in the future. Transformational growth focuses on taking a step back after a difficult situation and finding solutions that lead to a positive change in order to move away from similar future negative situations. I’m super curious to dig deeper into transformational growth, as it sounds like it’s a proactive/growth-focused tool, whereas resilience assumes that you are not going to try to alter future situations in order to avoid the negative experience.
The panelists shared a variety of resources available to in-house counsel, particularly through the ACC Wellness Advisory Committee, which several of them serve on. These include the following:
- ACC wellness page: https://www.acc.com/acc-house-wellness-support
- Institute for Well-Being in Law: www.lawyerwellbeing.net
- Mental Health Hotline: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline): The Lifeline and 988 : Lifeline (988lifeline.org)
The most important aspect of this session was simply the fact that the conversation is happening. The group showed such courageous authenticity and vulnerability. Conversations like these are going to help the industry find paths to being a healthier profession.