Sensei’s Sharon Nelson and John Simek were recently featured in Attorney at Work’s Technology Tips “Tech Tips: ABA TECHSHOW 2020 Takeaways” by Joan Feldman.
Excerpt: ABA TECHSHOW 2020 may be a wrap, but the tips keep flowing. This year’s conference, held Feb. 26-29 in Chicago, included over a dozen tracks on topics from artificial intelligence to the human side of technology, to using tech tools to attract new clients and responding to change to recession-proof your law practice.
For our annual TECHSHOW roundup, we asked some practice management technology experts to share a mix of tips and takeaways from the conference and expo floor. In addition to TECHSHOW 2020 Co-Chairs Heidi Alexander and Catherine Sanders Reach, here’s the scoop from Sheila Blackford, Brett Burney, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, Courtney Troutman and Megan Zavieh.
Sharon Nelson and John Simek: Lawyer Well-Being — A Course Correction Is Due
Lawyer well-being has been a hot topic for a couple of years now, but we have seen a sea change in the interest given to getting a practical understanding of the topic and effective steps to help impaired lawyers. The most common issues lawyers report are anxiety, depression and issues with alcohol.
ABA TECHSHOW 2020 featured an entire track on “Lawyer Well-Being.” The presenters on this topic were blunt. Lawyers do not have easy jobs. They feel like they are always on call and unable to disconnect. Often they suffer secondary traumatic stress from the problems of their clients. They have billable hour pressures, intense and constant client demands, and they don’t sleep enough. Add addiction or mental health problems to the mix and you’ve got a disaster in the making.
Violations of ethics rules often are symptoms of underlying problems. (Sharon co-presented the session “The Intersection of Ethics and Well-Being” with Jennifer Gerstenzang.) Missed deadlines, missed appointments, last-minute continuance requests, absenteeism, failing to respond to client phone calls, emails or texts, inappropriately taking client trust funds, unprofessional conduct — all can represent a silent cry for help.
There is a stigma attached to asking for help and a fear that one will seem “weak” or not worthy of rising with the firm. On the other hand, law firms are frequently complicit in silence even when there is clear evidence that a lawyer has a problem. And yet, as ABA Formal Opinion 03-409 states, “mental impairment does not lessen a lawyer’s obligation to provide clients with competent representation.”
The good news? Law firms seem to be interested in a course correction. Firms are building relationships with lawyer assistance programs. They are hiring directors of wellness, especially at large firms. They are offering non-alcohol alternatives at firm functions. Some are offering fitness centers and yoga space. They are offering employees training and retreats about wellness. And some are establishing maximum billable hours and lowering minimum billing hours.
It seemed that everyone at ABA TECHSHOW had stories about lawyers who are or were in trouble. Everyone seemed to agree that we need to do two very important things:
- Remove the stigma around asking for help.
- Be watchful for signs that colleagues may have a problem and reach out to the individual, stressing that getting help will remain confidential. Many lawyers are so afraid “of the word getting around” that they simply will not seek help.
As the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being concluded, in part: “To preserve the public’s trust and maintain our status as a self-regulating profession, we must truly become ‘our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,’ through a strong commitment to caring for the well-being of one another, as well as ourselves.”