In September, it felt like Colorado’s unexpected heatwave would never end. But now, when I walk outside in the morning I feel that brisk, autumn air and see the golden leaves of autumn creeping further and further down the mountains. Change—we see it with the passing of the seasons, we see it in our children, and we even see it in the technology we carry around with us. It’s sometimes hard to see it in our organizations. It can be even harder to see it in ourselves. Yet, it’s there, happening all around us in various ways, in varying degrees.
Changes came to NITA in 2018, and will continue to come in 2019—some are predictable, some will be surprises.
Most of all, the change I’m looking forward to is the growth of our culture where we are truly aligned, accountable, transparent, and resilient. With a strong culture across our mighty nonprofit, we have the strength to make planned changes—and the flexibility to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities.
National Institute For Trial Advocacy
Ten months ago, on Nov 21, 2017 after midnight, my dad, Jack Pope—66, husband, father of three, grandfather to three, a decorated soldier, a mentor and a friend around the world—took his own life.
It is two days before Thanksgiving. I am on business travel in Minneapolis and am waiting for my husband to arrive that morning to spend time with his family for the holiday. I awake to an email from my dad with the subject line “Final Farewell” timestamped 1 a.m. It is now 5:04 am for me, two times zones ahead of him. The email is about his love for us, about being a proud father, about a good life and that life ends well. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand—yet I do. I call him, but I know he know he won’t answer. I call four times. A series of calls to my husband, siblings and stepmom, all unanswered. Everyone is sleeping, ringers off. After a call to the local, unhelpful, Sheriff’s office, I finally call my dad’s neighbor. “Tim, this is Jack’s daughter. I think something might have happened to my dad. Could you go take a look?”
I will never forget his voice, his words, “I’m here. He’s gone. I’m so sorry. He’s gone. He was my friend.”
Tears. Three hours and twenty-six minutes have passed. And enough pacing back and forth to wear out the carpet. And the whole time I knew he was gone. The email, indeed, his final farewell.
September is suicide prevention month, and though my dad wasn’t a trial lawyer, my duty now is to raise awareness in our community. My research to write this post brought me face to face with the sad and alarming realities around attorney suicide.
Tom Foster, CEO at Foster Marketing, explains the job of an attorney—particularly a trial attorney—has been described as “multidimensional stress.” The stressors attorneys often face include:
Dan Lukasik, Founder of www.lawyerwithdepression.com reported in the early part of 2016, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published their study of nearly 13,000 currently-practicing attorneys from 19 states.
It found that approximately 28 percent were struggling with some form of depression, 19 percent with anxiety, and 23 percent with stress. It further discovered that between 21 and 36 percent qualified as problem drinkers.
In the fall of 2016, another study of 3,300 law students from 15 law schools was published. It found that approximately 17 percent, 14 percent, and 25 percent were dealing with some form of depression, anxiety, and problem drinking, respectively.
In 2017, a national task force on lawyer well-being was assembled; its report, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” was issued on August 14, 2017. It stated:
To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being. The two studies referenced above reveal that too many lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and high rates of depression and substance abuse. These findings are incompatible with a sustainable legal profession, and they raise troubling implications for lawyers’ basic competency.
The task force specifically called on law firms leaders to (a) “provide training and education on well-being,” (b) “reduce stigma surrounding mental health problems,” and (c) “establish policies and practice to support lawyer well-being.”
What the State Bars are doing about it
The ABA’s Model MCLE Rule recommends a stand-alone credit for Mental Health and/or Substance Use Disorder
The Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Credit recognizes that requiring all lawyers to receive education about these disorders can benefit both individual lawyers and the profession. This requirement is in part a response to the 2016 landmark study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, entitled, “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys.
All states allow credit for courses on substance use disorders or mental health issues, either for general CLE credit or sometimes (depending on the description and content of the course) for ethics credits.
Four states (FL, OH, PA, WV) specifically allow/call out that substance abuse and mental health topics can be used for professionalism credits.
Even better, five states (CA, IL, NV, NC, SC) now have a stand-alone credit required in substance abuse prevention and mental health issues. And more states are considering this—including Oregon, which will likely pass a stand-alone requirement this year.
Texas Bar put out an impressive video of lawyers talking about their real struggles. “Due to the stigmatizing nature of mental illness, many never admit to anyone that they’re suffering and many others never seek help. If recognized and successful lawyers step up and frankly share their struggles without fear of stigma, others might not feel so alone and may reach out and seek help.” Mark Dubois, Geraghty & Bonnano. Talking about it could save someone’s life.
There is grief in death. There is a second layer of grief in death by suicide: questions that will never be answered, the unknown pain and suffering of a loved one. It’s a sadness that is indescribable. There was shame for me in the beginning and now there is this fierce and undeniable loyalty to my dad. I am my father’s daughter.
National Institute For Trial Advocacy
View the video edition of this post here.
A year ago, I took the month of August off of work: a month of no emails and barely a phone. During that month, I spent a week road-tripping out west with my teenage son Cole, went solo hiking in Switzerland, celebrated my great-aunt’s 90th birthday in Canada, and enjoyed some solitude in the mountains. I’d like to share some of my reflections from that month that, while personal, can and should be brought to our business world.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Spending time with a teenager helps you lighten up, helps you see the world through their eyes.
Take chances. As I followed behind Cole on a beautiful mountain bike ride in Moab, I realized that we all take different routes, have different levels of risk taking, and experience different levels of fear. The ride was about trying―and maybe even failing, as demonstrated by falling twice, getting back up, laughing at ourselves, and continuing onward to the next challenge.
Listen to your inner voice. The nice hotel we found online turned out to be not nice at all. It didn’t take long to listen to my inner voice to say, “No way. We are not staying here.”
Be an open-minded listener and ask better questions. There will be times we don’t want to hear what is being said, but if we listen, we may learn something new or see the situation in a different light.
Stop second-guessing yourself. In Moab, I was second-guessing my decision to go to Dead Horse State Park as we were driving there, thinking, “Why go the extra 50 miles, round trip, when there is perfectly good mountain biking right here with no extra driving?” I’ll tell you why. Because it’s worth it. The views, the trail, the experience with Cole. It’s a little piece of heaven, just like my new favorite place Torrey, Utah, right at Capital Reed National Park. We stayed in a teepee, and everything about this place makes it worth the five-hour drive there and the really long drive home the next day. And yet even a year later, as I was out driving earlier today, I was thinking about that experience and how it was so expensive and out of the way and was it really worth it? And again, the answer is absolutely, without a doubt. So sit back and enjoy the ride, and stop stressing about whether it’s the right decision.
Say “thank you” more often. Thank you!
You can’t control everything. Both of my flights to Switzerland were delayed. Getting worked up won’t change anything, so sit back and enjoy the ride. (We might have a theme here.)
Quiet space is essential for thinking. There is so much noise all around us. Escape it―even if only for a few minutes or an hour to allow your brain to rest, to daydream, to let thoughts in and out without too much analysis . . . or maybe it’s the perfect time and space to analysis a difficult situation or new idea. Quiet space, aaahhhhhh!
Honesty is the best policy. Switzerland has self-serve cheese shops, “honesty pay” gift shops. Trust people to make the right choice, and they usually will.
Don’t panic.I had anxiety about hiking my first big pass, being by myself, the weight of my backpack, missing the trains. So talk things through with the people who matter most.
Shed a tear. Acknowledge your anxiety instead of ignoring it. Work through it, not around it. Embrace it. Grow!
Cherish each other and our time together. Cole had moments of being the typical 13-year old-whiner, but he also held my hand, shared a bed with me, shared his food and drink with me, and said “thank you” a million times during our trip. I will miss these days. Relationships matter.
Connection is critical to our well-being. Our ability to relate, have empathy, feel validated, and be understood are absolutely necessary.
Throughout the West, Switzerland, Canada, and Colorado, I wrote a daily takeaway during my work-free August last year. I tried to always relate it back to both my personal and professional roles. I’m sure you have your own list of things to live by. These are just a few of mine.
National Institute For Trial Advocacy
Oh, and P.S. Eat often, and always get gas before you need it.
We are a multi-generational workplace organization. There are five generations in the workplace today and NITA encompasses all of them. From our Board, faculty, staff, and customers, our ability to interact, value, and respect each other is imperative to accomplishing our mission. For a refresher, here is the breakdown:
The beauty of NITA is that we are better with all these voices at the table. We are better able to connect when we see someone like us who has achieved what we seek. We are better able to see things from another perspective when we are at the same table. We are better able to come up with creative ideas by joining together our brainpower. Even when we are challenged by closed-mindedness, fear, stubbornness, or the like, we are made better by working through the difficulties together, even if it causes frustration, anger, or annoyance. This is a great form of growth.
This summer, I’ve been reading through four decades’ worth of NITA history. (Some documents even date back to 1971.) A rich history, full of inspiring thought leaders, aimed at working together to find a way to make better trial attorneys. And what has struck me time and time again as I’ve been leafing through these files is that NITA’s mission, our purpose and vision for doing what we do (and have done for forty-seven years), is the same and it’s only the caretakers of that vision―in the form of our leadership, our staff and Board members, our Program Directors, faculty, and authors―that have changed throughout the decades of NITA’s existence.
It really touched me to see so much evidence of those who’ve played their part in transmitting the essence of what NITA is all about and transferring their actual, hands-on knowledge of how to function and thrive as an organization. (Talk about “learning by doing”!) In this context, I find myself humbled to be a part of that history, entrusted―just as every single one of us is―in carrying on with the work of our founders. So, no matter whether you’re a Baby Boomer or a Millennial, a Traditionalist or a Gen X-er or Z-er, I’m grateful we’re together as we each play our own part in NITA’s history.
National Institute For Trial Advocacy
Inspiration comes in many forms. Maybe it’s watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain that you just climbed, maybe it’s learning something new from someone you admire, or maybe it’s watching an incredible lawyer cross-examine an expert witness.
Last week I was inspired when I read an interview with Jim Sandman, Executive Director for the Legal Services Corporation and one of our Keynotes at our upcoming conference, NITAVision 2018: Inspiring Justice Together. He talked about his life in big law and his transition to public service; really about being your authentic self.
Jim shared a story about attending an annual pro bono breakfast of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. The speaker was Michelle Rhee, who had recently become chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She talked about her need for corporate counsel. Jim had a great observation about this: “I also knew what she meant when she said she was surrounded by lawyers who only know how to say no—the kind of lawyer who spots problems but doesn’t do anything to solve them. What she was saying was, ‘I need a thought partner who can help me get where I’m trying to go.’”
Isn’t that exactly what we’ve been building here at NITA? Thought partners? Yes it is. We want you to be our thought partners to discuss issues, solve problems, learn, grow, and adapt as a legal profession and as legal professionals.
Jim goes on to talk about the challenge to find the right combination of mission and job. “You can go to work for an organization that’s got a great mission, but in a job that doesn’t do anything for you, and you won’t be happy. You have to like what you’re doing day to day. It can be really hard to find that combination.”
People who experience NITA—whether teaching, participating in a course, donating to our foundation or writing a book—are changed; they are inspired. We are inspired every day at what our mighty non-profit accomplishes.
I hope you are as inspired by Jim’s interview as I am. I’m also excited at what we’ve put together at our upcoming summit. Come be inspired with us! NITAVision 2018: Inspiring Justice Together, September 16–18, 2018 in downtown Denver.
National Institute For Trial Advocacy
NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.
NITA’s Goals are to: