The Road to Attorney Well-Being: Past, Present, and Future

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by Heidi Alexander, Filippa Marullo Anzalone, Laurie Cappello

The Profession

Introduction

In 2017, multiple nationwide studies on the well-being of lawyers and law students culminated in the release of a report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being (Task Force Report). The Task Force Report highlighted distressing data indicating that lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, and substance use at rates higher than the general population. It concluded that the legal profession was at a tipping point and presented recommendations and action plans for building a more positive future. Following the release of this landmark document, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court formed an initial Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being to investigate, report on, and issue recommendations regarding the state of lawyer well-being here in Massachusetts.  That work led to the release of the Steering Committee’s 2019 Report, available at https://www.mass.gov/doc/supreme-judicial-court-steering-committee-on-lawyer-well-being-report-to-the-justices/download. The Report included several recommended actions with respect to legal practice, legal education, and the administration of law in order to mitigate the serious physical, mental, and financial well-being challenges faced by present-day Massachusetts attorneys, judges, and law students. In January 2020, implementation of those recommendations began to move forward under the direction of the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, an eighteen-member committee representing nearly every legal sector in the Commonwealth.

Now, fast forward to 2021, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, shaking up every industry and impacting individuals across the globe. It will come as no surprise that five years after the seminal 2017 studies, the data on well-being in the legal profession has not changed much. In fact, a recent peer-reviewed study as well as an ABA study found that women lawyers are considering an exodus from the legal profession due to the pandemic as well due to mental health problems, burnout, or stress. Other recent studies have found higher rates of suicide and suicide ideation among attorneys; higher stress among attorneys of color on account of their race and ethnicity; and that stigma continues to pervade the profession with large numbers of lawyers that say they cannot discuss well-being issues with their employer without worrying it will damage their career or livelihoods.

Despite this data, it is not all doom and gloom for the legal profession. The increased awareness of well-being in the legal profession has paved the way for rethinking how to make positive organizational and culture changes, and how to reduce stigma around seeking help and self-care. In June 2021, the Standing Committee published a statement on “Recommendations for Legal Workplaces Post-Pandemic,” calling on legal employers to seize this opportunity to rethink norms, structures, and policies that will benefit everyone in the workplace and create a culture of inclusion. Massachusetts is fortunate to have not only the strong support of the SJC to move this work forward, but also a cadre of well-being pioneers, innovators, and leaders throughout the profession advocating for change to improve the profession. To support the great efforts of so many across the Commonwealth, the Standing Committee created a Legal Well-Being Network to share resources, ideas, and best practices. The foregoing discussion captures the work of two members of the Legal Well-Being Network and leaders in this space, Filippa Marullo Anzalone, a Professor and Associate Dean at Boston College Law School and Laurie Cappello, Mintz’s first Director of Well-Being. Professor Anzalone’s work bears out some of the aforementioned concerns around well-being in the profession through real stories conducted via student interviews, thus creating awareness of well-being before those students enter the profession. Inaugural Well-Being Director Laurie Cappello shares the well-being work at Mintz as an example of the progress being made by some forward-thinking legal employers.

Connecting Legal Education to the Legal Profession

Four years ago, Professor Anzalone designed a course at Boston College Law School called Mindfulness & Contemplative Practices for Lawyers, as a direct response to the National Task Force Report. One significant course assignment has students interview a practicing attorney about work-life integration and attorney well-being programs that their respective law offices provide. The following stories are a sampling of some of the content gleaned from these one-on-one interviews.

Overall, many interviewees described being disenchanted with what they termed “big law culture” in large part because of the lack of work-life balance. Some interviewees indicated that firm culture enables or even encourages bragging, especially among partners and senior associates, about long hours, time away from family, and little or no sleep. A theme emerged that firms need more buy-in for well-being programs and practices, especially through modeling and acknowledgement by firm management, senior partners, and senior associates. Some newer associates commented that despite their firm’s well-being focus, it was challenging to take time off while having to answer to frustrated partners. Furthermore, interviewees suggested that firms need to be thoughtful about their well-being offerings. Oftentimes, associates do not take advantage of these programs because of the pressure to meet billable hour requirements. One interviewee noted that the benefits of a midday exercise break are negated by the stress of wondering about what could go wrong if she was needed during her exercise break. Moreover, interviewees commented on the timing of offerings, indicating that they should be scheduled at times that make sense in the rhythm of an attorney’s workday (i.e., not scheduled against standing meetings). Interviewees praised perks that the firm provided like gym discounts, food deliveries, childcare, and dry-cleaning services, which all helped to lower stress levels.

In-house counsel interviewed shared views different from lawyers at firms, describing environments as “supportive” and “understanding.” This response was similar to smaller firms, where interviewees acknowledged a lack of formal well-being programs but a feeling of intimacy, friendliness, and openness in the office. Finally, there were a host of interviewees, especially those with young children, at both large and smaller firms who would prefer to leave work and not engage in any non-work related event, even if part of well-being programming.

Generally, nearly all the interviewees noted that work-life balance and well-being had suffered during the pandemic and that they felt that they were on call 24/7 with no refuge from work. Finding balance, as indicated by these attorneys, is essential for enjoying the position and staying in the organization for the long term. One interviewee wished that “if only companies and firms would realize that offering more time off and setting more realistic expectations was a more common practice” in the corporate world, then employee productivity and satisfaction would be much higher. A refrain heard often was that valuing associates and other employees as “real people” with lives and responsibilities outside of work, and providing “flexibility, a good environment, and interesting work” are paramount. The take-away for most of the law student interviewers was that the time is right for law offices to reimagine the practice of law in a way that can accommodate both the clients’ needs and the well-being and health of the practitioners and employees.

An Amlaw 100 Law Firm Model

Mintz first implemented a formal well-being program called Mpower in 2006. The initial focus was to support and improve employee physical health. Over time, Mintz has expanded the program to cover additional aspects of employee well-being. The success of this program is credited to the individuals and committees responsible for creating and effectuating the programs, strong leadership support and well-being champions, leveraged opportunities with benefits providers, and relationships with related organizations such as the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, Mindfulness in Law Society, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts, and the Institute for Well-Being in Law.

Mpower – with the tagline “Your Health, Your Well-Being, Your Life” – was introduced to the firm as a program offering discounted gym memberships and walking maps for each office (to encourage movement throughout the day), and periodic emails and presentations providing education on various well-being topics. Today the Mpower program consists of seven components: financial health, inclusion, mental health, mindfulness, physical fitness, physical health, and walking maps. The newest components include inclusion, mental health, and mindfulness.

Inclusion has an essential relationship to well-being. If a person does not feel included in his or her workplace culture, his or her well-being and ability to perform at his or her best will be impacted. Mintz is fortunate to have Narges Kakalia, a passionate and talented Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, to help support the firm’s goal to foster a culture in which all individuals can bring their whole, unique selves to work, while feeling both valued and respected. DEI Director Kakalia works collaboratively with Well-Being Director Cappello to develop information and resources shared through Mpower. For example, in June the firm posted a message from the Managing Member (Partner) supporting Pride Month, and communicating the importance of using appropriate gender pronouns as a step toward respecting people’s gender identity and creating an inclusive environment for people of all genders.

Inspired by the National Task Force Report, in 2018, Mintz became an inaugural adopter of the ABA Well-Being Pledge & Campaign, and committed to the seven-point pledge identified in the Campaign to raise awareness to address the legal profession’s troubling rates of alcohol and other substance-use disorders, along with mental health issues. The pledge is listed on the Mpower intranet home page and Mental Health page, and includes a statement in the firm’s Core Value Policy packet reviewed with all new hires. The site contains links to confidential screening tools, videos (including the ABA Anti-Stigma Video) and recordings of past presentations. Mintz continues to strengthen its commitment to employee well-being and recently became a Founding Champion sponsor of the Institute for Well-Being in Law (IWIL) which was formed to carry on the movement launched by the National Task Force.

In December 2016, Mintz held its first Introduction to Mindfulness presentation, followed by an 8-week Mindfulness at Work Program beginning in January. The program was so well received that Mintz has offered it each subsequent year. Mintz also has dedicated meditation space in its Boston and D.C. offices, offers live virtual weekly meditation sessions, and provides additional resources for mindfulness including the Mindfulness In Law Society.

Conclusion

Professor Anzalone’s class, in its 5th year, and Mpower, celebrating its 15th year, are among the efforts underway to help lawyers thrive in the profession. By continuing to expand awareness of the challenges of law practice and resources available as early as law school and throughout legal careers, we will make positive steps toward a better future for the legal profession. For more information about the efforts of the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being or to get involved, visit lawyerwellbeingma.org or contact Director Heidi Alexander, heidi@lawyerwellbeingma.org.

Heidi Alexander is the Director of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being and formerly served as the Deputy Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Heidi attends to her own well-being by coaching CrossFit and youth sports, competing in powerlifting, and most importantly spending time with her three young kids.

Filippa Marullo Anzalone has served as Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Library and Technology Services at Boston College Law School since August 2002. She teaches a course called Mindfulness & Contemplative Practices for Lawyers at BC Law. Before BC, Filippa worked at Northeastern University School of Law, law firms, and public libraries.

Laurie Cappello is the Director of Well-Being for Mintz, and  leads the strategic development, direction, communication, and management of the Mintz well-being programs. Laurie is active in the local and national well-being community and is the Vice President of the Mindfulness in Law Society (MILS) and the Co-Chair of the MILS New England Chapter


Walk in My Shoes: A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Attorney

by Danielle Johnson

Viewpoint
*This article is a companion piece to “Owning The Space: A Candid Conversation with Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Kimberly S. Budd.”

 

If you approach the steps of the Edward Brooke Courthouse (named after the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction) around 8:45 A.M. on a Thursday morning—colloquially known as “Eviction Thursday” in Boston—there is a seemingly endless line of people, mostly in street clothes, waiting anxiously to get through the security screening. I approach, dressed in a suit and dress shoes with my hair neatly dreadlocked.  I walk quickly past the lines of waiting litigants with my bar card and driver’s license in hand.  I am a young African American woman and I am an attorney.  In court, I am both an anomaly and a chameleon, depending on whom I encounter.

The Court: The Tale of Two Lines

The familiar discomfort starts outside the courthouse.  To get through the door of the courthouse to the Eastern Housing Court sessions on the fifth floor, I must walk past the long lines of fellow people of color waiting to submit themselves to the security screening—that often includes an electronic pat-down—before being allowed in the building.  It is my weekly routine to swallow the discomfort of the two lines; one short line for predominantly white attorneys and another longer line for the litigants, including my clients, predominantly people of color.  I present my bar card and driver’s license, and after close inspection—notably which are not scrutinized for my white colleagues who flash their cards and proceed before me— I am allowed to pass the first test and enter the foyer of the marbled courthouse.

Inside, the courthouse is buzzing, and the clamor of chatter and movements echo throughout the hallways.  I make my way up to the fifth floor for the call of the lists.  Exiting the elevator, the scene that awaits can overwhelm an unsuspecting person, but it is business-as-usual for Eviction Thursday.  The two “Attorney of the Day” tables are set up to provide quick legal advice, one for pro se landlords and the other for pro se tenants.  The area is so crammed with people that one cannot see the Attorneys of the Day.  This is not surprising given that in 2019 alone, 39,600 households faced eviction in Massachusetts.  Of these, 92% of the tenants were unrepresented; in contrast, more than 70% of landlords were represented.

At the “Attorney of the Day” table for tenants, I flip through the dockets and see the usual massive number of new eviction cases – about 150 in total – and 55 motion hearings on the two lists.  The day will be long. I brace myself for the ongoing series of tests that I will face, each of which will demand that I prove who I am, making Eviction Thursday an even more exhausting day.

The Client: “You’re My Lawyer?”

Finding my client among the sea of black and brown faces who are anxiously searching for answers from anyone who might be willing to listen is do-able if I have previously met the tenant.  Today is not that day.  Working in legal aid, where there is a mismatch between high demand and limited resources, I often walk through the hall shouting out names of clients I will meet for the first time in court.  When my first call does not yield a response, I call again.  Success!  I formally introduce myself to the client and field the expected question: “You’re the attorney I spoke with?” Surprise mixed with suspicion registers on my client’s face.  For my clients, it is my youth that is concerning. I am used to this look of doubt as an attorney who practices exclusively with elders; this is my second test of  the day.  It is the unspoken challenge to my legitimacy raised by my appearance.   I deflect their anxiety with humor using stereotypical images of attorneys common to their generation: “I must look adolescent, not the Matlock or Perry Mason you were expecting?” To get past the awkwardness, I direct my client’s attention to the goal for the day and what to expect in the courtroom.  But sometimes this is not sufficient assurance.  I confidently explain to my client that this is “not my first rodeo,” and hope that I have gained their trust.  I leave them to their thoughts and move on to find opposing counsel.

The Bench and the Bar

Housing courts tend to have their usual players, so locating a specific attorney is not often difficult. Again, today is not that day.  Like a chameleon, I pass unnoticed through the tenants, a sea of brown and black faces crowding the halls while waiting anxiously for the courtrooms to open, and quickly scan each white individual in a suit. In the courtroom, shades of brown dominate, speckled here and there by clusters of ivory.  I am not the only person of color, or the only woman, or the only person of modest economic means. Even so, there is a clear dichotomy: the majority of the tenants are minorities while the majority of attorneys are white and male.  Then there is me.

As the list is called, the attorneys jockey for seats in the jury box.  In that segregated space, protected against the huddled masses packed into courtroom, the color scheme flips; today, I am the only grain of pepper in a sea of salt.  I sigh, recalling the day the court officer singled me out: “Hey, you can’t sit there.  You a lawyer?” Moving past colleagues to an empty seat, I speculate that they are wondering: “Does she know this section is for attorneys?”  This is the daily reality of what it means to be an attorney of color in Massachusetts, navigating unwritten tests to prove that I exist, I am qualified, and that I belong.

Once the call of the lists begins, the doors to the standing-room only courtrooms are shut.  Any defendant not present in the correct courtroom for the call will be defaulted.  Most tenants who answer are visibly anxious.  Once referred to court mediation on the third floor, some will go over agreements with a housing specialist, but most will be diverted to sign, without the benefit of a hearing or trial, the pre-drafted form agreement for judgment offered by the landlord’s attorney.  This is accomplished quickly in the hallway, often with no understanding on the part of the tenants of the document they have signed, including the waiver of their right to request a stay, seek reconsideration, or pursue an appeal.  Instead, they blindly focus on the quickest option that allows them to remain in their home and escape the stress of being in court.

My client, who was previously pro-se, had signed such an agreement for judgment with the landlord. The slightest breach of any of its conditions, including all incorporated lease terms, is deemed material and could trigger an execution for possession – and the agreement waived all stays of execution.  But today, there will be no execution for possession.  Today, I have prevailed in negotiating an amendment to the “Sword of Damocles” agreement, and substituted a sustainable repayment plan with sufficient time to access third party rental assistance through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program for the onerous agreement for judgment.  I also connected the elderly client to the court’s Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP).  I am the most pleased with my success in changing the basis for the eviction from “fault” to “no-fault,” thereby protecting my client from mandatory termination of their Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher.

I have passed today’s last test.  I achieved a successful outcome.  I demonstrated my competence to my client and proved my negotiation skills to an opposing counsel with whom I had not worked with in the past.

Legal Aid and the Massachusetts Bar

Back at my office at Greater Boston Legal Services, my shoulders relax.  Here, I am not burdened by expectations to conform to the culture and hierarchy of a Boston law firm.  I am not oppressed by inadvertent stereotyping nor subject to daily microaggressions that would stunt any lawyer’s professional growth.  Notwithstanding, my dominant experience navigating my chosen profession is one of alienation, exclusion, and discomfort—the price that I pay under the “invisible labor clause” for being a black woman legal aid attorney in Massachusetts, serving the poorest people in Boston who are predominantly people of color, like me.

In my career, I have experienced racism, gender discrimination, and elitism.  My experience is not unique.  Throughout the Commonwealth, attorneys of color are called upon to prove their qualifications daily, to colleagues, clients, court personnel and even clerks and judges.

The 2019 demographic survey conducted by the Supreme Judicial Court, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, revealed that out of 22,743 participating attorneys, 20,043 (86%) identified as White, and only 494 (2%) identified as Black or African American, 519 (2%) as Hispanic or Latinix, and 574 (2%) as Asian.  These numbers make clear what my experience has proven—there is a gross lack of minority representation in the Massachusetts bar.

This is not a “woe is me” story.  It is a call to action for cultural diversity in law firms and legal organizations and, more importantly, for reflection on and recognition of each of our implicit biases. My day is over, but these challenges will repeat tomorrow and next week and every month thereafter with a new list of scared, mostly poor, minority tenants, assembled in lines to enter a courthouse, named for the first African American Attorney General of Massachusetts, all in effort to get “justice.”  We should do better.  We can do better.

 

Danielle Johnson is a Staff Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services where her practice focuses on elder housing and disability benefits. Danielle also participates in the Lawyer for the Day Program at the Metro South Housing Court, assisting tenants. Danielle is also a member of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, and the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys.


Owning The Space: A Candid Conversation with Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Kimberly S. Budd

by Sophia Hall and Justice Kimberly S. Budd

Voice of Judiciary
*This interview is a companion piece to “Walk in My Shoes: A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Attorney” by Danielle Johnson.

 

I was fortunate to recently talk with Justice Kimberly S. Budd about her career path and her experiences as a woman of color in the legal profession.

SH: What drew you to the law?

KB: I was lucky in that my Dad was a lawyer so he exposed me to the law. I have to admit, though, that when I was a kid, I did not really have an understanding of what a lawyer did. I do remember going in to work with him on the weekends, and helping him by pulling files. That’s what I grew up in. When I graduated from college, I went on to law school because I didn’t know what else to do (I majored in English). In hindsight, I wish I had taken a year to work between college and law school. I felt really young and inexperienced in law school.

SH: Has your identity as a woman of color affected your experience as a judge?

KB: I think it is fair to say that being a woman of color affects every part of my life, including being a judge.  The piece written by Danielle Johnson about her experiences in Housing Court brought back similar memories of my experience as a young litigator.  I have been mistaken for a defendant’s girlfriend by a court officer, and have been underestimated by countless numbers of opposing counsel over the years.

As a judge in Superior Court, it was clear that attorneys, litigants and jurors were not expecting to see a Black woman judge when they came into the courtroom.  I remember one particular afternoon I was sitting in a civil motion session in Middlesex County and working with a Black woman courtroom clerk and a Black woman court officer.  I think those who had business in the “D” session that afternoon were surprised to see our team!

When I handled criminal cases, many of the defendants were Black.  I like to believe that it made a difference for them to see someone who looked like them on the bench,  especially if everyone else in the courtroom was White.

SH: What was your experience with Judicial Evaluations?

KB: State court trial judges are evaluated periodically by practitioners who are surveyed anonymously.  The evaluations have both objective and subjective components, resulting in a numerical rating, and written comments. In 2014 a review of the judicial evaluations showed that judges who were of color and women judges consistently received lower ratings than White male judges.  Attempts were made to figure out how to account for bias, implicit or otherwise.  We haven’t come up with a solution, and I’m not sure that there is one.  The evaluations reflect the biases that exist in our society.

I have to admit that whenever I received my evaluation results, it was difficult to look at the comments.  Many were good, but it was the negative ones that consumed my attention.  After my first evaluation I stopped looking at the written comments altogether.

SH: You are the third African American ever appointed to the SJC, correct?

KB: Yes, and the second Black woman. Chief Justice Rodrick Ireland was the first African American appointed to the court in 1997 (the first in the Court’s over 304 year history).  He subsequently became the Chief Justice in 2010.  He was an excellent chief—and a great leader; everyone thought he did an amazing job. He was cognizant of the fact that his performance likely would affect the way judges of color who came after him would be perceived.. When Chief Justice Ireland retired, Justice Geraldine Hines replaced him and was the first African American woman.

SH: Can you describe your relationship with Justice Hines?

KB: I have been fortunate to know Gerri for a long time.  She started in the Superior Court, back in 2001.  I remember attending her swearing in ceremony when she first became a judge and being so excited for her and for the Commonwealth.  Little did I know that eight years later I would be her colleague on the Superior Court.  She was my mentor there, and again when I joined the SJC.  It makes such a difference when you have someone in your corner showing you how to do the job, answering your questions and rooting for you to succeed. Her presence on the SJC when I arrived was huge. And her absence is still felt (she retired in 2017).  She is only a phone call away though!

SH: The future of the SJC. Do you see more diversity coming?

KB: I sure hope so.

I would hate to think that anyone would use my presence on the Court to support an idea I am one of just a handful of people of color who are qualified to be a Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.  That certainly is not the case.  I also cringe when I think there are some who might believe that I am here only because they needed a Black person to fill a slot. Even though diversity and inclusion are and should be priorities for the Commonwealth’s judiciary system and in many workplaces, I believe that I hold my own on the SJC. I am not just taking up space.  And like Danielle, I work every day to prove it.

 

Kimberly S. Budd is an Associate Justice for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), where she has served for nearly four years, and a former Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. She was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Devall Patrick in 2009. Justice Budd was a litigation associate at Mintz Levin, an Assistant United States Attorney in the United Stated Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, and a University Attorney for Harvard University in the General Counsel’s Office. She also worked at Harvard Business School as the Director of Community Values. Justice Budd earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Georgetown University and her law degree from Harvard Law School.