The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness

Episode Notes

Higher instances of depression, stress, substance abuse, and even divorce amongst legal professionals continues to call attention to the need for an increased focus on lawyer well-being. Digital Edge hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk with Stewart Levine about how his ABA-published book, “The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness,” helps lawyers engage with their own well-being in healthier ways.

Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to providing skills and ways of thinking needed to build strong organizational cultures.

Special thanks to our sponsors, Clio, Nexa, Scorpion, and ServeNow.


The Digital Edge

The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness


Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.

Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 146th edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers And Technology. We are glad to have you with us. I am Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity, and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.

Jim Calloway: And I am Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is “The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness”.

Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we would like to thank our sponsors.

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We are very pleased to have as our guest Stewart Levine, the founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to providing skills and ways of thinking needed to build strong organizational cultures. Stewart has worked with large and small law firms, legal departments, and government agencies across the country. Stewart curated and edited a book about well-being for attorneys published by the American Bar Association in September 2018. The book’s title is, “The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellness, Staying Physically, Mentally, Emotionally, and Spiritually Healthy’. Thanks for joining us today Stewart.

Stewart Levine: It’s my pleasure Jim. It’s nice to be with you and Sharon.

Sharon D. Nelson: Well Stewart, let’s get started by asking you about this book. I understand it says up at the beginning when we introduced you that you curated and edited the book. Did you also write the book and what motivated you to get involved with this whole project?

Stewart Levine: Sure. What happened was I was at a meeting of the American Bar Association Law Practice Division Well-Being Committee, which was chaired by Anne Brafford at the time and this was about somewhere in 2016, well-being was just starting to percolate up as an important topic within the legal profession as a result of the ABA and Betty Ford Center report and study about well-being for lawyers and Anne thought it would be a good idea for the committee to author a book and she said, is anybody interested in writing a book about well-being.

My immediate reaction was I don’t think I could write the whole book, but I certainly know enough about it and have enough contacts that I could put together and curate the book. So having done a few books in the past I just nonchalantly, flippantly raised my hand and said sure, I will do a book and that was the genesis of the book and I am really kind of pleased about how it has emerged and how it’s come together.

Jim Calloway: Why is this topic so important right now Stewart?

Stewart Levine: Well, the joint study between the Betty Ford Center and the American Bar Association Jim revealed that there was a much, much higher incidence among lawyers than more than the general population in divorce, suicide, substance abuse, mental challenges. And so with this level of awareness the whole field has started to kind of bloom.


Hardly a day passes by when you don’t see an article or an incident in the legal press about some incident where substance abuse problem that they have conquered or there was actually even one article a number of years ago; no, it’s not even a number of years ago, probably within the last year and the title of the headline was “Big Law Killed My Husband”. It was written by a widow of a lawyer who had killed himself.

So it’s awareness of how big the problem is because how huge the levels of stress are. And so now that we have that, the cat is out of the bag as opposed to lawyers hiding and toughing it out, there is a level of awareness that is kind of taking hold in the profession, both in academia, where people are entering in the profession and also among practitioners that this is something that needs to be taken care of.

And the bottom line I think is, if you are not taking care of yourself well, how could you possibly think that you could be taking care of clients well, because we often forget that behind every legal case is a person with a challenge and a problem.

Sharon D. Nelson: So Stewart, is the term lawyer well-being an oxymoron?

Stewart Levine: Well, there are some people who would probably think so, okay, but it’s the old notion of heal thyself. I mean if you are holding yourself out as having the capacity for taking care of others, it really is critical to take care of yourself. And I think probably the genesis of thinking that it’s oxymoronic is that as we all know people in the public domain very often don’t have a very high regard for lawyers except for their own lawyers, which is an interesting thing. But the notion of a lawyer taking care of themselves is just something that people don’t perceive as something that’s very important.

So I don’t think it’s oxymoronic at all. I think if you are a concerned individual, concerned lawyer, it’s something that’s real important to do. The way I like to think about it is, if you are hopefully taking care of others in a sound way, you need to be coming from a sound platform and that platform means staying mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically healthy.

Jim Calloway: Well Stewart, all of us might have different answers to this next question but I would ask you for your answer. What happens when lawyers don’t care for themselves?

Stewart Levine: They run into all the problems that I talked about in terms of substance abuse, depression, even suicide. They get into trouble with trust accounts and they are just not taking care of clients very well, ethics complaints. So, all of those things are reasons for lawyers to actually start to take care of themselves, not to mention the toll on the individuals, their own quality of life. And I keep repeating this notion Jim, if you are not taking care of yourself, you are not going to project wellness and projecting wellness is a critical aspect of attracting clients and people don’t have a lot of basis I think on which to judge a lawyer’s competency, but they do know what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who has command of themselves and seems like a healthy individual that they can trust.

Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.


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Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is “The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness”. And our guest is Stewart Levine, the founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to providing skills and ways of thinking needed to build strong organizational cultures.

So Stewart, this movement toward well-being, tell us what you know about that.

Stewart Levine: Well, probably the most interesting thing, aside from what I have said before in terms of the ABA and Betty Ford joint study, is that as a result of the kind of movement and emergence of it, Lawyer Well-Being Week will be the first week of May this year and it really is meant to bring to the profession the importance of well-being. For an entire week there will be webinars, there will be journal articles, there will be all kinds of things to publicize and make lawyers aware of well-being.

The other thing I can say about the movement towards well-being is that it’s very big in academic circles. I mean I will be speaking it at my law school Rutgers in the spring, but I also went to a conference last January and was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of people from academia; the conference was at Hastings Law School, it was called The Integrated Lawyer, and I was very pleased to see people from many, many academic institutions around the country where this has kind of percolated through and students are very concerned. And that’s a good thing because what they learn about well-being as law students hopefully will carry and keep them mindful of that as they come into the profession and are practitioners for many years to come.

Jim Calloway: So how did the book come together Stewart?

Stewart Levine: Well, I sat down and thought about pieces that I wanted to include. I tend to move in circles where there is a lot of progressive thinking about the legal profession, people who often have multidisciplinary backgrounds and as I started to think about chapters that I wanted to include, ultimately the book was kind of organized along what I will call an emotional intelligence framework.

The first part of the book has got chapters about various aspects of self-awareness; the first aspect of any kind of self-care is to be aware of where you are on track and where you are off track.

The second part of the book after the awareness comes self-management or self-regulation, the capacity to change your behaviors and the book has got a number of different chapters about ways of doing that.

And the last piece is about engagement, how is it that we engage with members of the public, how is it that we engage with colleagues, how is it we engage with adversaries.

So that’s the basic structure and framework of the book. The self-awareness piece is rather extensive about many different things that we need to be aware of; tools, techniques and things to help and guide lawyers.

Sharon D. Nelson: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the structure of the book or how you developed it Stewart?

Stewart Levine: Well, sure Sharon. I mean the thing that comes to mind in response to that question is after I got all the chapters, they seemed to fall in place into this particular framework.

The other thing that I will say is when I thought about a missing chapter, something that I thought should be included in the book, either I went online and looked for someone or used my network to ask for resources in terms of who would be a good person to write about that chapter.

So in many ways it was a great labor of love and we all know that when we are engaged in a labor of love, it’s not like work, and so all the pieces just seemed to fall in place. And when the book finally did come together I was kind of really gratified by the kind of testimonials and blurbs for the book that people provided, including current and former presidents of the American Bar Association.

Jim Calloway: Stewart, what’s one of your favorite chapters and what would it teach us?

Stewart Levine: I will share two favorite chapters. One is something that I included in the end of the book, near the very end, it was going to be the last chapter but it turned out not to be because something else showed up, which I will talk about in a minute, but a chapter on the Lawyer’s Oath.


A woman by the name of Cheryl Conner, who has been a longtime activist in the legal profession, wrote a beautiful chapter recalling her experience in Faneuil Hall in Boston, which is not only a place where they have a lot of different events, but a place that’s got some historic significance within the founding of our democratic institutions.

And she talked about the importance of that oath and what it called on us to do as lawyers and it was a great reminder of kind of the mission of the legal profession in general and the mission of individuals and what it is we swore to uphold in terms of constitutional aspects, in terms of telling the truth, in terms of being an officer at a court. We all know how important that is and it’s kind of especially critical today when the rule of law is a bit under attack in a number of circles. So that was one piece, a little bit more inspirational.

The other critical chapter I think was the first chapter. It was written by Professor Larry Krieger from the University of Florida School of Law. Larry has done extraordinary and detailed and meticulous and extensive research on what it is that makes for happy lawyers, and the two things that come out on the top of the list, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not how much money you make, it’s not where you went to law school, it’s not the famous cases that you handled, but the two critical things are, number one, being relational in your profession.

In other words, not just treating court personnel, adversaries, clerks, secretaries as objects, but being relational and seeing all people that you engage with in the practice of the profession as important people to engage with and develop as other human beings, to be relational.

The second thing on the list that makes for happy lawyers is a level of autonomy, your ability to select the matters you work on, to pick cases that you enjoy, to have independence in your thinking. We all know that lawyers tend to be individuals with strong ego and when you can exert that in the practice of law, it greatly contributes to happy lawyers. And a happy lawyer is generally one who has a great sense of well-being.

So those are two of my favorite chapters. There are a couple of chapters about systemic challenges in the profession, about taking care of yourself physically, about building a strong career path, about the importance of taking care of generations that are coming in, about volunteerism, so all of these pieces and what I tried to do is provide a holistic framework in the book, a reference source for people looking to have further well-being and this is a place that they could use and consult.

Most of the chapters in the book I insisted have how-to’s and be very, very practical, not just theoretical.

Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment let’s take a quick commercial break.


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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is “The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness”. And our guest is Stewart Levine, the founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to providing skills and ways of thinking needed to build strong organizational cultures.


Stewart, you told us a little bit previously about Lawyer Well-Being Week which is coming up in the first week of May, what can you tell us about that that might get our listeners interested in the week and maybe tell them how they can become involved? I mean there are a lot of people listening, I mean if you can believe the studies, a third of the people listening need help, so what would you suggest?

Stewart Levine: Well, there is a — unfortunately I don’t have the URL with me, but every day there is another webinar and it’s filled with kind of critical resources. In some ways the quality of the webinars tracks many of the subjects that are included in my book and lot of expertise to both inspire people, to provide tools, to provide additional resources.

There will be programs by local bar associations across the country and this is all to kind of raise awareness. And what I like to think about this is if we see others where we have some sense that a person is being challenged in some way, whether it’s a colleague, an advisory, hopefully it will provide a little bit of inspiration to take care of that other person. That may seem like a little bit oxymoronic, taking care of your adversary, but behind the fact that we all play these roles and take care of clients, we are all human beings trying to do the best we can in what is sometimes a very challenging profession. And so hopefully in Lawyer Well-Being Week that awareness will be raised and we will make the entire profession better.

Jim Calloway: Stewart, do you have any final hopes for the book and where can our listeners buy it?

Stewart Levine: Great. So the book is on the ABA website, in the ABA bookstore. It’s also on Amazon. So it’s around and available. So my bottom line hope for the book is that it serves as a real resource for the profession. I have been kind of motivated throughout my kind of voluntary activities to make contributions to the profession and in some ways I am hoping that this book is a bit of a legacy.

Judy Perry Martinez, the current President of the American Bar Association, wrote the following. My hope is that those who read Stewart’s collection will then be the new driving force for change in the legal profession that will make a difference in the depth of fulfillment, happiness, and wellness achieved by lawyers and judges for decades to come.

And so that is my wish that it inspires some change and well-being among legal professionals.

Sharon D. Nelson: Stewart, this was really a very moving podcast. I know that you probably know that I am lecturing a lot these days on lawyer wellness and coming up in TECH SHOW we are going to be talking about that as it relates to ethics. But I know the stories that I have read of the folks who have in particular died or otherwise been crushed by our profession, they have been very, very moving and I sense that they have moved you in the same way.

We really do have a wellness issue in the legal profession and we have only just begun to tap the surface of the things that need doing and how we can help our colleagues. Your book is a tremendous contribution to that and certainly Jim and I applaud you for all your efforts to get involved and to make a difference. So we thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

Stewart Levine: Thank you guys so much for giving me the opportunity. There is one other thing that I wanted to mention and that is on the ABA website there is a wonderful, beautiful and extensive Well-Being Toolkit that has all kinds of resources and I think that that would be another great place for people to turn to. But again Jim and Sharon, thank you so much for inviting me.

Sharon D. Nelson: Well, it was a great podcast. And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers And Technology. And remember you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at or on Apple Podcasts. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on Apple Podcasts.

Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.

Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails cowboy.

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