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Building Resilience from Trauma in the Legal Profession [Panel Discussion Video]

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used in place of professional advice, treatment, or care in any way. Lawyers, law students, judges, and other legal professionals in Massachusetts can find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential appointment with a licensed clinician here.

Below, you can find a video recording of our March 9th panel with transcript and list of resources.

 

We hosted this discussion in honor of Black and Women’s History months, which this year focused on health, wellness, healing, and hope. Our experienced panel examined the unique stressors of working in legal services and nonprofits, especially for attorneys of color and women, and discussed how to maintain emotional and psychological health through trauma. We thank our co-host, the Racial Justice Project of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and cosponsors, Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys, Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, Women’s Bar Association, and the Mass SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.

 

PANELISTS

Stacey A. L. Best joined LCL in 2021 as the Executive Director and, in that role is responsible for the strategic direction, daily operation, and management of the staff of both LCL and LOMAP. Stacey represents and participates with key stakeholders at various agencies and Committees of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), including the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, the BBO, and the Standing Advisory Committee on Professionalism to improve the quality of the legal profession.

Stacey joined LCL after spending 18 years with the Board of Bar Overseers (BBO) and the Office of Bar Counsel (OBC). Most recently Stacey served as the Acting Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the OBC. At the BBO, Stacey investigated alleged violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and litigated all stages of the disciplinary proceedings including all appeals.

Stacey began her career as a staff attorney in the trial division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS).  She tried cases at the district and superior court levels representing indigent clients charged with felonies. Stacey is also a former clinical instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) at Harvard Law School, where several of her students tried cases. Stacey enjoys mentoring and teaching in a variety of settings including CLE, bar associations and law schools.

Stacey is a “transplant” from California to the Boston, Massachusetts area. She is a 1995 graduate of the Boston College School of Law. When she is not working, she enjoys gardening, fishing, cooking, and riding her Harley.

Virginia Benzan (re)joined MLRI on November 30, 2020 as our Race Equity & Justice Attorney. Virginia was a staff attorney in MLRI’s immigration practice group from 2008-2011. After MLRI, she directed the Immigration Clinic at Suffolk Law School and then served as an Asylum Officer and Training Officer at USCIS. Along with immigration law, Virginia also has a background in criminal defense, housing, family law and extensive litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy experience as well as coalition-building and community outreach expertise.

Prior to attending Northeastern Law School, she served as a Congressional Aide to Sen. Edward Markey and has served as a longtime board member at Citizens for Juvenile Justice. As the director of MLRI’s Racial Justice Project, Virginia works collaboratively to advance a cohesive and effective anti-poverty focused race equity agenda in Massachusetts.

Attorney Joseph D. Feaster, Jr. has been practicing law for over 45 years, during which time he has developed an expertise in numerous areas of the law, including corporate, employment and labor, real estate, contract, licensing and zoning, and probate. Previously, he served as the court-appointed Receiver for Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center, as the Interim Town Manager of the Town of Stoughton, and prior to becoming Of Counsel at McKenzie & Associates, P.C., he was Of Counsel to the firm of Wynn & Wynn, P.C.

Attorney Feaster previously served as a member and chairman of the City of Boston’s Board of Appeal, as President of the Massachusetts Community and Banking Council (MCBC), as Acting Director of Real Estate for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, Interim Administrator of the Boston Housing Authority, one of the largest public housing authorities in the country, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel in the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance, Associate Counsel in Prudential Insurance Company’s Northeast Home Office, and as an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board’s Boston Regional Office. His professional affiliations are numerous, as his expertise is sought within the City of Boston and nationally. Such affiliations and service include serving as a mediator for the Suffolk County (MA) Superior Court Mediation program, and as a registered lobbyist in Massachusetts. He serves as an executive committee member of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Inc., as chair of the board of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts (ULEM), on the Samaritans Advisory Council, and is a Corporator Emeritus at Northeastern University. He previously served as a board member of the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Boston (NAMI Boston), as President of the Boston Branch NAACP, as vice chairman and board member of Neighborhood Health Plan (NHP), as Speaker of the House of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), as a board member of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers (MLCHC), as a board member of Dimock Community Health Center, which tenure included serving as Board Chairman and as the Center’s Interim President, on the Executive Council of the Massachusetts AARP, and as a board member of the National Lawyers Committee For Civil Rights Under Law. Mr. Feaster was also a member of the Commonwealth’s Workforce Investment Board, past Corporator and Overseer of Northeastern University, past President of Northeastern University School of Law Alumni Association, past president of Northeastern University School of Law Black American Law Student Association (BALSA), past president of Combined Boston BALSA, and past Chairman of the Boston Enhanced Enterprise Community Advisory Board.

Attorney Feaster is President of Feaster Enterprises, a strategic planning, organizational development, and community outreach consulting firm, and a consultant with North American Management. He was the Senior Vice President of Victory Group, a government and community relations firm, served as an adjunct professor in Northeastern University’s Master in Public Administration program, and as a research associate at the William Monroe Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Attorney Feaster received his Juris Doctor from Northeastern University School of Law. He has also completed programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Real Estate Development and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Feaster is admitted to practice before the courts in Massachusetts, the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

email: jfeaster@mckenzielawpc.com

Dr. Charmain F. Jackman is a Harvard-trained licensed Psychologist with 23+ years of experience in the mental health field. She is a national spokesperson on BIPOC mental health and advocates for emotional wellness for all. Dr. Jackman is the founder and CEO of InnoPsych, Inc., a mental health tech start-up on a mission to make it easier and faster for people of color to match with therapists of color. She also consults with organizations on topics including mental health, racial trauma, and employee wellbeing. She has won several awards for her impactful work including the 2021 American Psychological Association’s Citizen Psychologist Award and City of Boston’s 2021 Innovator of The Year award and has been featured on national media outlets such as the New York Times, NPR, PBS, and the Boston Globe.

Dan Lukasik is a 1988 graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Law and the current Judicial Wellness Coordinator for the New York State Office of Court Administration.

Following his diagnosis of major depression and anxiety twenty years ago when the managing partner at his law firm, Dan created a weekly lawyer support group in his community for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, burnout, and chronic stress and the website Lawyerswithdepression.com, the first site of its kind in the nation, to help lawyers, law students, and judges cope with and heal from mental health problems.

Read More about Dan
Dan’s work on mental health has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The National Law Journal, The New York Law Journal, ABA Journal, Bloomberg Law, Law360, and many other national and international publications and media outlets, including CNN and NPR.

Dan has given over 200 presentations around the country on stress, anxiety, and depression for law firms, judicial organizations, bar associations, malpractice insurance providers, CLE programs, and law schools including, Harvard and Yale. An Adjunct Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, Dan teaches a class, “Mental Health and Well-Being in the Legal Profession.”

Dan is the Executive Producer of the original documentary, “A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession,” which has been viewed by legal professionals throughout the country. He is the recipient of the “Public Service Merit Award” from the New York State Bar Association and “The Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service” from his law school alma mater for his work in helping to destigmatize mental health problems in the legal profession and encourage people to seek help and support.

Dan is a certified trainer for Mental Health Works, an innovative, evidence-based program used throughout the U.S. to educate leadership teams about mental health issues in the workplace and how to address them practically and constructively manner with their employees; Mental Health First Aid, which teaches participants about mental health and substance abuse and how to respond to someone in crisis and non-crisis situations in the workplace; and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a research-based program that teaches participants how to use mindfulness and mindfulness meditation as a self-regulation approach to stress reduction.

As a member of the “New York State Task Force on Attorney Well-Being,” “The American Bar Association’s Commission Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being,” and the “New York State Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Committee,” Dan works with legal professionals and mental health experts across New York State and the U.S., to help create policies that promote good mental health and well-being in the law.

 

TRANSCRIPT

STACEY A. L. BEST: 

Good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank you for joining us for this very important conversation about building resilience from trauma in the legal profession. As most of us here know, the need for effective strategies and to strive in these very difficult times, it’s almost palpable.  

Just this week, Bloomberg Law posted an article with survey results recording nearly half of the respondents reporting worsening well being and more than half recording feelings of burnout, and those who reported worsening well being also reported that they were experiencing lower job satisfaction. A study published by the International Bar Association late last year show that these issues were particularly exacerbated or pronounced among attorneys of color, younger attorneys, and female attorneys, as well as attorneys from underrepresented ethnic groups and those who are disabled.  

This data isn’t surprising to those of us who belong to these or fit into any of these groups. But this data is notable as it comes more than a year after the death of George Floyd and at a time when the conversation about the reckoning of race and equity, and efforts to grow in the space of equity have been ushered in. As we close the end of Black History Month and began Women’s History Month, many of you are aware that we also recently witnessed the death of a young, young, bright star in the legal profession, Lauren Sampson. And that has been an impetus for us to have this program.  

I want to take a moment also to remind us that those of you who may be aware that the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers is sponsoring a survey with NORC; there’s a survey on well-being in the field. If you haven’t taken that survey, I encourage you to take it. And just to let you know that while the survey is still in the field, we are seeing trends similar to those in the studies that I mentioned just a moment ago.  

And so in an effort to be useful to the community, we brought this panel of individuals together, who have each have their own personal professional encounters with trauma, and are here to share their insights and strategies with you about getting up and carrying on.  

So please join me in welcoming Virginia Benzan, Joseph Feaster, Jr., Dr. Charmain Jackman, and Dan Lukasik. Welcome each of you and we look forward to the conversation. If you wouldn’t mind it may be helpful for those of you who are actually not speaking, if you maybe shut your cameras off so that that way we can see the speakers as the conversation goes on. I may actually also shut my camera off, although you may continue to hear my voice. I am experiencing some technical difficulties with my internet. And so I hope to remain with you. And again, turning my camera off may help me in that effort.  

I want to start off Dr. Jackman with you. And I want to talk about how you never know what’s going on behind the eyes of another person. You never know what they’ve experienced. What sorts of traumas or things that they are they have in their life or what has been traumatic to them. As we get started, I’m hoping you can give us a definition of trauma so that we all have something to work with in understanding both ourselves and those that we might encounter. 

  

CHARMAIN JACKMAN:

Absolutely. And good afternoon, everyone. I’m so excited to be here. And to talk about this topic, I kind of geek out on anything mental health topics. So bear with me if I go on too much. But this topic of trauma is really important to the work that I am doing. I’m the founder of an organization called InnoPsych, and our goal is about providing resources for people of color, people who have historically not really engaged in mental health resources. And so as I think about trauma, there are many types of trauma that we experience across our lifespan. If we think about a traumatic situation at the situation where we, you know, historically we fear for our life, or safety, or the safety of someone close to us, do we think of generically, what is a trauma? That is what we think about when we think about trauma.  

And the thing I want to add is that trauma lives in our bodies. And so as you said, Stacey, as you started to bring on this topic, that we can look at someone and we have no idea what their their history has been, what traumas they may have experienced. But it lives on our bodies, and people may get triggered by something we say, something we wear, a smell, right? And that might show up in the workplace.  

I also want to just go into some of the different types of traumas just so again, we have a foundation. And so we think about traumas, we can think about natural disasters or man-made disasters. So being in a hurricane situation, I grew up in Barbados, so hurricanes are often something we worried and feared about being in a car accident.  

 But we also have historical traumas, when we think about people from the African diaspora whose ancestors have been enslaved, or indigenous people whose land and equities means genocide, and land theft. And they carry that, that generational trauma, that historical trauma, and that gets passed down. There’s a whole field of epigenetics that says that traumas can pass through over 14 generations. And so again, we think about when you show up, you have no idea what someone or their ancestors have been through.  

And we also want to talk about collective trauma. So these are experiences where we kind of encounter and may have a similar experience. So we think of Trayvon Martin or George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, people in the black community all could connect with that, you could envision your dad, your brother, a cousin in this role. And so that is an experience of collective trauma where we’ve all been through a similar situation.  

There’s also interpersonal trauma, so bullying, sexual assault, domestic violence, and you talk about racial trauma. And we’ll get into that here, you know, particularly at work, so experiencing racial discrimination and racial stress, racially motivated violence. And that has come up quite a bit in my own work in my research around this topic, that racial trauma is very prevalent in workplaces and contribute to a lot of stress for people.  

And then the last one I would add is vicarious trauma. And so may not be you experiencing a trauma but someone hearing a person’s experience. So I had an experience where I worked for many years in the juvenile courts, doing court ordered evaluations where people would be involved with DCF, and the juvenile system. And so hearing people’s own stories, so depending on our roles, as attorneys, you may also be carrying traumas that you occurred. So even though it didn’t personally happen to you, hearing those stories of trauma can also have an impact on you. So pass their pronoun, hear what else others have to add.  

 

STACEY: 

Well, I’d like to turn and speaking of stories, I think, for me, personally, it has it is helpful to hear the stories of others. And so we do have three attorneys as part of the panel. And Joseph Feaster, I’d like to turn to you first, as we talked about sort of off the beginning of the panel, there are some generational differences. And going back to the traumas that Dr. Jackman mentioned, by age, you look real good, but by age, some of those traumas you’re closer to some of those than others of us. So, I’d like to know sort of how you and your career have navigated some of that, because I think by most measures, any measure I’m sure, you have had a very successful career. So I’d like to hear some of your story in terms of how you’ve been able to navigate that.  

  

ATTORNEY JOSEPH D. FEASTER, JR.: 

Well, Stacy, first and foremost, I certainly take the comment if you say and I look good. I’ll take that for sure, but I also want to thank you very much for inviting me to be on this panel. I see some of my good friends on here. My colleague Timothy Frazier, Allison Cartwright and I, who served together on the Boston Police Task Force for the city of Boston together. So I want to say hello to some of them and that’s all I can see at this particular point in time. 

I want to say thank you, greetings to Dr. Jackman and all my other panelists. 

Let me just put it, I always want to put it in context so one knows where I’m coming from when I do speak. I’ve been practicing law for 46 years now and have had various experiences in government, private sector, worked and as an administrator and well, the town manager, interim town manager; I’ve headed up the Housing Authority; I’ve worked for Governor Dukakis, I’ve done work with various mayors in the city of Boston. So my experience in terms of my legal work has been broad. And now I do primarily, I’ll also put a plug in for those who may want to hire me, I do work in zoning in the city of Boston. I’m one of the zoning czars. And so that’s established, a practice that I’m establishing, in trying to train certainly lawyers of color in that regard. There’s only three of us in Boston who do it, and I’ve trained the other two, so I’m hoping to do that.  

So let’s talk about issues in terms of trauma. I’ll probably, I’ll deal with my personal story last, Stacey, in case I start crying. I will recover but I want to get the rest of it out before then. And in coinciding with what Dr. Jackman pointed out the types of trauma, what I have seen is that many lawyers experience with trauma, oftentimes based upon the practice in which they’re engaged in. So, for instance, criminal law. You know, if you’re a criminal defense attorney or even a prosecutor, you see a lot of situations that come in, particularly if you deal with murder trials and you’re dealing with assault and batteries, etc., you see a lot of experiences with Dr. Jackman referred to, which may have an impact upon you as a practitioner. And oftentimes that is exhibits itself in what we call in the mental health community, those co-occurrences that you have some mental traumas, but you also may deal with drug-related things, either in terms of drugs and/or alcohol. And that manifests itself, and I know Stacy with the work you do, you run into the lawyers through the programs of trying to help lawyers who may have be suffering from those iterations. So therefore that’s one type of thing I think it in terms of the type of practices. 

The other ones that we have as an attorney of color by being a Black male. I’ve had the experience over the course of my career that persons that feel that I may not be qualified in order to be able to handle the types of cases that are presented. I’ve worked in, I’m a Northeastern University grad, so I had co-op programs where I worked in different offices, including private firms, but I was an attorney for Prudential as well, and what you will often find is that the clients, when they see me, don’t want me to work on their cases, and so therefore they will say that to the firms, and oftentimes the firms will acquiesce to that. And that creates — so it’s one ability in order to advance within their frame in terms of their firm or in their private practice, may as well affect or create trauma for them in terms of their ability to advance within the profession that they’ve chosen to do so, and that will be it. So therefore, many attorneys of color will go into other directions. They may be a solo practitioner. They may go into government. They may do other types of things other than going into the private firm route.  

Now granted, as you said, the generational piece, I came out of law school in 1975. So it’s probably a different situation that Virginia may find, in terms of some receptivity in terms of having attorneys of color within the firm and their ability to move. 

I’ve run into situations. I recall the example that I give of that, and this is one where it’s my office and I’m in charge. Well, I come into the conference room. Well, first I’ll give two examples. One example is I’m training a young associate, I’ve got probably then, about 30 years of practice; this person is maybe two years of practice. Well, when this so-called client comes into the room, they’re coming, gravitating automatically to that two-year white attorney as the person who is who they should be addressing. And attorney says, “No, I think you need to be talking to him.” So that’s an example. Those things don’t bother me from the standpoint because I’ve been around long enough. I’m a child of the civil rights are having graduated and come to school, college in ‘67. So, I understand these types of things and I’m better equipped to deal with it than some. So that’s an example. 

I’ve had a situation where I come into the conference room, it may be, I forgot what the matter was, may be about 8 attorneys in the room and there’s an attorney sitting at the head of the table. Well, I have I one thing I’ve learned is if you invite me to your house for Thanksgiving, there’s no way in like that I’m going to come and sit at the head of your table, so I corrected that one very, very, very, very quickly and adeptly to address that. But these are the types of things that oftentimes can create trauma for some because they are faced with these situations that may happen to them personally, that’s the personal ones to which Dr. Jackman refers.  

Now, of course, COVID has created a circumstance which has created the isolation, the inability to interact, and all of that. Similarly some people are affected by that as well, and then I mentioned about the alcohol and drugs. 

But my personal experience. There are some things external to the practice of law which can have the impact on you. Well, I lost my son, death by suicide 12 years ago. When you have that experience, it didn’t affect me in terms of practice because what I’ve generated that experience generated for me was the ability to use that as a basis for me to help others. So therefore, I’m on the Advisory Council for Samaritans. I’m executive committee member of the Mass Association for Mental Health. I’ve been with NAMI, I raised money. I just recently did a piece that will be airing from Brigham & Women’s about their mental health practice. So what I have done is to take that and manifest it in a positive way in which I could use that in order to help others. 

And because I’m vocal about it, I get many calls from folks in many types of disciplines and primarily with caregivers. I don’t try to represent and I am not a clinician like Dr. Jackman, so I don’t try to step into that vein. But what I can do is to say to a caregiver how you might respond to those issues. 

So to sum up, all of those things could have an effect upon one, and I think that is great that with Stacey and with Rachel, that we have this organization which gives persons a place where they can go and have the conversation with persons who understand what they experienced, and therefore maybe give them some ways in which they can deal with it. So with that I you know, I don’t know if Stacey is going to come back to you Virginia, but if not, I’m going to do like they say in TV, onto you. 

 

STACEY: 

Yes, I am going to Virginia. And Virginia, I appreciate that Joseph is a tough act to follow but we do all have our individual journeys and just the expression, the information that he shared is a prime example about how you never know looking at an individual, what they have been through and also how though you can survive and even thrive by turning it as he said into something positive. 

So I’m assuming because you are from a younger generation, not necessarily a child of the civil rights movement, that you have some of that experience though, that knowledge to reflect on. Tell us if you will some of your experiences in the nonprofit sector in particular that you’ve come through and how some of the strategies that you’ve employed to be successful as you are. 

 

VIRGINIA BENZAN: 

Oh, thank you and I would like to say my experience 20 years later, I graduated from Northeastern in 2003, so I’ve almost been practicing for 20 years. I would love to say that my experiences are much different than Attorney Feaster, but unfortunately they have not been. My credentials have been questioned. I’ve been blocked from getting into a court because I’ve been perceived as being the girlfriend or the interpreter. 

I’ve had court officers, crisscross over multiple other attorneys just to get to me to tell me that I’m sitting in the wrong spot. I’ve had people blocked me from doors thinking that I didn’t have the right credentials to pass through that door. I’ve been dismissed – I think even as a woman, it brings us sort of a different and an additional layer too, also being a woman of color, I’ve been dismissed and demeaned in multiple areas. I was the director of an immigration clinic at Suffolk was constantly going to South Bay with my students to do intakes and as you said, Attorney Feaster, so I had many of the folks turn to my white students as if they were the director of the program. I’ve had judges do that as well, and government counsel do that in the immigration field and so you know we definitely need to do better.  

I know I’m standing on the shoulders of all these attorneys that came before me and I appreciate that I know that my circumstance, you know, whatever I’ve gone through is still probably better than Attorney Feaster and the ones before me, but we’re still unfortunately seeing the same things. 

And personally, my experiences have been with immigration. And so I think with immigration I can talk personally that, you know we see and with working with low-income folks that you know deportation is often considered sort of like a death sentence, and so I’ve had people tell me that they’ve had only me and Jesus, that’s their only hope in their life. 

And so for many years of my practice, I’ve often felt like I was the life raft and people were holding onto me, as you know, as their representation and hope. You know if I didn’t, if I couldn’t win their case, then their lives would be devastated. Some people really feared for their safety. And so that can play a toll. 

And as an asylum officer when you’re interviewing asylum seekers, listening to sort of the worst days of people lives and sort of the horror of our humanity, you know the worst of what people can do to each other. There was a time where I just felt like every woman I met had been sexually assaulted, violently. I was always sort of surprised. And when you’re working in immigration, it’s sort of you get a sense of like you actually want your clients to have experienced some harms. So you kind of look forward to it like that and it becomes sort of desensitizing. 

But I had this experience where I interviewed a person who had suffered incredible horrors with her and her mother during a guerrilla war and I had interviewed her maybe on a Monday or Tuesday and then on Thursday I saw her in the supermarket. She worked at the supermarket and she was stocking the shelves. And it was a reminder to me, that we never know anybody’s experience right? And so just a reminder that this historically had experienced this, still coming to work every day, and that she deserved respect and humanity, and so that’s sort of one of the things that I have gotten and sort of the resources is that for resilience that I just remember that everybody deserves to be seen and heard and respected, and that we just never know the path people are walking or what they carry. 

I have been able to take my circumstances or the experiences I’ve had and really shifted the narrative. I think when I was younger – I’m a first generation American. My parents are from the Dominican Republic. My dad wanted to be a lawyer, so he told me that I was going to be a lawyer my whole life. Which you know, I didn’t appreciate it when I was younger. I totally thought I wasn’t going to be a lawyer, but that belief in somebody that young, to me, I never questioned my ability to do it and that I could go to law school, that I could be successful because you know, I heard it my whole life that that’s what he envisioned for me; it’s why I kept my maiden name because he wanted me to make sure that you know my law degree had his name on it. But it just reminded me that – And I say that because when you talk about generational trauma, I want to say I have a different experience as African American here in this country, and the perception of the American dream has been different for me.  

And so I was able to shift. I had a different experience than my parents because race was the biggest impetus in my life and so I started to shift where I didn’t look externally to like thinking bad about myself, but really shifting to like having a different soundtrack to what I say to myself when I experience those things. 

So where it used to make me feel bad, I can’t tell you how many times I cried at outside of Quincy Court about how badly I got treated, but then I started to shift it, where when somebody blocked me from coming to a door, I was able to confront them and really put it on them like it’s their problem. So I think a lot of our shifting of our narrative, talking creating a network of people who’ve had same experiences. Sometimes we read something and then, like the report from the Lawyers Well-Being report about the status and we say, “Oh yes, that’s happened to us.” Just talking to other folks and really trying to create a community has been helpful. 

So I know I don’t want to go, I know we only have an hour. 

 

STACEY: 

Thank you. You gave me enough time to get myself together because you had – and see I’m gonna do it anyway – you had tears in my eyes, talking about your history, your father. 

But also you talked about empathy you developed up watching others continue in their work. Dan and Dr. Jackman. I want to turn to you Dan. I want to turn to you first because you actually work with judges. Now you have your own sort of personal professional experience that that dovetails into some of this, and so one of the questions that I have is what sort of strategies do you advise for people who are experiencing trauma, either variously or directly experiencing the impact of as someone who now works with judges ministering to them, if you will, what are some of the strategies on this side or even on that side that you might give for the interaction that in a very complicated and or difficult situation like immigration or criminal court, where the consequences are devastating, regardless of how the work is done, it’s a hard situation. 

 

DAN LUKASIK: 

Well it is. I was a trial lawyer for 30 years, 34 years, and for the past two years I’ve been the New York State Judicial Wellness Coordinator for New York State. We have about 2000 judges, 15,000 employees, so it’s a big court system. My own journey to this and why I wanted to talk today is myself when I was 40 I was the managing partner at my litigation firm, and I was diagnosed with major depression, which was a very difficult and painful thing to go through on multiple levels and I still have depression. 

I think that’s sometimes a fallacy that we think, well, do this or do that and you’ll be okay. Well, sometimes that’s true. Sometimes that’s true, but many people who struggle with depression that isn’t true, and it really becomes an issue of managing it over a lifetime like no different than any kind of chronic illness. 

So, in terms of trauma and resilience, I think of trauma real quickly as pushing you down. It’s oppressive. In my own experiences, I grew up with, I have four siblings and my father, a World War II vet himself had PTSD and became a raging alcoholic, a violent man, and my first traumatic experience of being attacked by him when I was five years old. As a lawyer, going to law school, I was determined not to be my dad and to do something good with my life. And it’s funny I never saw the connection between that traumatic upbringing and what subsequently became depression for me. 

And I think that if we were to look into the lives of all lawyers in this country, and what there’s 1.2 million and a third of the lawyers have some form of depression, that’s the national statistics, we would look back and see that they have – many, many, many of them – some form of trauma that they carry into the legal profession even before they step foot in the courtroom. Or even step foot in law school.  

So, I think unpacking it is helpful. And when we think about the interactions between judges and lawyers and litigants in the legal system, we have to appreciate and understand the dynamic of trauma and other mental health problems. And I think we’ve gone – I’m very grateful I’ve been involved in this issue for over 20 years before my appointment and I’m very grateful to have lived long enough to see so much positive change going on. I’m a member of our New York State Task Force, working on the committee and report. And I think these talks on these topics, such as we’re having today, were unimaginable even five years ago, you know.  

So I think the general idea that I say to judges is that we’re all in this together. Whether we appreciate it or understand it or not, that’s just the reality and we all have impacts on one another and the way that you treat a lawyer in the courtroom as a judge impacts not only their mental health, but you too. You too. The way you treat a litigant impacts your mental health. So we’re all linked in that way, though we have different roles to play and I think that educating people as we’re doing here today is a big, big, big deal, especially spending a devoted hour not on old webinars I used to be on. We’d spend 5 minutes on drinking, 10 minutes about drug abuse, and maybe 10 minutes on mental health. Oh my God, you know there really the 500 pound gorilla in the room, nationally, globally is mental health, right? 

So I think that strategically, what we found here in New York State is that they asked the lawyers, does the court and your relationship with the court affect your mental health? 80% said yes, yes. So most lawyers. Then what they asked them is, so what were the sources of that? 

The number one thing lawyers said was the handling of a court calendar, where judges would be too hard on standards and goals and not very accommodating even when they could be. Even when they could be. And I think the direction going forward the other thing that lawyers work is the impact of virtual litigation virtual working within the justice system with litigants and lawyers and judges, and by far most lawyers, favor a continuation of that hybrid model going forward into the future because many people like the hybrid. They don’t like virtual, they don’t like in person, but I think that’s true globally and nationally that people appreciate the flexibility because, especially for women, because it allows them to work, be more flexible in child-care arrangements or you know, for a you know, a man may be taking care of an elderly parent which affects your own well-being. So I think that those are the two broadest things. 

And finally, I’ll say I distributed and gave to Stacy 3 PDF’s I’ve created for our program here I’m the director of it, on deep breathing, deeply important, self-compassion, very important. Lawyers are so hard on themselves. So hard on themselves, unforgiving, when they make mistakes. And finally gratitude, which I have my own gratitude journal. It’s a cheapie composition book, and I tell people we all had grandparents or jeez, somebody in our past, told us to count our blessings and you know, we all agree with that. But we don’t do it very much do we? Isn’t that the truth? So what scientists and psychologists know if you want to have this to have a positive impact on your mental health and well-being, you have to write it down because guess what, you’ll forget. We’re all human and we forget. But if we write it down, it causes us to reflect on the good things that we receive in our lives and we all in this traumatic time and in this sometimes traumatic profession.  

So much goes wrong, doesn’t it? So much negativity, we sometimes see people at their worst. How could that not have an effect on us? You know, and we wonder why we’re so tired all the time. Well, we’re not refreshing ourselves we’re not putting more gas in the tank. A gratitude journal, and I’ve had one for two years and I’m no great genius in terms of – I’m kind of a lazy guy, you know, but about 10 minutes I take 10 minutes on the weekend to log this. Not only do I feel better about it in the moment, let’s say 3, 4 or 5, 6 months from now, I’m having a tough time, I’m walking through the valley, and I tell you, looking back at this and reading it over the last 3-4, I can see all the ways that I’ve received goodness in my life. I tell you, it has a profound effect. It’s you know the world religions and philosophies have known this for millennia that when we reflect on things that we should be really grateful for, it affects our own sense of wellness and well-being. So those are three ways in which I handle my own trauma, ways in which I teach judges, lawyers, I teach at the law school in a class on well-being to our young people. So that’s what I wanted to share. 

 

STACEY: 

Thank you, Dan. Dr. Jackman, I’d like to go back to you to add on to that. So in addition to the things that Dan talked about and some of them including reflection, take time. Do you have any thoughts about a situation or how lawyers, a person might handle a more conflictual situation, standing in front of a court where the judge is not willing to give that flexibility, or the court officer has directed the lawyer to the holding area thinking that that the lawyer is somehow, the defendant or the girlfriend of the defendant. Do you have some thoughts and strategies on how to deal with that? I didn’t know, Virginia talked about paradigm shifting, but that too can take time. So let’s put you in the hot spot. 

 

DR. JACKMAN:

Absolutely. No, it’s great. I just popped ways for people to get in contact with me, but I just want to honor the three stories narratives that I just heard. Thank you, Joseph for sharing your story. Thank you Virginia, and thank you for Dan. And I just want to honor those. And you talk about them now and at a more intellectual level, right? 

Because you’ve either figured out ways to deal with it, but I just want to name that those little slights those daily slights can just wear on people day to day, month to month, year to year. And you know what, I love your question and I just want to just acknowledge Dan for the gratitude journal. Yes, I love it. You’re talking my language. 

But you can’t deal with those things in the moment, right? Because when those things happen, you get triggered right and you go into fight, flight, freeze response and kind of the body takes over. So that’s not the time where you can actually do things. You have to do that work beforehand, and I just love Dan, it was just a great segue because the whole practice of mindfulness is something that I really advocate for. 

I have this thing I call the three M’s of mental well-being: Mindfulness, Mindset, and the Mind-body connection. And I think Dan may have looked at my slides before because he was just saying all of those things. 

So mindfulness is about breath, right? So I’m taking moments to focus on our breath and the idea around mindfulness. You can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time. Your body just can’t do it. And so it’s a way of practicing ways of controlling your breath, so that you can invite those moments when you need it. It’s about practicing. 

And the self-compassion is another really important aspect of that. Not beating yourself up when you make a mistake or you did something wrong, you know, just kind of really allowing yourself, you’re human. We can’t be perfect. And then allowing those thoughts to leave.  

And the other part about mindfulness is being present focused, and so again when we dwell on the past or worry about the future, it is very distracting and can create anxiety. So, really developing strategies to be more present focused is a really important component of mindfulness. 

The other M is mindset and I talk about gratitude actually, on my resource on my website I have probably about a 5-minute clip where I talk about the importance of gratitude and how that benefits people in terms of self-care, and most of all mental well-being. I talk about journaling, whether it’s a gratitude journal, a success journal, whether it’s a written journal, an audio where you’re talking your computer, or video journal. Thinking about is but really about ways of reflecting and noticing when things are going well.  

The whole thing about gratitude is it puts you in a position to think about what is working for me right now? How am I? What are things that are going well in my life?  

I often invite my clients to start and end their day thinking about 1 – 2 things that they’re grateful for. It’s a very powerful shift, right? If you start your day, think about your To Do List and all the things you didn’t get done yesterday. Just imagine the energy that you’re starting your day with versus what are one or two things that I’m really appreciative for this morning, and similarly at the end of the day. And so that’s mindset. 

And then the third M is the mind-body connection. And this is really an important idea. Particularly when in talk in communities of color, we act as though our brain and our minds isn’t part of our whole health, and so it’s really about creating and sharing a message of integrating our mind and our bodies. Trauma lives in our bodies and whenever we have an emotional stress, triggers. It shows up in our bodies first, usually. And so what are you doing to allow that trauma and that stress to be released from your body. I really invite people to think about: 

  • How do you incorporate more movement into your day? 
  • How do you integrate being out in nature as part of your day? 
  • How do you tap into creativity? Things that allow you to be distracted from stressful moments. Our hobbies. 
  • Also about doing things that bring you joy. 

So those are three strategies that I really emphasize, and I really talk to people about thinking about this in very small bite size, habits or practices. I don’t talk about exercise; for me, I say exercise, that means I have to sign in, print gym membership, I have to go five days a week, and I have to spend at least two hours at the gym, right? When I think of exercise, that’s the kind of the schema that I have but when I think about movement, it’s like okay, maybe I stretch for five minutes maybe I just take a walk around the block. And it’s those small, consistent habits that can translate into helping build better self-care tools and habits in your toolkit, so those are some strategies that I wanted to highlight. I know I’ll have to leave in a few minutes.  

The other thing that I wanted to share, you know we were we were joking at how good Joseph looks for his age, right? And we often say in our communities, Black don’t crack, right? But one of the things that I want to, there’s some research by this woman I forgot her name in this moment, but she talks about weathering. And this is the daily wear and tear in our internal. Though we might look so good on the outside, but our internal. I look pretty good for my age; someone who was just younger 10 years younger than me, someone thought she was my mom. I’m turning 50 this year, but I have high blood pressure. So looking at me, you may be like, oh, this, she’s in good shape. But I have this high blood pressure. And part of it is generational. Both my parents have it, but I also worked in very high stress environments.  

So, one of the things that I think about, particularly when people of color we have very, we’re high achieving, when we get to this level because we’ve worked hard. We’ve kind of overworked overachieved over everything, right? Part of it is combating those stereotypes about being lazy, being not smart, having to prove yourself and earn your credit in the space. It’s that way, but that takes a toll, and for me personally my sleep goes because I have those never ending to do lists. I want to make sure whatever product I put out is great, there are no mistakes. So there’s a wear and tear on my mental capacity, my sleep, that if I don’t watch, it can be really off kilter. And so really thinking about how we’re coming into spaces and being triggered in those moments. So how do I make sure I’m developing practices that help me to respond and not be reactive? 

I love what you’ve shared Virginia. You’ve come to this place where it’s on them. But you have to come to that place, right? And that’s to reflection. It’s honoring your values, and letting your values lead your way, but also doing things that feed you. And having that community. That empowers and affirms you so you’re not taking on other people’s stuff. 

So I’ll pause there for now, but hopefully that was helpful. 

 

STACEY: 

I think it was helpful. Thank you very much, but I do want to press you just a little bit more because I know you really do have to go. So you know, are you saying that these habits create space, in your mind and your body to then process and deal with the traumatic experience so that you’re able, at least in a situation of conflict to respond as opposed to react? 

And and if that is so, I guess my question to you is, do you have some thoughts about whether and when to give feedback from a certain circumstance, in which there is conflict?  

Because you could just have the experience and go off and do some deep breathing, and never let the person know with whom you’re dealing that there was a problem. Would you do you recommend that strategy or do you recommend some ways of giving feedback in in what is that? 

 

DR. JACKMAN:

So there’s definitely two things and one thing is, when you’re able to respond and not react, where you’re able to respond in a thoughtful way, I think that the people get what happens and what needs to happen. And I think it gives you the opportunity to maybe engage in a conversation if that’s the space. 

I think the other thing you bring up that it often becomes, our focus here, or my focus on the experience of people of color, and it particularly responds to racial stress and so often the people of color end up taking on the burden of fixing the thing when it’s not our problem to begin with. So how are we educating our people around us to step up and speak up right? 

How are we inviting people to be analyzed? Because I often am in situations where people see things happen to me, don’t say anything in the moment, but later like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry but you handled that.” You know it’s like, “No, then say something in the moment.” 

So how are we creating spaces where we’re not having to be the victim and also the problem solver. So that’s one way that I would respond to your question Stacey. So how are you building these systems where people can be accountable too, our coworkers and the and the legal system in general. So I don’t know what you think about that. 

 

STACEY: 

No, no, I think that that’s an important point. And I want to give you a last moment to comment on the how right. 

Because then we’ll turn to Joseph and Virginia in particular, and Dan to chime in, but how do you help people build their allyship? Some of us are just actually ignorant and are unaware we may be used to seeing something feeling bad, but we have not been acculturated to “see something, say something” beyond the messages on the T. 

 

DR. JACKMAN:

Well, I see a diverse group in this space today and so I hope people can are listening in and maybe it can take some tips from what we’ve heard Virginia’s story, heard Joseph’s story right about their experiences being in the corridor being even in within the office space. 

How are companies creating spaces to educate about implicit bias and what does that look like? There are lots of people doing that work. 

And so there are opportunities to train. I have this book that I’m reading called My Grandmother’s Hands – I don’t know if you can see it – by Resmaa Menakem. And he talks about white body trauma, black body trauma, and police body trauma. So particularly for this audience, that’s a great resource.  

And having conversations. Being not afraid; these are things, in this day and age, we have to get a step up and have those conversations. I shouldn’t say not be afraid. Even if you’re afraid, still have it. Don’t let the fear be your break, just move forward and have those conversation. 

But I do think it’s important for companies to offer these trainings to recognize the inherent bias in, particularly in the legal system, and I’m doing some consulting with a group of psychologists and clinicians who do work in the courts, and it’s very it’s very tricky because we are in systems where they’re built on white supremacy. If we don’t challenge those systems, then we’re going to keep replicating the impact and the harm that we’ve seen. 

 

STACEY: 

Thank you, I’m going to ask Joseph. I see you’ve unmuted so you’re ready to jump in with some of your experiences of how you’ve navigated that kind of space. 

 

JOSEPH: 

Certainly Dr. Jackman led for a great segue for me in order to be able to do that. Let me approach it first; let me say this is my birth month, but I’m in the sign of not Pisces but Aries and I act like that in a lot of things that I do. 

I’m also thoughtful because I always want to give one a learning experience when it comes to situations I’m faced with. I’ve also learned how to, in the words of Virginia, to transfer it back to the individuals. So I use things when things like this occur, there are two things I may do: “You disappoint me.” Or the other one I use is, “You’ve hurt my feelings.” And I have found both of those as disarming ways in which to get people to begin to reflect upon and to deal with what you said. 

So as opposed to attacking them about what they failed to do, I let them know that their actions, or inactions, created an effect in impact upon me. 

Now in actuality, neither one of those are really issues which are going to at all diminish me, because I just have a certain view with regards to myself and I’m sure that Allison and Timothy could tell you; they’ve worked with me. They know that I have the high regard, so I don’t look at it from that standpoint. If one does some of the things that I’ve talked about, it’s their issue, not mine. But I’m going to educate them because I’m not going to let bad behavior, whether it’s my children, another adult or someone, to prevail. 

So you have to find mechanisms or how you’re going to deal. And I can see the large audience we have here of over at one point 100 people. I’m sure that they have some stories of things that have occurred to them, from both the trauma and things that they have done. 

But that’s, Stacey, how I’ve been able to take both what Dan and Dr. Jackman have said and inculcated into my personality to be able to use it too. Used as Virginia, said deflection from the standpoint of putting it back on the individuals as to their failing, not mine. 

 

STACEY: 

So one of the things that I get from your response is values, and living into and leaning into your values. I’m wondering, Virginia, what would you add to that given that you sort of kicked this off with the paradigm-shifting imagery, which I think is very important. 

 

VIRGINIA: 

Well, I have to say we have to give some grace to ourselves. It’s an evolution. I can’t say that when I first graduated, that’s you know and these experiences first happened to me that I handled them well.  

You know, I’m constantly evolving my approach in response to it. Initially, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be like Ellie Woods and just kill them with kindness. Then I’ll be back super prepared. So I have my bar card out I’m going to walk with a little bit more confidence. I used to think my suits and my bag were going to make it that I was the lawyer. That wasn’t enough, I started to try to mitigate it by having my bar card out kind of walking with a little confidence where knowing where I needed to sit; speaking with authority right away, which were not things that I was immediately doing here.  

So, it evolves and I wasn’t always great with conflict, but I think being comfortable with not being comfortable is one thing. I can tell you the last time I confronted somebody, I still had my stomach swirling in there, like I’m going to say this like you can’t call me out. But I did know that once I shut off because I think it’s a fine line when you’re in court, how much you’re going to press a judge? How much you’re going to press opposing counsel? So you do walk this fine line, but I did realize that sometimes when I got off work and let a clerk talk to me sideways then I would let her have it because I was building it up all day, so I think we have to just have some kindness for ourselves. 

It’s a process. You move in and out of it, and you just have to acknowledge. I think we need to do a better job of just acknowledging that this work is hard. Being a lawyer is difficult. The constant critique we receive the constant demands, especially in civil legal aid where we don’t get the compensatory benefit to it, our benefit of helping others can often be the burden. We also suffer from the need. So just giving ourselves some grace and acknowledging that this is difficult work. 

And I can’t stress enough the network. I always try to find my person or one person that I work with who isn’t going to try to reason away, will just tell me, “Yeah, that that sucks that that wasn’t great,” and not tried to like rationalize, “Well, maybe it wasn’t about race or maybe it wasn’t –” Just somebody who’s going to listen to you, let you vent, and come up with you know ways to continue just being a person. 

 

STACEY: 

Thank you. I really appreciate that. I myself at times try to look at both sides of the equation at once. Like my piece, the values piece I really resonate with Joseph, what he has to say about not letting certain things past like, “I’m going to come back to this.” I may not come to you at this moment, but I’m going to come back to this, because failure’s not an option.  

But I also have learned sort of even as we just learned here today, that the things that people are dealing with on the other side may sometimes be the pressure that is causing them to behave badly, and so giving grace on both sides. But nonetheless we need to have the conversation. 

So, Dan, I want to give you a chance to get in on this in terms of again, working with judges and being in firm management, etc. You’ve seen the leadership side and you’ve also you know experienced some of the difficulty that I imagine other leaders experience and then maybe not handle as gracefully in terms of management. So what are some of your thoughts from that side, perhaps about how to facilitate better relationships with others? 

 

DAN: 

Well, I think of it in terms of, besides working for the court system I’ve given talks at HR conferences and corporations, things of that sort. I think what they all have in common, leadership, those kinds of things, is this one thought is that we’ve historically seen these problems as disciplinary issues. Whether it be more serious disciplinary issues like grievances or malpractice, or things like that; it may be something within a firm or in a court system. It shows up in different ways. Lack of productivity is a big one with depression, for example. 

So rather than seeing it as a disciplinary or punitive issue, organizations can learn to see it as things we should be collaborating on. In terms of leadership, there has to be leadership buy-in; that is a core message I always tell everybody. When leaders ask me, “What does this have to do with me,” I say a lot – a lot. 

Because you could teach somebody all the self-care they want, you want, but if they walk into a workplace culture that’s toxic, that doesn’t acknowledge the mental health problems, that doesn’t care, that just not only can make people sick, but it can demoralize and cause them to despair. 

So I think that I teach leaders that they certainly do have a role in this, and without their buy-in, things don’t really change very much. And that’s the focus of all the national, and I know in Massachusetts, a big focus is leadership buy-in, leadership responsibility. 

And finally, we talked with before the good doctor had to jump off, but we talked about what can you do in the moment of conflict where you don’t have time necessarily for some of these self-care things. One thing, this is an app I use. It’s called Breathe to Relax. I’m a big believer in practical, realistic things you can do throughout the day. So you could just tell it – actually it’s free – how stressed you are, and it’ll adjust. It gets you through a guided breathing exercise. 

The other thing, if you’re in the moment in the courtroom or in the heat of battle, what helps me is that I don’t anchor myself in my breathing, I anchor myself in my feet. Maybe 10 years ago, I went to a mindfulness retreat for 10 days and they spent half the time teaching us to follow our breath and the other half of that time was walking meditation. There’s something very grounding when we focus on our standing, walking, feeling at the bottoms of our feet. touching the Earth is very grounding. So, noticing how fast we walk, sometimes I walk like a lunatic. It’s amazing I don’t bump into walls and I drop things; I’m not paying attention. But when I slow my walk down a little bit and I feel my feet underneath me, it’s grounding, I feel more collected. And that’s true in moments of great conflict sometimes. 

 

STACEY: 

So we are at 3:01(pm) actually, we’re just a one minute overtime, which is okay. I want to thank each of you, Dan, Joseph and Virginia for sharing your stories, your thoughts, your ideas. 

I’m deeply appreciative of the sharing because again, as I said, I think that stories are helpful for people to glean things that are useful to them personally. 

We are now going to set up 3 breakout rooms in which you all can come, self-select and enter. We have clinicians from LCL, who are going to be facilitating those discussions. I know Tracey Meyers, who is going to lead the session for I think it’s women in the law is probably champing at the bit having heard much of what Dan had to say on the mindfulness exercises. She has led us as a staff through a number of the grounding exercises. So each clinician will facilitate a room. 

 

RELATED RESOURCES:

Scheduling an Appointment | Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers MA (lclma.org)

Find A Therapist of Color | InnoPsych

2022 Massachusetts Lawyer Well-Being Survey | Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers MA (lclma.org)

Survey: Workplace Emotional Wellbeing Among Employees of Color (InnoPsych)

4 Guided Practices for Self-Compassion in the Legal Profession [Videos with transcript] – Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers MA 

The Power of Your Breath: 2 Short Practices to Utilize for Well-Being in the Legal Profession [Videos with transcript] – Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers MA

Deep Breathing How-To & Tips (Lawyer Wellness Program)

Self-Compassion Phrases & Resources (Lawyer Wellness Program)

Gratitude Journal How-To & Template (Lawyer Wellness Program)

Tips to Develop Resilience in the Legal Profession – Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers | MA (lclma.org)

The Mind-Heart Connection: What Lawyers Need to Know to Maintain Heart Health & Mental Well-Being [Webinars for Busy Lawyers] – Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers | MA (lclma.org)

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies: Menakem, Resmaa: 9781942094470: Amazon.com: Books

Blog | InnoPsych

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CATEGORIES: Anxiety | Depression | Stress & Resilience | Well-Being
TAGS: trauma | vicarious trauma

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