Well-being and mental and psychological resiliency among lawyers has become an increasingly important part of the long-term success of a legal organization or law firm. Lawyers and their staff produce best when they are relatively stress-free, less fearful, and are less inclined towards addictive abuse of drugs or alcohol. But in an atmosphere of success-at-all-costs and giving 110%, how do law firms get there?
Nate Klemp, is co-founder of Life Cross-Training (LIFE XT), which is described as a “human performance program” based on training people’s minds for well-being that results in “optimized energy and productivity.” The group provides the program to organizations, including law firms, to ensure that their lawyers, partners and staff are making their own well-being and the well-being of others a priority in the workplace. Klemp spoke to us about what his company does, why the legal industry is especially vulnerable to stress and addiction, and what law firms can do about it.
Legal Executive Institute: Why did you create LIFE XT and how does it work?
Nate Klemp: We created Life Cross-Training as a way to bring well-being and resilience training into the modern workplace, specifically in those industries where you have individuals who are extremely valuable to their organization are also experiencing very high levels of stress. So, of course, law became a big target for us, mostly because, compared to many other industries, the legal industry in general has been slower to adapt to the emerging crisis in well-being, mental health, and addiction.
LIFE XT is a training program for well-being that’s based on a blended learning model where there is some amount of digital content that a participant would consume, but then there’s also this human touch which we think is really essential to building any kind of sustained habitual or behavioral change.
We have coaches who meet with participants and help instruct them on practices, and these coaches are also a source of support and accountability. In this sense, training your mind for well-being is no different than training your body physically.
Legal Executive Institute: You found the legal profession very much in need of this?
Nate Klemp: Definitely… but it makes sense in some ways because many law firms operate based on the idea that you have to grind it out, push through stress, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. These are pretty in-grained and widely accepted presumptions within the legal industry and other industries as well.
Also, there’s emerging research about the impact of the technologies we carry around in our pockets have on our mental and emotional well-being. The fact that we’re continually interrupted by notifications; the fact that we’re using our device as a form of behavioral addiction no different than an addiction to gambling or shopping; and the fact that we’re trying to continuously stay attuned to multiple streams of information at the same time — all this can be extremely stressful.
Now, however, I think we’re seeing the emergence of a movement to question those assumptions, and that’s being pushed by some unfortunate news events and high-profile research in this area. So, I think it’s a really encouraging time, and things are changing pretty quickly — but there’s still a lot of inertia in this area that’s just inherited.
Legal Executive Institute: How do you crack that inertia with law firms?
Nate Klemp: I think there’s a couple ways in. One is to put a microscope on the problem itself and show some of the rising statistics in the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Then, you can begin drawing a line between those statistics and what I would call problematic business outcomes. In other words, if you have an impaired work-force you’re going to have more disengaged workers and lower productivity. Couple that with unwanted turnover, high medical costs, rising absenteeism, and, at the end of the day, your employees’ negative well-being will impact your firm’s revenue. So, it becomes a business issue.
The second piece is to look at solutions in a way that talks about well-being and resilience without being New Age-y, but instead leads with science and research. Over the last 20 to 30 years, we’ve seen amazing developments in neuroscience and psychology that show we can greatly help people — and that there are practices and habits we can use now to make work environments more positive for well-being.
Legal Executive Institute: What are some of the lessons you learned in this field?
Nate Klemp: When we started out bringing well-being workshops to law firms, we were surprised so few people would show up. What we then found out was that no one wanted to be seen attending these workshops because it would appear that they needed help or were weak.
We realized that this kind of stigma makes having an open conversation around well-being very difficult, and you have to give a lot of thought to how you create an environment where people feel more open to sharing about their challenges. That goes to the culture of an organization. It also shows the importance — again from a business standpoint — of creating a culture where well-being and resilience are part of the conversation and lawyers can share about these topics without worrying about losing their job or not making partner. Firms need to see that it’s actually a sign of strength to be able to share on these topics.
We also discovered that it’s vital to consider the unique context of attorneys when coming up with a well-being or resilience solution. If you look at the world of mindfulness training or meditation apps, for example, they’re often based on what I would call this model of formal practice, where you have to take often significant chunks of time out of your day to engage in the practice. However, this ignores the reality of how most attorneys live and how time is an incredibly scarce resource for them.
At LIFE XT, we try to focus more on using everyday life moments as an opportunity to build new habits around resilience or well-being. Instead of having people meditate for an hour a day, which for most people would lead to a complete failure, we encourage them to find moments in the day — like walking from your car into the building or when driving in an Uber — that they can use to cultivate qualities like mindfulness, gratitude, or compassion.
That becomes a more powerful way to create habit change because it takes into account the incredible pressures that attorneys are under.
LIFE XT also supports the American Bar Association’s well-being pledge that encourages law firms to address mental health issues among lawyers. Sign up now to take the pledge!