Follow The Show

Follow or subscribe now so that you don’t miss an episode!

Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon MusicTuneInPandoraGoodpodsiHeartRadioOvercast

Episode 156: Are Law Firm Employee Wellness Programs Working?

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

We keep talking about lawyer wellbeing. Most law firms have implemented employee wellness programs. And yet… the numbers don’t seem to be changing.

In fact, 70% of legal professionals still say that mental health is at a crisis level in this profession.

Is there any good news to be had? And what – if anything – can be done about this?

Today we get into both. Because yes, there IS some good news. And there are things that law firms can do to better measure the impact of their employee wellbeing programs and make them much more effective.

Become A Next-Level Lawyer

Join the Next Level Lawyer Newsletter to get weekly tips, tools & strategies for how to cultivate the mindset, leadership & business skills needed to get you and your practice to the next level (without working more hours or pushing yourself harder).

Join now here.

About George Vergolias

George L. Vergolias, PsyD, CTM, chief clinical officer at R3 Continuum, oversees all of R3’s clinical service areas.

He leads R3’s Leadership Support, Clinical Risk, and Workplace Violence programs, and has directly assessed or managed more than 1,000 cases related to threat of violence or self-harm, sexual assault, stalking, and communicated threats.

George brings more than 20 years of experience as a forensic psychologist, certified threat manager and executive coach to bear in an effort to help leaders, organizations, employees and communities heal, optimize and ultimately thrive before, during, and after disruption.

As an expert in restoring and fostering workplace resilience, Dr. Vergolias is a sought-after international speaker and entrepreneur.

Connect with George at:

Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Life & Law Podcast. This is your host, Heather Mulder. And today we have a special guest.

I want to introduce you to George Vergolios. He is the chief clinical officer for the behavioral health services company R3 Continuum, and he’s here today to talk not just about attorney wellbeing – we are going to get into that and the differences between burnout and chronic stress – but specifically to talk about how do you measure the success or not of an employee wellness program?

We talk about attorney wellbeing so much these days, and yet I’m so far not seeing the needle move a whole lot. So how can companies and law firms know whether or not or how much their employee wellness programs are actually helping their attorneys? This is a topic that I’m really excited about, so I hope everybody else is, too. Welcome, George.

[00:02:15] Dr. Vergolias: Thank you so much for having me here, Heather. I’m really thrilled.

What Is Burnout & How Can You Know If It’s Burnout (Or Just Chronic Stress)?

[00:02:18] Heather: So why don’t we just dive right in to the topic, because this is such an important one. The first thing I want to ask you is, attorneys use the term burnout a lot.

Some of them are actually in burnout, some are not.

Almost all attorneys who use the term are under some sort of stress, right. Stress is pretty typical in the industry, and maybe they’ve been dealing with chronic stress for a while. And so I’d like to get into what’s the differentiation of you know, dealing with chronic stress versus burnout, and then also, how do you know when you are diving into that red area?

I would say chronic stress is pretty yellow to orange. But diving into the red area of burnout, where you – maybe you can’t just cope. Maybe you can’t, you know, when. And you need. You need additional resources and help.

[00:03:08] Dr. Vergolias: Great question. And we get this a lot in the work that we do at R3 Continuum.

Stress, Chronic Stress or Burnout?

So when we think of stress, and this really goes almost to an evolutionary kind of definition, a biological definition, it’s really when environmental demands overload the coping mechanisms of the organism. And I know that’s very academic, and that really doesn’t help us anchor that right into what do we do about it. But ultimately, that’s what it means where we’re, you know, the demands that are put upon us seem taxing. They seem, you know, how am I going to get this done in the time allotted to get this done?

We all deal with stress, and that stress goes up and down. And there’s some. There’s some industries, and the legal profession is one in which stress tends to be higher because of the nature of the work and the nature of just the work and the nature of the competition you could find as well, and also the nature of individuals drawn to that field. We also see this in the medical field, right? Yes, we see this in fintech. We see this in technology.

There’s a number of fields that we see this in. So to your point, absolutely. We all deal with stress. Where I begin to define burnout is, let me back up half a step here.

Most of us can manage stress. It doesn’t mean we feel we are cultivating the perfect week or the perfect day in terms of our schedule or our work life integration, but we can manage stress.

Burnout Red Flags

When we start feeling like we’re drowning or suffocating, to use those metaphors, then I feel like we are entering a realm of burnout.

So one way I’ve heard it described that really, just a few years ago, by the way, really woke me up. And I’ve been working in this space for almost 17 years now.

Somebody said to me, and actually it was an influencer, I think it was TikTok or Instagram, I don’t remember, but it was an influencer on social media that I saw. And what he was saying is that the reason that you feel burned out is not that you’re doing too much. It’s not a workload issue. It’s that what you’re doing doesn’t make you come alive.

You’re not feeling a sense of purpose and meaning and passion or not enough of that to sustain you through that process.

And what I always think about, and especially for younger individuals that I’m working and consulting with and coaching only because younger people tend to be closer to planning a wedding. Not that older people can’t get married, right, but typically in the lifespan, a little bit younger. But you talk to people that are lawyers that are super stressed, and then you ask them, how is the wedding planning going? Oh, God, I’m super stressed, but I love it, right? It’s like, it’s more work.

It’s this added x number of hours a week you’ve just added planning a big wedding, and yet there’s something behind it that is exciting and passionate and purposeful and meaningful. And so I don’t like looking at stress or burnout as a measure of quantity. There is a point where working x number of hours a week, you just can’t keep up. It’s just, you can yoga, you can try to yoga your way out of it, but that’s not going to work.

But the really question is, how am I managing that from a perspective of, does it fulfill me, does it refuel me the way an electric car might refuel itself or a battery in a traditional car kind of refuels or re energizes itself.

And so when I look at that, what I’m looking at with burnout is, are you at a place where you just can’t get refueled or you can get just refueled enough to barely get through the next day or the next week, and so you’re just hanging on for the weekend. Another thing I often ask people that I’m consulting or coaching with is, are you living your weekends to forget about your job, or are you living your weekends to build the life that you want? And when I hear people say, I’m just getting to the weekend and I am just trying to go into avoidant mode, and then Sunday night, I’m dreading because I know that Monday starts again. You’re well into your way of being on a burnout trajectory.

So those are not the most academic metrics, but I find they’re very helpful at the human level.

[00:07:31] Heather: Yeah. And I think you point out a couple of things.

The Breaking Point of Working Too Many Hours

So in my experience with lawyers who seem to burn out or be in burnout or have burned out the ones I’ve known, it’s very rarely just about the number of hours. Now caveat. We’ve all, most of us lawyers have probably seen. There was an article, I think it was earlier this year or last year, around an attorney who was working the most ridiculous hours and stressing herself out. And I think she.

There is some concern that she may have committed suicide. They’re not quite sure whether she’s very tired.

[00:08:10] Dr. Vergolias: This was in the UK, wasn’t it? I think.

[00:08:11] Heather: Yes, yes, yes, those kind of hours are insane, and yes, that can lead to burnout. But most people I’ve known haven’t worked those kind of hours, and yet they feel like they’re burning out. And when you dig down, I find a lot of similarities. A lot of times it’s related to one of a couple things that’s led them to believe, why am I doing this? Is this really what I want?

Lack of Purpose and Fulfillment

It’s almost like they feel like they’re no longer themselves.

And it’s. There’s something more. Right. There’s no purpose. There’s. I had one client once tell me I didn’t enter this profession just to help a company make more widgets. What’s this for? What’s the purpose here when you’re, you’re in really dangerous territory, I think, when you’re starting to think in those terms.

[00:09:02] Dr. Vergolias: Yeah.

Changing Priorities and Interests (Without Changing Your Goals Or Path)

[00:09:03] Heather: Because there’s a big disconnect with the, the who. Who you are, your values, or whatever you want to call it. And it could be, and it’s really interesting to me because you see this in a couple of phases, like young lawyers who realize maybe this isn’t what I really wanted, or maybe I’m in the wrong fit firm, or maybe I need to be in house or, you know, you see this also sometimes in attorneys who’ve been doing it for a while, who once found it exciting and interesting and it fueled them and no longer does. And either they’ve gotten bored or they’ve changed in some way and they haven’t recognized that, and that change has changed what they really want out of their careers, what they want to be doing, who they want to be helping, where they want to be working, that kind of a thing. Is that all? You’re nodding your head a lot, so. Yes.

[00:09:49] Dr. Vergolias: Yeah, I think that’s spot-on. And there’s. And there’s a lot of individual variation there, right. Of what? Of what we define as integration. What we define is that balance.

[00:10:00] Heather: Yes.

[00:10:01] Dr. Vergolias: And what we define as what am I willing to sacrifice now to get what I think my goals are five or ten or 15 years from now, whether that’s making partner or making managing director, if it’s at a consulting firm, whatever it may be. And all of those are, I don’t want to veer us off on a whole other trajectory here, Heather, but all of those are variations that each person has to make a kind of a definition of who am I now and who do I want to be and what, what am I willing to sacrifice to get there?

Why Intentionality Is Foundational

[00:10:32] Heather: Intentionality is key. Yeah, and intentionality is key along the entire way. So, you know, I like to think about when I first started my legal career, I actually had hopes and dreams of one day being a managing partner in a law firm. That’s what I thought was through the end all be all right. And those were my goals. Well, then fast forward, and I’m a mom and I’m building a practice, and I was approached as the, okay, would you be interested in taking over that role for this office?

It’s not a done deal, but we’re looking. The person’s leaving. You’re one of a few names that have come up, and I point blank said no, because I really want to build my practice and I don’t want to go do that right now. Well, my goals have changed. You know, different seasons of life bring forth like. And so you need to recheck in with yourself every so often. Okay, what do I want now? Because different seasons of life change your goals, change your desires change your needs, even. And so I think that’s really, really important to remember because we set these goals and sometimes we just stay on that path for that original goal without ever realizing that’s not actually what I want anymore.

[00:11:36] Dr. Vergolias: That’s right. That’s right. And it’s hard to do that in professions. I think medical fits one. I certainly think the legal profession, large consulting firms, you see this fintech, you know, the ones I’ve mentioned earlier as well, where there’s this sense of I want to be like that person that’s kind of on top of the organization.

And it’s so easy to get stuck into the rut of just continually thinking that instead of really taking a step back. And sometimes burnout is the major signal. You know, it’s a bit cliche, but it’s like middle aged men that have a heart attack. That’s the body saying, enough. Like, enough. Like, if you’re not going to slow down, I’m going to make you slow down. Right.

And it’s not just men, by the way, that have heart attacks, but so in a way, burnout kind of, I think, is that it’s that check to say, are your goals still aligned with who you want to be? And what does that mean? Right. And what do you, what are you still willing?

When Working Doesn’t Even Feel Like Work

Because no one’s saying it doesn’t take work or effort. But what’s interesting is when I work with, I do some transition coaching, and at three reals, we do a lot of, we do wellness counseling, but we also do performance coaching with a lot of large organizations and in the legal space as well. And when we see people make that transition, what’s really interesting is not always, but a lot of times maybe they make that transition to their own practice. Maybe. I’ve worked with a few people that have gone into coaching. They literally got out of the legal work, and now they coach lawyers on stress reduction or they coach physicians on stress. They’re working more than they did when they were in their legal practice. But it doesn’t feel like work.

[00:13:25] Heather: My husband told me a couple of years ago, you know, I feel like you work just as much, sometimes more than you did when you were partner, big law, all that, you know, after you built your business, et cetera. And I’m like, oh, there’s no. And then I look back and I’m like, I don’t think I do, actually, but I do work close to that. It doesn’t feel like it at all.

[00:13:45] Dr. Vergolias: It doesn’t feel like it. Yep.

[00:13:46] Heather: And when I left my legal career, I wasn’t in that burnout phase. But I will tell you, I would have ended up there had I not made the change because I had changed so profoundly from my own experiences that I realized I don’t want to practice anymore. Practice isn’t right for me.

[00:14:03] Dr. Vergolias: Right, right.

Are Law Firm Employee Wellness Programs Doing Anything?

[00:14:04] Heather: And so, yeah, I totally get what you’re saying there. So, so obviously, the legal industry is very concerned about burnout, stress management, stress, all of that, for good reason. The stats are terrible. It doesn’t seem like they’re changing for the better a whole lot.

[00:14:25] Dr. Vergolias: Right.

[00:14:26] Heather: So what’s the disconnect there? Everybody’s talking about it.

A lot of law firms are trying to help their lawyers, so they think they’re putting in place programs. They’re hiring more coaches internally. They’re doing all these things for them. What’s going on there? And let’s start speaking about what’s really going on. How are they? Maybe it’s the programs themselves. I don’t know. Maybe it’s how they measure it. Maybe it’s a little bit of both, but let’s dive into that and talk about it.

[00:14:56] Dr. Vergolias: Sure. And I don’t have a magical elixir. I want to be clear of the limits of my knowledge, but it is born out of 20 years working in the field and doing a lot of consulting in the space. So there is some good news, though. Here’s the good news. The legal field, in my opinion, has fully adopted awareness of the problem. I’m not saying every law firm has, of course there’s variations, but they certainly have awareness of the issues.

You see the wellbeing charter, I think, that came out a few years back.

You’ve got organizations like iWill.

I was actually participating in the recent conference. It was extremely well done.

We Are More Aware (The Right First-Step)

So there’s a good amount of awareness, which is a good first step. And above a lot of other industries, you also are seeing some adoption. Now, what I mean by adoption really is adopting the notion that we have to do something. Awareness is one thing. Now we got to do something about it. So we’re seeing a lot of law firms, as you mentioned, Heather, they have coaches, they have wellbeing programs, whether they’re outsourced or whatever it may be. And that’s wonderful.

We Have Bought Into Adoption (Another Good Early Step)

What I do see the legal industry as a whole right now. They’re in a normative, developmental phase that you see where that adoption is still kind of wholesale. It’s mostly off the shelf. Oh, we need help. Let’s go get a coach. All right, we got a coach. We have one coach. Or we need a program. Let’s go buy it off the shelf. And now we’re going to have all of our people train on how to live a resilient life or psychological coping skills 101. Here, watch this. 1 hour training, and that’s. It’s a good start, right? It’s a good beachhead, you know, to plan the wellbeing invasion, as I like to say.

But the difference, though, is that the legal profession, I think, has some unique challenges.

The Challenges Presented By Law Firm Cultures

One of them is different law. You line up ten different law firms, you’re going to get at least four or five different cultures.

[00:16:55] Heather: Right.

[00:16:56] Dr. Vergolias: I don’t know if you want to add anything to that, because I’m saying that from the outside looking in. Yeah, very different. Your program has got to match that.

Disconnection Between Off-The Shelf Programs And The Law Firm Environment

One of the disconnects we recently saw in consulting with a particular firm is they had amazing. And I’m not saying many law firms have this, but this law firm had amazing incentives to make partner. The compensation was insane. The benefits, the perks were insane. Even the freedom to practice was pretty impressive. But to get there, you had to go through the grind, and the grind wasn’t an initiation thing. It wasn’t like there was a bunch of people sitting in a boardroom saying, how do we make these young associates suffer? It was, there’s just a lot of work to be done, and you had kind of had to kind of work your way through that.

They adopted a program that emphasized, go at your own pace, take time off. Your well being always comes before the client. And while those are wonderful values and things to aspire to, it just did not work in their universe.

And so the question was more of, how do we adopt an approach that’s more like the Navy SeaLs or special forces. The Navy SEALS and the special forces have amazing psychological support and resources available to them, but it doesn’t mean their demands go down.

The stress that they have to deal with and the demands they have to deal with are just as high as they’ve always been. What the armed forces have said is, we are going to give them that support and that psychological resilience, and that sometimes they call it inoculation. Psychological inoculation or stress inoculation training. We are going to give the best in the world. We’re going to give that to them so they’re equipped to deal with this heavy stuff that they have to deal with. And so we kind of reorged the approach to fit the culture.

We had another law firm, smaller, a little more boutiquey, where I don’t like the word soft, because that conveys soft is weak, but they just had a more gentle approach to it and that working for them. So I think that’s the one thing that different law firms have to realize when they’re developing a program is off the shelf, is relatively inexpensive. Going out and getting just one coach to come in, that’s fine. It’s a great first step.

But having an array of options, number one, is important. And then catering that or tailoring that to your culture is critical. And then one other thing, because I know I’ve been talking for a bit on this question. Having an array of options means coaching is important.

The Need For An Array of Options

And this is what, when we developed our program at R3, what we were really bullish on is coaching’s key, but we also need wellness support, counseling, because sometimes a coaching problem is already or becomes a real mental health problem. And at that point, you need real clinical resources, and training is also important. But we also need to develop roundtables.

The Importance of Roundtables

Roundtables. What we are, are follow up sessions in small group formats, so that after you have a training, you can implement the learnings of the training over the next six to eight to twelve weeks in real life situations by talking about that in the roundtable and how it’s working or how it isn’t working, and then letting the legal professionals share notes about what’s working for them. Because half the time they have better solutions than I do.

And so we really developed a continuum of services to the degree you can do that and match that to your culture. I think what we’re going to see as law firms adjust to that approach, they’re going to see a lot more penetration and a lot more effectiveness in those programs.

Attorney/Employee Needs Change As They Move Up The Ranks

[00:20:44] Heather: So does well. Okay, this is, I guess, really more, not a question, but a note about what I saw. I also feel like one program, like a program aimed towards younger to mid level associates would be different than a program aimed towards senior associates and young partners would be different than aimed at somebody who’s a partner for 15 years trying to make equity partner. They have very different stressors, they have different concerns, they have different things going on, and different obligations and responsibilities based on where they are in their career. So I also would think that you don’t just need one program.

You need kind of a program that morphs to the individual’s needs or that group’s needs. And I personally believe and wish that more law firms would have programs oriented towards that younger cohort initially to help teach them some of those skills that they need, and then also have others along the way, because I feel like a lot of law firms think that what they need is to help these young associates integrate better and help manage themselves. But then, okay, that’s enough. And they’re fine for the rest of their careers, and they forget about everybody else that is then going down the line. And there’s a reason they lose so many of those people. Yes, because they don’t have that support anymore.

[00:22:09] Dr. Vergolias: That’s spot on. In fact, the single biggest complaint, if you will, that we’re hearing from law firms right now, or target area, it’s not the seniors and it’s not the brand new, it’s their middle, sometimes junior associates that are that really talented younger group that’s on a partner track.

[00:22:28] Heather: Yeah, right. They need to get, I remember it being told to me, and then when I was a young partner, at being said again about other attorneys we were looking at, they just need to step up to that next level. And it’s like, it’s not just about at that level. Stepping up to that next level is more than going out and networking and starting to build business and stepping up to lead. There are other things they need to support them to be able to do that. And law firms don’t know what or how to do. And some of us figure it out intuitively. Some of us know to reach out on our own and hire somebody like me to help them, or, you know, and your. But then many don’t, and then they’re just left. And they’re the ones that the law firms hate to lose, but they lose.

[00:23:18] Dr. Vergolias: Yes. And that’s what we’re seeing. They’re coming to us saying, we’re losing all these people at that level, and what do we do? So you, you nailed it. I think you need, first, you have to come up with your. By the way, I’m spiraling a little into measurement, if that’s okay, because it dovetails nicely into that.

Measuring The Effectiveness of Law Firm Employee Wellness Programs

You need to know, what outcomes are you driving for? First of all, firmwind, but also at each successive. At each level. Right.

[00:23:45] Heather: Okay.

Work Backwards (Know Key Metrics)

[00:23:45] Dr. Vergolias: What are the outcomes? And what I like to do when I sit down with leaders that are making the decisions is if you took these four or five junior or younger associates or maybe, maybe the top team. Right. Or the, you know, the partners, where would you like them to be a year from now, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and performance wise. And from there, then let’s figure out, what do we, what do we need to put in place to help move that needle? And so what’s really interesting about that middle group that we keep finding is massive burnout.

And, and they’re checking out. They’re, they’re actually leaving. So a lot of firms are losing that middle talent, and so there’s kind of a gap. You’ve got your senior partners, and then you’ve got your young associates that may have potential, but they’re not even at that level of being identified. Right. At that, again, I’m referring to the term junior associate or junior partner term.

So that’s the first thing, is figure out what’s your outcome that you’re driving at and then adjusting your training. And while the program can be similarly structured, you might want to offer wellness counseling, which is a little more clinical focused. You certainly want to offer coaching training.

I love the roundtable idea to kind of, you know, penetrate those learnings, so to speak. How you do that and what you focus on, you’re spot on, really should be tailored to those different groups based on the outcomes that you’re driving towards and based on your culture. There’s one other thing I want to add that I, initially, when we went into this, we weren’t thinking of and we started ramping up our work. We’ve been working with law firms for a number of years in other capacities. Disruptive event management, fitness for duty evaluations, pre employment screenings, things like that. But this work, this particular work that we’re talking about today really started ramping up post pandemic. And what happened that was interesting is we noticed there was a shift. Right. And everyone saw that. And one of the things we consistently hear is, you’ve got your senior partners.

Some are baby boomers, and many are Gen X. I’m an older Gen X. I’m 55. So, you know, and I love, you know, I love the statement, you know, we were raised on hose water and neglect. Right. It’s kind of a badge of. Badge of.

[00:26:13] Heather: We were.

[00:26:15] Dr. Vergolias: Yeah. Right? We were. We really were. And what’s really interesting, we have no problem with the grind. We have. We will just get. We will grind ourselves down to the point that we’re yelling at the kids and yelling at the spouse, and. And we will just kind of come surface and be like, well, this is just what it takes to be successful. Successful. There is a real blessing we received from younger people at the back end of the pandemic who said, you know, the pandemic forced everyone to take a little time out and just slow down. And I don’t want to go back to the grind. I kind of like the balance or the integration that I achieved.

Dealing with the Grind

And so what we’re seeing is this disconnect where you’re in a profession where there’s going to be grind, there’s just going to be grind. Right? Especially if you think of litigation, you think of trial lawyers. They don’t have the luxury of saying, your honor, we just got four extra boxes last night. I need a continuance. And the judge is like, sorry, this has been on the docket for four months. Make it happen.

There are just times that you got to do the grind. But what’s interesting is now you have a whole bunch of younger. The new talent, younger generation coming along that are saying, I get that, but it’s not worth my mental health. It’s not worth my family’s happiness. It’s not worth fill in the blank. And so there’s a real challenge for senior leaders to figure out, how do we bridge that gap?

We’ve got to figure out a way, because if we just say, well, that’s what it takes. You need to toughen up if you want to make partner that younger talent is giving us their answer, and their answer is, I’m leaving yeah, I don’t.

[00:27:56] Heather: Want to make partner. I don’t care about that. I do think there’s a middle ground there that too many people are ignoring, you know, and I don’t. I mostly work with the Gen X lawyers.

Some just under Gen X, some above it. But since I’m Gen X, I get a lot of Gen X folks. I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of Gen xers who are deciding, I’m okay with the grind, but less. I don’t need it all the time. I don’t want it all the time. And I do think that’s kind of the middle ground of, you can be intentional in your legal career.

[00:28:30] Dr. Vergolias: Right.

The Middle Ground (And How Boundaries Come Into Play)

[00:28:31] Heather: And sometimes say no, even to clients, sometimes turn work down. I did because I made a very intentional decision that, okay, this isn’t worth it. I do need to grind sometimes. I was a deal lawyer. So on the transactional side, you have a grind, too, because if you have a closing, you have to close by that date. I was a finance lawyer, and there were very distinct reasons why it needed to happen or bad things would, you know, occur. You have a grind to get there, and especially that last week or two. Right, sure. And so it happens, but you can’t do that all the time.

[00:29:09] Dr. Vergolias: Yeah.

[00:29:10] Heather: So I knew. I knew being a finance lawyer that October through December would be hell, period, end of story. Every year, it just was going to be that way. But I would only take on so many deals, and over a certain number, it was too much grind. Right. And there were other times a year that were downtimes.

And instead of freaking out and stressing over the downtimes, like a lot of attorneys do, and going out and trying to gin up as much work as possible, I would take some time off. I would do, you know? And so that was. That was the way to kind of balance it out. I had a three month period that was very difficult, but I knew the rest of the year I could manage my time and be more flexible, and that’s what I did.

And then I also, during that three month period, I mean, there was a time where a lawyer called me. Not a lawyer, actually. It was a in house client who wanted a new deal. And, you know, Heather, we have all this da da da da da. We need you. We want you. And I’m like, I already have five deals for you going, I have other clients, too. Like, no, I can’t. And I just said, in good conscience, I can’t. I think it would be malpractice if I took this on. Because I know I wouldn’t be able to do a good job and neither could my team. Did we just. And there was a long pause. Longest pause. It probably wasn’t as long as it actually was, but it felt long.

[00:30:22] Dr. Vergolias: Right, right. Felt long.

[00:30:23] Heather: And he said, you know, I really appreciate how honest you are. Thank you for telling me that. And I did not take that work on and I grew that client the next year, so I did not lose the business over it. I just didn’t do that one deal. Like you can sometimes say no people.

[00:30:37] Dr. Vergolias: That’s a great example. That’s a great example. And clients, I think, respect that. Right? They like the integrity of that.

And so the boundaries, I think that’s a great example of why it’s important and that’s part of knowing yourself. Right. And knowing where that limit is. I also love what you added, which is having rewards and realizing, because I also do a good deal of training and consulting with some of the big consulting firms and they have seasons, like tax season, for example, where it is, there’s no way around it. It is an absolute grind. Long days, six, often seven days a week.

But look forward to the end of that. What are you going to do? Are you going to Aruba? Are you going to Key west? Are you going whatever you’re. Are you going skiing out west and really look forward to that reward and then enjoy that 100% guilt free? And then you’re kind of compartmentalizing the difficulty. For anyone that’s ran a half marathon or a full marathon, know what that feeling is like when they get to that ten or twelve or 14 miles mark and your body absolutely just wants to quit. But you just remind yourself, psychologically, I’ve worked so hard and think of what I’m going to feel like at the finish line. And then whatever, you know, incentive or reward I’ve given to myself, you know, once I finish this.

So those are really important things to do because then we can get through those difficult periods. Now, if you’re living in that for a year or longer, and I think there’s some evidence that that fairly young or middle age, I think she was relatively young, the lawyer from the UK, that was a problem that was an ongoing.

[00:32:22] Heather: You can’t do that that long. And you have to learn to step back and say, I need a break, it’s not worth it, it’s not sustainable. Then that gets back to the beginning of our conversation and then this. Talking of intentionality though, too, right? So if you are not stepping back and being intentional about the choices.

And so, like, I have a client right now who has. She’s a litigator, and she just got out of a big trial, and it was one that she was looking forward to that she really, really, really wanted to be a part of. She chose very intentionally, but it ended up being a very rough trial, and it was out of state. She hardly saw her family for weeks. She, you know, it was. It was tough. And then she. She’s gotten back and she has another one coming up, and she chose that one very intentionally. But in between the two, she’s also taking a vacation. And she knows that after this next one, she’s saying no to other things for a while because she needs to.

[00:33:21] Dr. Vergolias: Right.

[00:33:22] Heather: So, like, you have to be. And. And I think also when you’re in the middle of the grind, you can be intentional about how you do the grind, if that makes sense.

[00:33:30] Dr. Vergolias: Yep.

Structuring Your Life/World Around The Times of Grind

[00:33:30] Heather: So as a finance lawyer, sometimes we would get pulled into DIP facilities. I don’t know if you know what a DIP is, but it’s bankruptcy.

[00:33:37] Dr. Vergolias: Yeah.

[00:33:37] Heather: Bankruptcy is crazy. Like, it’s just the most crazy thing I’ve ever been a part of. And it is a grind. True grind. It was one of those things where I was like, okay, the next six to eight weeks are going to be hellacious. It’s not going to be fun. I’m not going to be home much. I’ll probably be working seven days a week for that time period. But it’s worth it because this type of thing never comes along. And I want to be a part of this, and I need this because it’s been a long time.

But then I set boundaries around it. Fridays, I left by four. Period. Never worked after four. Saturdays and Sundays, I never went into the office until after a certain time period because I had that time with my family. I also talked it over with my husband before I even said yes to it. And I had very specific boundaries and intentionality around how to approach it to allow myself some breaks and the mental kind of things that I needed and the social stuff I needed with my family. So I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.

[00:34:30] Dr. Vergolias: What I love about what you just said, and this isn’t talked enough, is structuring your world, your network, around the schedule that you’re going to be on.

Not enough people tap into that. They just assume my kids, my spouse, my in laws, my parents, whatever it may be, I’m not going to ask them to rearrange, you know, my, my golf, my golfing buddies or the, you know, my girls that I go shopping with every other Sunday and we have brunch, whatever it may be, none of them are going to redo their schedule, so I have to freak out and stress about jamming all of that in.

[00:35:08] Heather: Right.

[00:35:09] Dr. Vergolias: But your ability to have a sit down with those and what I like to do when I know people are entering, I call it entering the tsunami. Right. Or the tsunami is coming. Right. Is who are the top five people or groups that you want to really stay connected with, negotiate with them? Hey, would you guys be okay if instead of brunch for the next three months, we moved it to Friday night dinner and we try a new place every time? Yeah, I’m cool with that. Hey, guys, I know we usually golf on Saturday morning. Can we bump that to sun because I’m going to be working every Saturday for the next three months. You’d be amazed where the people in our life say, yeah, I’ll work with you on that. We’ll make that happen.

[00:35:49] Heather: You know, and then you still get the best of all worlds and you’re feeding yourself by doing that, but not in a way that’s stressing you out.

[00:35:56] Dr. Vergolias: Yes. Yes. And you can also adjust what those activities are.

[00:36:01] Heather: Yes.

[00:36:01] Dr. Vergolias: So instead of 18 holes, I’m going to, guys, I’m going to join you for nine because that’s all I have time for. But I could still join you for nine. Right. And so those things go a long way towards keeping you above. Keeping you above water. Right. There’s, you know, we’ve all, we’ve all, Heather, we’ve all heard the phrase hope floats, right. But I spin on that, right? So hope floats. This is what I say, hope floats, but it don’t swim. If you want to get into motion, if you want to get to the side of the boat or you want to get to the side of the river, you’ve got to take action and make decisions that are going to get you there. Right. And so this is a good example of rearranging those connections in a way and seeing who can negotiate with you. And I’ve been constantly amazed at the people in my life that have said, yeah, we’ll work with that. Even my kids will be like, yeah, we’ll work with you on that.

[00:36:53] Heather: My kids were relatively young, but I had a conversation with them and let them know, here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s why. How would you feel about this?

And we talked it through and that’s how I came up with my schedule at the time. After talking it through with them.

How To Know The Effectiveness + Impact of Your Employee Wellness Program

So, okay, so that’s the, we were getting into a lot of individual stuff, which is awesome because individuals are listening to this. So let’s get final, like, comments about measurement because you got into kind of like you start from where you want them to get to work backwards from there. That’s all awesome. That’s kind of the implementation and how to start that process. But then how do they know it’s working? Like, how do they really measure? Let’s say they’ve had something going for the last two years. What should they be seeing if it’s working for them?

Know Your Goals From the Start

[00:37:38] Dr. Vergolias: So as a real, just a high, a high point, you want to determine the goals. We talked about that. You want to determine how you’re going to measure those in a feasible way. And the simpler you could keep it to start, the better because you’re more likely going to act on it as opposed to some really robust, you know, we’re going to survey people every three days. You know, you’re just not going to get people filling anything out. Right.

Have Systems In Place for Feedback & Analysis

And then, of course, you want a system in place where you analyze that and then you have a feedback loop when you use that analysis to determine how do we modify or how do we adjust going forward. Very high level. That’s your general model.

Measure SUE (Satisfaction, Utilization and Engagement)

From there, what I tend to recommend. If I had a firm that came to me and said money’s no object, and we never hear that, but if they did say money’s no object, these are the things I would measure. The first thing is an acronym, and I refer to it as sue, s u e, no pun intended. In the legal. In the legal profession. But it’s satisfaction, utilization and engagement. Those are not the same things.

  • But satisfaction is how happy am I with the program.
  • And then utilization is how much am I using it.
  • Engagement is how much am I showing up and taking part in the training or the sessions, things like that.

And I’m measuring that at both an individual level and across group. Right. Because there’s insights.

The Mistake Many Make

Don’t make the mistake. This is a quick aside. Don’t make the mistake that high satisfaction means high effectiveness.

Right. Because here’s what’s really strange about clinical work as well as coaching sometimes. I remember when I was really young as a clinician, not young as a child, but as a young clinician, I was getting great satisfaction ratings, but I was feeling like I wasn’t making a big impact.

And my mentor at the time had a great, very penetrating thing that he said to me he goes, the problem, George, is you’re trying to be liked. And when you’re trying to push somebody to grow, you can’t always be like, you need to be liked enough that they don’t fire you. Right. But if all they’re doing is liking you, you’re like a physical therapist that everybody loves, and if everybody loves you, you’re not pushing your clients enough. And that was just right. It really was really penetrating for me. I was like, wow. And so satisfaction, utilization, engagement, then you want some kind of performance indicators, actual job performance indicators. I think we want to measure something to indicate how are you doing at the workplace or in your role. And as you can imagine, that’s going to vary widely based on the role and the firm and the context.

Measure Collaboration Indicators

I like measuring collaboration indicators. How much are you collaborating and working as a team? And the only way really to get that is self rating, but of course peer ratings. And you could do that anonymously. And the key is, when you’re doing this, it cannot be tied to performance management.

The minute that your people feel like, well, how my peers rate me is going to affect my salary or affect my raise or you’re dead in the water, no one’s going to give an honest answer from there on out. So that needs to be done anonymously, meaning the raters. And it needs to be done in a way that it’s kept separate from my evaluation in terms of raises and promotions. Right. It’s really about. Because the belief is if you’re not collaborating, then that is one of the biggest signs of presenteeism. You’re just not caring enough to collaborate and reach out. Yeah. You had a thought? I could tell.

[00:41:20] Heather: What’s interesting about that is I think that’s going to be the hardest thing for law firms and lawyers to do, is to separate those things. I know, but what that’s really, really saying is you need to see it differently than as a performance review, but instead it’s a healthy view because it’s showing you how engaged they really are and how present they really are.

You can’t be that if you’re not healthy inside. Right. If you don’t have the mental health, that all the things are going well, that they, they sought out this program or you had them in the program for one reason or another. So you, you need to see it and even have it in a different realm of people probably doing the reviewing of this and seeing this, not the performance reviewers. Those are different. But this is in that realm and that’s the purpose of it.

[00:42:09] Dr. Vergolias: I love that. That’s spot on.

Because, you know, when you think of real collaboration, and I’m going to tie in innovation as well, you need energy, right? I mean there’s energy to raise your hand and interject an idea into the group and it’s probably a group of really bright people that went to some really good schools. It can be intimidating in some cases.

So you need energy, you need vulnerability because you’re throwing out ideas that can be attacked, right? Even in a really supportive environment, there’s vulnerability that comes with being really collaborative and innovative and you need to care, you need to care. And one of the, to me, one of the first signs of presenteeism is when people are just like, I don’t really care one way or the other, I don’t care enough to throw my two cent in the ring. Then you’re just holding on for a paycheck, right?

[00:42:58] Heather: Yeah.

[00:43:00] Dr. Vergolias: So that’s the collaboration indicators.

Measure Clinical Indicators

Clinical indicators. What do I mean there? I’m talking about clinical symptoms. Now, some firms don’t want to go here, some organizations we work with don’t want to go here, but social withdrawal, depression, anxiety, stress levels to some degree, even substance abuse, use of alcohol or drugs, and I know that really then starts getting on thin ice in terms of what different organizations or firms can mention. I’m just giving you the full menu, okay? I’m giving you the full menu.

[00:43:32] Heather: Well, and how do they. They’d have to ask. Yes, volunteer.

[00:43:37] Dr. Vergolias: That’s right.

[00:43:38] Heather: Not everybody’s going to be honest about that.

[00:43:40] Dr. Vergolias: Right, exactly, exactly. Right. Now where that can come up is when someone’s identified as. So maybe I started in coaching because I was struggling on a few things and the coach realized, you know, George actually has some significant anxiety that’s secondary to an ongoing depression that he’s dealing with. He needs a clinician.

There are some times that that can be managed at the individual level.

[00:44:05] Heather: Right.

[00:44:06] Dr. Vergolias: But we will sometimes say we want to see improvements, even anonymously, by anonymous reporting. We want to see improvements with anxiety and depression because I mean, two thirds of lawyers, I’m sorry, legal professionals, so not just lawyers, but legal professionals are reporting significant mental health symptoms in the last year. And that has been year over year. Same similar findings, pushing 70% are rating depression, anxiety, excessive substance abuse.

So again, we want to be very careful how we measure these things, but it’s one thing to consider as another measurement point and then functional indicators. So functional indicators are things like, what’s my energy level at work?

Maybe I have the ability to be hybrid. So I choose, when I come in, how often am I coming into the office versus not, am I still engaging in activities at home that give me pleasure? Am I still engaging in professional, out of work activities like happy hours or other things? Right. So I call those functional measures.

They’re not symptoms, but they’re functional measures of how. How well am I functioning there, right.

Measure Work-Life Integration.

And again, I always say integration. Now, I don’t say balance because I don’t think we could find balance, right.

There are times where I am giving 70% of my time to my work, but I still feel like it’s integrated because I love what I’m doing. Right. Theres other times that Im only giving 40% to my work quantitatively, but it feels like its 80 because I hate what im doing or I hate the project or Im just in a bad mind place, right. So I like the idea of integration, work life integration.

Measure VOI Indicators

And then theres a host of VOI (value on investment) indicators that I think are super powerful, sometimes hard to measure. These could be measures of happiness, fulfillment, purpose, meaning.

Connection, Engagement & Meaning

And we know this from the longest study ever done, which is the Harvard longitudinal study on adult, on adult mental health. They’ve looked, I think it’s spanning now over 75 years. And one of the two biggest indicators they found for living a happy life, a fulfilling life, is your degree of social connection and your degree of purposeful, meaningful activity as you define it.

It isn’t all these fancy clinical, it’s not depression, and it’s how engaged are you with people and how much do you feel when you get up in the morning? Your life has meaning and purpose, so don’t leave those out now, there’s a million ways to measure those, and you probably do want to consult with somebody that has done this because there’s just a ton of ways to get at that. But those are really important indicators as well. So those, that’s kind of the full menu list. There might be some more.

[00:47:09] Heather: And I would also, I would think that, you know, a company like yours could help law firms put together the systems that, like how to do all of this, how to like, you know, that ultimately you need to have systems in place and you need to be able to follow up and all of that. And yes, you could do this internally, I’m sure. But why? There are experts out there who can help you do it really well from the start to finish.

[00:47:35] Dr. Vergolias: And you know what’s funny, Heather, is we don’t even do it internally. In other words, we have expert vendor partners that we work with to develop the metrics and the, we look at the analytics, but they develop a lot of the technical side of that. It is a specialized area.

[00:47:52] Heather: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Awesome. Okay. Any final words before I let you go?

[00:47:58] Dr. Vergolias: One. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. So I want to thank you for the time. It’s such a relevant conversation.

Learn As You Go, Don’t Get Overwhelmed (Just Get Started)

The one thing I would say is, particularly for law firms being in this space, when you look at all the things we talked about today, it could seem daunting. It definitely can seem daunting. There’s all these things. A lot of law firms are like, well, we’ve got the awareness, we’ve done some trainings and we feel we’re ahead of the curve. And then you hear everything I’m talking about and they say, oh my God, we feel so far behind. It all begins somewhere. And when you look at most of the organizations that we work with, they’re in the same place.

This whole idea of building real resilient cultures, of wellbeing, really started. I mean, we’ve been talking about it for years, but it really took off post pandemic. So we’re all kind of learning as we go. Don’t let that be a detraction of starting somewhere, starting with a pilot, starting with a training regimen, with roundtables, and then building off of that into a mentoring or performance coaching or a clinical counseling support, you know, program. So start somewhere is where.

[00:49:08] Heather: Start somewhere. Something is better than nothing. And you have to start somewhere if you’re ever going to get anywhere.

[00:49:13] Dr. Vergolias: That’s right. That’s right.

[00:49:15] Heather: Well, thank you so much for joining us.

[00:49:17] Dr. Vergolias: My pleasure.

[00:49:18] Heather: How can. If people want to find you online, where can they find you?

[00:49:22] Dr. Vergolias: Best place would be. So our website is r three i’m the chief clinical officer. If you go to our people, you could find me under there. You can also find me at George.

I’m going to spell that quickly. V as in Victor Ergolias three that would probably be the best way is just reach out to me through email.

[00:49:45] Heather: Awesome. Okay. I will put links in the show notes, all that will be in there so they can find it. Thank you again.

[00:49:52] Dr. Vergolias: My pleasure.

A podcast for lawyers ready to become happily successful.

Heather Moulder in kitchen wearing light purple top

I’m Heather Moulder, a former Big Law partner (with 18+ years of experience) turned lawyer coach who traded in my $2.5MM practice to help lawyers achieve balanced success. Because success shouldn’t mean having to sacrifice your health, relationships or sanity.

Create the lawyer life you actually want.

Get weekly proven strategies for success in law and life, based on my 25+ years of combined experience as a practicing lawyer and lawyer coach.


Balanced Lifestyle

Business Growth

Legal Marketing

Inside-Out Success

Leadership Development


Mindset Mastery