By Carey Shoufler
The Advocate recently interviewed retired Government teacher and long-time Law Related Committee member, Cindy Wilson to get her perspective on the state of law related and civic education in Idaho.
Carey: Share a little about your background and experience as an educator.
Cindy: When I first began teaching in tiny Pierce, Idaho in 1984, I found a big hole in student understanding of how local and state government worked. So, we began taking an annual field trip to Boise each year to see the legislature in action. Students raised money all fall and then traveled to Boise for a 3 day stay in the spring. I couldn’t believe what a positive influence this had on students, many who had not ever left north central Idaho prior to their field trip. That field trip continued at Pierce School until the school closed, long after I left there.
When I moved to Orofino we got students involved in YMCA Youth Government. Students participated regionally and then traveled to Boise for the state convention. We had several students elected Youth Governor and Chief Justice which meant they traveled to the East Coast to meet with students from all over the United States.
It was when I was in Orofino that I first became involved with Law Related Education. In the fall of 2000, I attended a workshop on The Supreme Court and elections. While there I learned about the Mock Trial program and we created a team to compete. I saw students from our small community become passionate about civic knowledge and activity and realized the importance of teaching and encouraging them to become caring members of their community while still in high school.
There are so many organizations like the Law Foundation that work to increase resources for civics learning. One activity I remember fondly was our annual mock trial performance. Students from the high school presented a mock trial of Little Red Riding Hood. Junior high students were the jurors in the trial, and elementary students came to watch. The local courthouse opened a large courtroom for us; we had local media cover the trial, and it became quite popular amongst our students.
We also worked with the local county clerk to put together a get out the vote campaign. Students arranged rides to the polls for people and worked with our school buses to take voters from the local assisted living home to vote. On election day, students stood on street corners all around town with placards reminding people to vote. Afterward, the county clerk came into our classroom and congratulated students for getting involved and raising voter turnout that day.
Carey: Share about some of the ways you think our Law Related Education program helps/enhances civic education.
Cindy: Since my early days working with students and watching them get so excited about participating in civic activities and especially the connection they appreciated in how adults treated them when they were involved, I’ve recognized that we have to provide hands-on activities for students to learn about the U.S. Constitution. Once students get the bug and become passionate (and they all do – every single one of them!) we create lifelong active citizens who make better communities.
I love how the LRE program offers so many opportunities for students. For example, the Mock Trial program gives students a chance to not only learn about how the law and courtroom works, but also to practice it. There is no better learning! When students actually DO it, act as attorneys and witnesses, they understand it so much better. It creates a chance for them to learn information not out of a textbook, but by actually experiencing in a trial. It’s a well-known principle of great teaching that having an audience and an element of competition increases student learning. That’s what our mock trial program does.
Our 18 in Idaho magazine is my favorite way to introduce students to their local government. At the beginning of every school year, I always started with the magazine and let students read through how state and local laws affected them when they hit adulthood. They really enjoyed the layout and information of the magazine and many took them home to share with their parents. We continued to discuss what they had learned in that first lesson throughout the school year. I want every classroom to have a set of these magazines so students can learn and understand the law and how it relates to them.
Our Law Day Podcast Contest is giving students an opportunity to show off their technology skills and meet them where they are. The complete traditional research on a topic, interview their sources, and then use their creative energy to create a podcast that focuses on a topic. Again, this is pedagogically sound in that there is an element of competition, audience, and also creativity, all principles that engage students in learning. I’m especially excited about this year’s theme for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and voting right and hope every student in the state will participate in it! And they can win cash prizes!
Carey: In the last couple of years you’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the state. What are some things you’ve learned about what kinds of support the students and teachers of our state would like from a program like ours?
Cindy: As I’ve traveled the state, I realize the truth about civic education: while it is happening in small pockets of some of our communities, it is stifled by a lack of information and resources and frankly time to participate in civic programs.
The recent emphasis on STEM learning is wonderful, but not at the expense of not providing education in the social studies. As No Child Left Behind began testing math and English, teachers put their emphasis on teaching that. We now have seen a new push for students to learn science and there are wonderful programs and opportunities for that. In fact, in Idaho the STEM action center is an entity of the Governor’s office and has a budget and partnerships across the state. There are so many resources available in this field of study now, particularly for our girls.
However, we don’t have the same resources or emphasis on civic education across our state. National research clearly shows a lack of information about the nation’s founding and documents that protect our freedoms. It also shows that a majority of young people don’t have a good understanding of how government works and that they don’t want to get involved in it or even vote.
As I said, there are pockets of excellence in civics and I’m seeing a renewed emphasis around the country with civic learning departments and associations being created in some states.
With the lack of school funding in particularly many rural areas, there is no money for buses to transport students and compensate teachers for the additional time spent outside of their regular duties to get students to participate in extracurricular activities that promote civics. Teachers are doing the best they can, but many of those who were active in civics in the 80’s and 90’s are retiring and we need to promote our activities and programs to new teachers and offer them the support that can help them facilitate the learning.
Carey: Can you share some info about the projects you’ve been working on for LRE?
Cindy: Our LRE Committee works hard to promote the programs we offer but it’s difficult in a state our size to inform all teachers about what’s available. One thing we’re doing this year is identifying schools and individual teachers in districts across the state and meeting with teachers one-on-one to explain the program, offer them a classroom set of our Turning 18 magazine, and assist them in creating a Mock Trial team or publicizing our podcast contest.
We’ve seen some success and real excitement from teachers and a willingness to get involved. This year, Boise High will have a Mock Trial team for the first time in years and we have interest from more Treasure Valley schools for next year as well as schools from north and south Idaho. It’s a slow process but more and more teachers are learning about what we offer and working to get it into their classrooms and the hands of their students. It seems if we can inform people and find those who understand the importance of project-based learning then we can get these opportunities to students throughout the state.
Carey: What information do you share with people – attorneys and teachers – when you are trying to get them involved with LRE?
Cindy: I like to tell personal stories of students who participated in hands-on-learning activities and how their interest in the law and respect for the US Constitution and their government’s principles were influenced by LRE. Every single student who was involved in civic participatory learning continues to stay involved in their communities today. Several of my former students have run for office and one just won his third term as mayor of Orofino. They still message me when they vote or want to discuss what’s happening in the news.
Every single child in Idaho deserves an opportunity to learn about their government and the law. The Idaho Law Foundation offers that through the LRE programs. We just need to get people informed about what’s available and then offer them the assistance to make it happen. Having been a part of so many of these programs for students, I KNOW they work to help students learn and that we can find time in the day to provide this for our kids.
I’d love to see everyone in the Idaho legal community work with us to inform individual teachers and students about what is available to them. It would make our network so much stronger! Oftentimes, all it takes is one passionate student can get something started in their school. Imagine if we could have every single school in Idaho represented? We could create an educated electorate in Idaho. How exciting!
Carey: Anything else you’d like to add?
Cindy: It’s so important for us to get everyone on board to help us spread the word about what’s available for kids today. Most attorneys and judges realize the importance of learning about the law and government. We need them to share how that can happen through our LRE program offerings.
Really, LRE is all about creating partnerships and working with community leaders and getting them and teachers connected to help students learn about their government and the law. I really believe in civic education.
Co-Authored by the Board of Attorneys for Civic Education
In November, our nation will once again be afforded the opportunity to exercise one of the greatest privileges of being a United States citizen: the right to vote, in a year that also celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment that afforded all women in the United States that same privilege. While Americans rarely shy away from learning about and debating a candidate and his or her stances on import issues, many might miss the essential foundation of citizenship: a solid understanding of our system of government and the rights and responsibilities that are part of being a United States citizen.
Unfortunately, with budget cuts and focus in other educational areas, civics education and related activities have received less emphasis than other subject areas. In response, a group of Idaho attorneys who recognized the importance of civic education founded the Attorneys for Civic Education (ACE) in 2013.
ACE is a public service project of the Idaho State Bar’s Government and Public Sector section, but anyone can join. ACE members share a common vision: to increase and sustain the opportunities for civics education in Idaho’s schools in order to ensure that Idaho’s citizens will have a solid understanding of the Constitution, the rule of law, and our form of government. ACE achieves that vision through volunteer recruitment and fundraising for three of Idaho’s civic education programs: Idaho We the People, YMCA Youth in Government, and the Idaho High School Mock Trial Program.
Idaho We the People
Idaho We the People promotes civic competence and responsibility among Idaho’s upper elementary and secondary students. It is partnered with the nonprofit, non-partisan Center for Civic Education which has a network of public and private sector organizations and educational leaders in every state and congressional district in the country. Since its inception in 1987, more than 30 million students and 75,000 educators have participated.
The foundation of the We the People program is the classroom curriculum. It complements the regular school curriculum by providing students with an innovative course of instruction on the history and principles of U.S. constitutional democracy. The program’s culminating activity is a simulated congressional hearing in which students “testify” before a panel of judges acting as members of Congress. Students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles and have opportunities to evaluate, take, and defend positions on relevant historical and contemporary issues.
Idaho We the People underwent exciting changes recently. The State Capitol hosted the 2019 State Competition using East and West Wing hearing rooms for the Competition and the Lincoln Auditorium for the Awards Ceremony. The Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School Team taught by Blake Gaudet won the 2019 State Competition. This was State Coordinator Troy Hamilton’s last year and Idaho We the People thanks him for his years of service.
Idaho’s new State We the People Coordinator is Pete Kinnaman of Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School. The College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho will host the 2020 State Competition on Thursday, January 30, 2020 and will see participation by additional high schools. The winner of the State Competition will have the honor of representing Idaho at the National Competition near Washington DC during April 24-27, 2020.
Idaho We the People survives on volunteers to mentor and coach students, assist teachers, judge competitions and fundraise. If you are interested in helping in any way with this worthwhile cause, please contact Pete Kinnaman at Pete.Kinnaman@gmail.com or Dan Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YMCA Youth in Government
Every spring students from across the state come to the Capitol and Idaho Supreme Court buildings to participate in the State Session of YMCA’s Youth in Government program, the second longest running program of its kind nationwide. Youth in Government is an educational program that offers civic education using an interactive experience involving direct participation in the process of all three branches of government. Students take on roles from each branch including Governor, Speaker of the House, Deputy Attorney General, and Chief Justice. The program also provides an opportunity for students to participate as lobbyists and members of press staff. Last year, 256 students from 14 high schools and one YMCA delegation participated in the program. Participating high schools included Bear Lake, Blackfoot, Caldwell, Capitol, Centennial, Eagle, Grangeville, Highland, Leadore, Mountain Home, Oakley, Orofino, Rocky Mountain, and Timberline.
Here’s how it works. Prior to the State Session, there are regional conferences at which students run for elected offices, attend workshops to prepare for the State Session, and compete for advocate positions for the Youth Supreme Court oral arguments. Also preceding the State Session, the student delegations submit proposed bills to debate during legislative hearings. Examples of issues addressed by the proposed legislation include loan repayment assistance in school districts struggling to retain certified teachers; immunization; assisted suicide; overtime wages for farm employees; smoking in vehicles with minors; and term limits. There may also be proposed legislation on lighter topics, such as trampoline parks in high schools and designating silver as the state metal. Whatever the subject of the legislation, the exercise affords students the opportunity to draft a bill and debate it with other students who have varying backgrounds and beliefs.
By the time this article is published, the 2019-2020 is already underway and the State Session is just around the corner on April 23-24, 2020. This year’s State Session will, as in prior years, showcase the talents and leadership potential of students from all over the state. The lessons and skills learned in Youth in Government are designed to not only teach student participants about the work of government, but also to learn how to advocate for their ideas, respect and value the opinions of others, and debate important issues with civility. Moreover, the YMCA reports that Youth in Government alumni are thirty percent more likely to vote and that eighty-eight percent of alumni over the age of 25 have received a post-secondary degree.
For more information about Youth in Government, including how to start a delegation or support an existing delegation, contact the YMCA Youth Coordinator at (208) 377-9622, extension 441. You can also learn more about the program by visiting the program’s website at https://www.ymcatvidaho.org/youth-in-government/.
Idaho High School Mock Trial
The Idaho High School Mock Trial Competition, sponsored by the Idaho Law Foundation’s Law Related Education Program, teaches students in grades 9-12 about the law and the legal system by participating in a simulated trial. Students from all parts of Idaho prepare a hypothetical legal case. Then, in real courtrooms, before real judges and attorneys, teams try their cases – from opening statements, through direct and cross examination, to closing arguments, each team has its own attorneys and witnesses and must be ready to present either side of the case. Teams compete in one of three regional tournaments. The top 12 qualifying teams compete in the state tournament, and the state champion qualifies to compete in the national tournament.
In 2019, the mock trial program piloted the Coach Development Initiative. The overall goal of the project is to develop a better prepared, more supported, and more committed cohort of teacher coaches for Idaho’s mock trial program.
Teachers who participate in the initiative commit to:
- Register a mock trial team from their school that commits to complete the mock trial season
- Participate in a training program to prepare the teacher to effectively work with a team
- Attend monthly mentoring sessions for support and troubleshooting throughout the mock trial season
- Complete an end of season survey and attend an end of initiative focus group
Once they’ve completed these requirements, participating teachers receive one of their six required professional development credits, paid for by the Law Related Education Program, and a $500 stipend.
Idaho’s mock trial program is still looking for volunteers for 2020 competitions. Regional competitions will take place in February and March in Idaho Falls, Lewiston, and Caldwell. The state competition will be in Boise from March 18 to 20. For more information or to volunteer, visit idahomocktrial.org or contact Carey Shoufler at email@example.com.
Hilarity for Charity
Hilarity for Charity is a creative, clever, and very entertaining all for a good cause: civic education. In June, ACE sponsored its sixth annual Hilarity for Charity event to raise funds for civic education programs in Idaho. A dedicated group of local improv comedians have volunteered their time and talents to support this worthy cause for the last six years. Idaho law firms and several Idaho State Bar Practice Sections have consistently and generously sponsored this fun event so that all funds raised from ticket sales go directly to the three civic education programs ACE supports. The 2019 raised $3,750. For 2020, ACE has set an ambitious goal to double that amount and raise $7,500, allowing the group to contribute $2,500 to each of our three programs. The event is in the planning stages but will be held in Boise in June. Look for more information soon.
The attorneys who founded ACE recognized that they have both an opportunity and a responsibility to share their knowledge about civics. Due to our education, experience, and role in society, lawyers are uniquely situated to further the cause of civics education. Attorneys enjoy the opportunity to experience all branches and levels of government to one degree or another. Sharing the resulting insight is rewarding.
Attorneys also have a responsibility to share their civic knowledge. Rule 6.1 of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer’s pro bono work may include “participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.”
As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, “The fundamental skills and knowledge of citizenship are not handed down through the gene pool. They must be taught and learned anew by each generation.” ACE is dedicated to being engaged in that teaching process, through their involvement and support of civic education in Idaho. For more information about ACE, visit attorneysforciviceducation.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Hon. Sergio A. Gutierrez
What do you get when you combine a run/walk race event with a charitable cause? You get the Access to Justice 5K FUND Run/Walk! The A2J 5K race is entering its 7th year in 2020 and is proving to be quite a success.
The creation of A2J 5k was the legacy project of a graduate of the Idaho State Bar’s Academy of Leadership for Lawyers. Maureen Ryan Braley, Associate Director of the Idaho State Bar, participated in IALL in 2014. Maureen was a runner and knew lots of other lawyers who were runners. She wanted to create a lawyer-focused running event that raised funds and awareness for an important cause – the need for free civil legal services for poor and disadvantaged Idahoans.
In addition, she wanted to create an event where people of all income levels, especially younger attorneys, could feel like they were helping a good cause without having to write a big check. For just $25, participants can enjoy a beautiful day outside in Boise’s Foothills and know they are supporting a great cause.
All proceeds raised through the A2J FUND RUN/WALK race go directly to help address the legal needs of less fortunate individuals and families served by the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, Disability Rights Idaho, and Idaho Legal Aid Services. In 2019, the legal community together with the general community helped raise over $12,000.00 in sponsorships and entry fees, including a generous contribution from our Lead Sponsor, the Fourth District Bar Association.
Since its inception in 2014, the event has raised over $48,000 for the Access to Justice Idaho Campaign. These funds help survivors of domestic violence, victims of unlawful housing practices, victims of consumer scams, and people with disabilities receive benefits and entitlements. The growing participation of members of the legal and general communities has been exciting to see.
Success in 2019
In 2019, 280 people registered for the A2J 5K FUND Run/Walk. The contribution of the folks who register makes a meaningful impact. As Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we all can do small things with great love.”
Having run the A2J 5K run, I can tell you that the race venue and course is just what one would want to experience regardless of age, ability, and fitness level. The race takes off from Fort Boise Park. Those of you who have run Robie Creek will feel right at home with the setting. For those who have not, just imagine hearing the theme music to the movie “Rocky” at the start of the race.
You then take off on Mountain Cove Road with a gentle ascent for 1 ½ miles. At the turnaround, and if you have entered your four-legged friend in the race, you will get a chance to water up at the Camp Bow Wow water station before having gravity give you just the right push to the finish line.
Upon completion of the race, you will be able to enjoy meeting a host of great community sponsors along with treats for you and your four-legged friend. Camp Bow Wow, Bandana Running and Walking, and Jete Bars are just a few of the community businesses that sponsored the event in 2019. We hope to recruit even more great local businesses as sponsors in 2020.
Awards are given to the top three finishers in the following categories: men, women, high school boys, high school girls, boys 12 and under, and girls 12 and under. In 2019, we added the esteemed Learned Foot travelling trophy that is awarded to the biggest team. The Idaho Supreme Court team won last year’s Learned Foot trophy. Who will win it in 2020?
How to Get Involved
Not into running or walking, but love the outdoors? The event needs volunteers! The A2J FUND RUN/WALK needs individuals to help check in racers, record scores, and direct racers along the course. Volunteering at the event is a great way to see what it is all about. It takes up a few hours one beautiful Saturday morning, but by the end of your shift you will want to be a participant the next season.
Attorneys work long grueling hours and they need a chance to get some fresh air and interact with colleagues outside of the courtroom and office. It is clear from the smiles and cheers from the participants and volunteers that everyone at the event is enjoying themselves.
You will not want to miss this great race event. I cannot promise everyone will experience a runner’s high, but I can promise everyone will have helped make a difference in the lives of many individuals and families who benefited from your thoughtfulness.
Hon. Sergio A. Gutierrez retired from the Idaho Court of Appeals bench in 2018. Judge Gutierrez always enjoys a good run, but even more so when it’s for a good cause.
By Erin E. Tomlin
Pouring a cup of coffee before an attorney meeting at my firm, I think about intention. It is a given that my partners and I will take a few moments to check in with each other and our collective practice amid the practical to-do lists we jot down. This check-in is specific to practicing law with intention and refining our focus.
When recently asked why I practice law and what I love about it, my first knee-jerk answer was, “I like solving problems”. I followed up with, “And, I love being able to do that in an office that supports being intentional about that.” The latter part of my answer seems like it should be a foregone conclusion, right? Shouldn’t attorneys, those charged with addressing legal problems, know what it means to fix problems and be intentional in our everyday practice?
What my first answer indicates is an inherent passion for helping people and situations with the law. However, almost more importantly, my elaboration indicates that how, where, and why I solve problems is what makes it great.
In terms of intention, attorneys aren’t afforded a broad interpretation of what it means to practice with intention. Most decisions we make about the cases we take on, the clients we engage with, and the way we do our job is characterized as deliberate. We don’t just happen upon a client; we decide to represent them.
As a third-year law student practicing with a limited license in 2012 alongside the late Chuck Kovis in the Second District, I received some good advice from a then District Court Judge. Idaho Supreme Court Justice John R. Stegner, at a local Inns of Court dinner and CLE, reminded me that attorneys are not meant to be potted plants. My takeaway was this: I should not be passive and to do my job effectively I must stand up and speak up.
What I didn’t fully grasp until practicing law in more depth was that I must also be deliberate in those endeavors and that doing so requires a thoughtful commitment to practicing with intention and being mindful of what I speak and when and where I stand.
It is easy to get swept up in the nature of a demanding law practice – reacting to opposing counsel or taking every case that walks in the door. While firing off pleadings, meeting deadlines, and signing up new clients may be benchmarks of a successful law practice, it doesn’t always leave time for mindful contemplation. It is too easy to get swept up in an ironic and reactive cycle in which the controlled environment of practicing law often feels out of control and success is defined by being busy.
How many times have you talked to an attorney or colleague in the legal field who recalls why they went to law school wistfully only to immediately lament cynically that now they are just grinding it out every day? How do we, as busy attorneys, practice in such a way that we don’t lose sight of why we went to law school while staring down the growing case files on our desks? Doing so allows us to grow the kind of practice and service we offer our communities.
For me, it is with mindful intention. This means a deliberate and contemplative approach to cases at the intake phase and with value placed on time – my time, my clients’ time, my partners’ time, and my family’s time. Diving into a well-paying case fraught with complex legal challenges and high-conflict tensions may be rewarding to resolve but may cost more in the long run in ways that are not as easily calculated.
In choosing cases and how to approach already active cases, it is important for me to remember why I became an attorney in the first place: helping people and fixing problems. More specifically and personally, I want to be available for those who don’t have immediate (or any) access to courts but desperately need it. When I apply intentional mindfulness, the practice of evaluating the moments that often get lost in the shuffle, I am in a better position to balance more of what matters to me.
I keep a folder of quotes with other inspirational stories and articles. There, I am reminded by the famous words of acclaimed author and professor Toni Morrison. She said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’” I share this quote with students at the University of Idaho College of Law in Moscow when I teach in an adjunct instructor capacity and in sharing with them, I keep tabs on myself.
By practicing with intention, I can make time for the case or two that I want to work on pro bono. For others it may be serving on a board or volunteering time for a community event or cause. When I sit down with coffee and pen, my to-do list often includes what my firm calls ‘intention check-points’.
Where are my current cases at? What new cases am I considering? What will they require? Do they allow me to have time to give back through pro bono or volunteer time? Do they put me in a reactive and high-conflict case?
The answers may not be the deciding factor in whether or not I take a case or file the next motion in an existing one but they do help to create an intentional road map that accounts for my time, my passions, and how those affect those closest to me.
By being mindful and present in each moment of the daily decision-making in a busy and growing law firm, it is possible to practice with intention and create time and space for the cases we care about and remain grounded in the inspirational roots of our legal service – whatever that may be for each of us.
Erin E. Tomlin lives in Moscow with her husband, three sons, and their goofy Labrador, Riggins. After several years practicing law in the public sector, Erin joined the private sector in 2017. She is a partner at the law firm Westberg Roepke Moore PLLC and has been an adjunct instructor at the University of Idaho College of Law each spring semester since 2016. She currently volunteers with the Idaho Volunteer Lawyer Program. Erin graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law in 2012.
By the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program Staff
Like many who become Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program clients, Vickie Smith didn’t know where to turn to get legal help when she and her son were in the middle of complicated custody proceedings that spanned two countries and layers of international custody laws. She searched pro bono lawyers online and came across the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program (IVLP). Smith remembers finding the IVLP website and thinking, “Why not give it a go?” After submitting her case information online, Smith was contacted by IVLP staff and completed the application process.
A few weeks later, someone who would later be part of what Smith calls “a fantastic team” contacted her by phone. This person was attorney Wendy Olsen of Stoel Rives. ILVP Director, Susan Pierson, had initially reached out to Olsen about Smith’s case because she knew that Olson had a wealth of experience working in federal courts, something that would be necessary if Smith were to get the legal help she needed.
IVLP’s mission is connecting low-income clients in need of legal representation with licensed attorneys around Idaho who are willing to volunteer and make a difference. IVLP volunteer attorneys change the lives of people who would otherwise trudge through difficult legal territory alone as pro se litigants. The role of pro bono attorneys is unique; when someone needs financial help, anyone can donate money, but when someone needs legal help, only an attorney can provide that service. IVLP loves finding lawyers who are willing to devote some time to helping someone in a way nobody else can.
Upon hearing about the uphill battle Smith was facing in her custody case, Olson agreed to take her case and she brought on another attorney from her firm, Elijah Watkins. Watkins also had extensive experience in federal courts and was committed to serving those who could not afford representation. In the end, the support that Smith received from her two volunteer attorneys and their paralegal staff far exceeded her expectations.
Smith and her teenage son were trying to sort through international law regarding which country her son was required to reside after she separated from his father. Smith spoke highly of the help the IVLP attorneys gave her, saying, “They make every client feel like they are the only client. I know they had a lot on their plates, but they made me feel like I was their equal. They valued my opinion and my son’s opinion.”
Olson and Watkins went far beyond filing paperwork or standing up in court. They stayed with their IVLP clients every step of the case, at one point even accompanying Smith’s teenage son to the airport and providing moral support through a difficult and complicated situation. Watkins explains that sometimes providing legal counsel to IVLP clients provides an excellent opportunity to focus as much on the “counseling” aspect as the “legal” aspect.
Although the case has been settled for many months now, Olson continues to show compassion and care for Smith, still checking in with her on occasion. Smith gives Olsen updates on how her son is doing these days and what’s going on in her life. It’s clear that the relationship that was built through Olson and Watkins’ pro bono work went far beyond a simple legal transaction to become a meaningful interpersonal connection.
For any attorney on the fence about taking a pro bono case through IVLP, Watkins and Olson encourage you to “Just do it! You’re helping someone.” Their firm, Stoel Rives, also encourages their attorneys to give back to the community through their pro bono work.
If you or your firm is interested in making a pro bono pledge, please consider activating your account on the Idaho Pro Bono Opportunities website at www.idahoprobono.org or email IVLP Director Susan Pierson at email@example.com.
By Brian P. Kane, Michael K. Porter, and Susan R. Pierson
Pro bono work is one of the most important aspects of our responsibilities to our profession and the legal system as a whole. Ensuring that those of limited means have meaningful access to the justice system is essential to inject confidence into the system. Virtually all of us have heard lawyer jokes, read commentary about the inequalities of the justice system, or participated in proceedings with pro se individuals struggling to understand the formalities and procedure of the system.
One of the best antidotes to these issues is frequent and consistent pro bono participation by attorneys. But pro bono work can be new, different, and intimidating. In order to encourage and identify pro bono opportunities, please consider the following myths and realities of pro bono work!
MYTH: I am really busy and have no time for pro bono work.
REALITY: Idaho Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 states that every attorney has a responsibility to provide legal services to those that can’t pay. To fulfill this responsibility, Rule 6.1 challenges each attorney to provide 50 hours per year of legal service to those unable to pay or organizations designed to address the needs of those with limited means, such as charitable, religious, civic, governmental and similar organizations.
As a profession concerned with the advancement of justice, the Rule recognizes the aspirational aspect of justice by balancing it with the practical reality of providing legal services to those in need. The reality is that pro bono services should be among any attorney’s priorities on an annual basis. The comments to Rule 6.1 provide a number of alternative means to fulfill this goal.
Pro bono work often involves discrete projects requiring only a few hours of work. For example, if you can spare just two hours, you can help multiple individuals at a legal clinic – an hour or two is all it takes to review a lease for a person who needs to understand their rights or obligations or to review a living will or power of attorney for a senior citizen.
In recent years, the Idaho State Bar along with the Idaho Law Foundation and the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program has developed online resources and increased the number of clinics open to the public to make volunteering for discrete amounts of time more convenient and less time-consuming.
MYTH: As a new attorney, I am not sure I have enough experience to help out.
REALITY: Any attorney, even one newly admitted to the Bar, has a deep background in legal learning, logic, and problem solving that represent significant assets in assisting those of limited means who are unfamiliar with the legal system. Pro bono work is a catalyst to attorney growth and development as well as improving the image of the profession as a whole.
Additionally, the Idaho State Bar, the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program (IVLP), and other organizations routinely provide CLE’s and training designed to fill in the knowledge gaps regarding specialized areas. These resources help all attorneys hit the ground running in the provision of pro bono legal services.
IVLP also provides malpractice coverage and connects attorneys with mentors to provide protection and support when needed. The Bar and the Idaho Supreme Court have also developed an online presence. Concerns raised in clinics can often be referred to as the resources available on these online platforms allowing service opportunities even when area expertise might be lacking.
MYTH: My employer doesn’t see any benefit from me participating in pro bono work.
REALITY: One of the greatest assets an attorney can develop is a deep well of legal knowledge and experience. Attorneys with broad experience are generally more skilled at problem solving and creativity in helping clients work through their legal issues.
The base of potential clients equally broadens with your legal experience and expertise. For many attorneys, pro bono work becomes a rewarding source of career development, reinforcement, and satisfaction. It’s one area where attorneys can measurably make a difference in an individual’s life.
Pro bono work also provides attorneys with experiences that they may not have as they work their way up the attorney career ladder. For example, pro bono attorneys may be able to garner significant courtroom or trial experience. Negotiation and client relationship skills can be honed through pro bono work. And many pro bono attorneys are viewed favorably by their peers within the legal community.
MYTH: I work in a specialized practice and have nothing to contribute to pro bono efforts.
REALITY: As an attorney, you have the ability to assist and educate those within the system who don’t understand what is happening to them. Attorneys can help citizens navigate the legal system in a variety of ways.
For example, one of the simpler ways to provide pro bono assistance is to assist citizens such as veterans complete their paperwork for government programs and benefits. Many attorneys, based on their legal education, have an understanding of what is required to run the government gauntlets that are intimidating to non-lawyers.
As discussed previously, a professional with well-developed listening and critical thinking skills is all that is required of pro bono volunteers.
MYTH: I work for the government or in a position that prevents me from directly representing clients.
REALITY: There are a number of opportunities for attorneys to provide pro bono services without direct representation of clients.
For example, several Idaho entities host Street Law Clinics that help address an array of legal questions that citizens may have. There are also Community Legal Clinics hosted by the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program. These events can be found online at: https://isb.idaho.gov/ilf/ivlp/ivlp-clinics-2/
Many of these opportunities require as little as an hour of time for you to volunteer and provide you with the time to help out a number of individuals.
MYTH: My malpractice insurance won’t cover me if I mess up.
REALITY: While your malpractice insurance may not cover it, the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program covers all attorneys who volunteer through their program. The coverage includes case representation and participation in legal clinics.
Attorneys who find their own pro bono cases may open them through IVLP so that they are covered by IVLP’s policy. Often malpractice coverage for volunteer attorneys is provided by the umbrella entity that is assigning the work to you.
You may also want to double-check with your own coverage to determine if volunteer efforts are covered.
MYTH: There are no pro bono opportunities near me.
REALITY: Pro bono opportunities abound. The Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Court Assistance Office host a number of events around the State. The Court Assistance Office maintains a calendar of events that can be found here: https://isb.idaho.gov/ilf/ivlp/cao-ws/
The Community Legal Clinics calendar link is provided above. You can also directly volunteer with the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program or volunteer as a guardian ad litem with CASA.
MYTH: I spend part of every day answering legal questions from the public, so I’ve done my part.
REALITY: There is a true need for legal services to citizens of limited needs. Providing legal services is different from simply answering questions from concerned citizens. Pro bono efforts target those of limited means in an effort to provide them with legal assistance and access to justice.
Although answering constituent questions is an important service, it does not rise to the level of the services contemplated under Idaho Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 because you are paid for your services to answer constituent questions. Rule 6.1 asks attorneys to provide legal services for no fee or expectation of a fee, therefore it is incumbent to go above and beyond the work that is done “on the clock.”
MYTH: Pro bono will take up all of my time with a case that goes on forever.
REALITY: Some pro bono cases take time but are not all time-consuming. Most pro bono cases are fairly straightforward and need an attorney who can help the client navigate the system, present evidence, and resolve a discrete legal issue. There are numerous opportunities to provide pro bono service on an as-needed basis.
The street law clinics, senior clinics, veteran’s clinics, and other community clinics offer attorneys the ability to come in and answer legal questions for a set amount of time without an ongoing attorney-client relationship—of course, it is possible that you will encounter a client with a legal issue so compelling that you will want to continue to assist him or her.
Both Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c) and the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure (IRCP) authorize attorneys to provide limited representation in pro bono cases related to a discrete issue or part of a court case. IRCP 11.4 and Idaho Rule of Family Law Procedure 112.C. authorize attorneys to make a limited pro bono appearance “on one or more individual proceedings in an action by filing a notice of limited appearance “specifying all matters to be undertaken.”
When the representation is concluded the attorney must file a notice of completion which terminates the attorney’s role “without the necessity of leave of the court.”
MYTH: I simply don’t have the time, there is nothing I can do.
REALITY: There may be those rare few who simply cannot provide in-person services. This insular group should consider contributing to charities specifically engaged in pro bono or low bono work. Each year the Idaho Law Foundation conducts the Access to Justice fundraiser. More information is available online at https://apps.isb.idaho.gov/ilf/aji_campaign/aji.html.
Donations go to Idaho Legal Aid, DisAbility Rights Idaho, and the Idaho Law Foundation to provide legal services to underserved communities. Consider making a contribution today.
Idaho has a real need for attorneys to volunteer for pro bono work. Once you work your way through the myths, the reality of the difference you can make is evident. Pro bono work is considered one of the most personally rewarding and fulfilling parts of the practice of law that you can participate in. We hope you will answer the call!
Brian P. Kane is he Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of Idaho. Brian serves as legal counsel to the Secretary of State, the Legislature, and other elected officials. He is the current chair of The Advocate’s Editorial Advisory Board.
Michael K. Porter is an attorney at the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, civil division. Opinions discussed in this article are his own and not that of the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Susan R. Pierson is the Director of the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program. Prior to joining IVLP, she practiced commercial litigation and employment law.
By Lindsey M. Welfley
Law firms must live in a constant state of adaptation to meet the needs of their attorneys and staff. Smith + Malek, with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, and Boise is among Idaho’s newest and fastest-growing business law firms, in part because it’s drawing top talent with family-friendly policies.
Owned by attorneys Peter J. Smith, Tara Malek, and Luke Malek, the firm is creating a modern law firm where working parents are empowered to succeed. Flexible work, paid parental leave, and elimination of a partner track are some of the ways Smith + Malek is establishing itself as a workplace culture that values attorneys of diverse backgrounds who are balancing work and home lives.
One such challenge lies in the decisions new parents must make when planning for the birth or adoption of a new child. These decisions often end up being among the most defining moments in one’s career and the lack of options can prove detrimental, particularly for working mothers who are more likely to drop out of the workforce or opt-out of the partner track due to family concerns. On October 15, 2019, Smith + Malek’s new Parental Leave Policy went into effect – a policy that was four years in the making, since the firm’s inception in 2015.
I spoke with co-owner and chief litigator Tara Malek in October, just after the policy’s effective date, to discuss how this policy came about, what it will be providing for the attorneys at their firm, and how other firms can take steps towards a more positive office culture that places value on the overall wellbeing of their attorneys and staff.
Lindsey: Tell me more about the policy itself; when did it go into effect and what does it provide?
Tara: The policy went into effect on October 15, 2019 and provides 12 weeks of 100% paid leave for all full-time employees for the birth of a child, as well as fostering or adoption of a new child. This means our attorneys and all full-time staff will receive their full salary for 12 weeks and they don’t need to exhaust their existing paid time off before using the policy, which is different than most of the policies out there. Oftentimes if a firm does have a parental leave policy, and many don’t, they’ll require that all PTO be used up before the policy time off can be used.
Lindsey: How did this policy come about in your offices? What’s the story?
Tara: Our firm has an amazing culture of transparency and openness; very little happens behind closed doors. This policy has been a goal of ours since the start of our company on Tax Day in 2015. We wanted to create a firm that is attentive to the needs of a younger generation of lawyers who value more family flexibility. The legal profession has traditionally marginalized an entire portion of the population who are parents. People who are really phenomenal humans and really phenomenal attorneys. We’re losing them because we’re making them choose between their career and their family. We thought, “Why are we doing this?” It’s not necessary; it’s a choice. So, we are choosing to do better in hopes more small and mid-sized firms will follow suit.
Lindsey: How do you plan to mitigate any negative “side effects” of the policy?
Tara: In our offices we already have an established culture of teamwork and a parent-friendly work environment for both men and women. That’s where it all starts. We have a different compensation plan than the traditional law firm. We do not have a partnership structure and have found that this creates less competition between attorneys – we don’t view our projects as “my” client versus “your” client. Instead, we focus on teamwork and collaboration across all projects.
We also already allow attorneys to work remotely when needed. We operate as a cloud-based office so our attorneys can access anything they need securely from home, and we have an established team environment for projects to accommodate vacation time and sick time. Team members really do work as a team and pick up the slack when it’s needed. Ultimately, our culture demonstrates that we trust our attorneys and staff. They are adults and we treat them as adults. We haven’t seen any policy misuse with vacation, sick time, or remote working and this parental leave policy is just going to be another way to show employees that we value them and their families.
Lindsey: There’s obviously a cost associated with this policy. What is your response to firms who would say they cannot afford such policies for their attorneys and staff? What steps could they take to get there?
Tara: It’s all about priorities. Firms need to really take stock of their priorities. If your priority is to create a work environment that is friendly to parents, do what you need to do to budget for this. Simply include it as a line item in your annual budget. It’s an expense, yes, but so are a lot of things in business including top attorneys leaving a firm because they need more time with their families or want to work for a values-driven company. It’s no different than the other benefits you offer your employees.Start thinking about making it a goal and devise a strategy to meet that goal. There are several sample policies we referenced as we developed our own.
Lindsey: How does this new policy work to improve the overall wellbeing of your attorneys and staff?
Tara: At Smith + Malek, we don’t consider employees as a means to an end of the firm’s goals. Our mission and vision not only includes the business success of the firm, it also includes an investment in employees’ happiness, health, and overall betterment.
Over half of our firm is comprised of attorneys who are working parents, or who plan to grow their families in the future. By offering 12 weeks of paid parental leave at 100% of salary for all of our full-time employees, we are investing in our team’s happiness, health, and betterment.
We are saying that you matter to us as a human being, and we know you’ll stick with us and do your best work when you have time with your family, especially during those critical early months after adding a new member.
When you can spend the time you need to bond with a new child, you are going to be happier. And when you know your firm has your back, it significantly reduces stress for not only that individual but the entire family.
Offering paid parental leave is the right thing to do and it helps us recruit and retain top talent. No one should have to choose between a meaningful, ambitious career and being a good parent. We’re proud to be a firm that supports both, and we hope more Idaho law firms of all sizes follow our lead.
Looking for more information about how to get started with a parental leave policy at your firm? Learn more about how paid parental leave can improve the overall wellbeing of your employees. Below is a repository of links to third-party studies, news articles, sample policies, and more. None of this content is in any way affiliated or associated with the Idaho State Bar nor does its inclusion in this article constitute an endorsement by the Idaho State Bar or its membership.
- Big Law Firm Announces Industry-Leading Parental Leave Policy
- Everything You Need to Know About Big Law Parental Leave
- Is Paid Family Leave Becoming a New Standard for Employers?
- Pledge Parental Leave Sample Policy
- Parental Leave Company Policy Template
- Parental Leave Policy How-To
Lindsey M. Welfley is the Communications Director for the Idaho State Bar and the Idaho Law Foundation, Inc. She has worked for the Idaho State Bar since 2015.
By Susan P. Mauk and Jamie Shropshire
Recently, state bars and the American Bar Association have promoted wellness initiatives for their members, championing the value of meditation, yoga, and walks in the park. But why?
As two members of the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program Committee, we have seen the tragedy of substance abuse and mental health issues that paralyze many of our colleagues and the positive impact of focusing not only on intervention but promoting sustainable wellness. This article describes what this is and how anyone can benefit from practicing the techniques associated with it.
Recently, the results of two self-reporting surveys of lawyers, judges, and law students were released. The first was conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in 2016 of 12,825 lawyers and judges; the second surveyed 11,300 law students from 15 law schools from various regions of the country – approximately 3,400 students responded.
What both surveys found is that we suffer from a much higher rate of alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental health issues than the general population.
Based on their responses, law students need to be considered both for intervention and for sustainable wellness. Approximately 17% of students were diagnosed with depression and over 35% were diagnosed with mild to severe anxiety. Additionally, 21% of law students admitted to problem drinking. Law students in their first year have the same incidence of alcohol problems as the general population of a similar age, approximately 10%. At the end of their second year, the survey responses indicate that the rate increases to 21%. [ii]
We have the highest rate of alcoholism of any profession. Surgeons, who would seem to be in a profession that should have a comparable rate of alcohol problems have a rate of just 15%. What explains the difference. Certainly, the adversarial nature of our jobs is a significant factor. Surgeons don’t have another surgeon on the other side of the operating table arguing how badly the operation is going and how the surgeon’s technique and procedures are all wrong.[iii]
We also, tragically, have a high rate of suicide. Nationally, that rate is 14 per 100,000. [iv] The Idaho State Bar of about 6700 members has been impacted by five suicides of colleagues in the last two years.
What all this information tells us is that, at every level of our profession, we don’t ask for help.
We don’t ask for help primarily, as both surveys tell us because we fear that others will find out and we fear the loss of our license to practice law or the loss of our ability to get a license to practice. [v] Only 7% of attorneys seek help for alcohol or drug use and only 22% of those used programs that were designed for legal professionals, even though it appears, from the information available, that programs specifically designed for lawyers have a better rate of success. [vi]
Yet, almost every state has a committee or organization that assists attorneys with substance abuse, other addictions, and mental health problems. Those organizations and committees serve members of the legal profession, their families, and law students free of charge, anonymously, and confidentially. They are neither related to nor do they report to Bar disciplinary counsel.
So, the answer to the question, “Why wellness?” seems to be obvious. At best we ignore our problems, or we simply accept the fear and anxiety and their consequences. At worst, we embrace them by continuing with practices and procedures that promote their tragic results.
In the years since the Hazelden report, [vii] mechanisms such as interventions and programs for recovery specifically designed to address the legal community abound; yet what is increasingly clear is that these approaches are not sustainable without wellness as a foundation.
What is Wellness?
What is wellness and why has it received so much attention in recent years? Wellness is a process, a way of orienting oneself towards life, examining actions and responses as they impact one’s body, mind and, in some cases spirit. Wellness is about feeling good emotionally and physically and using such tools as diet and exercise to get there.
Wellness is not only the absence of disease. It is about how one listens, identifies needs, takes care of oneself, and connects to the world one lives in. It is about making small, incremental changes in how you eat, sleep, communicate with others, or handle stress – in general, how you navigate your life.
There is no “right” way to be well. We live in a world with high-pressure work environments, toxic exposures, social and familial stress, and medication overuse (to name but a few of the challenges of modern life). Many wellness authorities have identified several areas of practice to look at wellness in a holistic, multifaceted way.
- Meditation: a state of quiet contemplation that involves turning your focus inward for a few minutes at a time to access a deeper reality.
- Visualization: re-patterning your energy, feeding your brain new images to replace the old ones, retraining your thinking.
- Pleasurable Activities: engaging in activities that bring enjoyment to your life.
- Conscious Eating: paying attention to what you eat to be consuming healthy and nutritious foods.
- Exercise: finding a routine in which you can do 30 to 45 minutes a day, three to five times a week which leaves you feeling more invigorated and alert; could include cardiovascular activities, strength training, yoga, tai chi, etc.
- Self-Work: to look at where we are in life, to set some goals for where we would like to be and to chart a course as to how to get there.
- Spiritual Practice: bringing us to identifying with something larger than ourselves.
- Service: delving into some form of giving back, and to feel useful and grateful to have something to give.
By exploring our behavior in any one of these areas, we can begin to know our bodies, to understand our minds, and, for some, to explore a spiritual path.
Why the surge in curiosity about sustainable wellness in the past 10 to 15 years? As the life expectancy in the United States has increased, people want to know how to live out these additional years in greater health; and while the world has never witnessed a time of greater promise for improving human health, we don’t want to rely on technology alone to ensure a better future. Cultivating wellness skills can help attorneys lead healthier lifestyles in ways of their own choosing. Medical advances are only one part of the picture; cultivating wellness can contribute enormously to our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.[viii]
Some research suggests that before they enter law school, some law students are healthier, both physically and mentally, then the general population. They generally start school with a strong sense of their own values and a sense of themselves. Law school, it is observed, encourages students to take the emotion out of their decisions; “once you start reinforcing that with grades and money, you aren’t just suppressing your emotions, you are fundamentally changing who you are.”[ix]
If the data on law students is discouraging, these findings are compounded when we look at young lawyers especially during the first 10 years of practice. They, too, are caught up by the demands of deadlines, the unreasonable expectations of clients, billing pressures, long hours, and the pressure to perform. Many are still grappling with law school debt, beginning to raise young families, and find themselves with an increase in depression, pessimism, and a kind of isolation they didn’t expect. “Lawyers are a help-rejecting profession,” one author comments, mistakenly believing that if they are vulnerable, they are weak. [x]
The Hazelden study and others which followed identified lawyers’ perfectionism and pessimism as qualities contributing to their vulnerability to depression and stress. They don’t like to appear needy or dependent and will tend to sacrifice healthy habits such as eating healthfully or getting enough sleep to meet unrealistic expectations.
Their perfectionism leads to an overdeveloped sense of control so that if things don’t go as planned, they blame themselves. As “paid worriers” they tend to see problems everywhere, even if they do not exist. As pessimists, they tend to see negative events as persistent, pervasive, and permanent.
As Will Meyerhofer, an attorney turned clinical social worker comments, “The official number is that something like a gazillion lawyers are stressed out and that amounts to a bajillion percent of the profession.” Is it any wonder that there is a greater incidence of both suicidal ideation and actual suicides among the legal profession than among non-lawyers?[xi]
Where does wellness come into play? The good news is that with greater awareness of these patterns has come widespread support for wellness programs both at law schools and bar associations around the country. There are meditation classes specifically designed for lawyers, online meditation programs, podcasts, and blogs, as well as instructional DVDs.
There are mindfulness training programs which provide comprehensive approaches to relieve stress, enhance daily living, along with toolboxes which contain simple exercises one can do on a daily basis which produce powerful results. Techniques of mindfulness that focus on paying attention to the present moment improve one’s ability to make decisions; “a mindfulness practice makes us better…ethical decision-makers. And that translates into better lawyering.”
Eating more healthily may mean learning the value of a lean, green, and clean diet as well as how to put together a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, and high-fat combination; making such changes as finishing your last meal two to three hours before you go to bed, and making mealtime enjoyable, not something you race through while sitting at your desk.
For many, doing multiple things at once may seem like a normal, even practical way to manage a busy life, but juggling several tasks at once takes a toll on our wellbeing. Actions which move you away from multitasking to focus on one thing at a time, such as doing progressive muscle relaxation exercises which could take minutes, learning deep breathing exercises which can be helpful even if we do them for brief periods of time, journaling on a regular basis, or finding a physical exercise routine which helps to release endorphins, help to cultivate “learned optimism,” a predisposition to see things from a more positive perspective. All of these behavioral changes can lead to greater engagement and satisfaction with life.
Lawyers sometimes wear their stress as a badge of honor as though to be on edge much of the time means one is successful. We do know that those who experience a lot of anxiety, who are frequently overwhelmed, don’t sleep well and are often fatigued may be candidates for long-term depression. Seeking help before you really need it, whether by embracing any of these techniques or obtaining the assistance of a licensed behavioral health professional can step in the right direction.
A Signa study years ago identified the loneliness and isolation experienced by members of the legal profession as a greater predictor of early death than smoking.[xii] Practicing gratitude, fostering mindfulness, cultivating genuine friendships, developing emotional and cognitive flexibility all contribute to self-care and can put you on a path to wellness.
For the past several years, the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program has broadened its scope to promote wellness in members of the legal profession. The demands of the profession are not going to change; however, there are ways to make a difference which will have a positive impact on individual practitioners and the profession as a whole.[xiii] Practicing wellness through even the smallest positive change starts a ripple effect which soon impacts others to do the same. Purpose is not discovered; it comes from following your passions and interests and doing the small things that are important to you. And we are all entitled to a purposeful, healthy, and satisfying life.
A Healthy Profession
Having looked at what we can do for ourselves, are there things that we can do as a profession to lessen the impact of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Some of the codes and standards that we have adopted, if followed with our collective health in mind, can help.
There are several sections of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct that, if rigorously observed, could assist this effort. The Preamble states: “A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others.”[xiv] Rule 1.3, Commentary, paragraph 1: “The lawyer’s duty to act with reasonable diligence does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect.”[xv] Other notable rules that could lower stress in our daily interactions if practiced are Rules 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5.
Are there other procedures and practices that we should examine. Are there methods other than billable hours for evaluating an attorney’s performance for the purposes of promotion and compensation?
Should we be requiring mediation for many issues that could be solved by ADR, rather than continuing with stressful and exhausting courtroom battles?
What about other procedures that have been adopted regarding our behavior toward each and the public?
The Standards of Civility state that: “An attorney’s conduct should be characterized at all times by personal courtesy and professional integrity in the fullest sense of those terms. (emphasis added)[xvi]. What would the immediate and long-lasting effect if we always treated each other with personal courtesy? There are those who are probably thinking that zealous advocacy doesn’t allow that, but is that really a reason not to practice civility or is just an excuse. “Uncivil, abrasive, abusive, hostile or obstructive conduct impedes the fundamental goal of resolving disputes rationally, peacefully and efficiently. Incivility tends to delay, and often deny, justice.” [xvii]
What if we seriously practiced the principals that our Standards of Civility set out instead of succumbing to the turmoil that strong personalities can sometimes create. If we choose to treat each other with respect our actions can have significant, permanent, and healthy effects for us individually and as a profession.
The Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program has volunteer members in every judicial district who are committed to not only helping our colleagues, law students, and their families cope with the challenges of addiction and mental health, but also to promoting a healthier profession. Find our contacts and other information from the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program on the Idaho State Bar website at www.isb.idaho.gov.
Susan P. Mauk served for three years as deputy Attorney General and then spent three years in private practice before retiring from the legal profession to pursue a career as a therapist. Susan had a therapy practice for 35 years before her retirement last year.
Jamie Shropshire is a retired attorney who worked most of her career as a prosecutor for Valley County, Nez Perce County, and the Cities of McCall and Lewiston. At her retirement, she served the City of Lewiston as City Attorney. Jamie has been on the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program Steering Committee since 2004 and has chaired the Committee since 2009.
[i] Joe Forward, Landmark Study: U.S. Lawyers Face Higher Rates of Problem Drinking and Mental Health Issues, Wisconsin Lawyer, Vol. 89, No. 2 (Feb. 2016)
[ii] J.M. Organ, D. Jaffe, K.B. Bender, Survey of Law Student Well-Being, Bar Examiner (Dec. 2015)
[iii] The Problem of Surgeons and Drinking, Physician Health Program (June 15, 2015)
[v] supra, Krill et. al.; supra, Organ et. al.
[vi] supra, Krill et al.
[vii] Farmer, supra note 1
[viii] “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.
[ix] Barbara L. Jones, ABA aims for healthier, better lawyers, Minnesota Lawyer (July 3, 2019)
[x] Will Meyerhofer, as quoted in: Stressed Out, Leslie A. Gordon, ABA Journal, No. 07470088, Vol. 101, Issue 7 (July 2015)
[xii] Signa study cited in the Arizona State Bar webcast: “Are We Ok?” Wellness and Well-Being Series: “We Can’t Go on Like This: Lawyer Depression, Anxiety and Suicide.”
[xiii] Martha Knudson, Well Being is Key to Maximizing your Success as a Lawyer, Utah Law Journal (Sept. Oct. 2019)
[xiv] Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct (IRCP) Preamble (July 1, 2014)
[xv] IRCP Rule 1.3: DILIGENCE (July 1, 2014)
[xvi] Standards for Civility in Professional Conduct, adopted by the United States District Court, District of Idaho, Courts of the State of Idaho and the Idaho State Bar (2001)
I entered law school as a sober alcoholic. I had moved to a new state for school, and a personal trauma plus the stress of my first year of law school nearly derailed my dream. But because of a presentation from an LAP representative at my law school, I was able to use the resources available to law students from LAP to stay sober, save myself, and save my career.
My story is nothing spectacular, but it is an honest recount of a long journey. I won’t try to impress you with outlandish stories of drunken debauchery or drug-fueled binges. Yes, all that stuff happened. For me, the healing began once I was willing to look at the causes and conditions that allowed those things to happen.
I grew up in the Midwest with two loving parents who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this past summer in Idaho with my husband and me at Chandler’s Steakhouse. My two younger brothers are great people and I enjoy a special connection with them. My family lives close and we spent all major holidays together. We did not have everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed. I always did well in school and excelled in music.
See what I mean? Everything seems pretty normal on the surface.
Beneath the surface, the problem was me. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I never felt connected with my family. We didn’t talk about things, especially if it involved feelings or anything remotely uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to leave my hometown. I never felt that I could really be myself around any of my friends. I received a college scholarships for music, but I still felt I wasn’t good enough. I enjoyed looking down on others to mask my own insecurities. I had the biggest ego with the lowest self-esteem.
I started using drugs as soon as the opportunity presented itself during college. The only objective was to feel different. Constantly feeling uncomfortable in my own skin was exhausting and after 18 years I finally found an outlet. I remained high for the next 10 years.
Drinking was my favorite way to check out because every time I drank alcohol, it was for the sole purpose of getting loaded and usually resulted in a blackout. My alcoholism steadily and persistently progressed, though. I began attending Friday happy hours with coworkers once I started my career. These evolved to include several days a week, and in four and one-half short years I became a daily drinker.
Multiple run-ins with the law should have derailed my career, but family, friends, administrators, and judges always gave me a break. I never suffered the consequences I deserved. These people had the best of intentions; they wanted to give me a second chance to get my life together. They really just enabled me to continue doing what I was doing.
It was easy to justify that changes were unnecessary because my life wasn’t yet “that bad.” I was still gainfully employed, had a roof over my head, and my car was paid off. I could conveniently focus on those facts and overlook that I was defaulting on my student loans, drinking myself into debt, and taking on a second job to support my drinking and drug habits.
I could also conveniently overlook the impact my addiction was having on my personal relationships. I was constantly loaded the last two years I was actively using and was isolating myself so people wouldn’t see how bad it was. My parents never heard from me. My mother worried. My dad had to hear about it. I borrowed money from everyone and paid no one back. Two romantic relationships ended because the other person couldn’t deal with my drinking.
Then, I met someone who would change everything. We fell madly in love and partied hard for the first 10 months of our relationship. He decided at that time he was done, entered treatment, got sober, and remained sober through a 12-step program. I wasn’t ready to join him on that journey because I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol, but I had a front row seat to watching someone’s life improve through sobriety. He became happy again and that was irritating.
I continued drinking for another year and a half, often against my will. Putting down the drugs was easy, but I could not stop drinking. He noticed and told me he couldn’t continue in the relationship this way. As much as he loved me, he had to put his sobriety first. I was happy to leave because no one was going to interfere with my drinking.
My rock bottom happened one random night when I went out to party with friends and could NOT get sufficiently loaded. I left that party and went to the bar by my house. It was my go-to place because it was less than a mile from my house, so it wasn’t technically drunk driving because it was so close. (Seriously, this is the crap I told myself.)
While I was on a bar stool, the thought occurred to me:
“Maybe this isn’t working for you anymore. Maybe you should try not drinking.”
I know now that was a Higher Power intervening. The next day I sobered up and went to my first AA meeting. I don’t remember the discussion in the meeting, but I do remember that it was the first time I heard anyone talking about the things I was feeling. I kept going back, got a sponsor, and started working the steps. My ex said if I was going to start attending meetings and get sober, we could probably work things out. I moved back in and we married six years after I got sober.
He supported my sober dream of going back to school. We moved to Idaho so I could begin law school. There are no words to describe the excitement I felt about walking through the fear and making it to this moment!
But life happened. Things didn’t go according to plan. I experienced a trauma during my first year of law school that almost derailed my sober dream.
I tried to cope as best I could but with moving to a new state, setting up a new home, and starting law school, I didn’t get connected to AA right away. The traumatic event and no local support system with the stress of law school was a perfect storm for self-destruction.
One of my professor’s reached out and expressed her concern about my performance in law school. I cried in her office and thanked her, but nothing changed because nothing changed.
Two months later, I was back in her office facing a much harsher version of the previous conversation. She essentially told me I wouldn’t last long in the legal profession if I continued this way. I hated her for putting a spotlight on my shortcomings that made it impossible for me to ignore them any longer.
Then, LAP made a presentation at my law school. I talked with a representative after the presentation and she gave me her phone number. Of course, I didn’t call. Her number sat in my phone for eight months.
One day I was in enough pain that I found her number and actually called. She answered. Two days later we met for coffee. The next week we met again. I became comfortable enough with her that I wanted to call, and we started talking about the things inside that were holding me back. We talked about the trauma I experienced. She had a similar experience and told me how she walked through it to the other side.
Before I knew it, we were laughing about it! It’s possible to find humor in anything and laughing makes everything better. Yes, it was a bad thing that happened. She just asked me point blank, “How long do you want to carry this around and be miserable? You can let it go anytime and free yourself.” It took the power out of the traumatic event because she reminded me that I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it.
Having a safe place to go and a confidential resource saved me personally and probably saved my future legal career. I feel like I’m thriving again because I’m not alone. I never have to be alone unless I choose to be.
This woman is always a phone call, text, or cup of coffee away and all because LAP made themselves known to group of law school students. I will be forever grateful to this small group of LAP volunteers who are willing to reach out and give their time to help our profession.
On that day, LAP’s presentation resonated with one law student. When that law student was ready to reach out for help, LAP answered. With her continued help, I’m coming out of my depression and, most importantly, didn’t have to drink or use.
I’m still sober and finding happiness again. I did NOT get sober to be miserable. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to LAP when you’re done being miserable. If it doesn’t work for you, LAP will refund your misery.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous. All information exchanged with the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program is 100% confidential and will not be reported to the Idaho State Bar. You can reach the 24-Hour Hotline at 866-460-9014.
By Hon. Gregory M. Culet
At some point in the course of our careers as lawyers and judges, some of us have had the necessary, albeit unpleasant experience of participating in what is often described as an “intervention.”
That is to say, helping one of our colleagues, friends, or family members to acknowledge and address their alcohol or drug addiction and the impaired—often destructive—behaviors associated with it, followed by (hopefully) that individual’s entry into treatment and the long—but productive—road of recovery.
In the past, there was often no playbook for those who initiated the intervention process, and while we are all relieved if the effort results in a successful outcome, most of us would rather pass a kidney stone than go through it again.
Trial and Error
“I won’t go on the record” was the consistent qualifier I heard when, as a judge, I was receiving reports from concerned courthouse personnel about the problematic behavior of a legal professional whom they all respected highly, but whom they also believed to be impaired due to substance abuse.
I received the same qualifier from an attorney who came forward with information regarding the same individual. In fairness to each of those reporting individuals, I knew that each of them would have stepped up if such was ultimately necessary, but ultimately, that wasn’t necessary.
At that time, I was unaware of the existence of the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program (“LAP”), which had only recently been established, and I was in a quandary as to how to proceed. Fortunately, I was able to reach out to a mutual friend with knowledge of addiction and recovery, and we were collectively able to “tag team” an informal intervention process that somehow got the process rolling, and the individual in question entered into residential treatment soon thereafter, ultimately returning to their family and profession while still maintaining their recovery and sobriety.
However, that individual’s entry into recovery did not come a moment too soon. Thereafter, I resolved to never to be asleep at the switch again while someone I knew and respected became so impaired by physical, mental, or emotional illness. Admittedly, that is easier said than done, but now there is help.
Lawyer Assistance Program as a Resource
From a judge’s perspective (albeit retired), there are notably more resources available now. The primary resources utilized by the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program are found with Southworth Associates International, who provides confidential consulting, referrals, interventions, guidance, and monitoring regarding substance abuse and/or mental health issues not only to the Idaho State Bar and its membership, but to a number of other professional governing bodies in Idaho and their respective memberships. [i]
In addition, the LAP committee members have produced a reference manual, which provides useful insights to help members of the bench and bar identify and recognize what may be the signs of addiction and impaired behavior of our colleagues or the professionals who appear before us (or, for that matter, friends and family).
It further provides insights into how we can offer help in those situations, or otherwise take steps to address it, including where to look for expert help and advice both for the impaired individual to find help, and also help for those concerned individuals who seek to instigate the recovery process.[ii]
However, while most judges will never experience nor exhibit symptoms of addiction, a significant percentage of sitting judges have identified experiencing judicial isolation as part of a wide-ranging and deep acculturation process that comes with the job.[iii] This isolation can be particularly acute in many of our most rural counties in which only one judge resides.
Likewise, some judges have reported symptoms of depression and anxiety as a result of the stressors of the job. An example is the vicarious trauma that can be experienced by judges who constantly deal with victims of violence and tragedy.[iv] The Idaho Supreme Court has provided a confidential hotline for judges on its website and the American Bar Association has sponsored the National Helpline for Judges Helping Judges.[v]
In that regard, the LAP Reference Manual also provides useful insights to help us identify and recognize other behaviors that are symptomatic of these and other mental or emotional health concerns, and it further provides insights into how we can offer help in those situations, as well as providing insight to help each of us recognize when we are experiencing those same symptoms ourselves.
Benefit of Practicing in a Sparsely Populated State
Due to the rural nature of much of our state, members of both the Idaho judiciary and the Idaho State Bar are often in a unique position to interact with each other often over a period of years and even decades.
In turn, this allows greater opportunity for judges to recognize when a lawyer is exhibiting impaired behavior which may be the result of physical, mental, or emotional illness, and further allows us as fellow professionals (and in many instances, friends) to take steps to both assist the lawyer to find help, while still protecting the interests of the represented parties.
From a personal perspective, I have observed and interacted with attorneys both before and after they have entered the recovery process and further observed what appears to be their ongoing success in recovery.
My perception is that there often appears to be a new level of discipline in those same individuals, which I can only assume is at least partially a result of their newly acquired ability to maintain their sobriety in recovery while still handling the stresses and challenges of their professional and personal lives. The conclusion I have drawn is that in most cases the recovery process actually works. In fact, it works well!
Additional resources or information can be found on the Idaho State Bar’s website at: https://isb.idaho.gov/member-services/programs-resources/lap/, or the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/.
Hon. Gregory M. Culet served in the Idaho Judiciary for over 31 years, both as a Magistrate and a District Judge, retiring in 2012. He is now a member of the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program Steering Committee.
[i] Southworth Associates, Ben Seymour, Program Coordinator; 5530 W. Emerald, Boise, Idaho 83706; Southworth firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.southworthassociates.net; 24-Hour Hotline: (866) 460-9014.
[ii] The Idaho Lawyers Assistance Program Reference Manual can be found at https://isb.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/lap_manual.pdf.
[iii] Dr. Isaiah M. Zimmerman, PhD., Court Review, Vol. 36, Issue 4 (Winter 2000).
[iv] Dr. Peter Jaffe, Professor, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, Presentation to Idaho Judiciary(2007).
[v] National Helpline for Judges Helping Judges: (800) 219-6474