2019 LMASW Region Conference Recap: Exploring Mental Wellness in the Legal Marketing Industry – Push it. Walk it. Toe it.

LMA Southwest chats with 2019 LMA Southwest Region Conference presenters Executive Director at Peek & Toland PLLC Jessica Aries, Founding Principal of The Still Center LLC Denise Robinson and Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of fSquared Marketing Lynn Foley to discuss their presentation, "Exploring Mental Wellness in the Legal Marketing Industry – Push it. Walk it. Toe it."

What inspired you to speak on this topic? 

Jessica:I think this was covered in our introductions, but I feel very strongly that there are organizations I’ve worked for that have been both supportive and unsupportive of this discussion and I wanted to share what I had learned from working on ones that were supportive and how that can translate to real world practical ideas that others could implement in their own firms. Personally, I’ve noticed in law firms we put a lot of ideas on paper, but execution is where we struggle. For me, being able to execute something that has an impact is far more important than just discussing the idea. 

Denise: I was inspired to speak on this topic because we must champion the needs of all legal professionals — not just lawyers — if we are going to make systemic change in the legal profession around mental health, substance abuse, and well-being generally.

What are the top three things you hope the attendees took from your presentation? 

  1. Acknowledgement of the Issue: This is something that has been plaguing law firms for a long time.
  2. Validation of their Feelings: If they are feeling stressed, they aren’t alone. 
  3. Action to Impact: There is something they can do about it to set their own healthier boundaries and preserve their sanity.

Why do you believe we don’t feel comfortable with telling our colleagues or supervisor that we are under stress? And, are there any ways you recommend we start that conversation? 

Jessica: There is still a huge stigma around being open and honest about our stress levels. It’s interesting because I am reading the book, Playing Big right now by Tara Mohr, and she keeps talking about our inner critic. I think so many of us have an inner critic that holds us back from saying how we feel because we believe we will be giving into the that critic and admitting we are somehow inadequate – when in reality, continuing to suffer and not voice what it happening just exacerbates the stress and results in burnout and exhaustion to the point of mental instability. The combination of stigma and the inner critic (imposter syndrome) results in deafening silence. Instead of voicing what is happening, we hide from it or pretend it’s not there.  

Denise: I agree with everything Jessica said and I would add the following: There’s a persistent narrative within the legal profession — especially law firms — that it is inherently stressful. That the nature of the work, whether its practicing law or doing legal marketing or being a legal assistant, has stress baked into it. Few within the profession (or outside of it, for that matter) have questioned whether this narrative is true or, if true, whether it is true all of the time. The acceptance of the narrative, in my view, contributes significantly to the discomfort and reluctance so many legal professionals have regarding sharing our struggles with stress. I think challenging the narrative by examining whether everything we do is as urgent or high-stakes as we treat it is a good first step to start the conversation.

What is one thing you didn’t share during your presentation that everyone should know about this topic? 

Jessica: I didn’t get to talk as much about how important it is to have strategic relationships with the various attorneys in one’s firm. I think a huge component of starting these conversations starts with having strong relationships where we feel secure enough to set limits and healthier boundaries. But to get to that level of security, there has to be trust that speaking up won’t result in reprimand or punishment. This only happens when there is a strong relationships between the attorney and the business professional. In my humble opinion, this type of conversation could not only be healthy for the business professionals but also the attorneys. There are far too many attorneys who I believe are silently suffering too, but they are also afraid to acknowledge it too.

What didn’t we ask that you wish we did? Or, what do you wish an attendee asked during your presentation that wasn’t asked? 

Jessica: I would have thought someone would have asked us how we manage our own work/life balance. The simple answer for me is: I don’t do it alone. I have lots of help: a husband who 100% supports my career ambitions (and just so happens to enjoy cooking), a therapist who helps me work through issues, a cleaning lady ensures I come home to a clean and organized house, and HEB curbside so I don’t have to spend time grocery shopping (among other services). Most importantly, I have a boss who supports and respects me and the value I bring to my organization. That wasn’t built overnight, it took time, energy, advocacy on my part, and lots of education. It’s why I believe so much in setting healthy boundaries and positioning yourself for mental and professional success in your organization.

Denise: I wish someone would have asked us to share one action item that they could implement on their return to the office after the conference to improve their mental health. My response would have been to: 1) identify one change that they are in full control of making to improve their own mental health in the office — whether it’s committing to moving more during the day, eating lunch away from their desk, providing a sincere response to “how are you?”, or setting boundaries in response to last-minute requests; 2) write down that change and read it before starting work each day; and 3) practice that change for the next 21 days or as long as it takes for it to become a habit.


 

Jessica is the Executive Director at Peek & Toland PLLC, a boutique immigration law firm, where she advises and helps craft the firm’s strategic vision and executes the strategy while managing the firm’s operation. When Jessica isn’t working on firm initiatives and leading her team at Peek & Toland, she indulges in her passion for mentorship, advocacy, and leadership by helping mid-career professionals make the leap from corner cubicle to corner office at By Aries, her leadership and career strategy company. She writes regularly on issues pertaining to professional development, leadership, career advocacy, and navigating the challenges of being the only millennial voice (not to mention female and Latina) with a seat at the table.

Jessica currently serves on the LMA Technology Task Force and is heading up the development of an LMASW Next Program focused on building out future legal marketing leaders within the LMASW region. In 2015 Jessica was honored to be named the LMA Rising Star and has remained heavily involved in LMA, the Southwest region, and her Austin local group. Jessica is a huge proponent of LMA and its work in helping to elevate and move the needle forward for business and marketing professionals in the legal industry.

Denise A. Robinson is the Founding Principal of The Still Center LLC, a consultancy focused on facilitating personal well-being, interpersonal connection, and organizational inclusion through mindfulness and contemplative practices. Her work is informed by over a decade of advancing organizational diversity & inclusion and many years teaching yoga and meditation. After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as the president of the Black Law Students Association and a student advocate in the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, Denise started her career as a labor & employment attorney in her home state of Ohio. She later transitioned to promoting workplace equity in internal diversity roles as the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for O’Melveny & Myers, and subsequently, the Diversity Officer for the International Monetary Fund.

Denise is also a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance and her yoga teaching and practice are the foundation of her work in mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative practices. She is an active writer and speaker on a variety of diversity and well-being issues and is proud to serve as the co-chair of the Committee on Diversity & Inclusion for the alumni board of her undergraduate alma mater, the Honors Tutorial College of Ohio University.

Lynn Foley is Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of fSquared Marketing a company that provides law firms with strong expertise in digital strategy, branding, websites, client development, strategic planning, and lawyer training.

Lynn has over 20 years of proven, hands on experience, starting in New York at JPMorgan Chase before joining PwC a decade later as Director of Business Development for their Private Company Services practice. These combined experiences led her to the global law firm White & Case LLP as Practice Development Director for their Americas Finance practices with global responsibility for strategic planning and business development.

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