As executive director of Step Up to Justice, a Tucson, Arizona-based privately funded legal aid nonprofit, Michele Mirto wields a shoestring budget and just three staff members armed with legal technology. They lead an army of volunteer lawyers in resolving low-income clients’ civil matters—mostly family law but also guardianship, consumer law, bankruptcy, and wills and probate.
After having her second child, Southern California litigator Erin Giglia worked part-time for law firm Snell & Wilmer, but fellow associate Laurie Rowen had different plans for work when her baby girl was born 16 days after Giglia’s daughter.
Rowen always knew she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, while continuing to do legal work on an extremely part-time basis. It took nearly a year for Giglia to jump on board, but when she did, the pair co-founded Montage Legal Group, a new legal business model especially attractive to women.
Montage and firms like it have proven a good match for all sorts of lawyers who want to set their own work terms, but they have become particularly popular with lawyer moms who want to dramatically reduce their hours after they give birth, but who also want to stay in the legal game. The part-time experience at these kinds of firms also eases the transition back into the profession full time, if they choose to, when their children get older.
It’s a well-known fact that lawyers suffer at high numbers from mental health and substance abuse problems, and a new book on lawyer wellness drives home a point that might motivate many attorneys to take action.
When wellness permeates an attorney’s life, there’s a positive impact on his law practice, clients, judges and juries, said Stewart Levine, editor and curator of the recently released book, “The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness.” Levine, whose book is published by the American Bar Association, recruited lawyers and wellness experts to pen chapters that serve as a guide toward lawyer wellness, suggesting things such as practicing yoga in the office, eating nutritiously, exercising and giving back through pro bono and volunteerism and building resilience.
The book is part of an ongoing trend to push wellness into the legal profession in the wake of eye-opening research over the past few years that showed how pervasive mental health and substance abuse issues are among lawyers.
It’s too easy for attorneys to be aware that something isn’t perfect in their practices and accept the situation instead of pushing back. So says longtime legal innovator Nicole Bradick. “What it’s all about is identifying something not working as well as it should be and thinking of possible solutions,” says Bradick, who in January launched a legal technology company, Theory and Principle, that aims to do just that: “Ask why is this happening, and are there any changes we can make to fix the problem?”
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Houston law graduates Ieshia Champs and Shartory Brown have inspired many people with their stories surviving childhood homelessness and teenage pregnancy and then succeeding in law school while raising multiple kids.
Texas Lawyer spoke with Brown and emailed Champs for advice for other law students about juggling a strict schedule, coping with overwhelming demands, and tapping into their inner strength and resiliency. Here are their answers, edited for clarity and brevity.
On a three-week family vacation to Greece and Croatia, Andrew Giacomini left his phone in his room to disconnect from his litigation practice.
Although Giacomini, the managing partner at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco, checked emails, his colleagues probably didn’t know—because Giacomini never responded. He billed zero hours during his 21-day trip and focused on recharging.
“I have the philosophy: Balanced lawyers give balanced advice,” Giacomini said. “You’re not going to be offering the best advice to your clients with burned-out lawyers.”
Giacomini’s strategy is part of wider recognition within the legal profession that true downtime for lawyers is crucial. With mental health problems and addiction percentages higher among lawyers compared with other professions, some firms are acknowledging that lawyers truly need to detach from the office to recharge.
Two Houston law graduates who defied tough odds to succeed in law school have inspired people across the country.
Other law students can learn about resilience and the power of priorities through the stories of May graduates Ieshia Champs of Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Shartory Brown of South Texas College of Law Houston.
Both Brown and Champs were homeless at times during their childhoods and became teenage mothers. Tragedies and heartache could have derailed their lives—yet they persevered through college and law school, all while raising multiple children. The two women share so much in common that they became good friends while interning together at the Harris County Attorney’s Office in the spring of 2018.