Reimagining Law: How to Meet the Needs of a Post-COVID Workforce

In this episode of Reimagining Law, we hear from Patrick Krill, an attorney, researcher, and advocate for improved mental health in the legal profession. Patrick discusses his groundbreaking research on attorney well-being, why the employees who employers sent home aren’t the ones who will be returning, and how employers can meet these changing needs. He also asks us to examine our thinking around returning to the office: are we catastrophizing the worse-possible scenario?

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  • 0:35 – You have a big study that just came out on attorney mental health and well-being. Can you briefly discuss the study and your research?
  • 3:32 – What does the returning workforce want in a professional environment and how can organizations give that to them?
  • 6:03 – How can both legal professionals and their employers prepare for going back to the office?

Related Reading

Patrick Krill

Patrick Krill is an attorney, licensed and board-certified alcohol and drug counselor, author, researcher, and advocate who has spearheaded numerous groundbreaking efforts to improve mental health in the legal profession. Recognized globally as a leading authority in the field, he is the founder of Krill Strategies, a behavioral health consulting firm exclusively for the legal profession. In that role, he serves as a trusted advisor to large law firms and corporate legal departments throughout North America and Europe, working to help them protect and improve the health and well-being of their attorneys and staff.

Connect with Patrick
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrick-r-krill-20a69647/ 

About Reimagining Law

The Reimagining Law video series explores how legal and judicial professionals are adapting the delivery of services to meet the unique needs of today’s consumers. Reimagining Law is produced by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

Interview Transcription

Note – Transcription has been edited for clarity.

Stephanie Villinski 0:07
Hi, I’m Stephanie Villinski, Deputy Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. Welcome to Reimagining Law. We’re exploring how legal professionals are adapting the delivery of legal services to meet the needs of today’s consumers. I’m joined today by Patrick Krill, principal and founder of Krill Strategies. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us today.

Patrick Krill 0:30
Stephanie, thank you for the invitation to be here. It’s great to be chatting with you.

Stephanie Villinski 0:35
So why don’t we jump in? You have a big study that just came out. You released this groundbreaking study on the attorney mental health and well-being last month. And the data from the study shows that almost half the attorneys are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety and over half of the attorneys screen for hazardous drinking, and on top of this women seem to be higher in both those categories than men. So can you briefly discuss the study and your research around this?

Patrick Krill 1:11
Sure. And I think you actually did a pretty good job of summarizing at a very high level. But this was a large research project. We surveyed lawyers in California and DC, it was a large by-coastal random sample, which is important for purposes of being able to generalize your findings to a broader population of currently practicing attorneys. And the data was captured last summer. So we were a few months into the pandemic at the time. And as you said, I think it would be fair to characterize our findings as being demonstrative of an ongoing well-being crisis in law, one that was clearly exacerbated and worsened by the attendant stressors of COVID-19. And everything else that was happening over the course of the last year. So levels of depression, anxiety, perceived stress, hazardous drinking, all were at, I would say, unsustainable levels. Many people are struggling, and women are being impacted much more negatively than men. To be clear, men aren’t enjoying robust mental health. But the women in the study were experiencing higher levels of just about everything that we wouldn’t want them to be experiencing high levels of. Work-family conflict was implicated as a driver of much of the distress that we detected. And we can talk about that if you’d like. I think that has implications across a variety of domains.

Stephanie Villinski 2:38
Okay. Yeah, please go into that.

Patrick Krill 2:41
So, one of the things we looked at was whether people were thinking about leaving the profession due specifically to mental health, burnout, or stress. About 18% of men are. One in four women are thinking about leaving, specifically due to mental health, burnout, or stress. And we identified predictors, risk factors for those thoughts. And for women, it was work-family conflict. And if a female attorney has a high level of work-family conflict, she is four and a half times more likely to think about leaving the profession due to mental health, burnout, or stress. To me, that’s very instructive. It’s obviously unfortunate, but it’s also instructive. And I think it points us towards, you know, possible solutions, or at least highlights areas that we really do need to focus on.

Stephanie Villinski 3:32
For sure now, and I think that feeds into my next question. So that is very alarming data. And we all are starting to hear more about the focus on going back to work and being in the office. And as we discussed, Illinois, just fully reopened as of this past Friday, with very few COVID restrictions left. So and you’ve said in presentations, the workforce returning is not that the same one that left in March of 2020, at the start of the pandemic. So what does the returning workforce want in a professional environment these days? And how can organizations give that to them?

Patrick Krill 4:23
The workforce that any law firm or legal employer sent home a year and a half ago, is not the same workforce that’s going to be coming back. The composite psychological or behavioral health profile of that workforce has shifted, and for many people, it’s shifted in an unfavorable direction, as evidenced by the data that we captured in California and DC. And so recognizing that I think is key for any employer. People are going to need additional supports, additional resources, accommodations, etc. But to your question about, you know, what do people want? Different people want different things, some people are eager to get back into the workplace, really sort of on a full-time basis, I would say those people are probably in the minority. I would, they’re also probably a small group of people who want to stay home on a full-time basis, more people are sort of somewhere in the middle, right, they want some level of flexibility. So ideally, they could sort of take the good of the last year and a half – maybe it was allowing them to spend more time with family, thereby reducing some of that work, family conflict, or whatever it may be, right. I mean, you could fill in the blanks based on your own specific situation. But ideally, I think people would like to hold on to the good. And then you know, sort of ditch the rest and get back to the things they about being back in the office. All of which really lands us somewhere in the middle kind of this hybrid model that I think most employers are likely contemplating.

Stephanie Villinski 6:03
How can both legal professionals and their employers prepare for going back to the office?

Patrick Krill 6:09
Let’s start with the employer, what do they need to do to prepare. One, as I say, recognize and acknowledge that your workforce is different. Many people will have been experiencing mental health distress, a significant number of people began drinking more hazardously over the course of the last year, year and a half, you know, more people are burned out. So people are different. There’s also a heightened level of anxiety about returning. So employers need to recognize that, prepare for that and be ready to offer some level of flexibility, accommodation, and support. A question I get from managers and sort of supervisors in firms, which is typically who I’m advising is, you know, what do we do to help the people on our team? Right on a, on a very sort of micro-level? What can we do as individuals to help the people working with us for us? And I always like to say, don’t be someone else’s risk factor, right? Recognize if your own behavior is causing unnecessary stress in someone else’s life, the profession is always going to be stressful. But if we can all sort of lookout for ways or identify ways that we could stop bringing unnecessary stress or pressure into the lives of those around us, and those who maybe report to us, that would be key. Don’t be someone else’s risk factor for a mental health or substance use problem. For the employees, I think it’s important for the person who’s going back into the workplace, maybe they’re a partner, so they’re not technically an employee, it is nonetheless important to begin preparing, right? Identifying what about this experience is perhaps a little bit stressful for you. And also check your thinking. I mentioned that levels of depression and anxiety and hazardous substance use have really sort of gone through the roof. And for many people, when they’re struggling with those issues, even if it’s sort of a mild level of depression or anxiety, our thinking can be affected, right. And we can find ourselves experiencing a lot of distorted thinking, thinking errors, cognitive distortions, however, you want to label it. And in a period where we’re confronted with a lot of additional stressors, like going back into the office, our thinking can undermine us. So what does that mean on a really concrete level? Ask yourself, am I catastrophizing, right? Am I sort of envisioning the worst possible scenario? Am I overgeneralizing? Am I jumping to conclusions? Am I using past experiences to sort of project what this is going to look like? Or am I maybe minimizing the benefit of getting back around people and magnifying all of the things about this that are perhaps stressing me out?

Stephanie Villinski 8:46
Thank you so much for joining us today, Patrick. Please like and share this video and subscribe to our channel to stay updated on new episodes. Information on how to stay connected with the Commission, Patrick, and his work is in the notes. Patrick and I discussed just a portion of his study today. There’s much more. If you’d like to read more, it’s free to access and you can also find a link to this study in the notes. Thank you so much for watching and stay well.

This episode was recorded on June 14, 2021.

Check out more episodes of Reimagining Law here.

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