PD and Wellness for the PD Professional

By Shannon Burke and Kelly Druten Green
NALP Bulletin+
May 2024

As PD professionals, we dedicate our energy and time to planning and executing first-rate PD programming for the lawyers (and sometimes paralegals, paraprofessionals, and other business professionals) at our respective firms. But it is also important that we are intentional about carving out time for our own professional development and wellness. As flight attendants remind us before our plane departs, we must put on our own oxygen masks first. In this article — the sixth in an eight-part series — we offer several important ways to invest in yourself.

Practice What You Preach

You are familiar with many of the traditional pieces of advice that thread through our well-being programming: get plenty of sleep; consistently visit your doctor, dentist, and other medical professionals; invest in personal relationships with your significant other, children, family members, and friends; keep physically active; engage in your communities; maintain a gratitude journal; practice mindfulness; participate in hobbies you enjoy; and take your vacation time. We encourage you to practice what you preach! Not only are these solid pieces of advice, but you must model the behavior you are requesting of others.

Beyond the usual recommendations, we offer additional ways you can maintain your own well-being and enjoy your job at the same time.

Invest in Yourself

We all are busy working in fast-paced, high-stress environments. It is easy to get caught on the wheel of constantly moving from one thing to the next. Take time to pause; to reflect on where you have been, where you are, and where you want to go; to honestly assess your areas of strength and opportunities for growth; and to develop a plan and set goals. If it helps to keep you on track, set aside time on your calendar for self-reflection at least once a quarter.

Although we spend our time supporting the development of others, we need to nourish our own growth to thrive. As PD professionals, we love learning and there is no shortage of resources and opportunities to help you reach the goals you set.

Consider seeking outside development opportunities to give you a solid foundational understanding of the various aspects of our profession (e.g., competencies, evaluations, mentoring, CLE) as well as the tools to continually grow and innovate. A professional certification may increase your confidence and credibility within the firm. Have you considered earning a coaching or mental health first aid certificate or becoming certified in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DISC, or other comparable assessment?

Learn from others. Conferences like NALP’s Annual Education Conference and the Professional Development Institute highlight experts in our field who share best practices, successes they have achieved (with practical specifics on how they did it), pitfalls to avoid, and insights on what changes and trends they see ahead. Take a deep dive into the NALP website. It is a treasure trove of resources — upcoming and recorded webinars, the Bulletin+ digital magazine, industry research, and the opportunity to network with other professionals on NALPconnect.

Invest in Your Network Within and Outside of Your Firm

It is axiomatic that creating and maintaining healthy relationships will have a positive impact on your personal well-being. But it can also be integral to your professional success. Understanding who does what and who to call when a given situation arises will serve you well during your tenure at the firm. We spend extensive time identifying qualified panelists, connecting mentees with mentors, and coaching lawyers in their professional development. Getting to know the people at your firm will make you more efficient and successful in completing those tasks. Do not underestimate the value of knowing who to call in a pinch or having a network of champions in the firm.

In addition to getting to know people within your firm, invest time maintaining and growing a network outside of the firm. As many experienced NALP members will tell you, some of their richest professional relationships came from other PD, DEI, recruiting, and law school professionals. It has been our experience that fellow NALP members are excellent sources of information, inspiration, and perspective. They share the good times (and bad) with others who understand and make you laugh. Building a strong network makes you look smarter and saves you time. You also will learn about innovative new programs or initiatives others are trying – and often they will graciously share their materials with you, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

But it is important to avoid the comparison trap. While you are expanding your network and getting inspired by our amazing colleagues and thought leaders, remember that each law firm is unique. A program that works well at one firm may not be well received at another firm. There is always another firm that has a deeper organizational chart, varying responsibilities, enviable credibility, and seemingly endless resources. Try your best not to make a direct comparison when considering what other law firms are doing.

Get to Know the Inner Workings of Your Firm

To excel at your law firm, it is vital to understand how it works. How is it structured — both on the lawyer side and on the business professional side? What are the law firm economics? How does your firm make money? What areas of law do the lawyers at your firm practice and what (on a high-level) services do they offer? What are the responsibilities of each of the administrative departments and who does what within those departments? What is the culture at the firm? What are the personalities of each of the practice groups and/or departments? Spend some time getting an understanding of the lay of the land.

Raise Your Hand

Our roles often give us the opportunity to stretch into areas no one is covering. For example, consider how many firms have recently invested in talent that focuses on wellness, coaching, retention, or culture creation. Few of these positions were available 10 years ago, but they are becoming more commonplace. Stay abreast of how other PD professionals are adding value at their firms and consider if that is a way for you to add value at your firm as well. Embracing new projects will keep you engaged and relevant and can increase your network and credibility.

Don’t wait until you are an "expert" to volunteer. There is no better way to make sure you thoroughly understand a topic than to write or present on it. Challenge yourself to submit a program proposal for NALP's Professional Development Institute or the 2025 Annual Education Conference, or volunteer to write an article for the NALP Bulletin+. If you are not sure about a subject, reach out to the PD Section leaders (or us!) and we can brainstorm topics with you and help guide you through the process.

Seek out a leadership role at NALP. Not only will you expand your network and get to attend amazing programming directly applicable to your job, but taking on a leadership role can boost your confidence and professional satisfaction.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries can be a loaded term in the legal industry. For most of us it rarely means closing our laptops at 5:00 and not opening them again for the rest of the evening. However, you can set boundaries that make sense for you. Communicate your schedule and your priorities to your supervisor and team members. For example, if you are a caregiver to young children and want to participate in their bedtime routine every night, let your inner circle know you will not be available during that time. If you take a yoga class every Thursday night, communicate to your team that your phone will be off, and you will not be reachable during that time.

Determine the difference between an emergency, an urgent request, and a routine inquiry. Making these judgment calls can be difficult when you first join a new firm or begin reporting to a new supervisor, but you will eventually gain an understanding of how to triage these requests. If you are unclear about the expectations, have that conversation before you burn yourself out.

Take an honest assessment of your work style and consider whether you can make small changes that will have a big impact. For example, would you function better with slightly different hours? Is a hybrid schedule available? Do not hesitate to advocate for yourself. Sometimes you have to ask.

Don’t let errant comments or unintentional slights take up mental real estate. We work in a fast-paced and demanding environment. Our lawyers and colleagues recognize our expertise and appreciate our insight, but sometimes they can forget professional courtesy or fail to realize the effort it takes to do our jobs successfully. Do not take it personally.

Keep it in Perspective

Your work self is important, but it is just one part of you as a whole person. Achieving work/life balance can be elusive but you can decide how to align your approach to work with your personal values and priorities.

Investing in our own professional development and well-being is a work in progress for each of us. If either of us can be a resource for you, please do not hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to connect!

Shannon Burke (shaburke@chapman. com) is the Director of Talent Development and Diversity at Chapman and Cutler LLP.

Kelly Druten Green (kelly.green@ogletree. com) is the Director of Attorney Development at Ogletree Deakins and an admitted well-being "work in progress."

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