A recent Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Well-Being Wednesday program about “The Importance of Implementing a Well-Being Program at your Firm — the how, what and who to make it happen!” provided a range of big ideas and small tips for legal marketers and law firms. The panel included moderator Cynthia Voth, Chief Client Officer at Miller Nash; Nita Cumello, Global Client Director and Director of Well-Being for the Global Large Law Firm segment of Thomson Reuters – Legal Professionals; Erin Meszaros, Chief Client Officer at Eversheds Sutherland; and Jeff Johnson, HR Operations Manager at Sheppard Mullin.

“I think it's really imperative for all of us to take care of ourselves, to normalize conversations around well-being, and to support ourselves and our teams by creating a culture of well-being as the norm,” said Voth, who helped found the Well-Being Committee during her tenure as LMA president in 2019. “We know that when firms or organizations focus on well-being, it leads to better job satisfaction, performance, creativity, retention and ability to recruit talent.”

LMA’s Well-Being Committee hosts regular Well-Being Wednesdays to bring thought leadership to the topic of establishing and growing a well-being initiative and culture in the legal workplace.

Philosophy and culture toward well-being

“At Thomson Reuters, well-being is seen as a foundation for how you show up as your best self, both as an employee and as a person, and that means that your work, your health and your purpose are all in alignment and harmony with one another,” said Cumello.

“Sheppard Mullin thinks of well-being as holistic, in the sense that we believe that the success of our business depends on the well-being of all of our people, both in the office and at individuals’ homes,” said Johnson. “We have put an intentional focus on extending well-being programs to all attorneys and staff at the firm, and also to their family and household members. If somebody at home is hurting, then it’s probably affecting our employee’s business productivity. If we take care of everybody, it really does help and affect our bottom line, and it does help and affect how our people are doing. We also are trying as much as possible to break the stigma that’s around talking about well-being and mental health, so we let our employees know that it’s okay to speak up.”

Meszaros added that Eversheds Sutherland, as a global law firm working in 36 countries, has needed to think about how cultural differences affect the firm’s perspectives about well-being. “Misunderstandings due to culture can unfortunately lead to unhealthy connections,” she said.

Specific well-being initiatives

Johnson described Sheppard Mullin’s main focus among its well-being programs as its partnership with Lyra Health. “We’ve created an in-network resource for therapy, coaching, self-help tools, substance abuse, outreach and more,” he said. “Each employee, along with their families, gets eight free sessions per year, no questions asked. Their requests and interactions are private and anonymous, of course. We’re creating a culture that facilitates conversation that it is okay to talk about these things.”

The firm’s optional branded Zoom virtual background displays the message “break the silence” as one well-received reminder.

In addition to these bigger well-being initiatives, Sheppard Mullin also has done several smaller efforts Johnson considers as easy wins for the entire firm:

  • Implemented Headspace subscriptions firmwide.
  • Selected a group of approachable firm leaders for an internal e-mail distribution group called “Help Starts Here” for anyone to email with any problems, personally or professionally, if they just need somebody to talk to. “You’d think it would be intimidating to reach out to a group of firm leaders like this, but we were amazed by how much it really took off,” said Johnson. “Maybe that speaks to everyone’s comfort with firm management, but more importantly, it showcases the need for such a resource. Sometimes people just need to talk.”
  • Welcomes speakers on various well-being topics.

Eversheds Sutherland also offers many programs firmwide. One of the ways the partnership has extended its commitment and support includes personal monetary contributions toward a hardship fund for anyone at the firm to apply for financial assistance, whether the hardship results from health or mental well-being issues, a natural disaster or other financial need. “It really demonstrates the partners’ commitment to support others who have a great need for help, especially in the well-being space,” Meszaros said.

For firms that haven’t yet adapted wide-ranging well-being initiatives, or may be looking to start smaller efforts, Meszaros shared one quick activity Eversheds Sutherland does that generates a tremendous amount of goodwill that any firm can do.

“Every time something catastrophic occurs in any of our regions, markets or locations, our managing partner sends an email acknowledging what happened and giving his personal thoughts about how it weighs on his mind,” she said. “It’s a genuine message that he writes himself, from his heart, and sends out. He writes to our firm as a family and it goes a long way.”

She also encouraged developing an internal communications program to help generate the most visibility for firm well-being offerings to increase participation within the firm.

Voth acknowledged that these gestures may take a little time, but not necessarily a lot of money. “It just takes caring and thoughtfulness and collaboration, and you can find so many different ways to help.”

For Valentine’s Day this year, Miller Nash gave everyone at the firm the Calm app, capable of up to five devices using it at the same time so family members could also access it, Voth said. “And we have sent out seasonal affective disorder happy lights to help people through the dark winter here in the Northwest. We have also sent desk chairs to homes when we learned that backs were starting to hurt from people sitting on their dining room chairs while working from home. These little actions bring a level of care and thoughtfulness that show how you make decisions about how to support your folks.”

How can firms use data to design their well-being cultures and strategies?

Cumello’s use of data helps her make strategic decisions about where to focus

support and well-being content initiatives at Thomson Reuters.

“Making an informed decision that’s based on good data is critical,” she said. “Thomson Reuters partnered with the cultural change and mental health platform Unmind for two primary reasons, but we found it delivered so much more. The first reason was to empower employees to measure and manage their own well-being; Unmind curates tools and resources that are specific to an individual’s needs. The other was to build greater literacy around mental health and well-being.”

Unmind collects and aggregates anonymous scores that provide Cumello with a picture of the organization so she can be deliberate about priorities.

“The ability to measure and manage has escalated us to another level, due to this data. While Unmind’s resources and tools put the onus upon the individual to utilize them around their own personal well-being needs, we feel it’s not enough. Now we are working with Unmind on an index to measure workplace contributors to well-being, to help us as leaders learn how we can better understand, analyze and assess what drives actual engagement and performance,” she said.

“I can envision a world that when organizations, including law firms, report on their financial health, they will simultaneously report on the health and engagement of their people and that those two will correlate with one another.”

One way Sheppard Mullin has used data is through access to its benefits claim data and measurement of mental health claims.

“We were able to make a case that if we could have an in-network service such as Lyra, it could potentially bring down out-of-network claims, which it did,” said Johnson. “Lyra also gives us data updates and we can see the numbers that show that people are using the eight free sessions and even more, and other resources. We've been using that data to inform our outreach and to make more people aware of our programs for their benefit.”

How can well-being support client development?

Eversheds Sutherland effectively combines well-being initiatives with client relationships after showing the firm’s executive committee, through data, that investing in client relationships through the lens of mental health and well-being would make a difference.

“We found 10 speakers who focused on health and well-being, and we offered one to clients free of charge,” said Meszaros. “We gave them a list of the speakers, asked which one they wanted, connected them and paid for it. Clients who often can’t find funding for that type of thing were very appreciative. They could use the speaker for a group, a department or the entire business, as they wanted. We offered it as a value-added investment for that client, which was extremely well-received and deepened those relationships. Ultimately, we also wanted it to help individuals who needed it in those businesses.”

Cumello tied the importance of data to an opportunity for client relationships.

“I really believe it’s important for us to start creating baselines of data and insights to benchmark against and to show how we are progressing in our well-being efforts, both individually and collectively as an organization,” she said. “Maybe most important is that for those in legal marketing and business development, it helps communicate to clients that one of our most prominent values as an organization is optimizing our people who are doing their important work.”

How can leaders support well-being for teams and departments?

Whether taking a vacation or getting sick, it’s important to set an example as a leader to your team to set boundaries, said Johnson. “We are too wired to work all the time, and while I encourage others to take a vacation or time off, when I was sick with COVID, I still logged in. That sets an unrealistic expectation to the team of ‘do what I say, not what I do.’

“I also check in often and intentionally with my team, which is spread out across the country. I want to know how people are doing holistically; how they’re doing in the office and out of the office; I want to know if there’s anything I can do to support them.”

“A leader’s ability to acknowledge their own feelings of pain and be vulnerable in the moment will not be judged or seen as a weakness,” said Meszaros. “I believe it creates strength that the team can draw from and provides a more supportive environment. It has taken me awhile to understand that to be a better leader, I don’t always need to be like Teflon. I have become a much better leader through the pandemic by realizing my own limitations and sharing those with my team.”

Inspired by a comment made to her by Adam Reiber, Director of Well-Being at Morgan Lewis, Cumello shared the point that future leaders in the legal industry should not operate under the illusion that what worked in the past is necessarily the right way for the future, and to be open-minded about how to support the thriving of teams and people around you. “We all have a part in not just our own ability to thrive, but in that which we extend out to the world,” she said.


This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of ALM's Law Journal Newsletters Marketing the Law Firm.