President's Page: Renewing the wellness call to action

By Paul Peterson

On June 29 the Minnesota Supreme Court joined forces with the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota to lead a renewal of their call to action on lawyer well-being, an effort that began in 2019. The “renewal” aspect of this year’s program reflects a re-examination and recommitment to wellness on the part of the profession following the impact of the pandemic and the shutdown.

Beginning last year, the two courts—led by Justice Natalie Hudson and Federal District Court Judge Donovan Frank, respectively—established a judiciary task force that led the way to this year’s renewal. Much planning and effort went into the project. Representatives of the appellate and district courts, LCL, and the state and federal bar associations met to try to thoughtfully and purposefully usher in the renewal effort. Surveys were utilized to get input on the effects of the pandemic, best practices that were being developed or in use, and how best to construct a kick-off event. The gathering on June 29 was the culmination of many months of hard work. I am happy to report the program was a great success.

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Chief Judge John R. Tunheim of the United States District Court, District of Minnesota, began the program, entitled “The Judiciary: Embracing Lawyer Well-Being,” by reviewing where we as a profession have been, where we hope to be going forward, and the role of the judiciary in this process. Next came keynote speaker Patrick Krill, principal and founder of Krill Strategies. He discussed where the profession currently stands on well-being as well as recently published and forthcoming research that underscores the magnitude of current challenges but also opportunities for improvement.

The presentation included three distinguished panels of speakers. The first, moderated by former Justice David Lillehaug (now senior counsel at Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.), consisted of Ivan Fong (executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary, Medtronic); Jessica Klander (shareholder, Bassford Remele); and Lowell Noteboom (partner, Stinson) sitting in for Krista Larson (director of well-being, Stinson). One overriding lesson imparted by this panel is the critical role leadership plays in successful wellness initiatives in the private law world. Another point in the discussion was the importance of the business case to be made for private law employers to act on well-being. 

The next panel featured the law schools, their students, and new lawyers. This panel featured Lynn LeMoine (Mitchell Hamline dean of students), Lisa Montepetit Brabbit (St. Thomas associate dean for external relations and programs), Erin Keyes (University of Minnesota assistant dean of students; chair, Minnesota Law Diversity & Belonging Affinity Council), Racey Rodne (McEllistrem, Fargione, Rorvig, and Moe P.A.), and Chase Webber (University of Minnesota law student). The affirmative programs utilized by the law schools were discussed, as were the challenges facing law students and new lawyers. The panelists stressed the importance of peer involvement in wellness issues together with mentorship and support—either from within or outside the new lawyer’s place of employment.

The final panel, a public law discussion moderated by Justice Natalie Hudson, consisted of Minnesota Federal Defender Katherian D. Roe, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Chief Deputy Peter Ivy of the Carver County Attorney’s Office. They discussed issues such as the imbalance between prosecution and public defense resources in the federal system; the pressures of practicing law in the public eye, at times prominently so; and the increasing concern over the safety of public lawyers amid growing threats of violence. 

The event culminated in a very heartwarming way when The Chiefs’ Award was presented by Chief Justice Gildea and Chief Judge Tunheim. I am pleased to report that Joan Bibelhausen of Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) was named the first-ever recipient of the award. And how well-deserved it is. As many of you know, Joan has a national reputation for outstanding work and leadership in the lawyer assistance and diversity and inclusion realms. She has served as executive director of LCL since 2005. Joan has significant additional training in the areas of counseling, mental health and addiction, diversity, employment issues, and management. She has spent more than two decades working with lawyers, judges, and law students who are at a crossroads because of concerns over mental illness, addiction, stress, and other issues of well-being. Joan is a treasure to our state and our profession, and I know I join everyone in congratulating and thanking her for her hard work and leadership.

Paul Peterson represents families in personal injury and wrongful death cases. His office is in Woodbury and he is licensed in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. He is the proud papa of four above-average children and one outstanding dog.