- This month’s newsletter is about wellness and balancing work/life in the midst of a pandemic. It has been said in the past that the legal profession has a crisis of stress. You retired as a colonel from the Air Force after 21 years of service where you held positions as first chair felony prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a trial judge, and now serve as a Special Master in the Vaccine Injury Court with a substantial docket. How do you balance your work and raising children, who are remote-learning, while staying (or trying to) balanced? What is the value of practicing wellness generally? And what are the specific benefits of it in the legal profession?
Answer: I think the first step is to have a plan—and keep it. Balance isn’t just going to happen, too many competing demands make that impossible. One of the best parts of serving in the Air Force was its commitment to spiritual, physical, and mental fitness. That meant we were expected to take time each day to exercise, be with our families, and decompress. Taking leave to recharge was also expected. To be sure, this wasn’t always easy, but it set a standard that is part of the military’s culture. I’ve grown to appreciate that culture even more since leaving the service.
- Has your view of what is now called practicing wellness evolved as you transitioned into being a Special Master during a pandemic, when our worlds became much more restricted? If so, how? What tips can you provide for balancing work/life during this time?
Answer: Maintaining wellness during the pandemic for me means having a routine and some long-range plans. I try to carve out some time each day for exercise. Last fall, my husband and I dedicated time in the mornings to go walking, and in the evenings my family shuts off social media during dinner. We also block time on the calendar for family vacations—which these days is often a staycation. But planning for time together, and then committing to it, helps keep us going when things are particularly challenging.
- You’ve worked in nearly every arena in the Military Legal System. What do you believe that experience will allow you to bring to your role as a Special Master in the Vaccine Injury Court?
Answer: My work in the military criminal justice system, both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, helped prepare me to serve as a criminal trial judge, and ultimately, as a special master. Even though I spent the majority of my litigation time as a prosecutor, my work as a defense counsel was just as important. It helped to balance my perspective, in part because I saw firsthand that some of the Airmen I represented were treated unjustly. This injustice wasn’t something I necessarily would have expected had I not represented defense clients. My subsequent service as a trial judge was both challenging and rewarding. In particular, the most difficult aspect of that position was imposing sentence on young men and women for crimes they committed while serving our country. This part of the job didn’t get any easier with time. One of the things I am most proud of is that both sides of the courtroom—prosecution and defense—considered me a fair, objective, and even-handed trial judge. I try to bring this sense of perspective and even-handedness with me to my work as a special master.
- What role does the Bar play in advocating or promoting wellness, either formally or informally?
Answer: I think the Bar has an essential role supporting attorney wellbeing. It is uniquely suited to provide guidance, information, and help for members of our profession. Importantly, I think that role needs to grow. The impact of the Pandemic isn’t known yet, but I suspect it will be extensive and enduring. We need to commit the necessary resources to what’s going to be a continuing effort.
- What is the role of special masters in promoting wellness among the Bar generally as well as in times of crisis, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: We serve as leaders in our professional community—not just among our team, but for those who appear before us. For example, we have a duty to check on our colleagues’ wellbeing, and make clear that if they’re overworked, or facing difficulties, there is help available. This is a point that can’t be made too often—especially in these times.
Rapid Fire Round!
- Mac or PC?
- Top-three on your Spotify/I-tunes playlist?
Answer: The Weekend Blinding Lights, Handel’s Messiah, Pink Raise your Glass
- Top-three favorite trips you’ve taken? Any recommendations? (when it’s safe to travel again!)
Answer: Machu Picchu, South Africa, & Paris. There are so many places to see! When it is safe to travel, my family will visit Scotland.
- Boot-camp workout or Orange Theory?
Answer: Orange Theory.
- Stay-at-Home Binge: books or television?