The Lawyer of the Week, Episode 22, California

Anne Brafford, Author

Attorney Well-Being Writer, Speaker, Trainer

Interview Transcript

Pamela: Hi, my name is Pamela DeNeuve and I’m very pleased that you’ve joined us for “Lawyer of the Week.”

Today we have a special guest. I am very excited about our guest, Anne Brafford. Anne is a founding member of Aspire, an educational and consulting firm for the legal profession.

She is the Chairperson of the American Bar Association Law Practice Division’s Attorney Well-Being Committee and is a member of multiple other national and local-level attorney well-being initiatives.

She served as the Editor-in-Chief and co-author of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s 2017 Report, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practice Recommendations for Positive Change.”

After practicing law for 18 years, Anne left her job as an equity partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP to focus on thriving in the legal profession. In 2014, she earned a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from the University of Pennsylvania. Anne now is in her fourth year as a Ph.D. student in Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) in Southern California.

She researches topics related to boosting thriving in the legal profession. Anne is a Teaching Assistant in the MAPP program for Dr. Martin Seligman and, for two years, served in that same role at CGU for Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — the co-founders of Positive Psychology. Look for Anne’s new book to be published by the American Bar Association in November 2017 called “Positive Professionals: Creating High-Performing, Profitable Firms Through the Science of Engagement.”

Anne, welcome.

Anne: Thank you so much, it’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks for asking me to be “Lawyer of the Week” — I feel so complimented.

Pamela: Oh wonderful. So let me just ask you the Lawyer of the Week questions.

So when and what made you decide to become a lawyer?

Anne: So I started saying I wanted to be a lawyer when I was around 11 years old. So that seems pretty young and it was a little unusual since I was the first person in my family to even go to college. So having a kid saying she wanted to go to Law School seemed a little unusual.

I had a strong sense of fairness growing up. I began, I think, arguing with my teachers as early as third grade when I thought one of my classmates wasn’t treated fairly. I went to a Catholic Grade school with many nuns as my teachers. And I think there was this strong sense of really wanting fairness. Also from quite a young age a feeling like I wanted to find something that would allow me to give an important contribution in the world. And I really saw the legal profession as offering those things.

Pamela: Wonderful. And at such a young age, that’s really amazing. Now what do you think made you decide to leave the practice of law?

Anne: That’s a complicated question and there are a lot of factors that contributed to it. I think in the end one of the driving reasons was that I had lost a sense of connection and meaningfulness. When I was younger growing up at the firm I was really focused on achievement and have great relationships with my clients and wanted to do well for them, wanted to advance in the firm, wanted to become a partner and an equity partner.

And so my focus had been very much taken up by external achievement and that was wonderful and enough for a while.

As I got older, I started feeling a stronger sense that — in my one short life, there might be something else that I needed to do.

Again, from this very young age, I had this feeling that I really wanted to do something important in the world. And although I thought my work was important, I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling something that was more meaningful and purposeful for me.

So although it was a very hard decision I think that was really what led me to finally conclude that there was another chapter that I needed to investigate, that would still keep me in the legal profession. But that I would start focusing in a different area and really helping other people develop meaning and purpose, which has become my meaning and purpose.

Pamela: Well that’s really wonderful Anne. Because you know when I think that you devoted 18 years, you beat the odds. You broke through the glass ceiling, becoming not only a partner, but an equity partner with a big law firm, which in itself speaks loudly about who you are and your commitment to achieving whatever it is you put your mind to.

Anne: I appreciate that and I feel that I’m bringing that same energy and work ethic to this new area of lawyer well-being.

Pamela: Yes and also I think that when I think about it, you actually were there on the hot seat yourself. You know exactly what you’re talking about. I mean I work with people who have experienced that, but I haven’t experienced that. So you bring a wealth of information, a wealth of knowledge, first hand experience and knowledge and wisdom to this topic. So I really salute you for that.

Anne: Thank you.

Pamela: So now, do you encourage other lawyers to leave the practice of law if they aren’t happy?

Anne: See, this is a great question. I do a lot of speaking and I especially talk a lot about meaningfulness — that tends to make an appearance some way in whatever I’m speaking or writing.

I found from the very beginning of starting on this new path — where I’m talking about these ideas — that multiple lawyers will come to me afterwards and say that they feel the same way. And I’m speaking their story and that they feel inspired by my difficult decision to leave a successful career that I had spent so much time investing in. And I just want to be very clear that that’s not what I want to be the inspiration for.

What I want to try to do is create the beacon or the light toward developing law firm culture, as in the legal profession culture in general, so that more lawyers with broader sets of values can find a place where they do find a sense of meaning and purpose and connection and joy and want to stay in the profession.

So that’s really the direction that I want to move in, is don’t be inspired by my difficult decision to leave — be inspired, hopefully, by the work that I and others are trying to do to help shape the legal profession into an even better place where more people will stay.

Pamela: So is it correct in my assessment that what you’re really looking to do is change the paradigm of how lawyers are practicing law and how law firms craft their firm cultures that affect their lawyers?

Anne: Yes, I think that’s exactly right. That in so many of the firms now, the way that they have evolved is that the values and all the messaging is around profitability and productivity. And real client care and love and satisfaction and community orientation is sort of an afterthought. What I’m hoping to do with science behind me is to start talking more about a broader value set, that profitability and being successful are important and we should talk about those things, legal organizations are businesses as well. But when the messages are limited to money, revenue generation, billable hours, there’s a lot of people in those organizations that are going to lose over time their sense of meaningfulness, because that is not an intrinsic value that really energizes people.

So my book and generally what I’m doing is trying to encourage — just as you say — a new paradigm in which we have a broader sense of values and really think about the core reasons that we became lawyers and try to bring that into the communications and value systems of our organizations.

Pamela: Great. That’s a great segue into — tell us the message and the importance of this newly released book that’s hot off the presses.

Anne: Yes. So the heart of the book is about — how can leaders in law firms cultivate engagement within the firms, within other lawyers. I define leaders pretty broadly, but really, anyone that has some responsibility for guiding and motivating others is considered a leader.

I collect and synthesize tons of research, really, from both positive psychology and organizational behavior, to talk about how to do that.

What the book proposes is this experience of engagement, which is just really feeling like you’re energized and able to be your best self, and fully present. Like, what are the kinds of things in a culture that can help energize that feeling? It’s things like feeling like your work really matters, that you’re not getting drive-by assignments that you never hear about again or that you feel aren’t important or don’t understand the connection to the client, and feeling a sense that — I matter; my own talents and skills are really valued and valuable by my firm.

These things, those two in particular, really form the heart of fostering the sense of meaningfulness in work, this idea that — I’m valued; my work is valued; I have a sense of belonging. That then helps us feel that — this is meaningful work; I’m doing something meaningful. And that then contributes to this experience of engagement, which then does have a positive impact on the bottom line.

I talk about the research in my book, that this isn’t just about being happy for happiness’ sake, although I’m all for that as well. But fortunately, what the research shows is when you have this experience of engagement, is strongly associated with business success factors like profitability and productivity.

In the end, what this shows, is that business and people can thrive together. It doesn’t need to be one or the other.

Pamela: That’s great.

So it’s not mutually exclusive, as many of the law firm leaders seem to think.

Anne: Exactly. Right. Aligning well-being of both, of both the business and the people.

Pamela: You’ve spoken several times about how science backs up this information. So you must have done quite a bit of research, and in your studies and in your PhD to actually be able to back up this and substantiate this through science.

Anne: I did. As you mentioned at the beginning, listing all of the things that I’ve done to work on this expertise, I do have a Masters degree in applied positive psychology and I’ve been working on a PhD which is really organizational behavior and dynamics. I began writing this book, really as a Masters capstone, three or four years ago. So it’s really been years of investment for me, and really learning this area, so that I can bring something of value.

One of my frustrations in getting into academia was there was so much abstraction about — engagement is linked to profitability for example. But there wasn’t enough discussion or research around — OK, but then how do we develop it in organizations? — and that’s what I’ve been really spending time doing, is understanding that so I can sit on the fence of being both an academic researcher and scholar, but also practitioner of trying to bring this into organizations, so that we can really make use of it.

Pamela: That’s excellent.

As always, an innovator. [laughs]

Anne: [laughs] Trying to be. Yes.

Pamela: That’s wonderful.

Tell me, what legacy do you want to leave?

Anne: I love this question. It’s a question that I’ve really probably thought about since I was eleven years old, which I know sounds crazy, but that’s when I first started saying I wanted to be a lawyer. I’ve just had this strong sense in my heart that — I have this one short life, and I want to contribute something positive and important to the world.

What I hope, on this new path, is that I’m able to leave a legacy that starts shifting the paradigm, as you said, where we start moving the legal profession in a direction where we’re not focused only on business success, but also on the individual well-being of the lawyers and thriving in general. I think that then will have the consequence of having more energized lawyers that are able to do more good in the world themselves.

I think lawyers, as a group, are an enormously talented, energetic group of people. Imagine what they might accomplish, if they weren’t so burnt out and tired and drugged out, or whatever it is — stressed out. That they’re able to contribute their full selves, both to their work and their communities. I think that has enormous potential for making the world a better place.

Pamela: Excellent. Excellent. Excellent.

It’s just heartwarming when I’m able to meet, and I feel honored to interview people like you who are so committed and so passionate about your vision to make a difference in the legal community. It just really warms my heart. So thank you.

Anne: Thank you. Thanks so much, Pamela. I really, again, I’m complimented and appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today.

Pamela: Our last question, which I ask every one of our lawyers of the week, is — name one thing that you do to manage your stress levels, in the spirit of lawyer well-being. [laughs]

Anne: [laughs] That’s a good question. I actually talk a lot about stress management techniques in the book, and I use all of them, pretty much everything in the book, I do.

But one of my favorites, I think, sounds simple, but it is really beneficial — I walk almost every day on the beach, and very often with my husband. This of course is all research-based, but there’s excellent research. Both the exercise component of it is really beneficial to well-being, as is being in nature, and near the water, as is in making connection with other people.

I love doing it, and also, it’s a science-backed strategy for boosting well-being as well.

Pamela: Wonderful. Wonderful.

Well, Anne, thank you so much. I wish you much success with your book.

Again, her links are going to be at the bottom of this post. Be sure to order your copy and tell everyone you know about her book. Because she is on the forefront here to really incorporate well-being and profitability within the firm, and engagement. This book is going to be a wonderful handbook for you to use, and you can actually share it with the leaders in your firm, and with the new lawyers. So this whole new idea of lawyer well-being, engagement, and profitability will be something that will change in the very near future.

Anne: I sure hope so. Thanks again, Pamela.

Pamela: Alright. Thank you so much for being our lawyer of the week.

And to my audience, I hope to see you again next week.

Links for Anne

Book: Positive Professionals — Creating High-Performing, Profitable Firms Through the Science of Engagement

Her Consulting Firm:


Pamela DeNeuve

Lawyer & Law Firm Strategist

feel free to email me at:


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