Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law


Leave a comment

CNN is Calling you can’t be sick

I have suffered with the flu since January 3, 2014. It has been no fun. However, during my illness something amazing happened. CNN decided to do a story about Lawyer Suicides. My friend Daniel Lukasik at http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com called my office and said basically “where’s Tabitha CNN is coming to Cincinnati and wants to interview her about Ken Jameson and the work of the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health & Well-being Committee. My paralegal calls me at home, wakes me up and says “CNN is calling you can’t be sick”. At first I accused her playing a prank but it turned out to be true. I really couldn’t be sick that day.

On January 9, 2014, I was interviewed and spent a lovely 2+ hours with Rosa Flores, Correspondent and Rose Arce, Producer and of course, Leon the camera man. I was so excited to see them do a piece about the industries dark side — Depression and Suicide. My colleague Ken’s death had spurred me to work on Health & Well Being issues and the work has grown more rewarding every month.

In January 2013, I left the firm where Ken & I were both partners and started my own law practice. In the last year, my life has been exhausting and exhilarating and that means this blog among other things has taken a back burner. I have still been working on these issues just doing so in other forums ( CBA Report Articles, CLE presentations and etc.). Lots of good things continue to happen in Cincinnati and I will start sharing those on this blog again soon.

Tomorrow CNN will run the segment on Lawyer Suicides during their 11 am news program. “Legal View”. I have had lots of contact with them since they left my office. They have been just amazing. Professional, courteous and really interested in learning about Ken, his family, the Health and Well Being Committee and helping raise money for the Kenneth D. Jameson Health & Well Being Fund at the Cincinnati Bar Foundation. There will also be an online article of greater length. I will post links as I get them.

I owe this all of course to Dan Lukasik. What an amazing colleague and friend. He got my name to CNN and well he told me to rise up out of bed and seize the moment. I hope the segment includes some information about his Website and the gift he gives to other lawyers by talking of his own struggle with depression.

That’s it for now. I am back blogging and updating the work of the committee and etc on this site. It feels good to do so and introduce this CNN story at the same time.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Balanced Living Lecture Series from the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health and Well-being Committee

The Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health and Well-being Committee has launched a new lecture series to address Health and Well-Being issues faced by lawyers and law students. The Committee developed the program to provide much-needed information on overall mental and physical health. A healthy mind and a healthy body are essential to the long-term happiness of practicing lawyers.

Too much stress is a central issue for lawyers today.   Stress, however, can be both positive and negative.  Stress can be the fuel that drives the success of many in our industry. The thrill of winning a trial or getting a superb result for a client keeps many of us going. However, with all the thrills there is the mundane nature of what we do, the client demands, the struggle to make billable hour requirements and for solos the struggle to make enough money to keep our business going. And, for many of us, its is hard to turn off our bodies natural stress response and relax into the natural flow of our work and life.

Being an attorney and learning how to harness our stress in a positive way is something we should all be interested in. In the Inaugural lecture of the Balanced Living Series we will hear from an expert on performance enhancing stress. The topic of the first lecture is Under Pressure? How to Survive and Thrive Amidst Stress and Life’s Other Realities and will be presented by Ohio State University Assistant Football Coach and Cincinnati native Kerry Coombs.   Mr. Coombs is a 30 year coaching veteran who will discuss adopting the proper mindset in a pressure-filled environment to turn stress into a motivator and help enhance you performance as a lawyer and find satisfaction and reward in your daily routine.  Lawyer’s at all career levels will find something interesting and/or  inspiring.

 
 The event is free to CBA Members and only $10.00 for non members.  If you are interested you can register here.  Be sure to login in the CBA webpage in order to register as a member.  You can also email Dimity Orlet at dvorlet@cincybar.org.    The event is being underwritten by the Cincinnati Bar Foundation’s  Kenneth D. Jameson Health and Well-being Fund which was established in May of 2012 to promote the work of the Committee and to foster a better understanding of the mental health issues unique to practicing attorneys.


Leave a comment

A Birthday reflection on gratitude

Thursday October 4, 2012 was my birthday.  I was 39 for the 4th time.  Yes, that means I was 43.  For many years I have used my birthday to reflect on what has happened in the preceding year and where I want to go in the upcoming year.  Many years I was very critical of myself and would set very definitive goals for the next year of my life.  This year  I did something different.  I made a list of  what I had done or experienced during my 42d year on the earth that I am grateful for.  My list includes the following:

-My relationship with my husband which grows and deepens yearly. Will will be married fifteen (15) years on October 11th

-My mother and father for the strength and stubbornness they bestowed upon me.

-My health both mental and physical and my health care providers.

-My law practice and the relationships with my clients which sustain me on the tough days.

-My co-worker friends they share the ups and downs of being a lawyer on a day-to-day basis.

-The Cincinnati Bar Association and their commitment to lawyer health and well-being.

-The members of the Health and Well Being Committee their willingness to help, to brainstorm and their commitment to helping others is amazing.

-Betsy Jameson, her friendship, her gift to other lawyers through the Kenneth Jameson Health and Well-being fund and her support.

-Meeting new people who are interested in helping the mentally ill and their families.

-For new friends and old friends, who have been with me on life’s journey and for finding and maintaining friendships with all types of people.

-For mindfulness and meditation and all the peace of mind which comes along with that.

My plans for this year of my life are much simpler than they used to be.   I want to live each day in a mindful manner, I want experience each thing or event that happens be it good or bad as a part of my journey in life.  I want to advance the Committee work of the Health and Well-being Committee.  At work, I want to do all I can with what I have, in the time that have, in the place where I am and then go home and get up and do it again the next day.

And finally, for the next year, I plan to post each Friday  a summary of the things about life and work that happened each week for which I am grateful.


1 Comment

Diagnosis … Legal Industry is in need of change

How many lawyers do you know who are disillusioned with the practice of law?  I ran into a colleague I graduated from law school with last week and he said to me “I don’t know any happy lawyers”.  This got me to thinking what is it about the practice of law (i.e. the business of being a lawyer) which makes the job so difficult.  I came up with a list which says a lot about the business we are all engaged in on a daily basis. This list is not comprehensive and I would love to add to it. (So, comments are appreciated).  Perhaps we can’t even begin to repair a system if we don’t know what ails it.  I think the list below sets out a good case for why we need to change the way we practice and or how we deal with each other.

The Business of law needs to change because …..

  1. The most intellectual people are rarely the most successful lawyers.
  2. Legal profession attracts negative and hostile personality types who are more likely to be successful (i.e. narcissists, sociopaths, bullies and egomaniacs)
  3. Being good at what you do means less than being good at getting clients.
  4. Perfectionism is valued but is a double-edged sword.  It makes for great work product but can cause tremendous stress.
  5. Lawyers are 2 times more like to be depressed.
  6. Lawyers are 3 times more likely to have anxiety disorders
  7. Lawyers get less sleep that most other professionals.
  8. Lawyers have higher suicide rate than the general population, particularly male lawyers in their 50’s.
  9. There are far more lawyers seeking a job than there are jobs. New graduates have only a 50% chance of landing any legal job.
  10. Law school process can lead to depression in 40% of students within the first two years.
  11. We are profession that thrives on anxiety, fear, aggression and we make more money the longer our clients remaind in an adversarial situation.  
  12. We graduate a lot of new lawyers but most of them do not make it past 10 years in practice.
  13. Our law schools have misled applicants about graduate employment rates.
  14. The most successful lawyers are often the ones who are workaholics,  who can’t understand that working more does not make you more productive.
  15. Money neurosis blinds many to need or desire to change.  I make money so why bother. 

I could add others to this list, but I think most people will get my point.  There are way too many things wrong with our system to not address health and well-being on an industry wide basis.   Clearly, there are those who say “it has always been this way”.  My response to this is, so what?  Seriously, that attitude says I am willing to accept the existence of these issues because I am AFRAID to change the system.  Is it really easier to blindly follow a system on the premises “because it is this way at every firm”? To make such statements is to say “I accept to live in the misery I know because it is the same or worse elsewhere.”

Misery or as the Buddhist say “suffering” is so ubiquitous in our profession that it is accepted as standard operating procedure.  This saddens me.  It saddens me to hear about a colleague who develops a substance abuse issues, has depression or other health issues all of which are exacerbated by stress.  And it angers me that colleagues have a mental break downs and that fellow lawyers label those people weak or look for logical reasons why they are ill (i.e., money issues, health and/or divorce).  And worse of all in bothers me that some of the most well-respected lawyers choose to end their lives because of mental health issues.  Suicide is such a horrible end that condemns the lawyer’s family to a lifetime of asking the question why?  Sure, not all lawyers are miserable, but there are more unhappy rather than happy lawyers and that says so much about the way we deal with each other and gives the world around us just another reason to hate and or abhor us. 

Change in our industry starts from within.  It takes consistent diligent efforts like those undertaken by the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Health and Well-being Committee. It takes conscious decisions by each lawyer, judge, law professor and law student to address the issues outlined above.  Until these and other related issues are addressed we will continue to see our colleagues self-destruct in one way or another and the rest of us will be left with regrets and questions.  Or worse, some will say that lawyer was weak to crack under the pressure.


Leave a comment

LEGACY FROM TRAGEDY– THE KENNETH D. JAMESON HEALTH AND WELL-BEING FUND

My law partner and friend Kenneth D. Jameson in May 2011 as a result of a long struggle with depression.  Ken was important to a lot of people, his wife, his children, his extended family, his law partners,  his clients and his friends.  He was a friend to everyone who got to know him.  Unfortunately, he lived with a secret that was so insidious that he was eventually left with no choice, but to take a leave of absence from the practice of law and seek psychiatric treatment.  Ken had depression.  For how long, no one knows.  Those who worked a long side him had little clue except that he had insomnia and difficulty concentrating.  Most people in his life were not aware of the magnitude or severity of his suffering.  His wife, Betsy, however, knew all too well.

After Ken’s suicide, most people suffered shock and a sense of guilt for not doing enough to save Ken.  The reality is, no one could save him. In Ken’s case, he was the only person who could dig himself out.  Unfortunately, toward the end of his life, his depression turned to despair and in his mind he did the only thing that seemed to fix the situation.  He committed suicide.   Ken was the ultimate fixer as anyone who knew him will attest.  Does this mean he was weak? No.  Does it mean that he didn’t love his family?  No.  He was ill.  He had a disease which many people suffer from in silence – A silence which is created by fear and shame.

Since his death, much has happened in his family.  His daughter received her master’s degree; his son cheered at OSU football games and Final Four Basketball games, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays have been celebrated.    Ken’s family has somehow managed to go on without him as have those of us who worked alongside him.   No one will ever forget him and his name is mentioned often by his colleagues family and friends. Yet, life goes on for those of us left behind.

Because of his death, I first approached the Cincinnati Bar Association in July 2011 about health and well-being education and support programing for attorneys.  I was delighted when Cincinnati Bar Association accepted my suggestions.  The Health and Well-Being Committee was formed in January of 2012 and our works is well underway.  But that isn’t all that happened.  Ken’s wife and best friend, Betsy Jameson, had an idea.  She wanted to find a way to memorialize her husband to provide a legacy for his children and his family, to help create something good out of a mind shattering tragedy.   Her idea was to set up a fund to financially support the Health and Well Being Committee.   So, with the help of the Cincinnati Bar Foundation, the Kenneth D. Jameson Health and Well-being Fund was officially established on June 27, 2012.

The fund was set up with an initial donation of $25,000 by Betsy Jameson and her children.  The fund is open to donations from inside and outside the legal community.  The hope is to have additional donations to add up to $100,000 within five years.  The fund’s use is  restricted to the goals of the Health and Well-Being Committee and will allow the committee to provide services to attorneys including a lunch time lecture series, support group services, law student outreach and etc.    This funds support  is allowing an acceleration of the committee’s activities and is helping change the legal community in Cincinnati and in Ohio.

As for Ken’s legacy, I can think of no better way to memorialize someone who embodied the dedication, commitment and kindness that our profession needs.  I hope that the work of the Cincinnati Bar Association Health and Well-being can help others who struggle with the disease that plagued my friend and that our actions can give hope and education to a profession that so desperately needs it.

If you would like to contribute to the Kenneth D. Jameson Health and Well-being fund you may do so by visiting the Cincinnati Bar Foundation website by clicking here.  Be sure to add the Jameson Fund to your donation description.  Or, you may send funds clearly marked as Ken Jameson Fund to the Foundation at the following address: Cincinnati Bar Foundation; The Cincinnati Bar Center 225 East Sixth Street, Second Floor Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-3209 attn: Rene T. McPhedran, Director.


Leave a comment >

“The brain that wires together fires together.”  — Rick Hansen author of Buddha’s Brain

”The story lines vary, but the underlying feeling is the same for us all.” -Pema Chödrön  

We define our reality.  Our sense of happiness and unhappiness comes from within.  Others in our work place come and go, but the one constant everyone has is their ability to care and be kind to themselves.  Happiness and the practice of law seem to be opposites at times.  Anyone who works with or is an attorney will tell you there are a lot of very miserable people in our profession.  The thing is most of these people are smart, fun and kind, but don’t necessarily enjoy the drudgery, mundane, and business aspects of being a lawyer.

Misery begets misery and loves company.  The feeling in an office can be greatly enhanced or dampened by those you work around. Suffering of the mental variety is hard to watch either in yourself or others.  When you see it, you are hit by dread and or a sense of impending doom for the other person. Something is off and you can tell.    You can just run in and help, flee or flop down and wallow in the mud right along with the other person (i.e. commiserate).  That miserable person seems to be stuck in their own head and frankly, behaves as their own worst enemy.

There have been many times in my career I have sensed the misery of others  and or been on the receiving end of someone’s sharing of their misery regarding practice of law or firm management or life in general.  Most of the people I know who find themselves at a mid-career misery  moment are unhappy or under strain in other aspects of their lives. Many of them come from chaotic childhoods or have really negative experiences with other lawyers at other firms.  However, they are very bright.  They have advanced degrees and possess the ability to do something about their situations, yet seem frozen in place.  Stuck in the misery groove.  They lack the ability to process anything beyond the pain they feel.  Many times they are even paralyzed by the doubt that things will never improve or fear that the next career move they make is going to be as bad as where they are now.  So, they stay put and their misery can by contagious.

Contrast this with those really looking for a solution which requires them to take control of the situation and do something positive for their future.  It is amazing how few of the last group there are.  This group is not afraid of the consequences of a bad decision.  Or, if they are, they get over it and move toward what feels right or what is required of them.  The Buddhists say that if you have fear you should move toward it and only by doing this you can conquer it.  And if you do fail you should be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow.  Even your enemies should be your teachers.   Could you imagine what would result if we all adopted these rules?  Taking chances and embracing change are the keys to learning and to career growth.

Is there something wrong with these negative people?  The thing is, being miserable or being drawn down by the negativity of others is perfectly natural.  Our brain is hardwired to dwell on the negatives.  Our brains have not caught up to the emotional rather than physical challenges we face. The brain is still wired to remember the negatives more than positives and can’t distinguish between mental and physical stress. This puts us at a biological disadvantage.  Once burned twice shy was fine when we were running from lions for our lives, but now our challenges are more psychological in nature.    Often times there are hidden memories or feelings of rejection that can surface and cause a mental reaction inappropriate to our situation.    These childhood or early career  triggers work to sabotage our careers and make our work relationships and personal lives

fraught with anxiety, fear, depression and other sorts of emotions.   Learning positive ways to notice this negativity and pause before we commiserate or learning to be empathetic without absorbing the misery of others is an important defensive tool most lawyers need to learn.

We are, in essence, a profession of fixers.  We deal with the problems of others and provide solutions.  This means many times we are dealing with emotional issues of our clients.  To the client, their matter is the most important thing on our desk.  They are in large part ignorant of the steps necessary to get a matter resolved and they have little patience.  Our personal history and client expectations can work to fuel our anxiety and stress levels.  When you add to this the general negative nature of lawyers, many of us work in emotion minefields.

It is important to create a system to deal with the emotions of others.  I have learned to separate my thoughts from that of the other person by identifying “his or her stuff” and list the emotions exhibited by the other party.  Truthfully, very little other people say or do has anything at all to do with us – most of the time their actions are the result of their own thoughts and fears. I find that if I am in doubt I ask for clarification, which short circuits disagreements and can get my relationship with the other person back on track.  It can also help to write about your thoughts in a journal of just a sheet of paper.  This will sort out what the issue really is and eliminate your own thoughts and fears before discussing the matter with the other person.

Expressing gratitude is also a way of reinforcing happiness.   I have recently started a gratitude journal focusing primarily on my work day.  I keep a running list of all the good things that happen in a day from a conversation with a coworker down to what I eat for lunch.   It reinforces the good feeling circuits in your brain and counteracts the negatives of the practice of law.  My outlook is becoming more positive and I am only in my second week.

Finally, if you are not happy in your current t situation start investigating other arrangements and or other options for your career. Staying in a place or job where you are unhappy is not good for you nor is it helpful to those around you.  In a profession full of “half empty” thinkers perhaps it is time reframe your thinking and make a new place for yourself where you can honor what is most important to you.


Leave a comment

Just like Kudzu… it grows faster than you can imagine.

Have you ever seen Kudzu growing on the side of a hill?  I grew up in the Mountains of Eastern Kentucky and you know Kudzu, a vine of asian origin, is amazing it grows, grows and covers mountains and whatever is in its way.  I haven’t thought about kudzu in forever but yesterday it came to mind.

You see, this time last year I had a great idea.  I was going to meet with the CBA and develop a program to help attorneys in trouble.  It was a simple idea and my goals were very basic.  Get the information out there, educate others about the issues and keep lawyers from self destructing.  It was a no brainer and an unspoken truth – lawyers are unhappy people.  Many people acknowledge this fact, but no one had ever taken the next step to do anything about the issue.

So, what started out as a simple idea just keeps growing, growing and now has momentum all its own.  You guessed it, just like Kudzu.  Now, the issue is what should be done and when.  Do we just provide information and articles, do we set up a support group or groups for lawyers now or wait and what about law students?  Dealing with so many competing things and so many personalities is like herding cats as a colleague and friend told me recently.   Perhaps, the idea was good, but requires some rethinking or at least an organizational structure.  After all, having the idea is the first step in creating something, what comes after that is work.

My main issue is inclusion, for others it is to find the solution.  I want to give people a way to reach their own resolution and for the to be feel safe sharing what has happened in their life.  Others don’t seem to be interested in this and just want to develop a  “fix” to the problem.   You know lets all live a balanced life.  How do you the two types of solutions/actions.  Is it enough that a person’s your heart and ideals are in the right place even if their fixer mentality means that they wish t0 dictate solutions to people.  And what about the fact that the solution based approach ignores the human suffering that is behind the issue.  Saying you don’t want to hear someone’s problems is not acceptable.     There must be room at the table for those who have suffered from depression, stress induced mental and physical illness.  Isn’t this the purpose of the project?

Yesterday, I found myself defending the rights of others to tell their story and the need to have those stories be a part of the solution.  The fixers among us fail to see the value in this and frankly, don’t feel it is worth their time to hear.    I can’t seem to shake my frustration and anger at the idea that members of a group devoted to Health and Well-being can’t see the value in first hand accounts about the downside of practicing law.  So, what to do?  Create a place for those who wish to share – a support group?  Is it our job as a committee to create programing and that’s it?  Who are we to say what the solution is?  Isn’t that a personal thing for each person to find on their own.

I am not sure what the answer is, but I can tell you there must always be room for those who want to share their struggle and who want to be a part of the process of finding a solution.  Neither the Committee as a whole or any one of its members has the solution to these issues/problems.  There is no quick fix.  The lack of a quick fix is what this is about.

There are no hard and fast rules on how to have a balanced life.  If their were, then life would come with a check list and we all know that is not how life works. As much as we like to think that we can control our life, we can’t.   The point is to lead people in the right direction and support them along the way.  Who better to help with this process than those who have been through it who have struggled with illness and come out on the other side.