Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law


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A new direction for the New Year- Hochscheid & Associates, LLC is born.

Sometimes we all have to make a decision about whether a situation is working for us or not. Sometimes the the location of  our practice works and often times it doesn’t  I have been away from my blog for a while reassessing my practice, its costs and its benefits. I enjoy my clients and many of them are very loyal and some are good friends. I was recently faced with a difficult choice about what practice location. At 43, you have to look at the longevity of your career differently than you do at 60. Most of the people around me on a daily basis don’t see life, the practice of law or frankly the business of law the same as I. I guess that makes me the odd man (woman) out. As I see it, I am an innovator, a rebel, a visionary and more importantly a reformer.

Part of the process of deciding what to do next with my practice has left me searching for a better fit – for a place where I can be myself both the lawyer and the person. I did a lot of soul searching and came to a very difficult decision which I am sure is going to bring my work and personal life in better balance. I am starting my own practice. In fact, today I officially became Hochscheid & Associates, LLC with the Ohio Secretary of State. Most of my clients are super supportive and I am grateful for their support. Some are not making the move with me and to them I wish them luck. It was a pleasure to represent you and you will be able to call on me when you need me in the future.

As part of the process of figuring out my business direction, I embraced the idea of impermanence. In Buddhism, you often read about impermanence. All of life is impermanent the Buddhist texts say. Perhaps that is why so many people cling to the idea of being lawyers, being in a firm or having clients they are striving for permanence. Clinging or grasping is a huge part of being a lawyer for sure. I have never seen so many miserable people cling to so many trappings of success. I have clung to these things for a long time. Detaching from the idea that I must have certain things to be a lawyer or certain clients has been a big part of the process of making this change for me.

The last several years have shown me, nothing is permanent. Clients come and go, partners leave firms, associates move on, people get ill and sometimes people even get depressed and kill themselves. We are all just trying to make it in this world. Trying to make a living and live a life. Often times we are too busy doing one to actually live the other. I am not one of those people. I am not in this profession solely for money or glory. I want to work and play and I want to do it for myself. It is time to be alone, to fly solo, and starting February 1, 2013 you can find me at the following address if you need me:

Hochscheid & Associates, LLC
810 Sycamore Street; Suite 420
Cincinnati, OH 45202
513-338-1818 phone
http://www.hochscheidlaw.com
tmh@hochscheidlaw.com


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Depression from the Outside – Dealing with depressed colleagues

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Do you think a coworker, a family member or a friend is depressed?  Is there anyway to be sure? What are the signs?  Do you realize there is a depression issue but can’t make sense of it?  Perhaps, you just want to be able to grab the other person and shake them until they stop behaving in such a strange way.  If there were only easy questions with straight forward answers to the issue of depression and  its causes then there would be no need to write and discuss it.  

There are many myths about depression.  The reasons many myths exist is that people without depression, or people viewing depression from the outside, try to make sense of an illness which is  personal and hard to understand for the sufferer himself not to mention the outsider.   Unless, you have lived with someone who is depressed, or have had mental issue yourself you can’t possible hope to understand a depressed persons point of view.  Here are a few statements I have heard others say about depression and or about discussing depression.

  •  Depression is a sign of weakness. 
  • It his personality type that makes him depressed.  I don’t have his personality so I am never going to have that issue.
  • Stress management can cure depression.  It’s just stress.
  • Medication for depression is dangerous it can cause you to commit suicide
  • There is nothing wrong with him he just needs to man up or man out.
  • Discussing depression and mental illness in the legal profession is well depressing, a downer or etc.
  • We can just kick the can down the road and the issue will resolve itself.
  • Just snap out of it – you can decide to stop being depressed. 
  • If I have faith and do everything right, I will succeed and stop feeling this way.

I confess, I have had some of these thoughts in the past.  To be honest, we all can get frustrated when a family member or friend is depressed.  We feel helpless.  Our non-depressed brain starts to: a) tell us how we are different and,  b) tell us what the other person should be able to do to fix the depression; or c) just denies the obvious  – that the person is struggling.   Depression can defy logic and for  lawyers especially it is hard to comprehend and therefore, cannot be fixed.  So, the track most normally followed is  don’t deal with it and it will go away.  So, to bust some of these myths and  help others in my profession understand the illness I have some truths about depression to share.

The Truisms of Depression.

Depression symptoms differ depending on the individual.  In other words, some people are paralyzed by the illness while others still work, but are not as productive.  In addition, depression can vary in strength. Some people have debilitating, can’t get out of bed, depression while others come to work unable to focus, but still show up and tell those around them that they are fine.  There is no predictor of how a person will behave.  You as a supervisor, partner, and friend have to be open to the effects of depression on the person suffering in order to understand how to help.

People with depression can be very strong.  What?  That’s right, it is not easy functioning with depression.  You have to be strong to come to work, to carry such a secret with you and to support your family. Combined with this strength, however,  is a silence of shame and embarrassment because the depressed person feels unable to control the thoughts in their head.  Feelings of failure or worry about failure may be indicators that someone is suffering from either anxiety or depression especially if they occur often.  We all fear lack of success but for some it becomes a dibilitating thought process.

People who are depressed may not label it as depression .   A depressed person may not know that this melancholia they are experiencing is an illness.  Saying you should snap out of it or just get over it or and or punishing that person/employee will not help them get out of the depression.   Point is that someone who is depressed is not going to come right out and acknowledge it to themselves or to others.  So, you have to be willing to look for indicators and proactively address the issue. 

Depression can manifest in the body in such ailments as ulcers, sleep disorders, fatigue and malaise.  There are physical and behavioral manifestations that it pays to know and understand.  Depression can lead to higher risk of certain health disorders such as gastrointestinal and sleep.  Many times the underlying issue for these ailments is depression and it is important to discuss your emotional as well as physcial health with your physician.  If a colleague has severe sleep issues or has stomach issues (i.e. ulcers) perhaps a discussion about their mental well-being is in order. 

Medication helps  depressed people.  You do not have to be “crazy” to fill and begin taking a prescription medication for anxiety or depression.  Medication together with psychotherapy can help you deal with the thoughts which underlie depression in a more effective way.  If your physician thinks you need the medication, then perhaps your should follow that medical advice.  By all means, discuss with a medical professional your depression and get help.  If you are not being  heard by your physician then get a new doctor pronto.  Your physician should be your healthcare partner and not just someone you see when you have to.

Depressed people may appear not to care, or conversely, they may care too much.  Once again depression is different depending on who is suffering.  So, the workaholic may spend even more time at the office and get less done while another person may avoid the office at all cost so people cannot discover their secret.  Shame and embarrassment are two strong forces which keep people silent and untreated.  Depressed people can’t just snap out of it.  They have to learn a new way of thinking and behaving to address the issue effectively.

Depression can co-occur with other mental disorders.  In other words, people can develop drug problems because of depression or they can start out with anxiety over work and wind up being depressed.  You can’t recover from one mental health issues without recovering from the other.  Just because someone stops drinking does not relieve other issues. 

Stress management is very good and a great place to startStress is a contributing factor to anxiety, depression and or substance abuse  suffered by lawyers.   The more stress you have and the worse you manage it, the easier it is to feel overwhelmed and exhausted leading to procrastination or late work product.   Ackowledging your stress is the first step.  We all seem to do that very well.  It is reordering our priorities that seems to be the issue. 

Depression can be a family affair.   Many of us develop patterns of behavior from childhood onward that make us prone to the disease. Behavioral therapy can help you retrain your mind and behavior to manage these tendencies.   In other words, if your parent has depression issues you may learned behaviors which are similar.  Retraining to brain to think and behave differently is possible. 

In closing, it is time that Depression is spoken about and addressed by Lawyers,  Bar Associations, Judges and colleagues. It is an illness that has the capacity to ruin careers, families and lives.  As fellow lawyers, we must address this growing epidemic in our profession.  The first step in doing this is to breakdown the myths associated with the illness and understand that a person with such a condition must be supported, not ostracized, punished or isolated.  In essence, many of us, through perpetuation of the myths above,  are condemning our colleagues to suffer in silence.  For many, discussing mental health issues and depression in particular is “depressing” but the choice not to discuss is it simply is not acceptable given the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide within our profession.  Remember, depression is treatable and many people receive treatment and lead productive balanced lives.  However, they cannot do so unless they can look at the situation and are honest and self-compassionate. 

Taking necessary precautions on a firm or industry level is a start toward addressing the growing trend of mental illness in the legal profession.   If you are unsure whether colleague is ill,  keeping asking them how they are doing,  make yourself available and always provide a supportive nonjudgmental presence.  Wearing blinders, expressing anger at or excuses for the partner or associate who is clearly struggling is not an option.  You can only deal with an issue if you address head on. 

Or, to use another To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch Quote,  “Best way to clear the air is to have it all in the open”. 

Silence, my friends and colleagues,  is a recipe for continued suffering and disaster.


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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.


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THE LAW SCHOOL MYTH: STUDYING VS. PRACTICING LAW

The formula seemed simple. You do well in undergraduate, spend three years studying the law and then graduate, pass the bar exam (or two if you are me) and then viola you are an attorney.  Sound familiar?   All attorneys I know have been there at some point.  But, quickly this stellar accomplishment falls to the wayside and you are stuck with the business of practicing law.  The preparation of law school seems suddenly useless as you figure out what your client or senior partner wants.

As we attend law school we are filled with anticipation and hope at finding ourselves as advisors and advocates for others. We are also told that if we excel at the law school game (good grades, law review and/or moot court) we will land a lucrative big firm job.  We are never told what the reality of practicing law is really all about.   As we progress through our career, we find that there is little if anything about being an attorney that is predictable.   There is no easy way to sugar coat this fact – we cannot control everything in your business, your job or life for that matter.

What does your average lawyer struggle with – control, imagining and forestalling against worst case scenarios, and attaining perfection. Some of us also struggle with being what our clients want and how to manage that expectation.  The biggest challenge of all is making money to support ourselves and in most cases our families. Has money become the primary motivator in our business has passionate advocacy and dedication to improving our profession fallen by the wayside?

As we all know, there are many ways to deal with lawyer compensation within law firms.  So, many that I will not go into great detail here.  Money at th e large firm can be great but there is a cost you pay in terms of quality of life.  On the other hand, there are lots of solo and small firm people who have to live life on a tight rope monthly and yearly.  One of the great things about being an attorney is the ability to set out a shingle and be your own boss.  Even if you are not a solo, you can still be quite entrepreneurial in your own office.  It is thrilling to get that first fee check and first client.  But there can be downsides.  Depending on the type of practice you have you may go months without steady fees.  Contingency personal injury, class action and probate fees can take months if not years to earn.  Then you have clients who you allowed to pay on a monthly basis and stiff you.  Not to mention the ones that fain outrage when they find out you bill for emails and phone calls .

So, how do you manage the instability which comes with the business of being a lawyer?  Personally, I find that my practice goes through a change every few years on its own as the needs of the credit community changes.  What used to be a stable income ,can go away when the regulatory climate changes or the economy collapses.  It is best to understand the industry you serve and to develop back up plans.  Further, never lose contact with possible client referrals.  Stay connected even if it is a Holiday Card.  People need to know where you are and what you do even if they can’t use your services right now they may be able to later.  Also, whether you realize it or not, the practice of law is all about clients.  Specifically, attorneys who seem to do the best are those with the ability to get and keep clients.  If you don’t feel comfortable with the “sales” aspect of being an attorney, then you need to accept that your earning potential will be lower, that you may never make partner and or that you will have less control as you would if you had clients of your own.

Also, law school was law school. You can’t always be the best and the brightest.   Sad but true, law school has little if anything to do with being a successful legal practitioner. Many very smart people graduate and never practice.   Or, they practice for a while and find alternative careers which better suit their needs. If you are not satisfied with the instability and frankly, drudgery, of a legal career then it may behoove you to pursue other options.  There are many things you can do with a law degree which can be rewarding and enjoyable.

Finally, just because you ranked highly in your law school , does not mean you will succeed at the business of law.  The instability and constant retooling is not for everyone, but for those who can and do want to be practitioners there are ways to stay ahead of or keep pace with the constant changes and demands.  In the alternative, we can learn to accept instability is a part of life and embrace each change as a new opportunity to grow and learn.   Personally, change is something I have learned to be grateful for.  The sooner you realize that uncertainty is a part of  the job then the quicker you can make the life adjustment you need.


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“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.


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Optimism and the practice of law?

Lawyers are used to seeing glasses half empty. I am bombarded weekly with  negative thinking about cases, client recruitment and or people with a negative idea of their future. This type of thinking can be very detrimental to law firm operation, attorney well being and or client development.  Last night,  I found this article  A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full and it echoed my thoughts on the negative vs. positive thinkers.  So my question is – how does one who is optimistic about life, their practice and their future cope with all the negative lawyers around them?

The article describes Optimistic behavior as “rather than giving up and walking away from difficult situations, optimists attack problems head-on. They plan a course of action, getting advice from others and staying focused on solutions. ”  While pesimists look at situations and say “it can’t be done”.   Trying to find a positive view in difficult situations is sometimes challenging.  But, if one never tries a new approach, sits down and says “I can’t” then they miss out on living an adventurous life full of new experiences.

A great example of this is the lack of Health and Well Being education for lawyers.  We all know there is an issue in our profession, yet we don’t really address the reasons why the issue keeps surfacing.  In fact, I was reluctant to tackle the issue myself until I faced by own stress issues and watched a colleague develop depression.  The point is the CBA Health and Well-Being Committee has developed an optimistic approach to educate people.  The alternative would have been to say “this is just how it is”.  This is the defeatist attitude which dampens the hope an enthusiasm of younger attorneys.  I personally think it is time to be inject a little optimism into the profession.

My favorite quote from the article is “if you are chronically negative and always see only the dark side of things, the optimists in your life may eventually give up on you.”  Does this mean that I will have to give up on most of the lawyers I know?  I hope not.  I think as long as attorneys are interested, the CBA Health and Well Being Committee will give them something that resonates with them and is useful.   Here is to being optimistic.


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Communication between partners and associates essential!

I like the ideas in this post. I think it is possible to build good mentoring relationships between associates and partners but the dialogue needs to be open and two way. Alas, it takes some courage for the legal heirarchy system to understand and embrace this. After all, that would mean relating to one another as people and not referring to associates as dispensable commodities.

Law firm partners and senior attorneys hold more than just a formal seniority over younger associates. Like a parent, at times, they may wish to be your friend. But, most often, their position of leadership implies a position of power.

“People with formal power can affect our fate in many ways—they can withhold critical resources, they can give us negative evaluations and hold us back from promotions, and they can even potentially fire us or have us fired,” explains James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management to the Harvard Business Review(HBR).

It’s why many employees fear their bosses. This fear stymies any truthful rapport from developing between two lawyers who are separated by a rigid professional hierarchy.

Thus, it can be hard, as a managing partner or attorney, to get feedback on your own performance, life at the firm, or case-specific matters.

In order…

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