Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law


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 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


Leave a comment

Friday’s Weekly Gratitude Post – October 12, 2012

As I posted last week, I intend to post a list of things I am grateful for weekly. This is my first post and this week was a rocky one.  A lot of deadline pressure at the office, a broken a/c unit, preparation of my 2011 tax return, and well just way to much to do and not much time.   Doesn’t sound like there was much to be grateful for but in reality there were many things to be grateful for so here is a list:

My marriage – my husband celebrated 15 years of marriage on the 11th.  It is great to look back and think of how far we have come together and what a good friendship and marriage we have.

Volunteer activities –  I attended my first South West Ohio Mental Health Advocacy Coalition meeting.  It was my first meeting and I was the only attorney there.  It is interesting to view the issue of mental health with non attorneys it gives me perspective on the issues from a sociological perspective. And it is nice to try to find ways to bridge the divide between the legal community and the mental health community.

My partners and co-workers They help me stay balanced and are there to listen when I am having a bad days.  All lawyers need support.  One of the great things about being in a law firm is that you can find someone to commiserate with, to run something by or to share a funny story with.  Stress can be managed better with help.  It is something the legal community forgets.  We all have similar stresses and issues no one is an island.

Mental Health days – Today, I stayed home and took what I call a mental health day. The reasons were many but the core of my issue was need peace, quiet and calm to get a few things that were behind done. So, I stayed home used remote access and motored through a lot of work.  I called it a mental health day because I could spend the day with my cats, focusing on a few specific tasks and not get overwhelmed by work accumulating in my office.  I am always grateful for having a busy law practice, for having clients that depend on and value my work, but sometimes you have to change the scenery to be productive.   This means working when and where you can best focus.

Some great things to be grateful for.  A good week, a welcome celebration of my marriage and a less chaotic end to the week.  Now I am ready for a weekend of fun and relaxation.


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.


1 Comment

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.


Leave a comment

Vacation = VACATE and relax

Vacation how I have missed you.  It is that time of year where people head out for a week or more away from their office and the practice of law.   For years, I have a been a huge proponent of time away.  The old addage work hard to play hard rings true.  However, I always checked an answered email every day I was away.  I would normally limit this to once daily first thing in the morning for about an hour.  I thought this was time away, but last year I spent 10 billable hours handling a client emergency and that was too much and therefore, this yearI tried something new.

This year, I disconnected, vacated and dropped out of the practice of law for 10 days.  IT WAS GREAT!!!.   I just returned today and guess what — my practice, my secretary and my partners all made it without me.   Wow.  Just saying I am not available and sticking to it made for a great time away and a stress free Holiday in the sun.

It wasn’t a complete success but, I had very few office interruptions.  I refused to answer emails or return phone calls.  I had two text messages, one call to my secretary, one call to an associate and two calls to my cell phone which I refused to answer.  In ten days, 6 interruptions is not bad.   I will confess to looking to see what was in my email.  However, I set my phone to manually check them instead of them just floating in.  I read only a few and responded to non legal/personal emails only. I also managed to loose my phone at least 5 times.  I simply forgot where I put it.  Funny how that happens when you disengage.

I was thinking today as I reengaged with the office about why we need to emphasis the word VACATE when we plan our time out of the office.   It is great to have time to give your brain and body a break from the constant demands and pressures of others.   Of course, I will note this may be easier from some of us than others.  Being a solo attorney is hard.  But, I challenge people to find someone who can be their backup.  I had several people taking care of my work/practice while I was a away and it worked.

This is the most relaxing vacation I have had in years.  Next time, I am shooting for no email checking and even fewer contacts with my office.  Frankly, there are very few things that can’t wait until you are back in the office.  Making yourself available on vacation only encourages the client  to email and or call and demand you handle something while you are away.  It just comes down to boundaries and balance and for me I want to vacate and not think about work when I am on vacation.


Leave a comment

A New Year .. yet a sense of Deja Vu

There is something about working for yourself as an attorney even if you are in a firm that happens toward the end of the year.  There is a financial instability most in private practice feel.  In January you start the year with hopes and dreams of having a “good year”.  You see your colleagues bringing in clients and fees and you plug away – day in day out.  If you are lucky you get a week of vacation or sometimes two in a year. Sometimes you have clients that are ongoing relationships for you and you can count on a certain amount of work and therefore, income.  These clients are yours for years.  Sometimes, clients leave and you must fill the gap.  One must constantly mind their staffing cost and their profitability.  As the year goes on you have good and bad months.  You hope that in the end you will make enough money to support your family, pay your taxes and maybe even afford to toast the New Year with bottle of vintage Champagne.  Alas, November roles around and you realize that even if you could pull a rabbit out of your hat it wouldn’t help.  Then the end of the year roles around and you guessed it you start the rat race all over again.

If you get the mix just right one year you inevitably try to repeat the same thing the next year and bam you have no luck.  The reality is there is no perfect formula for success each year.  Things are constantly changing from clients, to judges, to overhead, to your own health.   So, what do you do?  One of my elder colleagues said recently that you do the daily stuff well and things fall into place.  It seems simple but to a certain degree makes perfect sense.   If you can accept that everything around you is impermanent then you can see the wisdom in focusing on daily pursuits and short term thinking.  Does this mean you must give up on your long term goals and stop striving for more clients and security?  No.  But, by looking at the here and now or in essence being mindful daily we can string together successes that build a semi solid foundation for a New Year.  

Or perhaps, as Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”