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

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.


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

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.