Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law

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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.


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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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Building a network for business and human connection.

I get asked by younger attorneys and attorneys who are trying to build a practice exactly how to get clients.  I remember well the first time I heard someone say “you should be a good rainmaker”.  Fact is, the best way to advance in your career is to get a keep clients or should I say “paying clients”.  For many this is very challenging.  To newly minted attorneys this is like asking them to run before they can walk.  How can you sell your legal services if you don’t know how to practice law?  So the challenge for managing attorneys is to teach new attorneys how to practice and simultaenously push them to sell their abilities to others.

There are two good books out there on these subjects by Jay Foonberg which are must reads.  Ultimately, however,  it is a individual process.  The process  often leads to discouragement and disillusion especially for those who are worker bees at large firms who decide to strike out on their own and those who cannot find a job after law school  (approximately 45% of this year’s graduating attorneys) who decide to hang out that shingle.

As any good rainmaker knows, it takes awhile to hone these skills and to develop the confidence in your legal ability.  I remember the first time I realized that people were hiring me because I actually DID know what I was doing.   The feeling that you are appreciated for your years of education and skills is good feeling.

Recently,  I ran across a reference to the 7 Pillars of Connecting With Absolutely Anyone which is a blog post from April written by Scott Dinsmore for Forbes.  I read it and said “I must share this.”  Mr. Dinsmore lays out a simple plan for how to make connections in life and this is the essence of what attorneys do when they try to sell their services to clients.  I think the quote at the beginning of the article says it best:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

At first read, many may say that connecting with everyone you encounter may not lead to business and or I am too busy to speak to and act interested with the clerk at the courthouse or the cleaning lady in my building.  But the reality is your reputation as a person and as an attorney is built one person at a time.  Every person you meet may be connected to someone else.  The moral is that you need to invest interest and time in others in order for people to invest in you and feel confident in recommending you.

In addition to building of your business, these interactions can help you feel more open hearted, at ease and safer. Being kind to people is a way to stave off the isolation many attorneys particularly solos feel.  For more on the benefits of being friendly you can check out Rick Hanson’s blog post and his book Just One Thing.

The bottem line is that martketing isn’t just a sales pitch.  A law practice is built on interactions and relationships.  Building a network of people from varying industries can benefit you throughout your career and is a great way to feel more centered in your daily life.  Plus, it can reduce your stress and connect you to others who can provide resources you may need in the furture.

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During my time away ….great people and ideas coming together for attorney wellness.

During the weeks since my October post, I have been busy working with the Cincinnati Bar Association on a Health and Wellness program for its members.  I have been meeting with area professionals to form an advisory group for the new Health and Wellness intitiative.  I suggested the CBA adopt such a program after a friend/partner of mine lost his battle with depression in May.  My own battles with the demands of my practice and the stress I see in those around me has made me accutely aware of the downside of the legal industry.

It has been wonderful and interesting meeting with other professionals and connecting with other attorneys who feel the way I do about the practice of law. The reaction has been by and far positive.    However, there is a fair amount of education for those not in the legal arena.  Perhaps the idea that law students and lawyers have higher rates of depression and anxiety seems difiicult to comprehend unless you are inside the profession.  Of course, when I discuss the ideas with other legal professionals I am met with enthusiasm and support which reinforces my feeling that most lawyers are people first and lawyers second.  In other words, there is a human side to us all which must honored and respected by ourselves and others.

So far, I am proud to have met with and received support of the CBA’s Executive Directory, John Norwine, Dimity Orlet, the CLE coordinator and Julie Borths the CBA Report editor.  Outside the CBA,  Patrick Garry of the Ohio Laywers Assistance program, Dr. Richard Sears (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction specialist), Lawson Wulsin of UC Medical School, Dr. Doug Mossman, of UC Psychiatry and Law Program, Ellen Wolf, Magistrate in Hamilton County Municipal Court, John Francis of Centerpoint Health, Tony Dattillo of Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health, Stu Schloss of Ulmer and Bearne have all been receptive to serving in an advisory capacity.   I reached out last week to professor Jennifer Jolly Ryan of Chase College of Law and hope to bring in their participation as well as UC Law School. I still have a few additional people to speak with but I am very thrilled to have so much interest so far.   It is a great group with a lot of diversity.

Now that we have this advisory group, our first task is to start developing a program.  So, I am meeting with the CBA folks, and Pat Garry on the 20th to get the ball rolling as they say.  So, excited about the chance to get valuable information to law students and lawyers alike.  No, I don’t think we will reach 100% of the lawyers, but I do think having information available to people is so important and a good first step of creating a support structure for the people who are in the legal profession.  The task ahead may seem “like climbing Mt. Everest”, but nothing ever gets accomplished unless you start.  Or as Henry Ford once said “Coming together is the begining, keeping together is progress.  Working togther is success.”  May the CBA move toward progress and onto success.

I will post further details as the program develops….

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I have been an attorney for 15 years it seems to me that the number of lawyers who are unhappy far exceeds those that are happy.  The law is a stress filled practice and so many attorneys accept this as a part of  the job.  But, is stress a necessary biproduct of the profession? Or, do attorneys have some predisposition to stress and its related mental and physical health consequences? 

Balancing The Bar is here  to provide information for lawyers and anyone else who must cope with the intensity and stress which results from solving the problems of others.    I am no expert by any means.  However, through my own experience and observing those around me I made the decision to be a happy person first and a lawyer second.  I am still learning and it can be a daily struggle to keep the proper perspective. 

My hope is that others can find a way to enjoy their life and practice law too.  The profession looses a lot a good people because of the mental and physical demands of the practice.   Some the topics I hope to  cover  include mental health issues, the physcial effects of stress, life balance, exercise, meditation, stress management, book reviews and etc. 

I welcome your comments, blog ideas and guest bloggers to a submit entries for publication.  Together we lawyers can learn from each other and your participation is essential.  You can reach me at or leave a comment on one of the entries.  I look forward to hearing what people have to say.

Thanks for visiting.

Tabitha M. Hochscheid