Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law


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Gratitude in the midst of a hectic week.

This week was a quick one.  A few days of feeling like a dart board and by Friday afternoon I left the clean up my office and the aftermath of chaos.  As the week wound to a close, I found a lot to be grateful for in the spite of the hectic nature of my work week.

National Alliance on Mental Illness – I attended the Hamilton County NAMI Annual Celebration Dinner on Thursday.  It was great to be with people who share your common thoughts and common cause.   Also, finding a way to give back to Society and grassroots volunteerism was the theme which invigorated me as well.  I was accompanied by Betsy Jameson, Katherine Jameson & Pat Ross.  Despite their personal loss, the Jameson clan is strong, resilient and at the end of time spent with them, I was grateful for their companionship and our shared commitment to make something good come out of Ken’s tragic death.

Connecting with others–  Feeling connected to those around me is a way I keep myself grounded and more than that I find that as I know people longer there are deeper connections that reveal themselves.  I had that happen a few times this week.  Clients and colleagues I have known  for a long time only to  discover some shared issue,  something deeper that connects us and I am amazed to find these things.  Suddenly, our close connection makes sense.  This happened a few times this week and I am grateful for the revelations.

The ability to say No to others.   I am exceedingly grateful for my ability to say no, to set limits and to maintain my client’s position in the face of hostile and aggressive adversary clients.   Sometimes NO is the best word in the English language.  Learning to set limits on others, to be obstinate and  stoic if necessary is an essential skill.  Being able to do so without aggression has taken a lot of practice on my part and somehow that practice seems to have clicked this week.

A view from the Witness box.  Today I spent time testifying at hearing to enforce settlement agreement against my former client.  Uncomfortable to say the least.  However, by being the witness and not the attorney, I realized how much I miss being in the courtroom.  I was also very very grateful to have fired the client.  Sometimes, it is best to move on because a client and you can no longer agree.  Leaving the case may cost you some unpaid fees, but it may save you time and aggravation.

A busy week, but a lot to take stock of.  Also, for the record, a lot to be frustrated about.  Somehow, however, in light of all that happened I am more grateful than stressed.

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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.


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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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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.


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Welcome

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 balancingthebar@ymail.com 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