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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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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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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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