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Apr 17

A lawyer receiving mail with the return address “Office of Bar Counsel” is naturally upset, and worried. Attorneys who are going to be investigated by Bar Counsel may initially be shocked, and may remain in denial for some time after that. There are any number of reasons why an investigation may ensue (client or colleague complaints, criminal charges, IOLTA errors, misappropriation of funds); but, whatever the reason, a lawyer who is under investigation, or who has been investigated, requires some assistance to set right his business practices–and, in many cases, to reinvasion his personal life.
For these attorneys, it is important to know that Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers offers a free and confidential support group for lawyers so involved. Lawyers who are dealing with a Board of Bar Overseers complaint typically feel overwhelmed and anxious; they’re nervous and panicked; they struggle with self-esteem; they harbor an ongoing fear that others will find out about their difficulties. It helps to talk these issues out with similarly situated attorneys in a confidential forum.
Our Professional Conduct group provides a place where you can address the broad arc of your concerns, in a setting that helps you to honestly assess and review your decision-making process and entrenched avoidance behavior, both of which likely contributed to your involvement with Bar Counsel.
If you are in the process of dealing with a Board of Bar Overseers complaint, or if you are suspended or disbarred and thinking about trying to get reinstated, our group will be invaluable to you. We will help you (mentally and emotionally) to develop a strategy for getting your practice, and your life, back on track.
To join the Professional Conduct Group, call Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers at (800) 525-0210, to set up an appointment to meet with Barbara Bowe. You will not regret it.

Jan 30

If the main rules of real estate are “location, location, location,” then the main rules of thriving emotionally in the field of law are “boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.” You can preserve your emotional and mental health by establishing firm boundaries early in the legal career. These boundaries will help you successfully navigate all of the ego-damaging obstacles along the way.

Some boundaries, like drawing the line about how late you are going to check that flashing BlackBerry on a Friday night, are obvious. Other boundaries are equally as crucial, but it’s slightly more difficult to recognize their importance when you are just starting out your legal career and are eager to advance. The determination to excel and the mental stamina required to climb the metaphorical legal ladder are very admirable. It takes a special kind of personality and strength of character to be willing to compete in the field replete with aggressiveness and power games. The legal discipline embodies survival of the fittest at its best.

To survive, developing the instinct of self-preservation is a must. In this case, we are talking about the preservation of a stable self-image, which leads to the preservation of the emotional and mental well-being.

The self-image of a young lawyer can get attacked from a myriad of directions: formal and informal reviews by senior colleagues, client comments, snide remarks from the aggressive opposing counsel, and even the exasperated unhappiness of the significant others over what they view as a case of workaholism. With so much harsh anxiety-producing criticism coming from every angle, it is natural to feel inadequate, as if you could never be good enough. The sense of self-worth and internal value starts shrinking in no time.

This is where setting firm boundaries comes in, as scary and non-doable as it may sound. Establishing boundaries is about setting your own limits; it is not about setting limits on another person. Only you can decide how you will be affected by the cut-throat culture around you.

I used to feel small when I got yelled at or made a mistake at work. My self-image was getting gradually decimated, and I was feeling good or bad about myself in tandem with what senior associates or partners thought of my work. Some days I felt like I was someone else’s punching bag. Then I realized I was letting other people be responsible for my worth.

It was only when I claimed back the power over my own self-esteem that my self-image became stable. When I made a mistake, I no longer shuddered at the thought that I was an inadequate or unworthy person. I saw it for what it was: a mistake. My boundaries protected me from taking every failure personally, so I could review a mistake, embrace it, apologize for it (instead of rationalizing it to save face) and learn from it. Besides, lots of times when we get mistreated or berated, it is not about us: the other person is simply having a bad day (month, year or career) and takes it out on whoever is around.

Knowing that your self-worth does not depend on your work performance is essential. Sometimes standing up for yourself to a chastising partner or an irate client is not an option. But not feeling small because you didn’t do a perfect job is. Besides, it is easier to excel at work when you have created an intact boundary. There is no need to spend time and energy on soothing a wounded ego. The boundary is in place to protect what is unconditionally and intrinsically valuable about you.

These protective boundaries will help you deal with the barrage of criticism from stressed-out senior colleagues, impatient clients or cut-throat opposing counsel that is bound to chip away at your self-esteem. You can stop feeling like someone’s punching bag. Figuring this out early in the career can protect your emotional health for decades to come.

Guest blogger Dasha Tcherniakovskaia is getting her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Lesley University. She is changing careers after devoting 10+ years to corporate law. She has worked as a paralegal at a major financial institution and an associate at a large Boston law firm.

Jan 11

A report published last month by Wisconsin’s state bar, based on a survey of new lawyers, found that newly admitted attorneys faced “huge law school debt, unemployment, underemployment, or inadequate pay,” along with fewer opportunities for training.  The result, of course, is not only economic depression but emotional depression.  (Click here to read the Wisconsin Bar article.)

None of this comes as a surprise to me as a clinician at LCL, where financial and career issues have risen in prominence over the years (along with depression) as the factors that often motivate lawyers and law students to come and talk to us.  Unfortunately, we don’t have solutions to the basic factors contributing to the current situation, such as the state of the economy or the vigorous marketing and proliferation of law schools generating ever more graduates even as the number of jobs for lawyers has been declining.  But it may help to know that, if this description fits your current plight, you are far from alone.

Wisconsin’s report suggests finding ways to reduce costs such as dues for new lawyers and an improved, institutionalized mentoring program (something that has long been needed regardless of economic factors).  These measures will not, obviously, do much to correct for the larger problem.  What we can offer at LCL is help with the emotional fallout, and support for your process of finding a way to navigate these choppy waters, as well as referrals to resources such as career coaches.

Jeff Fortgang, PhD

Jan 01

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Seating Limited. Complimentary Lunch. Register here.

This program will provide a framework for managing partners, law firm administrators and human resource personnel to respond appropriately when law firm personnel are demonstrating signs of a mental health or substance abuse crisis. You will leave with an understanding of the signs of personal crisis, how first to respond to stabilize the individual, how then to work towards long-term stability, and finally how to reintegrate the individual into the firm. A thoughtful planned approach will help the individual move successfully past the crisis while protecting the firm and clients from damaging repercussions that often result from an individual crisis.

Established in 1984, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) is a professional lawyer assistance program providing the bench and bar of Massachusetts guidance on a wide range of personal, mental health, and addiction problems. LCL’s free services are confidential, compassionate and professional.

The program will begin with a greeting from Hon. Margot Botsford, Supreme Judicial Court, followed by presentations by the following mental health professionals: Barbara Bowe, LICSW, LCL’s Senior Clinician, Andrew Kang, JD, LICSW, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, and Arden O’Connor, MBA, Founder of O’Connor Professional Group.

Jan 01

2014 LCL Annual Dinner

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Mitchell C. Bailin’s Biography

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Jan 01

In the past 35 years or so, all professions have been caught up in a tidal wave.  The ideals that drew people to their fields – education, healing, rescue, and in the case of lawyers, justice – have been overwhelmed by the Darwinian quest for profit (or, in the case of the small firm attorney, financial survival).

It is as futile to fight or deny this trend as it would be to deny climate change (though, as with the latter, there will always be debate as to the causes).  Today’s professional has no choice but to deal with the forces of commercialism, supply and demand, etc.  Thus, we see increasing numbers of lawyers learning to become adept at marketing, social media, search engine optimization, virtual offices – all necessary (and thank goodness for resources such as our own Law Office Management Assistance Program).

But we also see so much depression among lawyers.  Yes, many are dejected because they cannot earn enough money to make ends meet.  But perhaps an even more difficult task, given the current economic climate (and surplus of lawyers, like others such as mental health professionals, churned out by schools focused on their own need to stay afloat and create profit), is finding a way to maintain some connection with their professional ideals – that which gives one’s work a sense of meaning.  As emphasized in the writings of the late psychiatrist/philosopher Viktor Frankl, people can endure even extreme hardship if they find meaning and experience a sense of impact.  Psychologist Martin Seligman originated the notion of “learned helplessness” as a source of depression – the sense (which may represent a skewed perspective) that “whatever I do or don’t do, it doesn’t change anything.”  We need to believe that what we do has a purpose and an effect.

The world recently mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela who, among his other accomplishments, was a lawyer.  Justin Hansford’s recent column in Critical Legal Thinking holds him up as an iconic real-world model for today’s socially responsible and impactful legal practitioner.

So, as we face a new year, all of us professionals can seek a way to survive on both dimensions – make enough money (or cut enough costs) to support ourselves and our families and have some kind of balance, but also continually reconnect with our vocational ideals, the ways we are having at least a small positive inlfuence on our world, the quest not only to compete or “win” but to contribute.

 

Dec 23

For those in recovery, especially new recovery, the holidays can bring increased risk of relapse.*  AA provides a wonderful extra resource at this time of year:  the “Alkathon,” a very long, ongoing meeting welcoming walk-ins at any time with a sober, encouraging embrace.  Click here for a link to the Boston-area list of alkathons for both Xmas and New Year’s. (Scroll down to Page 3.)

*Watch out, too, for the post-holiday relapse phenomenon, that goes something like this.  “I got through the holidays; the danger is past, and now I deserve…..”

Dec 06

Emotional health and self-esteem are inextricably linked.  So let me ask you a simple question: Do you value yourself? Right now, right this moment. Is it different from how you felt about yourself yesterday or a month ago? Do you know who you are at your core? Does anyone or anything else define that for you (i.e., a senior colleague or your work performance)?

Our emotional well-being hinges on self-esteem – that sense of unmitigated self-worth and the ability to hold yourself in esteem regardless of how well you are fulfilling your roles of employee, law firm partner, spouse, parent, etc.  Holding yourself in warm regard no matter how well you perform at work staves off depression and anxiety.

Is your self-esteem rooted in true “self” esteem? Or is it a yo-yo esteem based on how much better or worse than others you are doing at a particular moment?

Working in the legal field, giving all of yourself to the job and often spending long hours at the office pave the way for the professional identity to take over. It becomes all too easy to ignore true self-esteem. To make matters worse, a lawyer’s success is viewed through a double-whammy prism of cultural expectations and surviving the pressures of the law firm environment.  Culturally, you “have made it” if you achieve financial success, as reflected by the material possessions, and hit all of the life milestones expected of you, including an accomplished career. Professionally, being a sharp, detail-oriented attorney, jousting for clients, prestigious assignments, partnership or status and one-upping in constant power plays with opposing counsel – those are the things that often make a successful lawyer.

Figuring out who you are outside of your professional identity while trying to do the “right thing” expected by the culture and the profession is no easy feat.  Self-esteem based on one’s self-image as a hot-shot lawyer is often the only kind of esteem that stands out prominently.

How do you actually know whether your self-esteem is the real kind? Imagine that all of your roles, professional identity, job title, wealth, material possessions and work accomplishments have been stripped away. What’s left? Who are you?

The things that we hold on to for dear life can trick us into believing that we should be valued for how well we do. They become the foundation of our self-esteem. How we fare professionally, what law school we graduated from, what firms we have worked at, how much wealth we have accumulated over the years – all that gives us a false sense of power, leading to a self-esteem based on our outward achievements valued by the outward-focused society.

Socrates has famously said that an unexamined life is not worth living. An unexamined life, devoid of knowing who you are and of the ability to hold yourself in warm esteem regardless of the fleeting professional accomplishments or failures, leaves happiness vulnerable to the tribulations of life. Losing a job, a promotion, coveted partnership or life savings to an imprudent investment or a free-falling economy can always be stressful, but that doesn’t have to mean you are an unworthy person.

You matter because of who you are, not what you do. Maintaining self-worth and self-esteem in the face of losses and failures, big or small, is one of the key factors in warding off depression and anxiety. Life inevitably has its ups and downs. The more aware and emotionally healthy of us tend not to experience failure as a personal affront to their sense of self-worth. Neither do they think a triumph at work makes them a worthier person. You can too.

Guest blogger Dasha Tcherniakovskaia is getting her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Lesley University. She is changing careers after devoting 10+ years to corporate law.  She has worked as a paralegal at a major financial institution and an associate at a large Boston law firm.

Nov 13

Join in an 8-session series, “Managing Your Work Search Process,” starting on December 3, 2013, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., at the Massachusetts Bar Association, 20 West Street, Boston.  This series is designed for lawyers between jobs, dealing with a layoff, or seeking a first legal job, in a challenging legal marketplace.

Register here: http://www.massbar.org/cle/cle-programs?p=3317

You will learn strategies to help you optimize your professional strengths. Topics include tips on networking and informational interviews, improving your marketability, how to utilize social media and resume and cover letter writing samples. The eight seminars will include:

  • Getting Started: Identification of Skills, Experience and Professional Interests
  • Launching Your Search
  • Strategic Outreach: Developing a Personal Connection
  • Strategic Outreach: Managing the Networking Process
  • Personal Presentation: Interviewing Skills
  • Mental Self-Management: Staying Positive and Proactive
  • Finding a Satisfying Legal Position When Most of Them Are Not Advertised (Small Law Firms Offer Big Options)
  •  Moving Forward: Making the Most of What Is

Dasha Tcherniakovskaia, program chair, is getting her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Lesley University. She is changing careers after devoting 10+ years to corporate law.  She has worked as a paralegal at a major financial institution and an associate at a large Boston law firm.

Massachusetts Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section is the Sponsoring Section.

Register here: http://www.massbar.org/cle/cle-programs?p=3317

The group will meet on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month, ending March 18,2014

 

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Nov 04

At Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers we think a lot about how attorneys can effectively deal with stress which, unfortunately, is almost an inevitable part of our working life.  I was pleased to see a post written by the professionals at the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, Addicted to Stress? Join the club.”  The article suggests that many of us in the legal profession are addicted to stress, and that the negative health consequences of long-term stress are significant.  Becoming aware of the stress, and how some of us actually seek stress, is a significant first step.  I would encourage you to read the full article, linked above.

 

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