Sep 30

Many lawyers went to law school hoping to make a contribution to justice by working on behalf of the unfortunate, oppressed, and vulnerable, inspired by figures like the fictional Atticus Finch or the real life Jan Schlichtmann. Some actually end up doing this kind of work, where the demands may be less about billable hours than about dealing continuously with human pain – cases, for example, of domestic violence, tragic events, tales of torture in those seeking asylum, child neglect, and more.

Like others who work with traumatized individuals (e.g., physicians, nurses, mental health professionals), these lawyers are subject to a particular kind of stress – hearing the details of traumatic experiences in the presence of the individual who has experienced them and is still reacting to them. Often compounding the situation is a degree of relative helplessness to fix the problem in the face of various entrenched systems, very limited resources, and having to repeatedly confront some very bad realities. Continue reading »

Sep 23

I spent over five years working as a corporate associate for a premier Boston law firm. I was ambitious and determined to climb to the top. I naively thought that I was making choices and taking charge of my life, all in the name of success, whatever image of success was driving me at the time.

Unfortunately, the definition of “success” for a big firm associate is very narrow: you say “yes” to every assignment (even if it means working all-nighters), you become a coveted associate (which means more all-nighters, working weekends and ruined vacations), and you politely listen to the raving annual reviews, waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop, and cringe at the obligatory constructive criticism, no matter how forced it sounds. Continue reading »

Sep 16

It makes perfect sense to think that the way we think about ourselves and our environments determines what words we choose to use to describe them. If I think today is going to be a difficult day, I use words to describe it as being difficult. However, the reverse is also true. The language that we choose to use also has a direct impact on how we think and feel about ourselves and our environments. The words we use to describe something can either encourage us to think rigidly about that thing or to identify alternative ways of looking at that thing. One example of this is the impact of descriptors on our capacity for creative problem solving. In a study by Dr. Ellen Langer examining mental sets (or mindlessness as she describes it), participants’ ability to solve a problem was greatly influenced by how their resources were described. When an object in a list of resources was described in terms of “this is a dog’s chew toy”, the participants had difficulty seeing it in any other way (this is known as functional fixedness). However, when an object was described in terms of “this could be a dog’s chew toy”, the participants were able to see it in a variety of ways and hence encouraged creative problem solving (and used it as an eraser). Mental sets are rigid ways of thinking about something (e.g., an object, a solution to a problem), usually tied to expectations that previous experiences with that particular thing will be repeated. If I think that “the way to deal with my boss when she is angry is to remain quiet and let the storm pass” because that’s what I did last time, then I am more likely to think that my previous solution is the only way to approach that issue. Continue reading »

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