FIVE WAYS TO SABOTAGE YOUR CAREER – AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

Most of the other chapters of this informative book offer valuable information and resources for establishing a successful practice. This chapter is meant to help you prevent the loss of your practice.

LCL’s 20+ years of experience providing service to the lawyers, judges and other law professionals of Massachusetts have shown the following pitfalls to be the most common, and ultimately, the most destructive:

1. Addictive behaviors These can be hard to identify by yourself and are often more noticeable to others. Behaviors such as drinking or use of other mood-changing substances usually develop incrementally and begin to create problems that may seem unrelated to the alcohol or drug use. Other common addictive behaviors are compulsive gambling, compulsive sex, and food compulsions (that may include excessive or restricted food intake, bingeing, purging, and use of laxatives). As psychological dependence develops and strengthens over time, unconscious defenses arise that can blind you to the source of mounting consequent problems – such as work errors, irresponsible management of client funds, neglect of work, and many other health and relational problems. Thus, problems that originally seemed to be diminished or avoided by the addictive behavior begin to multiply as new ones appear. Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on behaviors that have become habitual or addictive, guilt feelings about them, or concerned feedback from others suggest that at least a clinical evaluation is warranted.

2. Depression Not simply feeling blue, depression is a constellation of symptoms often including loss of interest, pleasure, motivation, hope, and energy, and can further manifest in irritability, problems with concentration or memory, and social withdrawal. It is probably the 2nd most common cause of behavior leading to disciplinary complaints, in that it often leads to neglect of cases, errors because of impaired concentration, loss of sleep, apathy, etc. Depression often runs in families genetically, but is also commonly a response to circumstances such as a personal loss, or feeling trapped or helpless. The good news is that depression is highly treatable, with either psychotherapy/counseling or medications or both.

3. Attention Deficit Formerly thought to be only a childhood issue, we now recognize attention problems (sometimes but not always accompanied by hyperactivity) as a life-long concern for a great many people. Although people with “ADD” are often very creative and intuitive, they may find it very difficult to organize, prioritize, and stay focused. The result can be missed deadlines, incomplete projects, and sometimes complaints to the disciplinary committee for (unintentional) neglect of cases. Following accurate assessment, helpful remedies are available which may include medication, coaching on how to stay organized, and career choices that utilize strengths (such as an ability to think on your feet) and that de-emphasize weaker areas (such as organizing or prioritizing).

4. Stress/Life Imbalance Lawyering can be workaholic heaven – or hell, depending on how you look at it. The new lawyer working to establish a thriving solo practice, or the new associate’s pressure to move up the ladder of a large firm can work mightily against prioritizing personal, family and spiritual needs. While some admittedly seem to adjust well to such a life, long-term consequences may result, such as relationship or marital problems, problem behavior in children, or stress-related illness. You may not see the “forest for the trees” until it’s too late.

5. Avoidance Procrastination and avoidance behavior may reflect any number of underlying issues. It may, for example, indicate an anxiety or phobic problem. Or it may be a covert expression of anger. It may suggest a sense of meaninglessness or poor fit with the work at hand. It could also pertain to a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. The motivations, often not conscious, are myriad. Consistent with the nature of the problem, most lawyers seem to avoid addressing this behavior until the inevitable crisis erupts, quite possibly with career-damaging effects.

So, what can you do to prevent problems such as those on this non-exhaustive list, or to nip them in the bud?

· FIRST: Stay awake to your own behavior.

When you find yourself hungry, angry, lonely or too tired, too often, something is out of balance. Talk to trusted friends, family members, minister, priest or rabbi, or seek professional assistance from a qualified counselor.

· SECOND: Listen to what others tell you about yourself.

When others, especially those closest to you – spouse, partner, sibling or friend, tell you things and you find yourself reacting defensively, e.g., refusing to listen, arguing/blaming, rationalizing or avoiding them, they may be seeing something important. Stop! Take a deep breath, and listen until you clearly understand what they are saying. Take time to think about it and follow up at an agreed-upon time. If you find yourself unable to do this, it is time to seek help.

· THIRD: Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Attorneys who are typically more comfortable having the answers and giving the help, tell themselves that they should be able to handle their own problems. However, lawyers are no less subject to the human condition than anyone else. It takes courage and humility to acknowledge a need for help, and can prevent a lot of damage in the long run. Massachusetts’s lawyers, judges and law students have their own free and confidential assessment and referral service: Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Inc., Massachusetts’ Lawyers Assistance Program.

Established in 1978, LCL’s services were originally limited to assisting legal professionals having difficulty with their practice of law due to alcohol and other drug dependence, including prescription abuse/dependence. In 1992, in recognition of the value of LCL’s services, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered a small add-on assessment to the annual Bar registration fees to support LCL’s operating expenses and to expand it’s services to address mental health and other life problems.

Calls to LCL’s confidential help line are numerous, frequently complex, and reflect the highly competitive and often overwhelming nature of today’s legal profession. Nearly 50% of lawyers seeking assistance are solo practitioners. Unlike their colleagues who work in firms or corporate settings, lawyers who work alone have little or no collegial contact or support. Asking for help before a situation gets out of hand is key to an ultimately successful resolution.

In addition to assessment and referral services performed by our expert clinicians, LCL offers peer support (both individual and group), facilitated groups, educational outreach, and (when requested by an impaired lawyer who has been disciplined) monitored probation.

Regardless of what type or how excellent a lawyer you are, solutions to your own personal problems can be elusive. When you need a sounding board for your personal concerns, please give LCL a call.

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