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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

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.

 

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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Aug 01

Three experiences in the past week have highlighted my awareness that the world that lawyers inhabit is a rough one.  (1) I had to participate in what turned out to be a 6-hour deposition at a large law firm (though not a party to the litigation in question); (2) My next LCL client after that experience was a bright, capable young man who had become depressed and felt he was no longer able to endure his (well paid) work in what often seemed unnecessary (and unnecessarily confrontational) litigation; (3) in a discussion group of legal practitioners that I facilitated, a participant wrestled with the dilemma of much preferring to practice collaborative family law but being told that it would be very hard to make a living without engaging in divorce combat.

I can’t count the number of lawyers, of all ages, who have met with me over my 15+ years at LCL complaining of feeling beaten down by the adversarial nature of their work which, it turns out, is often in marked contrast to their personality styles.  With what was left of my brain after that deposition, I did wonder whether either of the lawyers had trouble coping with the stance that, I suppose, they had to take; whether they might someday find themselves sharing their distress about it with a therapist.  But my guess is that the more aggressive of the two, like a surgeon facing the need to slice his patients, had already firmly adopted a posture of hardened distance from the objects of his efforts.

Renowned psychologist Martin Seligman devoted a full chapter of his book Authentic Happiness to the sky-high rate of depression among lawyers.  Referring to the concept of “zero-sum game” that characterizes our legal system (where the more that I win, the more that you lose), he states:

The zero-sum nature of law has no easy antidote. For better or for worse, the adversarial process, confrontation, maximizing billable hours, and the “ethic” of getting as much as you possibly can for your clients are much too deeply entrenched. More pro bono activity, more mediation, more out-of-court settlements, and “therapeutic jurisprudence” are all in the spirit of countering the zero-sum mentality, but I expect these recommendations are not cures, but Band-Aids.

Berkeley Law Professor Robert A. Kagan has written about the forces in the American justice system, in contrast to most of Western Europe, that promote “adversarial legalism,” to a markedly increased extent in the past 40+ years, “an ethic of zealous advocacy that in the hands of some practitioners – but not merely a few – legitimates superaggressive legal contestation.”

Collaborative law, referenced above, sheds the “zero-sum game” approach and attempts to come as close as possible to “win-win.”  It seems to have gained a small foothold in the realm of domestic law, but is clearly at odds with the prevailing trends.

What business is this of mine, one might well ask, since the lawyers who read this know much more about the territory than I.  The answer is that I have met with so many lawyers who come to LCL feeling the need to change careers because they are so uncomfortable and disappointed with daily exposure to conflict and confrontation, much of it seeming to be a counterproductive exercise in exertion of power.

My experience at LCL has shown me that, when relating on a human level, most lawyers are fine individuals and just as vulnerable as the rest of us (though perhaps acculturated not to show it).  How unfortunate that so many of them feel caught in a role that perpetuates the public’s stereotype.  Nevertheless, though the system may be bigger than all of us, individuals can change their behavior and attitudes.  LCL can certainly help those who want to make such changes.  Even for those who are in no position to make major career changes, we can assist with the quest to find ways to work and cope effectively within the zero-sum game.

Jeff Fortgang, PhD

Jul 25

More than once, lawyers and family members have come to LCL when struggling to find a way to deal with colleagues whose cognitive capacities are deteriorating.  (One highlight of the wonderful if not entirely realistic TV series “The Practice” [1997-2004] that has always stuck in my own memory is the episode [click here to view it] featuring the late, unforgettable actor James Whitmore as a renowned attorney whose memory is failing.)

Of course, there are no easy answers, but thankfully there are legal and clinical professionals who bring experience and information to bear on this painful kind of situation, and some of them were presented at an ABA-sponsored  live webinar and teleconference on the subject in August 2013, when this blog post originally appeared.

Mar 14

This blog post is contributed by Sheila May, CPA.  She has a masters of taxation and performs forensic accounting and litigation support services.  You can find more about Sheila at www.thetruthisinthenumbers.com and read her blog at www.thetruthisinthenumbers.wordpress.com

If you are reading this article, you have taken the crucial first step. You are facing the fact that you need to look at the situation, your reduced income, straight on. The most important thing you can do always, but certainly when your means of income has been reduced, is face the situation. Ignoring, running from, or putting off facing reduced means will only make matters worse. So, congratulations, just by thinking of how to handle this time makes you leaps and bounds more prepared than a lot of people. Below are the big questions to consider and resources to assist.

1. What money do you have now?  Take a look at possible sources of money you available to bring you through this time.  A. Cash in bank accounts is the most ideal.  B. Stocks and mutual funds in individual investment accounts that can be sold are an option, but doing so has tax consequences – a capital gain if there has been an increase in value and a capital loss if there has been a decrease. Liquidating stocks and mutual funds in retirement accounts have high penalties and tax consequences. Please check with a tax person before choosing these options. C. Available credit limits on credit cards are even less ideal as the interest rates are high. Think about if you can use your credit card for expenses that you will be able to pay back within the month with unemployment benefits or money from a part-time job. D. Borrowing is an option. There may be someone in the position to help you through this temporary situation, but consider this option carefully. Paying back what you borrow will be crucial to the relationship.

2. What money can you save? Look at what you can save such as cheaper food bills, cutting cable plans, or taking public transportation. You may have auto-payments or auto-saving plans set up that you can no longer afford such as monthly amounts put into a bank account. It may be a good idea at this time to remove auto payments of bills so you will have greater control of when you pay certain bills.

While you are trying to reduce your spending, remember one expense will increase, the money you spend looking for a job. It takes money to drive, park, print necessary paperwork, dress for a job interview, and attend networking events.

3.  Time your inflows and outflows of cash. While you are culling through your expenses, create a monthly budget of expenses. I like to make my budget not just with amounts, but showing days I pay for items. Think of paying bills as outflow and any money receive as an inflow. By showing which days there are inflows and outflows you can see if you need to delay the payment of bills to a certain day.

Call the customer service number found on bills and ask to rearrange amounts owed to lesser amounts and/or different days of the month. Remember it is always an option to ask for different payment dates. Also, you may be able to change the payment amount.

4.   Enjoy your life, even without spending money.  Remember this time, although it is a trying time, is part of your life so try to think of inexpensive ways to still do what you like to do. Perhaps it is the time to try cooking because eating out is expensive. Universities, libraries, and bookstores have free speaking events. Museums have free days and evenings. Free concerts are held in all sorts of venues. You can check out DVD’s at the library. A content person with interests will likely interview well.

5.  Resources for dealing with limited finances

http://www.usa.gov/citizen/topics/family/help-for-difficult-financial-times.shtml

http://www.nfcc.org

 

Feb 21

Don’t go it alone!  Dealing with unemployment (or underemployment) and the job hunting process warrants as much information and support as you can get.  That’s why  LCL and your Mass. Bar Association are teaming up once again to offer this free 8-session twice monthly series for lawyers immersed in the trials and tribulations of looking for work.  The series begins 2/27 and continues on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the months through 6/12/13.  It is held from 10:00 to 12:00 at the Mass Bar Headquarters, 20 West Street, Boston, and provides valuable information, mutual support, and accountability.  Pre-registration is required.  Use this link to the MBA for more information and registration: http://www.massbar.org/publications/e-journal/2013/february/02-21/work-search   or contact Nancy Brown at nancyb@lclma.org or call 617-482-5004.

Feb 21

Volvo is, of course, the car to have if you truly care about safety.  But Mercedes means you have style and deserve luxury, and BMW means you’re oh so exacting about the machinery you drive.

Progressive Insurance is the one that provides warm, friendly help (from Flo) while AllState is the reliable authoritative father figure of insurance (Dennis Haysbert) and GEICO is the cute insurance (gecko).

So, what’s your brand as a lawyer?  Why would a consumer choose to engage your services rather that someone else’s?

These are among the questions and issues to be faced by solo and small firm practitioners in the upcoming group “Your Law Firm is Your Business: Managing Your Solo Practice.”  It’s a free 6-session series starting soonclick here for more info!

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