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 »

Sep 09

Many lawyers and law students have learned early on that the world of law is often a harsh world, filled with conflicts and high-levels of stress. Whether it is direct disagreements, criticisms, or perceived attempts to manipulate, interactions between lawyers can often feel contentious and many individuals react defensively to protect themselves.  Many individuals find it difficult to separate the professional activities from the personal feelings which result from being criticized, or disagreed with.  However, an attorney’s job is to be objective and realize that these interactions are not personal attacks.  If you find that you overly personalize your work, then you need to find a way to step-back to an objective view to better serve the client and to have less high-level stress.  Is it possible? In short, yes. Continue reading »

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