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FOR INQUIRIES REGARDING BAR ADMISSIONS, including completion of bar admission applications and requirements for disclosure of information, contact to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, by email to info@bbe.state.ma.us, or by telephone at (617) 482-4466. The Board of Bar Examiners welcomes these inquiries. Please note that telephone inquiries may be handled anonymously at the request of the caller.
>>
 Character and Fitness Standards for Bar Admission in Massachusetts here.
>> BBE FAQ on Character and Fitness

Resources for Houseless Lawyer? 9/19

QUESTION:

Are there any resources for Lawyer and family who has lost there house and has no where to go but live in the car? Only a short term stabilization to get myself mentally right and back in the game. Thank You.

ANSWER: 

While we don’t have resources specific to when a lawyer has lost their home, we might be able to connect you with resources depending on your circumstances. If you arrange an evaluation here, we can determine what resources may be accessible and offer assistance in brainstorming further options relevant to your situation (about which we are very sorry to learn).

Bar Application Character & Fitness Reporting 8/19

QUESTION:

Do I need to report a welfare benefits hearing or an SSI hearing that was in my favor? Do I have to reveal the amount of my student loans even if they are not in default? Do I have to provide a credit report if I my character and fitness is being reviewed? I have credit card debt from 18 years ago. Do I report it?

ANSWER: 

Our post on Nationwide Mental Health Questions: Bar Application Character + Fitness includes a link to a database listing by state the questions asked on Mental Health / Substance Use Provisions; School, Criminal History, and Other Disciplinary Provisions; and Financial Provisions.

You can find Character and Fitness Standards for Bar Admission in Massachusetts here.

You can also find BBE FAQ on Character and Fitness.

Our anonymous online Q&A is designed to address clinical matters, including stress, relationships, career dissatisfaction, mood/addiction difficulties, etc. We do not have the capacity to respond to volumes of questions about requirements for admission to the bar, as a caution to those with similar inquiries.

FOR INQUIRIES REGARDING BAR ADMISSIONS, including completion of bar admission applications and requirements for disclosure of information, contact to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, by email to info@bbe.state.ma.us, or by telephone at (617) 482-4466. The Board of Bar Examiners welcomes these inquiries. Please note that telephone inquiries may be handled anonymously at the request of the caller.

If you need help coping with the stress related to the character & fitness process, find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential appointment here.

Bar Application Character & Fitness Investigation 7/19

QUESTION:

During the character and fitness investigation process, do state boards of bar examiners typically contact applicants’ attended undergraduate institutions to confirm/inquire into academic disciplinary issues, e.g., academic probation for scholastic deficiency, without cause? Do they send forms to applicants’ undergraduate institutions, similar to dean’s certifications during the application process, to undergraduate institution officials to complete?

ANSWER: 

We focus on human/clinical issues, so our response here cannot be considered definitive, but our understanding is that applicants for bar admission should expect that bar admissions authorities will contact undergraduate institutions, in telephonic and/or written form, to verify and further investigate issues of discipline and honor code violations.  In general, when dealing with Boards in Massachusetts, our distinct impression is that withholding relevant information is more of a concern that having had a problem, if that problem has been appropriately addressed.

Bar Application Character & Fitness Questions 5/17

QUESTION:

Question 1: What should a bar applicant do when she realizes something in her law school application’s resume is wrong?

Question 2:  Hello! I have a few questions about the typical C&F process. First, do most C&F boards compare and contrast the law school application with the Bar application in its entirety to look for minor discrepancies, or does that tend to only occur if a red flag has already been raised in the C&F process? Second, if a C&F board does catch a minor exaggeration on the law school application (for example, in her prior work experience, the applicant claims that she served around 25 customers with a consulting firm when really it was more like 10 customers), but this exaggeration is not repeated on the Bar application, would this likely be sufficient to deny the applicant Character and Fitness certification? And finally, if an applicant has a period of self employment in her employment history, is it generally necessary to provide the C&F board with a reference that can attest to the entire period, even if the applicant did not have any one customer or employee with whom she worked for the entire period of self-employment? Or would a customer/client whom she worked with for just half of the period of self-employment generally suffice as a reference? Thank you so much for taking the time to consider these questions,

ANSWER:  

The answers to both of these questions are:  (1) This is not really what LCL does — we help with the human, behavioral, emotional side of coping with being a lawyer or law student.  (2) However, our clinician Barbara Bowe, LICSW, who serves as our primary liaison with law schools, may be able to point you in a useful direction if you contact her here at LCL.  (3) In addition, it is possible to call the executive director of the Board of Bar Examiners, and you may be able to pose questions without identifying yourself.

For readers other than the person who anonymously submitted this question, what’s important is to recognize that providing false information, or attempting to hide key, relevant information, in the course of law school (starting with the application) or applying to the bar is often more likely to create problems for you than having provided accurate/relevant information in the first place — at least that’s how it has appeared to the clinician who writes these responses.

Reporting arraignment to CPCS? 5/17

QUESTION:

I am a private attorney on a CAFL panel. I am being arraigned on Assault & Battery against a neighbor c.265 § 13A(a). Am I required to report this to CPCS? And, if yes, when?

ANSWER:  

LCL’s purview is actually the area of wellness, mental health, career satisfaction, and the like, so this question is really not for us. But you can refer to the CPCA Assigned Counsel Manual, Paragraph 3 (Notice of Complaints or Potential Conflicts), which we are told says:

“An attorney certified or approved to take assignments in CPCS cases, whether through the Private Counsel Division, the Children and Family Law (CAFL) Division, the Public Defender Division, the Youth Advocacy Department, or the Mental Health Litigation Unit, shall notify the appropriate Deputy Chief Counsel (Deputy) or Director within three business days of learning of any of the following:

  1. The attorney has been charged in any criminal complaint or indictment….”.

Lawyer’s role morphing into therapist 4/17, Lawyers Journal

Lost thumb drive raises handful of questions 2/17

QUESTION:

I recently took a trip out of state and took a thumb drive containing client information (including names, DOBs and POSSIBLY social security numbers) which I somehow lost in the airport. As a new attorney, how do I rectify this in accordance with the rules of professional responsibility and hopefully avoid a potential malpractice claim?

ANSWER:  

This is really not at LCL question, but it seemed a reasonable question to direct to our sister program, LOMAP.  Heidi Alexander, the director of that program, was kind enough to provide the following response:

Your question raises both ethical and statutory concerns. Under Rule 1.6, you have a duty to maintain the confidentiality of your client’s information. As expounded by the comments to the Rule, a lawyer must make “reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure” of confidential client information. (See Comment 18, Rule 1.6.)  There are a number of factors considered in determining the “reasonableness of the lawyers efforts” including the sensitivity of the information. This brings leads to the other concern.

Massachusetts has one of the most stringent data privacy regimes in the entire country with reporting requirements in the event of a data breach to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and to the Attorney General. This webpage details the reporting requirements under M.G.L. c. 93H. Under the statute and implementing regulations (201 CMR 17.00), if you store “personal information” (which includes names and Social Security numbers) on a portable device, that device should be encrypted where it is reasonable and technically feasible. If you did not encrypt the contents of your thumb drive, you may be required to report the breach.

We would suggest consulting with an attorney to analyze your situation and determine 1) whether this is a reportable event, and 2) how best to minimize your ethical and malpractice exposure.

If you would like to discuss further, our Law Office Management Assistance Program can consult with you confidentially about this issue. Please contact LOMAP Director, Heidi Alexander, heidi@masslomap.org or 857-383-3250.

ADHD or spread too thin? 2/17, Lawyers Journal

Law school obstacles, 2 years into recovery 12/16

QUESTION:

I have an addiction to opioids since I was 18 (now 27) and clean since age 25. I entered law school at age 21 while continuing to use opioids. Due to my addiction I was unable to complete my studies and as my disease progressed I began to miss classes until the school dismissed me. The Dean informed me that I had ‘no shot at getting back in’ due to my brain disease. Please advise as I only have three classes left.

ANSWER:

We checked with LCL clinician Barbara Bowe, LICSW, who has dealt most with law student issues. She reports, “These things are always complicated,” and that any response we would post would raise further questions, so she suggests, assuming that you are a Massachusetts law student, that you give her a call here at LCL. Certainly, we have met a range of people who were able, in recovery, to find ways to proceed from law school to bar admission and careers.

Practice only makes perfect if you know how, 11/16, Lawyers Journal

You can drive yourself only so far without oil changes 9/16, Lawyers Journal

Career, interrupted 11/15, Lawyers Journal

Overdoing it only works for so long 9/15, Lawyers Journal

Psychological barriers to calling clients (Call them, maybe?) 12/14, Lawyers Journal

Losing ‘real self” along career path 5/13, Lawyers Journal

Realistic approahces to becoming more productive in practice 4/13, Lawyers Journal

Must Expunged Matter Be Disclosed in Bar Application? 3/13

Bring in Drug Paraphernalia When Applying for Bar?

QUESTION:

I am applying for admission to the Massachusetts Bar. While in college, I was found with two small empty bags and taken into custody for possession of drug paraphernalia. I was released soon thereafter and appeared in court where I was given Pre-Trial Intervention. I passed the requisite community service requirements and my record was expunged, sealed, and closed. Do I need to disclose this in applying for the bar?

ANSWER:

While this is beyond LCL’s expertise, we checked with the Bar Examiners office, and learned that, yes, this information must be disclosed on the bar application in response to question 12(a).

Ethical Questions Raised by New Technology and Out-of-State Speaking 2/13

QUESTION:

I am a Mass lawyer trying to navigate new technology. I have started a separate company that provides “law-related services”, but I am not using that company to give legal advice. (That company has developed software that works like a TurboTax program.) Am I allowed to accept outside advertisements from non-lawyers on the website for that company to help defray costs since it is not a law firm site and not engaged in the practice of law?

I also have been asked to speak out of state (for free) about law-related issues – not specific cases but just a summary of the current law in a particular area. Am I allowed to do that? Can I do that via a podcast? Would I be allowed to do that and accept a fee? Thanks.

ANSWER:

We’d encourage you to schedule a free consultation with one of our Mass LOMAP law practice advisors to discuss your situation. They can provide advice how to avoid potential ethical risks as you operate your ancillary business.

You can also consult the Office of Bar Counsel’s website which includes a section on frequently asked questions, a series of articles. Their ethics hotline can be reached at 617-728-8750 (Monday, Wednesday and Friday 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.).

Reporting Job History When Applying to Mass Bar 10/12

I am a 3L student applying for admission to the Massachusetts bar. I am now 53. Do I have to report all my employment for the past 35 years? [10/12]

After checking with the Board of Bar Examiners, we have confirmed that you are required to report all employment you have held since your 18th birthday.

Lawyer faces discipline, but unwilling to hold office manager accountable 7/12, Lawyers Journal

At a loss after layoff 1/10, Lawyers Journal

Spouse’s Criminal History in Seeking Clerkship 9/08

My husband has a criminal history involving drug use and a few petty thefts. The most recent was over 6 years ago. He has turned his life around. I am a law student who is currently applying for post-graduate judicial clerkships. Must I disclose my husband’s history?

We must begin by noting, as we frequently do, that our clinical staff (who take these questions) are not behavioral clinicians and not lawyers, and that an appropriate type of attorney would probably be best for giving you conclusive advice.

That said, none of us here (including a couple of attorneys we asked on an informal basis) knows of a reason why you must bring up the issue of your spouse’s remote criminal history, or why someone interviewing you for a clerkship would ask about that.

If anyone visiting this web site reads this and has had an experience to the contrary, they can share that with us (by submitting as an anonymous question), and if relevant we will post that perspective here.

Terminated and Seeking Work 2/07

My wife has worked for a nonprofit legal organization for the past 6 and a half years. She was recently terminated from her position. This was her first and only legal job out of law school. Because of her termination, she cannot get any supervisory recommendations to use in her job search; she’s left with her original law school references and some character references from some colleagues. My wife is very depressed about her firing, and fears that her career as an attorney is over. Are there any resources for attorneys who have been terminated in terms of seeking work again? Are their any help or support groups for this kind of thing?

It might not be a bad idea for your wife to see a therapist for the depression, and review both what happened on the job and how she has reacted to losing it, and we can certainly help with that. We have attempted to offer groups for unemployed lawyers, but have never developed a quorum.

[This part of answer updated 9/21/07:] In terms of the more practical aspects of your question, we checked with lawyer-savvy career counselor Ron Fox [whose web site can be found at www.ronaldwfox.com]. Here is his response:

I’m afraid I don’t understand the problem. A lawyer is terminated from her position and can’t get a recommendation. So what? Why does she need a recommendation?

What does she want to do? Who does she want to work with? Who does she want to represent?

Does she want to work in a small firm representing those with personal plight issues; i.e., family and divorce, environmental injury, toxic tort cases, education, employment discrimination, health? Who are the lawyers who do this kind of work? Has she talked to any of them about the circumstances surrounding her termination? What did they say? Did they care?

While being terminated isn’t the most positive way to end an employment situation, it provides the opportunity to devote much more time to finding the next position.

Would she like to be a sole practitioner working with others and sharing space with those who do similar work to what she does? If that is of interest to her, isn’t it irrelevant that she was terminated since you don’t need a recommendation from a previous employer to start your own practice, do you?

She needs to simply take control over her career, decide what she wants to do, promote and market herself to those who do that kind of work and find a position where she can derive satisfaction from doing it.

For some relevant articles and resources go to http://profdev.lp.findlaw.com and see the articles under the “Editors Column”

Re-Entering the Law After Public Burnout 12/06

venues, I was feeling unhappy and decided to explore career opportunities and do some general soul searching. I was unhappy practicing law and expressed these feelings openly to friends and family. I even expressed them in a somewhat public forum, i.e. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly June 2003 “On Point”. However, after approximately three years of part-time practice, spending time with my family, weight loss through exercise, some personal reading, etc., I feel inclined to return to the practice of law. In fact, throughout my three and a half years of part-time practice, I cannot recall one single day that I did not ponder a legal question, read a law related article, or discuss law oriented issues with my wife. Even though I tried to limit my “thinking like a lawyer” during this time, I could not find the switch to turn it off. In fact, I missed the intellectual challenges shortly after closing my office but I was determined to press on. My question pertains to how I may be perceived after making these statements of my unhappiness with the practice of law and then a few years later considering making a comeback. It seems I may have confused “unhappiness” with burnout, stress, frustration and other negative emotions that seem to have subsided significantly. I felt I was missing something by being defined solely as a lawyer, but have found now that nothing else really impresses me enough to walk away from being an attorney. I plan on gradually returning to full time practice, but also trying to maintain some balance as well with my wife and four children all under 8. Have I damaged my career by expressing my feelings prior to reducing my practice? Are their others who have faced this predicament?

Much of the process you describe sounds very healthy. You recognized that you were stuck in career rut that called for change rather than inertia, and began a new journey in which you paid attention to your physical and mental needs as well as your family. You also discovered that “there’s no place like home,” realizing that you valued the lawyer’s way of thinking, and that it had in fact become a part of you (and perhaps an asset in whatever you might undertake) – but no longer your personal identity. We guess that many lawyers wish they could make the same journey, but personal, interpersonal, or financial factors stand in their way.

You have correctly identified the new goal, which is to return from your odyssey to legal practice, but in a very conscious way so that it does not overshadow or override your personal and family needs. Finding a workable setting for this mission will be a challenge. It seems to us (non-lawyers who have spent a lot of time meeting lawyers) that either your own practice or a small firm would best fit the picture you have in mind. Given that setting, perhaps any public stance you have taken in the past would be unlikely to have much effect. While we don’t remember your written piece from 2003, we suspect that many of your colleagues will have resonated with what you had to say, and may be interested in and supportive of your choice to rejoin the world of lawyers. But as your question implies, more useful input may come from your peers, and we invite any lawyer reading this to email their comments to us (either anonymously through our anonymous Q&A or as a regular email with attribution through Contact Us).

Trouble coping with stress of conflict & court appearances. 6/06

I’m having trouble coping with the stress of continual conflict and court appearances representing the indigent in eviction and housing subsidy termination cases. I want to be able to cope. I don’t want to look for another job. But I’m soooo anxious and depressed. Am I in the wrong job? Should I get some therapy? I never liked litigation.

The legal work that you describe can certainly be, for some, very stressful and perhaps, over time, quite draining, especially if, as you say, you do not like litigation. It may be once source of your anxiety and depression; other contributing causes may exist as well. Seeking some therapeutic assistance to take a closer look at your current situation, explore your interests and options for a satisfying career, strategize a course of action, and lend support in the process, could prove very helpful. Lawyers are increasingly appreciating the fact that it is unreasonable to expect themselves to figure everything out alone. Please feel free to contact us. We can help review your current situation and needs, and offer you a referral that could make all the difference. If you practice alone, it may also be worth considering our Solo Practitioners Discussion Group.

Especially high stress in the profession of law. 8/05

My doctor has expressed some concern about my heart, and has suggested I take it easier in my work (for a law firm). He told me that both he and I are in “high-stress professions,” and implied that this was in some way connected with my health. But I am not prepared to leave the practice of law, and I wonder whether his view has science behind it or just opinion.

It’s probably some of both, but there are factual reasons for concern. First, it has been documented more than once that lawyers have a much higher incidence of depression and alcoholism than the population in general. According to the American Psychological Association, research indicates that clinically depressed individuals are at more than double the risk for heart attack. The converse is true as well, i.e., men expressing high optimism were, in a VA study, much less likely than pessimists to develop heart disease. (We would assume this is true for women as well, though VA research subjects are overwhelmingly male.) Depression and a variety of health problems are commonly a result of chronic stress that brings a sense of being trapped and helpless in the face of a constellation of demands.

There are a number of measures you can take to reduce stress and improve your mood and health. These may include a reasonable diet, time for exercise, fun, and nurturing your connections with others. Managing your time in accord with rational priorities is important, and allocating some of your professional time to continuing education can help renew your interests in your own field. It is worth reviewing how you spend your time, whether some tasks are better delegated, whether you are devoting too much of your workday to types of practice that don’t match your strengths. Sometimes a substantial change in environment may be just what the doctor ordered.

You may try any of a variety of relaxation and meditation techniques, which can provide remarkable physical and mental health when practiced regularly, e.g., improved clarity of thinking, calmness, perspective, creative problem solving. Talk therapy can be very helpful in a number of ways, including (a) getting support; (b) examining and changing negative thought patterns; (c) increasing awareness of the choices you make (whether actively or passively) and the areas in which you do have power and impact.

Despite our best intentions, making and sustaining changes in behavior patterns and routines can be extremely difficult. Seeing a therapist can help you remain focused on your goals and reduce the tendency to slip back into a familiar rut. You need not be clinically depressed or in distress to call LCL. Many people seek assistance in order to enhance a basically good career or lifestyle. We help them take a fresh look at their situations and consider other appropriate resources.

Feeling like a failure in early law career 4/05

 Lately, I have been feeling like a failure. I did well in law school, and was something of a “star” in my family. I was the first to go to college and then to law school which made my parents proud. However, since getting my license, I have been doing a little real estate work here and there, but my income has been negligible, primarily because I have almost no motivation. Although my fiancée is moving up the ladder at her job, I seem to be happiest when spending time playing my guitar or even painting a room. On work days, I have no energy or motivation, and easily find excuses to do something else. Not only am I letting people down, but I can’t very well set a wedding date when I’m in no position to bring in at least half the income. Why am I behaving irrationally?

You have been living with considerable pressure, first obliged to make good on your academic prowess as your family’s delegate to the professional world, and now also to justify the expectations that your fiancée has brought to the relationship (or, at least, that you attribute to her). Perhaps you chose law school, after college, as a tangible and accessible route to recognized achievement. There seems to be just one problem – there is no link between legal work (at least the version of it that you have assigned yourself) and your actual interests or passions. The fact that you have energy for other activities yet not for work suggests that your “unconscious” may be trying to tell you something, namely that you don’t want to do this work.

If this is the case, it does not necessarily mean that there is no job within the field of law (or that otherwise capitalizes on the skills and knowledge base you acquired in school) that could attract your interest. It does indicate that you would do well to get to know yourself better, beginning by identifying subjects and activities that “turn you on” and that might reconnect you with earlier passions or sense of personal mission. Your concern for the feelings of your loved ones is admirable, but it is equally valuable to pay attention to your own needs. We at LCL would be happy to serve as a sounding board and may be able to make some helpful suggestions as to the next step.

Concerned about potential impact of past arrest on application to the bar. 2/05

[edited a bit for length] I am a third year law school student, taking the required Professional Responsibility course. I recently learned that bar applicants may be prevented from taking the bar exam if they lack “moral character.” My personal issue is as follows. As a teenager, I was arrested (with peers) for breaking and entering (daytime), theft of a firearm (bb-gun), and malicious destruction of personal property. These charges were dismissed. I was never convicted of any crime. In addition, I was arrested for OUI 5 years later. Although I was never “convicted of a felony”, a recently assigned Massachusetts case disturbed me. In particular, these crimes may be considered as lacking “moral turpitude.” In the Matter of Harvey Prager (422 Mass. 86 (1996), a man’s application was denied due to a past history of acts constituting lack of moral character. I decided to review the Massachusetts bar application. It requires you to disclose any “charges” of felonies committed, as distinguished from “felony convictions.” I am very concerned that my arrest in 1981 may cause the Board of Bar Examiners to probe further into my past, and ask for a hearing. This may take time which I cannot afford, as a husband and father who has already taken a great financial hit in switching from a previous successful career. Or the Board may conduct a more thorough investigation in order to determine whether I was “rehabilitated.” My inquiries are as follows: [1] Must I report these “charges” since they took place when I was a juvenile? (I was an adult when I was arrested for drunk driving- so I realize that I must report this). Are the crimes of breaking and entering, theft of a bb-gun, and malicious destruction considered “felonies”? [2] If the Board sees this on my application, what is the likelihood that they will require a hearing or deeper investigation into my past? I’m not hiding anything, but concerned about the amount of time. (3) What is the most likely outcome?

Please keep in mind that the staff of LCL are, despite the organization’s name, not lawyers but mental health clinicians, though we do have sources to check on some matters. From what we can gather: [a] You are well-advised to report the whole story in a candid manner, whether or not the term “felony” applies precisely; however, we have no reason to believe that this history will be much of an obstacle to admission. [Prager’s reported offenses, we’re told, were of a much more serious nature.] [b] The best person to answer these kinds of questions would be an attorney who has repeatedly represented individuals before the Bar of Board Examiners, which you may be able to find via a lawyer referral service such as that offered by the Mass. Bar Association.

Are there lawyers [at LCL] who can help with advice on … managing a small but extremely busy practice? 2/05

I see from some of these responses that you (LCL) are really therapists? Are there lawyers there, experienced in business, who can help with advice on things such as managing a small but extremely busy practice? I am overwhelmed by my workload and at a loss as to how to keep it all together. I don’t know if I should hire someone (really can’t afford to), close my practice and try to join with another firm or look for new partner here. I have some good portable billing & am refusing work almost daily. I wish I knew an older attorney who has been successful at their practice who could give me a hand (and perhaps a shoulder). All of my cases are up to date or close to it but I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up, I have been working 12-14 hour days for a very long time. Please let me if you know of a service that could provide this type of advice. (P.S. I do not do drugs, rarely ever drink and am not depressed.

) You are correct in observing that LCL’s staff (other than our director and office manager) are clinicians (see under About LCL/Staff). The name of the organization refers to the peer support branch (the original incarnation of LCL but still very active); the peer support, however, is not around legal or practice management issues but around recovery from alcohol/drug dependence.

For the kinds of assistance you describe needing, we make referrals. One possibility for you would be the Boston Bar Association’s Peer Support Program or the Mass Bar Association’s Mentoring Program. It may also be wise for you to call MCLE (Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education) with regard to their course and book, “Hanging Your Shingle”, which contains much information about running a practice and the kinds of outside assistance available. (Many of the presenters/chapter writers are individuals who provide such services.) Although you say that you can’t afford to hire someone, you may be able to afford a few hours’ time from a consultant. MCLE also recurrently offers a course entitled, “How to Make Money and Stay Out of Trouble.” The Mass. Bar Association has at times provided similar offerings.

Career Coaching vs Career Counseling 1/05

It’s been 12 years since admission to the bar, and I think it’s sinking in that I was not meant to be a lawyer, at least not one who carries on a solo practice. Much of my caseload has consisted of advocacy for indigent people via CPCS, and I’m ashamed to disclose my annual income. I really need to find a new direction, either somewhere within the legal field or elsewhere. One of my colleagues has recommended career counseling, while a close friend is pushing the idea of career coaching. What’s the difference, and which is better?

Neither coaching nor counseling is better than the other, but they do address the issues in different ways. In reality, many practitioners combine both approaches, and there are so many versions of coaching that it often seems as if no two coaches are alike.

Career counselors are more likely to use standardized measures (such as tests of interest, aptitude, and interpersonal style) to help you zero in on a well-matched field of endeavor. A counselor might help you consider variables such as optimal work environment, degree of creativity, desired/required income level, proportion of job devoted to tasks such as writing, customer contact, etc. There may be an educative element to counseling, such as learning how to construct a resume or cover letter that targets a specific type of position. Many career counselors have a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited university.

Career coaches, on the other hand, have usually received some kind of training and certification through any of a number of coaching institutes. These programs are generally less extensive than those attended by counselors, so the kind of input one might receive from a coach may also largely reflect their particular experience and talents. Some coaches, however, may in fact have a graduate degree from a previous field, or its equivalent in their own prior career paths. Coaches are more likely than counselors to work with the emotional aspects of career change, help a person get “un-stuck,” develop a clearer image of his/her career “mission,” and develop and sustain the drive toward change. Many individuals also employ career coaches in an effort to perform or cope better in a current job. They might look at concerns such as time management and prioritizing skills, as well as more effective ways to interact with bosses and/or subordinates. Some coaches do much of their work by phone.

In style, a counselor might take a more objective stance as a service provider, while a coach’s posture might be more like that of an athletic coach, providing both corrective feedback and boosting morale. In our experience, their hourly fees tend to be slightly higher than those of psychologists and social workers, and health insurance does not apply. We have also met some coaches who charge much more, sometimes a one-time advance fee covering a period of months.

Both of the above descriptions are, unavoidably, stereotypes. In reality, there is much overlap between coaches and counselors, and like therapists their behavior may vary as much by individual personality as by training. If you begin the process by coming for an evaluation at LCL (at no cost), we will do our best to match you with the most fitting resource.

How to overcome being “typecast as a lawyer” when changing careers. 1/05

I have searched for a job for 5 years without success in my hometown. As a result, I have been forced to work out of state and return home on the weekends. I am married, 43, with 3 children. While employed as an attorney, I despise my job and my profession. I feel like a failure, having failed the California Bar Examination 4 times, the New York Bar Examination 2 times, and the Pennsylvania Bar Examination once. If I could re-live my life, I would have pursued a PhD in History. Here’s my question–how do I successfully market myself for careers outside the law in my hometown if employers typecast me as a lawyer? It doesn’t help that I graduated from Harvard Law School, a background that only adds to the typecasting To respond to this question, we turned to Linda Lerner, an executive coach and a human resources consultant who writes a “Job Doc” column for the Boston Globe. Here is her response:

It’s probably hard for you to believe but changing careers and leaving even the most lucrative professions have become a common experience. It is not taboo for mid-career professionals to decide that the choices they made in their twenties no longer work for them in their 40’s and 50’s. Your “secret” of hating the practice of law needs to be transformed into an acceptable and open conversation about the personal transition you are planning. Something like: In the past law has been exciting for me but my interests have changed and I find that I am less interested in the field. I want to work in the X field or pursue my interest in X. Or I am in the process of transitioning or changing careers or looking for opportunities where I can apply my law background toward different challenges.

Once you become comfortable with the reality that this change is one that you can discuss openly, you then need to face the fact that you will experience some fear in beginning to make such a major change. Acknowledge the fear and have the conversation anyway. Fortunately, there are a good number of books on this subject of transitioning and switching careers. You should start by getting a couple of them from the library or your local bookstore. You should also consider seeing a career counselor, as soon as you can, in order to get assistance in assessing the possible jobs that you are best suited for and also for assistance in how to approach potential employers. Role playing, and other forms of practicing your approach with a counselor, or with a friend, can ease your concerns about how you will be received by people in your own community.

Boss’s blame has “devastated my self-esteem.” 1/05

I am the author of a 5/03 post concerning working for a partner who expects me to handle matters completely outside of my area of expertise. In the two years or so since I wrote that question, I discovered that I suffered from ADHD, got treatment and pretty much turned my situation around. I have settled major cases and conducted my own trials. I feel I’ve greatly matured and improved as an attorney. However, the same old issues keep rearing their ugly head. Last year, I was asked to assist a longstanding client in filing the paperwork to establish a mechanic’s lien in another state. The amount of money involved was large. I told my boss at the time that I wasn’t admitted in the particular state, didn’t feel comfortable working on the case and suggested that the matter should be referred to a lawyer admitted in that state. He refused. He told me it was just a simple mechanic’s lien and I should get it filed. I was able to find the law of the other jurisdiction online. I was also able to purchase forms online from a trusted source. Due to time constraints, I learned what I know of the law in an afternoon and filed the paperwork for the client. Now that the project is over, the client’s customer hasn’t paid and it’s time to enforce the mechanic’s lien, it looks like the lien is invalid because the form I purchased was missing two essential words. My Boss blames me for the entire situation and what he calls “sloppy work.” In fact, prior to filing the paperwork, I brought my findings into his office to discuss the law and whether the forms were sufficient. He wouldn’t engage in any discussion of the law itself. He told me to just file them. Now he’s telling me that his only mistake was trusting me to get a job done and he has no confidence in me. If I had been more familiar with the law of this state, I would not have made the mistake. While in the abstract, I know that all of the blame should not fall on my head, his attitude and the statement that he has no confidence in me has basically devastated my self esteem to the point that I have no confidence in myself. Am I wrong to think I have to stop working for this person?

Despite the progress you’ve made with regard to ADHD (congratulations on that), which was not part of your question to us in 5/03, the problem with your boss sounds essentially the same. If it’s the same boss you had then, it would be noteworthy if you have not yet sought ways to move to other employment (or self-employment). If the same dynamic is recurring with a new boss, it is worth pondering whether there is something about how you agree to work for certain kinds of people, or whether you in some unconscious way position yourself to be mistreated. In either case, we would suggest some therapy/counseling to keep tabs on yourself over time. (This would be more focused on psychological/interpersonal matters than ADHD treatment, which largely involves finding medications and/or strategies to compensate for what is largely a neuro-psychological processing style.) If you like, and can come to meet with us, we’d be happy to help you find a well matched therapist. Perhaps we are over-emphasizing the psychological aspects and under-emphasizing realities of the life of a lawyer — in any case, if any other lawyers care to email us their “two cents” (assuming their comments contribute constructively to the dialog), we might post those comments here as well. [Click the appropriate blue words above depending on whether you wish to be anonymous.]

I need someone willing to “train” me [on tax issues] … before I begin taking cases from paying clients. 1/05

I am a new lawyer about to go solo. I have obtained my certification and can now take court appointed cases. I am running an ad in the newspaper. I have an office set up and so far I am just about ready to go. The one thing I have not resolved yet is who will be my accountant. I do not have much money to hire a full time person to work on my billings and taxes so I need someone with knowledge of attorney tax issues and someone willing to “train” me on what needs to be done before I begin taking cases from paying clients. Where do I go?

A number of resources may help you find the kind of accounting services you are looking for. If you are simply looking for the name of a good person, your local bar organizations may be a good place to start. The Mass. Bar Association has a mentoring program that can be reached by calling 617 338-0500. The Boston Bar has something similar, the Peer Assistance Program, that can be accessed online at www.BostonBar.org (click Attorneys, then Counseling & Support). Good leads might be also found through your local Small Business Administration, or Chamber of Commerce, as well as other sole practitioners. Succinctly clarify for yourself exactly what services you think you need in order to effectively “interview” possible candidates. You’ll probably be looking for a compatible personality with relevant experience who comes well recommended and who can give you the amount of availability you require at an acceptable cost. Remember, your search can double as a networking opportunity: to introduce yourself and your legal services to potential clients, not just potential service providers.

If you are also looking for more general information on financial management of your practice, you might check out MCLE’s (Mass. Continuing Legal Education) website (www.mcle.org) which offers a course entitled “Hanging Your Shingle.” It’s a 2-½ day course that begins 3/10/05 and provides useful information on various aspects of launching a practice, including financial and accounting issues. MCLE also sells the course on tape, as well as companion books. Certain books on establishing a law practice might also be useful. One that looks good to us based on a web site search is How to Start & Build a Law Practice, 5th Ed (2004) by Jay Foonberg. There are others and you may want to do your own search. We wish you all the best in getting started and growing your practice!

Because of my uncertainty in being “morally fit” I did not complete my application… 12/04

I am feeling quite hopeless as I drudge on in the formalities of my bar application. I am close to finishing my application. However, I filed bankruptcy in 2002, have been on and off welfare since 1995, have been charged (though not convicted) of various misdemeanors, am a single parent and cannot make sense of any of my records of financial condition because either they are so unorganized or I simply do not have them. I am wondering if there is anyone there who would be willing to go over my application and opine as to whether I should even bother applying. Because of my uncertainty in being “morally fit” I did not complete my application from last June. I cannot afford to hire a lawyer to help me be accepted if there were questions/hearings to be had. And I certainly do not want to pain myself in studying hard only to find out in the end that I cannot practice because of moral unfitness. I have considered working in the non-traditional field but feel very ostricized in any area but law. I would also like to know whether, other than the books that you reccomend (300 Things… and “What can you do with a Law Degree”) you have any social contacts in the non-traditional area available for those of us who are “flip-flopping” on the issue of practicing at all. I graduated at the top of my class and am not too worried about whether I would pass or not despite not having a commercial bar review course to attend.

We don’t, off-hand, know of someone who would offer the service of reviewing your application with you and judging whether you should bother applying. (Our own staff are mental health professionals, but we suspect that most lawyers would also not feel confident of making that determination.) We also do not have any specific “contacts” in non-traditional areas — if we did, it would have come in handy for many of our clients. If you choose to come in for an evaluation, the least we can offer is an supportive and fairly objective ear; sometimes, to mix metaphors, “two heads are better than one.” After getting to know you, it is possible that we could do some exploring and come up with a useful further referral. In addition, through our Endowment Fund, we may be able to loan you some funds to put toward either mental health or career-related services.

5th year associate in a large firm… critical decision about whether to pursue the partnership track. 1/04

As a 5th year associate in a large Boston firm, I need to make a critical decision about whether to pursue the partnership track. Although the money I make is a real plus, the stress is really getting to me. I am sick and tired of working endless hours, making any kind of healthy balance virtually impossible. The situation is further exacerbated by my elderly parents, whose care is primarily my responsibility, and I’m not getting much support from my wife. Although I apparently look OK to others, I’m not sleeping, have lost weight, and have begun taking medications for blood pressure and anxiety attacks. Can you help me?

First of all, you are not alone. People come to LCL all the time with a similar constellation of concerns. Begin by looking at ways you might be contributing to your own stress levels. Are you setting limits and delegating tasks where possible? On the other hand, are you eating poorly, giving up exercise time, drinking or over-using medication to take the edge off? While you have little control over the facts of the situation, your response to them is largely self-determined. People caught in your circumstances often feel overwhelmed and defeated; that is why a support network is so important. If your wife cannot offer much support at present, you will have to seek it from friends. (If there is a longstanding barrier to mutual support, marital counseling might clarify what underlies that problem.)

The question about partnership track calls for examining the pros and cons of what the firm offers you, and how that compares with alternatives that might be more aligned with your interests. The salary, and the reality that most other options will not match it, is what often keeps people in a holding pattern. You would be well served by stepping back and look at the big picture, including an analysis of your work, family, financial and personal needs. The next step might be to brainstorm your options, avoiding impulsive decisions. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that we consider this an ideal time to speak to a clinician (at LCL or elsewhere), to help you take stock and develop plans that you can live with.

I am experiencing the hopelessness accompanied by failing the MA bar four times. 11/04

I am experiencing the hopelessness accompanied by failing the MA bar four times and not being able to accept the situation. Each time I took the exam I came within at least 12 points of passing it. My weak spot is the multiple choice. I have tried different courses, approaches, you name it… gave it everything that I had. Yet no matter how hard I try, I have yet to be successful. I honestly don’t know if I will ever take it again. I am definitely burnt out and disillusioned with the whole process. Every day is painful when I have to explain my situation to a confused prospective employer who asks “why don’t you practice?” or “have you sat for the bar?” These last few years have been hellish [as I was a] successful student … pretty much my whole life. I made law review amongst other things. I have been contemplating what my life would be like if I never retook the exam. I have been doing my own research on J.D. or non traditional legal jobs. I know that I am very unhappy being a legal secretary and most firms are unwilling to hire a J.D. as a paralegal. As you can imagine, it’s a tough situation. I am currently unemployed and don’t know where to start. My last temp job ended last week and I am looking for some sort of direction to go in. I suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts (but would never act upon them) because of this insurmountable sadness. How do I cope? What do I do?

There is certainly no straightforward or easy answer to your questions. We have seen a number of people in your position, who functioned well as students, were clearly bright people, yet repeatedly fell short of a passing score on the bar exam. Since you’ve taken the preparatory courses, the problem probably is not lack of knowledge. In some cases there is a subtle learning disorder that arises on this genre of test; for others test anxiety is an impediment – there are assessment and treatment approaches for those problems, and we can refer you to clinicians in each of those fields. In addition, the depression itself can impair you ability to focus on tests and to think efficiently about the answers.

Some people, however, seem inexplicably unable to pass this exam. For them, there is no choice but to consider other kinds of work. The skills that you have acquired through your legal training will also enhance your performance in other jobs. In this case, we often begin by brainstorming with people and then often referring them to a career counselor or coach. Good books for people trained as lawyers who are considering seeking work in other fields are: (1) The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook: More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree by Hindi Greenberg, and (2) What Can You Do With a Law Degree?: A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law by Deborah Arron. If you’re anywhere near Boston and haven’t come to speak with us about all this, you’re invited.

Nobody to Cover Practice While Addressing Depression 8/03

When I recently met with one of the clinicians at LCL, at a point when I was barely functioning on the job, I was asked who could cover my practice if I took a week off, or at least help me cope with some overwhelming cases. I was surprised to hear myself say that I had no idea. Does this say something about me, or about the profession?

Perhaps both. We have often found it remarkable how many of the lawyers who see us for assessment tell us that they have no back-up support. Some also say that they have no one other than us with whom they can even verbalize their concerns. No wonder so many lawyers develop symptoms of stress. A variety of survey studies has found a significantly greater incidence of depression, alcohol abuse, and career dissatisfaction among members of the legal profession as compared with the general population. According to one study, these differences arise soon after starting law school. Lack of social support is very likely one of the contributing factors. The world of most lawyers is, after all, competitive and adversarial rather than collaborative. Consequently, when we at LCL seek to start a support group we find that many potential candidates ask us who else will be in the group. They worry, understandably, that the person to whom they confide today will be on the other side of a case tomorrow, and that any exposure of their vulnerability might tarnish their professional image. Further, productivity pressures characteristic of the profession often generate the sense that any time spent connecting with others (for some, even family) is time lost to revenue-producing activity. Relationships of all kinds, which require nurturing, become casualties of career. We are also aware of the relative lack of mentoring in the legal field. Many of our clients who are recently admitted to the bar express anxiety over “faking” some aspects of the work, having no one to turn to for guidance and information. Interestingly, this is true not only of the new attorney practicing independently but also of the law firm associate working under a partner who is too busy to advise, and simply tells him/her to get it done. Contrast this with, for example, the health care field, where the licensing process requires a number of years of closely supervised experience, a kind of apprenticeship that is not built into careers in law. All that said, the fact that you feel you have no one to turn to also probably reflects your own personality, defense mechanisms, and a series of choices that you have made. Although you cannot change the culture of the legal profession (at least, not alone), it is never too late to change yourself. None of the trappings of success – income, prestige, vanquishing an opponent, etc. – means as much as your emotional and physical wellbeing. Let us know if we can help get you started.

Works for Partner who “expects me to handle matters that are completely outside of my expertise.” 5/03

I am a relatively recently admitted attorney (2 years). I used to work for a collection firm but for the past year, I have been employed in a small firm. I work for a Partner that I personally like very much but he is extremely demanding of me. In addition, he often expects me to handle matters that are completely outside of my expertise. He expects to be able to give me these matters and handle them soup to nuts. He also gets annoyed when I ask him questions and often offers nothing in the way of guidance because the matters I’m working on are “relatively small, simple matters”. He also doesn’t feel that I have a lot on my plate. In fact, I have well over 100 active, different cases in greatly different areas of the law. Recently, I have gotten so bogged down that I cannot get out of my own way. I have angry clients calling me and I often cannot get to their cases for a very long time. He is aware of this but continues to pile more work on. He sometimes asks for a status report on my cases but all he wants to know is what stage the case is in. I tell him, what’s going on and the deadlines, etc. He never asks beyond that. He almost never reviews things like pretrial memos, etc. Recently, my caseload has caused me to make mistakes on a couple of cases which are set for trial this month. These are simple but potentially costly mistakes that I would not have made if I had the time to devote to my cases that they deserve. I tried to obtain continuances but opposing counsel and the Court refused. I am totally beyond burned out. I can think of nothing but the growing pile of work on my desk. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed. I have started having chest pains. My doctor says they’re just anxiety attacks. It has gotten to the point that I sit at my desk literally crippled with fear. I cannot pick up an old file. I cannot pick up a new file for fear that I’ll do something wrong due to the rushed way I have to do things. I am contemplating a career change. How do I get help?

Unfortunately, we have heard what sounds like your story many times, relating to firms of all sizes – attorneys with limited experience who find themselves awash in expectations with minimal support/guidance. We hope that it does not typify all law firms (since we would not usually be contacted by lawyers with no complaints), but clearly it is all too common. Perhaps it is related to the billable-hour culture, in which the partner may not be inclined to provide services (i.e., guidance) that do not in themselves generate income, or maybe it has more to do with the partner’s own workload.

You are correct to conclude that it would be unhealthy for you to maintain the status quo in which you are obsessed with worries, almost crippled by anxiety, and trying to assume responsibilities that are beyond your current knowledge or skills. This unacceptable situation can be addressed both internally and externally. Internally, probably with the assistance of a therapist, you could look at your own reactive patterns – for example, are you unassertive, or would you actually be able to handle many of these cases well if you could achieve a more relaxed/optimistic stance? Externally, the primary options would be to (a) respectfully but assertively confront the partner (and/or another partner with the power to change things) with the fact that you are being asked to measure up to an unworkable set of expectations and that this arrangement must be modified, and (b) if that does not or cannot work, prepare to leave the firm (in a manner that is most constructive for your own needs and future). Given the level of your current anxiety, you may also need a brief medical leave. If you continue to make errors on cases, you could be jeopardizing your career. While tranquilizers would temporarily relax you, they are not an ideal ongoing tool, given the potential for dependence/addiction. Modern antidepressants, which often reduce anxiety as well as depression, may be something to consider over time, especially if you find yourself tending toward much anxiety and worry in future jobs as well.

Many lawyers do contemplate career changes, enough to have led the Massachusetts Bar Association to plan a conference on May 16 entitled “300 Ways to Use Your Law Degree.” We often see lawyers over-reacting, that is, concluding that they need to abandon the entire field when, in some cases, a change of setting and approach will allow them to feel more satisfied with a career within the field of law. As usual, our suggestion is that you arrange a confidential, more detailed assessment at our office. We can then help with referrals, in this case to a therapist and/or career counselor or coach.

About to be Downsized Out of Firm 4/03

Our managing partner recently informed me that the firm is cutting back at the associate level and that a number of us are being let go – not because of my performance but due to a loss of business and the economic climate. I was offered six months’ severance, out-placement services, and the opportunity to take up to three months to look for other employment. Since I’ve never been in this position before, I would welcome any suggestions on how to handle it.

Your situation is not unique in this economic climate. Even for those who were not content in their jobs, becoming unemployed is rated high on the stress scale, alongside predicaments such as divorce or medical crisis. With job loss, people realize how much work defines their identity and status in the world, and tend to experience a kind of existential crisis. Yet, individuals vary in how they handle the stress. Depending on your outlook and any experience with previous adverse situations, you may approach this event with dread and foreboding, or see it as an opportunity for change. In any circumstance outside one’s control, one may feel overwhelmed, and may respond by either withdrawing or flying into action in an attempt to feel less vulnerable. For some, the event may bring a sense of numbness or unreality. As the initial shock subsides, a broader range of feelings may emerge, such as anger, outrage, or a depressed state.

Those who define adversity as an opportunity to explore new possibilities tend to be most successful in coping with downsizing. While acknowledging those realities over which they have no control, they also recognize their power to take charge of those matters over which they do have choice and impact. A positive attitude allows these individuals to keep trying, exploring alternatives and reaching out to others for support and ideas. A sense of humor can also help ward off feelings of victimization and hopelessness.

To avoid becoming depleted during the transitional phase between jobs, attend to your needs for good nutrition and exercise. Maintain a daily and weekly routine to help you stay motivated and productive. Certainly, it is worth availing yourself of the firm’s offer of out-placement services. The process keeps you mobilized, and you never know what useful ideas or contacts might materialize. LCL’s services are also available to you for referrals related to the inherent stressful and disruptive effects of being out of work. We also maintain a list of career consultants and coaches who might be of assistance to you in developing a new career direction.

Burnout at 47 in Solo Practice 4/03

I am 47 and have been on my own for 11 years. Recently, I slipped in a case and did not do something that I was supposed to do. I feel like screaming. I am feeling burnout, cannot get to things that I want to get to, stress about money, have clients that are not paying and I’m still trying to generate business. If I were to guess, I would say that I am going through growing pains of trying to keep my practice small and manageable but the practice, on its own, wants to grow and we all know that things have become more complicated. Part of me says find a career alternative, part of me says to stay with it. I feel as if it’s a matter of time until the next mistake happens and I don’t feel as if I’ve got the energy to keep up with the young lawyers. Any thoughts, suggestion or advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

We hear the issues and feelings that you describe from many of the lawyers who come to LCL for evaluation. Solo practice offers autonomy but little in the way of support, collaboration, division of labor to those with differing talents, etc. There also is no external mechanism, no one to notice, when you make an error or forget a crucial task.

You are, of course, wise to seek help before more errors, and potential complaints, come your way. Burnout often brings depression with it, and you are also facing a cluster of decisions about your practice and career. We think there are many times when people make plans to leave the law because they are depressed or over-generalizing from their current situations, and in some cases a re-orientation within the law would better meet their needs. (Easier said than done, however.) If your impression is accurate that the practice is growing beyond what’s manageable, there are probably ways for you to set some new kinds of limits, perhaps be more selective about cases you accept (seeking those that are more worth your time, present less of the kinds of possible slip-ups you’ve seen, and are most consistent with your interests and priorities).

It would be difficult to plot your course alone. Is there a colleague with whom you could kick around the professional issues? If you were to come to us for evaluation (and please do), we would probably consider referring you to some combination of therapist/counselor and career coach. Your insight and ability to acknowledge the problems are hopeful signs.

Re-entering Practice after Time off to Treat Depression 4/02

Could you please explain how your organization can help an attorney re-enter the practice of law after taking time off to treat depression? Do you offer any career counseling in this area? I wonder if you offer any support groups for attorneys? I feel as if I am the only lawyer suffering from this dilemma and it would be very beneficial to talk to others who have overcome this task. Thank you.

This is an excellent question. Career re-entry is, or course, an issue in any career, but presents particular challenges to a lawyer. Most lawyers that we have encountered feel that being open (at least in the work arena) about any area of vulnerability is a professional no-no.

For those who are returning to practice after addiction treatment, our recovery-oriented support groups no doubt partly serve this function. But for those who have been dealing with depression or other kinds of mental (or physical) health problems, our repeated attempts to get a small quorum of lawyers to attend even a very time-limited or walk-in group have usually garnered only one or two candidates at a time. (Click the “Programs” icon for the kinds of groups that we offer, and which we would be delighted to activate.)

The fact is that there is no easy or universally applicable advice on negotiating re-entry. Our staff clinicians (click on About LCL and then LCL Staff for their names) are available to meet with you individually for evaluation and short-term problem-solving, focusing on your specific situation. If it looks as if you need a lawyer-focused career counselor, a therapist (which you probably already have), or in some cases a kind of transitional mentor, we have a number of resources to whom we refer. But, please, if you or anyone reading this can commit to fairly consistent attendance at a time-limited group for lawyers coping with depression or career re-entry (indicate one or both), please click the Contact Us button and send us an email. We need at least several participants, but, to turn Field of Dreams around 180 degrees, “If they come, we will build it.”

Seeks Career Change Because of “nastiness, obsession with technicalities and the lack of concern with justice” in the profession 11/00

I hate the nastiness, obsession with technicalities and the lack of concern with justice that I see throughout this profession. Are there career alternatives for lawyers where employers would value a law degree, but you would not be practicing law?

In responding to your question, we are incorporating the comments of two lawyer-career consultants, Ron Fox (Center for Professional Development in the Law in Cambridge, www.shore.net/~cpdl)) and Beth Falk (Odyssey Consulting in Arlington, www.odyssey-consulting.com). Ron notes that many lawyers leave the field with “little knowledge of the wide range of satisfying options they have within the practice of law,” not adequately informed initially by law schools. He points out that 65% of practicing attorneys work in firms of 5 or fewer lawyers, and that small firm work itself may be an “alternative career” option. Ron is impressed by “the satisfaction of the lawyers who for years have represented individuals with personal plight issues in the areas of discrimination, healthcare, immigration, employment, housing, abuse and education. Sadly, if all lawyers who felt the way the questioner here does left the law, the only lawyers left would be those with little concern for justice and the law would no longer be entitled to be called a profession.”

While employers in most career alternatives would value a person with a law degree, you must first make clear your qualifications for an existing position, and then note the many advantages that a law degree provides. Ron cautions against making too sudden a move, and advocates a systematic process of vocational testing and step-by-step decisions about setting, industry, duties, etc.

According to Beth, while there is not necessarily a fixed group of positions that lawyers should pursue, some of the most natural transitions are to fields such as public affairs/lobbying (where understanding the legislative and court systems is a real asset), legal education, law-related journalism and legal research (especially for some of the developing legal web sites). “Your options outside the law, however, are really limited only by your willingness to market yourself to non-legal employers. Think about what your law practice has taught you: are you a skilled oral advocate? Perhaps you’d be a good corporate spokesperson or public relations executive. Are your particularly adept with clients? You may move easily into a counseling profession. Is your substantive knowledge of corporate and financial matters strong? You can likely find a position in business in or outside a corporate legal department. And good lawyers tend to make good teachers.” Although prospective employers may be ignorant about what lawyers do, or concerned about why you’re leaving the profession, “your own work to educate employers and to explain your situation in a positive light can work wonders.”

Career Slow-Down in Middle Age 6/00

Age 55 doesn’t seem so old now that I’ve reached it. But somehow my career seems to have left me behind. My post-law school career in solo practice was quite successful. I was a conscientious and effective attorney and business came in faster than I needed it. But in the last few years my referral sources have dwindled and work has slowed to perhaps one fourth of what it was. My wife has become the primary earner, and I feel lost and stripped of my professional identity. I’m told that I should get out there and market myself, but I just can’t seem to do it. Any suggestions?

At LCL, we have seen a stream of middle-aged lawyers in your position. As is well recognized, law and other professions have more clearly become businesses, and the business landscape has changed dramatically. For example, large firms have acquired some of the work formerly done by individual practitioners. Some traditional referral sources have dried up. Some areas of the law have changed so as to leave less work for specialized lawyers. Competent work is no longer enough– marketing has become much more crucial. Attorneys with no interest in selling their services can have difficulty adapting.

LCL has no ready answers to this dilemma. Since, understandably, many in your position become depressed, we often make referrals for appropriate treatment. LCL has helped a number of attorneys explore possible options through referrals to career coaches/counselors and useful readings. In some cases, we have discussed potential benefits to measures such as forming professional alliances, seeking salaried positions, making contact with former clients/rotary clubs/businesses with potential clients, or emphasizing a particular niche of the law. It may be a time to consider alternative careers that utilize a lawyer’s skills, and to identify personal connections that might open doors. Avoiding the office and sleeping late is not productive. It is important to grieve what has been lost, accept current realities, and move forward by developing a (revisable) action plan and keep plugging away.

None of this is easy, and we are often struck by how attorneys go through the ordeal in isolation. At times, we may have an appropriate, time-limited support group at LCL — feel free to check by calling or emailing us.

Would Cutting Back Hours “End My Career”? 7/99

I wanted to ask your opinion on a career-related matter. I am a woman attorney, working at a medium-size general practice firm for the past six years. Ever since the birth of my second child, I find that I want to be at home more. Although I really do like practicing law, I feel a lot of anguish about missing out on so much home life with my kids. I am thinking about cutting back to a half-time position, but my colleagues think it would end my career. Do you agree?

You are in an exceedingly difficult situation, faced by many parent-attorneys of both genders. There are no easy or right answers. However, LCL does have an opinion and it is that you not face this decision alone, especially as the consequences can be far reaching.

For this reason, we recommend networking (formally or informally) with others who have been in the same position. Even if you can’t spare much time, a few phone conversations with other attorney moms can make an enormous difference. You might start by calling parenting attorneys (especially women, who are often at a further disadvantage because of their gender) already in your circle, or whom you know by proxy. Ask how they have managed, and for any recommendations that they may have. Ask, too, about regrets, or mistakes that they believe they have made. Overall, you will probably find that parenting attorneys are quite receptive to sharing their work/family experiences with others in the same boat.

To network more formally, the Mass Bar Association (617/338-0500) is an invaluable resource, offering a mentor program specifically for parent-attorneys, and home to a “Family and Work” subcommittee. You can also make new contacts through the Women’s Bar Association (617/695-1851), which is “committed to the full and equal participation of women in the legal profession and in a just society…” The WBA’s membership is composed of almost entirely women, many (if not most) of whom will be mothers at some point.

The optimal work-family balance varies from person to person. A process of sorting things out with supportive others who understand the dilemma at hand can facilitate your finding a balance that affords you relative peace of mind.

After Leaving Firm, Many Interview, No Job 3/99

About four years ago, I was laid off from a large financial services firm as general counsel (the Boston division was liquidated). Fortunately, I was picked up by another firm within a few weeks. However, because their whole management team was corrupt and my conscience couldn’t take it, I left within six months. I’ve been seeking work ever since (both on my own and through a consulting company) but nothing is panning out. I have gone on a lot of interviews but I never get the job. Before I throw in the towel on the profession, I thought I would ask for your comments.

Losing a job (and the resulting loss of income) generally triggers uncertainty and anxiety, among many other feelings, and in the midst of all this it is natural to start “scrambling” for a job. It is often more useful, however, to take the opportunity to step back, look at where your career has been and where you hope it will go, and to consider what kinds of work best fit your current needs, strengths, and personality. A more organized, thought-through approach might be more effective, and there are career counselors/coaches who specialize in assisting with this process. It is not clear whether the consulting company through which you’ve sought work is providing this function.

In addition, your comment about throwing in the towel implies that your feelings are about more than just the difficulties of getting a new job; perhaps you are still feeling jaded about the job you left, or disenchanted with the legal profession in general.

It would be useful to get a handle on this issue, because your job seeking actions may be speaking louder than your words. For example, you may be sending out mixed messages during interviews, or sabotaging your efforts in other ways. Suffice it to say that, while you are seemingly doing all the “right” things to secure a new position, something appears to be going wrong somewhere in your process. Perhaps it’s time to consult a mental health professional to examine these matters before you leave lawyering altogether. If you don’t already have a therapist (or for help in finding a career coach or counselor), please feel free to confer with LCL. At times LCL also offers presentations related to career and life goals.

Coping with Layoff 1/10

My legal career had been more or less blessed since law school. A year ago I was moving up the ladder at my firm, comfortable and knowledgeable in my area of specialization, and, although working too many hours, generally pleased with how things were going. But some months after the onset of the economic meltdown I was one of the victims of a significant downsizing of the firm. After the shock wore off, I put out some feelers, but got no response, and have somewhat abruptly felt stripped of my professional identity, as I spend more laundering briefs than preparing them. Thank goodness, my wife still has her job, and fortunately some of our mutual funds have bounced some of the way back, but even so ;my thoughts are dominated by financial worries. It’s getting so I almost don’t feel like I can call myself an attorney, and it’s time to consider a job at the hardware chain, but they’re not hiring either. I’ve been spending a lot more time isolated in the house. How do people cope with this situation?

A layoff, at any time, can be a real blow to your self-esteem and career identity (which, for many of us, can feel like the main way we define ourselves), not to mention finances (especially if accustomed to and relying on a considerable income), housing, plans, etc. You are entitled to lick your wounds for a time, but withdrawing from others is usually a mistake, which can lead to depression/inertia, often leading to more withdrawal, etc. There’s no way that unemployed isn’t stressful; for some, the stress is compounded by shame, but if there’s any silver lining to the worldwide financial crisis, it’s that you have so much company that your job status is much less likely to be judged in a personal way. The uncertainty, financial and otherwise, is also fertile ground for unbounded anxiety, which can be immobilizing.

A recent series of blogs by LCL’s director (lclma.blogspot.com) offers a wider array of coping suggestions than we have space for here, but a key thread in her recommendations is that you counteract the impulse to hibernate and instead reinforce your connections with others. Maintain mutually supportive ties with others (and there are many this time around) who share your plight – one way to do that is through programs offered by bar associations and, for example, LCL, where we plan to repeat our recent presentation/discussion series designed for unemployed attorneys. Have lunch once a week with a colleague in the same position, to brainstorm together, confide in one another, and cheer each other on. Connect with peers from past jobs and law school, as well as those who have served as mentors. Get involved in bar association committees, community groups, boards, volunteering opportunities, etc. – these activities will not only keep people mindful of what you have to offer as a worker and collaborator or leader (and you never know when that will plant a seed that later pays off professionally), but will remove you from the passive mode, so that you can return to experiencing yourself as impactful.

It is also helpful to keep a daily routine, and take good care of yourself – for this period when you control more of your own time, you have a chance to pay attention to nutrition, exercise, perhaps relaxation/meditation, as well as the activities you really enjoy and may have neglected, such as music, movies, dance, theatre (check ArtsBoston.org for a plethora of inexpensive options). We know how hard it can be to allow yourself these pleasures when your mind is full of worry about your future, but this crisis will pass, and why not use the time to enrich yourself in non-monetary ways for which you may not have much time down the road.

If, despite such efforts, you find yourself immobilized by anxiety or depression, or heading in a bad direction with alcohol or drugs, give LCL a call. We can’t manufacture a job, but we’ll direct you toward whatever kinds of help might meet your needs. That’s what we’re here for.

Giving Clients a Break Puts Small Firm at Breaking Point 1/08

I consider my small firm of 3 lawyers and an office manager successful as we have a good track record and provide excellent service to our clients. However, I admit I have not been on top of the business aspect. I have billed many of our clients, who are not people of means, for fewer hours than were actually spent on their cases. I now see retrospectively that expenses have exceeded income, and the result is that I find myself with a large personal debt, mostly on credit cards. I met with the leading credit counseling service, but the only solution they could offer was a 5-year pay-off plan to the bank, entailing a monthly charge far beyond my ability to pay. I have cut staff and expenses so that I am not building up new debt, but I see no way to catch up on existing obligations without declaring bankruptcy, which I hate to do. Can LCL provide me with a lawyer to negotiate with the bank?

LCL is staffed mainly by behavioral health professionals, and does not provide or refer clients to legal services. (Bar associations do offer referral services, though as an attorney yourself, you may be seeking a more selective process akin to our referral process to counselors, therapists, coaches, etc.)
We seem to be meeting an increasing number of lawyers in your situation, perhaps reflecting something about the current economy. We are as dismayed as some of our clients at the limits of resources and remedies available. We have referred to the same long-established credit counseling service that you’ve already used, whose essential “product”, we have heard, is a 5-year plan that that may not be affordable. (We have heard, also, that some of the newer services may operate with less integrity.) A certified financial planner may be of help, though many CFPs focus mainly on investments. An organization called the American Association of Daily Money Managers has recently come to our attention, but we have not yet had any experience in referring to them. house in order.
Clearly, the situation in which you now find yourself, which is not uncommon among sole and small practice lawyers, has awakened you to the necessity of taking care of yourself and your practice as conscientiously as you attend to your clients. Legal strategies, such as bankruptcy, as well as psychological strategies, such as learning to balance self interest with client interests, may warrant a second thought, especially if turning a blind eye to financial realities represents a pattern that produces stressful and self-defeating consequences. What we may be able to do, as clinicians, is to help you take a look at the thinking and beliefs behind these kinds of patterns, so that you may not need to find yourself in this bind again.

LCL Can Document Your Recovery via “Monitoring” 12/08

I have been handling criminal cases for years as a public defender, through a local agency that functions under the aegis of CPCS. The agency administrator knows that I have a history of addiction to sedatives and that I had a recent month-long relapse after years of sobriety. I am now back on track, attending my usual weekly self-help meeting, and feeling fine, but because my behavior was less reliable during the relapse (no client harmed, fortunately), he would like me to prove that I’m back to sustained recovery mode. How can I do that? Does LCL help with this sort of situation?

LCL does, indeed, offer a service that we call “monitoring,” which involves a considerable commitment to sobriety if you choose to participate. You indicate that you currently attend one weekly self-help meeting, and you make no mention of any other therapeutic endeavors.

Under what we call a “monitoring contract,” LCL takes on the role of documenting not only that you appear to be abstinent but also that you are engaged in a process indicative of dedication to recovery, which significantly enhances your likelihood of success in avoiding relapse. As you know, the relapse process in addictive disorders can be quite insidious. The fact that you have achieved years of abstinence is certainly in your favor, but by no means ensures that your recent relapse will not be followed by another.

Our monitoring agreement typically includes a commitment to attend self-help meetings more days than not (including LCL Support Group meetings where everyone in attendance is a fellow lawyer), some form of therapy/counseling, and random alcohol/drug testing, LCL verifies the monitoree’s compliance with these stipulations before providing monthly reports to the agency or firm that is concerned about your functioning. Not only does such a rigorous procedure provide better documentation, it also improves your own odds of preventing, or nipping in the bud, any slippage in your recovery plan.

Of course, LCL can also consult with you in a completely confidential way that involves no outside agency. Even in that case, we would encourage you to build a stronger safety net to protect you from that inner voice that triggered your recent relapse, and to make sure that you are not ignoring other contributing factors, such as mood or anxiety. Although there is little research that indicates that one type of alcohol/drug treatment is a whole lot more effective than another, many studies indicate that more frequent and comprehensive measures make for more successful outcomes.

(We should mention briefly that we have begun to branch out into analogous kinds of monitoring, when indicated, for lawyers facing concerns other than alcohol/drugs, such as depression, that also calls for persisting in a plan for treatment, support, relapse prevention, etc.)

The nicest part of the monitoring process for us is the way that some lawyers, when the look back at the experience, are grateful for the improvements that flowed from it. Sometimes, monitoring has not only preserved careers but enabled participants to reach a higher level of functioning and satisfaction with their lives.

Really Want Partnership? 7/07

I am a 7th year associate at a local Massachusetts law firm, and I’m coming up for partner soon. I’ve worked hard the last seven years – late hours, long weekends, and many missed family vacation, and I feel as though I missed seeing my kids in preschool. While I’ve looked forward for a long time to partnership, expecting that it would bring increased freedom, a reduced schedule, and more family time, the young partners that I observe and talk to seem to be working even harder than ever. I’m afraid maybe I don’t want this after all. I feel that my wife would be devastated if she knew of my misgivings, but she also has not enjoyed my absence from home life. And maybe I’m wrong—maybe it’s not so bad. What should I do?

First, know that you are not alone–You face a reality that many lawyers face, often to their surprise. Many lawyers think that once they attain partner status, things will slow down and get easier. However, as you have observed, the realities of law practice today mean that partners frequently work as hard as associates —or even harder. As partner, you would typically face added pressures, compounding the familiar demands to bring in clients and generate billable hours. After years of grueling hours dedicated to the goal of attaining the status and rewards of partnership, many lawyers realize that perhaps what they thought they wanted is out of synch with who they really are and what they really value.

Do not be alarmed. You are doing the right thing by examining your priorities. Among the people to whom we sometimes send our clients are career coaches, who sometimes administer exercises designed to take a fresh look at one’s genuine values, talents, and sources of fulfillment. While some lawyers are surprised to find that their current jobs actually fit these individualized needs well (but they may have lost sight of that fact because of extraneous factors), others realize that they may have left their personal missions far behind. Often, a coach will seek to reconnect the client with their original motivations to pursue a career in the law. From the moment one enters law school and the culture of lawyers, it is easy (and in some ways useful) to board the career train that goes in a certain direction, including the aspiration of partnership in a big firm. But that train may, in fact, be taking you down a track to a destination never consciously considered and chosen.

If, in fact, you decide that partnership is not for you, you may consider yourself lucky. Many of us spend too many years working too hard at a pursuit for which we have no passion. Given the increasing options available in the legal profession today, including part time, contract and even of counsel positions, you may well find something that better suits your needs. The trade-off, and it is certainly a very difficult one, is that the alternative road may be much less remunerative. But the fact is (backed up by some scientific studies) that wealth is at best weakly correlated with happiness, and that, aside from those living in poverty, there may be no difference in life satisfaction between the wealthy and the rest of us.

If LCL can be of service to you and/or your wife (to help think these issues through, make a referral to a career coach, etc.), give us a call.

LOMAP vs LCL — confused in Globe article 3/08

I read an article about the LOMAP [Law Office Management Assistance] program in a Boston Globe article in December. Some of the quotes were from people involved in LCL, and there was mention that Mr. Dowell of LOMAP could help people prevent alcoholism or depression by better organizing their law practices. As far as I know, I have no signs of alcohol, drug, or mental health problems – would LOMAP have anything to offer me, and would I be eligible?

Yes and yes. While we really appreciated the Globe reporter’s interest in both LOMAP and LCL, some aspects of the article may have been misleading.

LOMAP itself is not designed to address mood disorders, addictions, or any kind of personal problems. Mr. Dowell is an attorney with considerable experience in the business aspect of running a legal practice, who now makes himself available to any Massachusetts lawyer for consultation about office management activities such as filing, software, and proper reconciliation of IOLTA accounts. He does recognize that (a) lawyers overwhelmed with practice management problems may be more prone to reacting by developing behavioral symptoms, and (b) lawyers with existing problems such as substance abuse or depression are more likely to let their practices fall into a state of disrepair, but the kind of help he can provide for those problems would be a referral to LCL.
LCL, which has been around since 1978, has a clinical staff and provides evaluation, consultation, and referral services, as well as peer support. It targets a wide range of human problems in attorneys, including career and family stress, depression, and alcohol/drug abuse. LCL advocated for the development of LOMAP, which is funded through the same channels and housed in the same suite, but is run operationally as an autonomous program, keeping separate records. Both LCL’s and LOMAP’s services are confidential and provided free of charge, and the two programs refer to one another when appropriate.

So, yes, please do seek practice management assistance from LOMAP whether or not you’ve experienced any behavioral problems, and please do call LCL for help with personal or clinical matters, whether or not you have any problem managing your legal practice. Both programs subsist through a small portion of your annual registration fees, and both exist to help Massachusetts lawyers thrive and avoid disruptions to their successful functioning.

Manic Client 5/07

My client in a divorce case has disclosed to me that she’s been diagnosed as bipolar. Although she dismisses that view, my guess is that it’s accurate. She talks a mile a minute and I can’t keep up with the rate of ideas that she expresses; she leaves me voice-mails at 3 AM and apparently only sleeps a couple of hours a night; and her conception of the riches and success that will flow from this divorce are, to put it mildly, wildly optimistic. I have suggested that she see a psychiatrist for medications, which she adamantly refuses. Can you give me further insight or ideas?

It does sound as if your client may be experiencing a manic episode. Had you met her at another point in time, she might have looked much more depressed, and you may well find depression in her history that comes to light in the divorce proceeding. (It could also be other things – best to leave it to a mental health professional to make the diagnosis – but let’s assume for now that she does have bipolar disorder.)

Your sense that medication is the indicated treatment for bipolar disorder is correct. Psychotherapy has been shown to offer additional benefit, especially in adjunctive ways, such as helping people accept their illness, picking up early signs of relapse, and involving significant others in monitoring a person’s mood state, but the essential condition is considered biological, and the core treatment consists of mood stabilizers such as Lithium, Lamictal, and Depakote.

Unfortunately, people in a manic state very often deny that it presents a problem, and have little interest in treatment, since they may feel quite powerful and be very productive and (overly) confident. You may need to accept that your client will not follow your advice. Your best shot at a more constructive response might be the leverage of the divorce itself, i.e., pointing out to the client that, whether she thinks she has a problem or not, initiating and complying with treatment is likely to benefit her in the outcome of the case (which can be especially true if there are children involved). Your tone would best be non-judgmental but you might be saying, in essence, “Let’s face facts.”

An LCL clinician would be willing to meet with you to discuss your approach more specifically, as well as the types of resources that might benefit your client and how to access them.

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