October is ADHD Awareness Month and with lawyers reporting roughly double the rates of the general adult population, we’re highlighting how its powers can be harnessed.
12.5% of lawyers reported having ADHD in the landmark 2016 study on lawyer well-being from the ABA and partners, compared to 4-8% of adults generally. Much of the common perception of ADHD is misleading. Those dealing with ADHD have a range of experiences, but many encounter difficulty concentrating at times, become overly focused on specific things at other times, struggle to complete work on time, have organizational issues, find it difficult to follow directions to their completion, and exhibit impulsivity. These (and other) symptoms have a real effect on professional functioning, personal relationships, and emotional well-being. And while most people talk about ADHD as a hurdle to overcome, there are also many people who look to the advantages of ADHD as tools for success.
For lawyers, law students, and judges with ADHD in Massachusetts, we host weekly online support meetings, led by LCL MA Staff Clinician Dr. Shawn Healy. Peers in the profession discuss applying specific techniques to use to harness your attention and focus, ways to address obstacles in productivity due to the experiences of ADHD, and more. Group members are also able to join its active listserv, which shares a range of helpful resources, including the coordination of member-organized work accountability sessions, in which participants gather online while working to help maintain focus. (They’ve reported great results, and you can find more on how it works in this article from Patricia Quinn, MD.)
We thank Ashlee Logan, an attorney in Massachusetts, for contributing the following guest post. Her story highlights the true potential of having ADHD, and shares important insight for others.
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ADHD is a gift that I was given. So frequently it’s discussed as a disability and there’s no doubt it’s a challenge. But for all the things I accomplished in my life, I know that my ADHD is a significant factor in my successes.
I didn’t discover I have ADHD until I was an established attorney with two small kids. Like many women of my generation, I didn’t figure it out until I was researching ADHD on behalf of my children. I always knew there was something unique about me. I went through the world a little differently. I was a “chatty Kathy” even when in my mind I knew I needed to stop talking. I felt moral outrage for situations that had little to do with me and felt it very important to stand up for those aggrieved. I solved problems “backwards” focusing on the solution first, then figuring out how to get there.
I loved school. I assumed it was because I was studious. It was actually hyper focus operating at its finest. So, it seemed natural to go to law school and become an attorney.
Upon graduating law school, I “accidentally” became a prosecutor instead of the corporate litigator I intended. As so many other new attorneys do, I went to work as an assistant district attorney in order to get that all important trial experience. What was supposed to be a 2-year stint turned into 13 wonderful years.
When I went to the DA’s office, I had no clue that my brain thrives with chaos and high stress. That my focus becomes like a laser when I’m under the most pressure. But I learned quickly that during the pressures of trial solutions came easily. That some of the best arguments I will ever make were when a courtroom full of people were staring at me expectantly. Or that when everything is falling apart or not going as planned (as any trial attorney can attest, basically any trial ever) is when I’d be at my calmest. I didn’t realize that the reason I was successful in front of juries was because I can read people extremely well. When in front of a jury I could see the points that didn’t land, the witnesses they believed and the witnesses they hated. Though I didn’t initially know why, I have ADHD to thank.
Many think of ADHD as distraction and impulsivity. What neurotypical people see as distraction is really just my brain working out problems. Of course, the problem may not be the one everyone else is focused on, but I’ve found that often I see a problem that needs to be solved long before anyone else has. Because my brain operates differently, I solve problems uniquely. Frequently, I’m thinking, there’s an easier way to accomplish what you need done. And then I do it.
My love to talk comes from ADHD. I can talk to anyone about nearly anything. I am comfortable talking to all kinds of people. Because of my hyper focus, people’s lives fascinate me. I put people at ease because I just like to hear everything about them. My advocacy is better because I take the time to hear them.
But most importantly, more than anything, the absolute gift my ADHD gave me: resiliency. People with ADHD know very little is expected of us. We know that something might be hard, but not impossible. We are willing to try. A lot is made of how to teach resiliency in kids. No child with ADHD must learn that. Their entire life is resiliency. Everything I do is to overcome how the world works and how my brain must do things differently. For anyone who is left-handed, you understand this. The world simply isn’t made for how you are. So you accommodate. When I tackle any legal problem, I am not deterred if it’s difficult or it requires going into unchartered territory. When the pandemic hit and people questioned how we could possibly operate, my ADHD mind said it can be done. So, it will be done.
There are many reasons why ADHD has added challenges in my life. But as a person who operates in a world that needs more people willing to say why does it need to be done the way it’s “always” been done, I’m grateful I am blessed with it.
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Lawyers, law students, and judges in Massachusetts can discuss concerns with a licensed therapist, law practice advisor, or both. Find more on scheduling here.