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The following discussion thread excerpt is from a recently completed law.com online seminar, “Stress, Substance Abuse & the Legal Community,” moderated by Michael Cohen, Director of Florida’s Lawyer Assistance Inc. For more information on this program, other law.com seminar offerings and our upcoming seminars, please visit http://www.law.com/seminars. MODERATOR MICHAEL COHEN, FLORIDA LAWYER ASISTANCE INC., FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. I’d like to start today’s discussion with a question posed in Anonymous’ post of yesterday: Is there a way to practice law as a more healing art and still make a modestly successful living? I think that probably sums up the discussion for the whole week and encompasses everything we’re talking about. I called today’s discussion “Stress & Balance”, as I’ve found that latter word to be the bane of attorneys and probably the thing we find hardest to achieve. Any answers to Anon’s question? PHILIP K. LYON, JACK, LYON & JONES, NASHVILLE, TENN. Anonymous really hit the nail on the head. If we had all spent weeks trying to come up with a hypothetical I do not believe that we could have done as well. Ever since reading the post last night I have not been able to get it off my mind. We are not trained to achieve balance, but instead to achieve a victory or at least an advantage for our clients. Since I graduated from law school 33 years ago there has been an increased interest in and pressure for victory/advantage at any cost. This has really demoted balance from the back seat to all of the way out of the car. We are also taught that to ask for help is a sign of weakness, so we do this as a last resort. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to ask for help, but I was amazed just how easy things became thereafter. I guess it is like any other leap of faith. The best answer I can give is to try and back away at times and not take our role so seriously. I acknowledge this is easier said than done but is imperative if we are to survive. Another help is to focus on others rather than our own problems or even the problems of the world. When we are extending a helping hand it is nearly impossible to wring our own hands in despair. MICHAEL COHEN I think the answer to Anon’s question is a qualified “yes.” I am hoping that Cheryl Connor joins the discussion, as it is my impression that one of the main purposes of the Holistic Lawyers Association is exactly to practice law as a healing art, while maintaining an attainable level of financial security. The reason I say “qualified” is that different lawyers seem to have wildly different definitions of what “modest financial success” entails. I sincerely believe we can practice law, serve our clients, do some public good, sleep at night, and still live comfortably. It seems that it’s only when we start taking ourselves (or others, including opposing counsel) too seriously, or feeling that we must keep up with the Joneses that we start digging ourselves into a pit. I think Phil is right — if we could step back, realize how short our existence on this planet really is, and define our mission, I think we could achieve some of that balance and reduce some of the stress. LAWRENCE S. KRIEGER, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW, TALLAHASSEE, FLA. I would echo a few things that have been mentioned. First, the question of “balance” includes some social balance, and that relates back to the point that was made about not trying to figure out or “fix” things on our own. For example, I mentioned a couple of books that might be helpful, but I’ll note that I’ve often found lawyers (and law teachers for sure!) that figure if they read about it that will do it — not so usually. Lawyers tend to isolate ourselves as part of this work-and-self-sufficiency thing, and that plays right into all the other problems in the profession — denial, depression, addictions, confusion, and stress. Most of these things go hand in hand, and we all see it, if not experience it directly. So detection includes noticing the simple things that suggest lack of balance in any area of one’s life, and restoring balance takes the courage to just let go of old habits at least enough to ask for help, seek some clarity, be willing to change. It may mean changing priorities, so that “success” now means a HAPPY life, rather than a house/car/life “style.” Quality of life is an inside question; I really wonder how the heck we ever equated that with financial success in the first place. P.S. Many recent psychological studies now show that people motivated by money, fame, or beauty (externals) are less happy than people motivated for growth, community, or helping others (“intrinsic” motivation). The changes may come slowly, but they will come if one decides s/he actually deserves to have a nice life, and then is patient but diligent about looking at what needs to change. It takes a while to get out of balance, and it gets restored gradually as well, but each step has been a good one for me at least. BONNIE WATERS, LAWYERS CONCERNED FOR LAWYERS, BOSTON I agree with Phil that the focus is on victory and advantage. If one admits weakness then they lose the advantage which in a world where there are too many lawyers and too few clients can mean the difference between putting food on the table and/or going without. To the untrained eye this may seem like hyperbole, but to those who are living it this is closer to reality then they dare admit. What I want to know is: who will take the first step toward change; earn less money, keep a lawyer who works part time on a partner track, be considered a good lawyer and a conscientious family man at the same time and not by achieving one only by sacrificing the other? Task Force reports have identified the problem and even made suggestions on possible solutions, but no one seems to want to be put at a “disadvantage” by being first. We at LCL and other assistance programs throughout the country deal with the fallout of business as usual. Those of us in recovery had the courage to change; does the profession as well? ANONYMOUS I understand the sentiment quoted below, but wonder how realistic it is; the quote is: “Quality of life is an inside question; I really wonder how the heck we ever equated that with financial success in the first place. P.S. Many recent psychological studies now show that people motivated by money, fame, or beauty (externals) are less happy than people motivated for growth, community, or helping others (“intrinsic” motivation).” In a situation where there are a number of family obligations — including schooling — on the one hand, and the demand by clients for instant availability and instantaneous response on the other, there seems to be little room for “quality of life” issues. It might be easy to say “quality of life” is more important than providing the best schooling possible for one’s children, but somehow, I think the majority would not agree with such a statement. The reality, as I perceive it, is that particularly as one raises a family, we make certain commitments which have become more difficult to satisfy without what might be considered an almost obscene effort at work. Thus, the concept of balance sounds nice; the problem is that reality often does not allow for that balance. PHILIP K. LYON Good point, Anon #2. In other words, it is easy to talk the talk, but very hard to walk the walk. The points made earlier by Lawrence of the need to make progress slowly and the need for patience are crucial to working towards balance. In other words, it is more of a journey than a destination. We lawyers are good at running our mouths and then not putting our speeches into action. I guess the reason we are here is to learn how to patiently learn to walk more and talk less. ANONYMOUS Thanks for the advice and discussion so far. I’m going to check in with the lawyer assistance program in my state. PHILIP K. LYON Anon #1 — congratulations on the very important first step. If you want a private, confidential discussion feel free to email me at [email protected] If you later want to visit, I will give you my phone number. Otherwise, stay tuned and join in as you desire. Most importantly, do not take a step back. Good luck. BARBARA BOWE I think some of the struggle with balance is also related to one’s life experience in general and how you see yourself in the world. The popular culture just screams that in order to be successful you need to show it by outside accomplishments and holdings, and the sense of personal fulfillment comes from what you have vs. who you are. When I used to do retirement trainings I saw this all the time, people who defined themselves by what they do vs. who they are were much more fearful of retirement, and depressed in not knowing what to do with themselves, how to spend their time, freaked about the lack of definition and had significant angst about no external way to define who they were. Those whose life was more balanced and diversified made much better transitions and were not so scared about change but had a belief in themselves that they would be okay. ANONYMOUS I began to respond to stress by returning to using marijuana and cigarettes, “stress reducers” I had depended on as a teenager well into law school. Then I got stressed because I was using. One day I got home after my usual long commute, got out of the car, and my legs wouldn’t work because my back had gone out. In response, I upped my use of substances but continued to maintain a work schedule even with back pain for a couple of years. Then I began to wake up in tears, pull it together, and work. Then it got to the point I couldn’t pull it together at all. I managed to get away from the pot and the cigarettes but continued to get increasingly tearful and found working to be harder and harder. We were in the process of house hunting in a horrible, expensive market, which didn’t help matters, and then my mother died at a time when our relationship was on the skids … . I finally realized that I was depressed, anxious, etc. So, since I am the major income producer, things were pretty scary. I ended up looking for houses in low-income neighborhoods instead of trying to find a “real lawyer” house, moved my office to my home to eliminate the commute, cut down my practice to spend more time taking care of myself — getting acupuncture, swimming and other exercise, which helped but also increased the anxiety about making enough money, about having trouble getting cases, etc. And, too, I kept trying to attribute a lot of my problems to hormonal changes. … Finally, after months and months, my doctor convinced me that I was truly depressed and very anxious and has now been monitoring me on anti-depressants for several weeks — and things are getting much better. And now I’m convinced that reaching out for help is better than being “strong” about things, that living below your financial means is really pretty healthy after all. Not to say that it is not difficult and stressful, but at least some of the stress is caused by taking care of myself — the point being that [if] you don’t take care of yourself, eventually you will find that are not able to help anyone else. Also, I am lucky enough to have a family who is able to put up with me — at least so far! And, not taking care of yourself hurts them the worst. My wise 6-year old told me that she would prefer to go to a less expensive school and have fewer things than have me go back to my old job. … I don’t know how things will turn out; it’s early to tell — but I do know that I have cut my anticipated house payments to a third of what I had previously been willing to pay and, although work remains stressful and tends to take up too much time, overall life looks like it might get much better. MICHAEL COHEN What a great post! I don’t think any of the panelists meant to imply that making the decisions on where and how to balance priorities wouldn’t be difficult, and perhaps even painful at times, but that it could be done. I think the last posting really sums up the struggle and the reward. How much money is it worth to hear your child say they like you better this way, even if you’re not living in as nice a home? Thanks for sharing this with us, Anonymous. PHILIP K. LYON The last Anon’s post is not only a fine explanation of how to walk the walk, but more importantly the reward for doing so.

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