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3-e1423885761774I had the pleasure of confabbing away the afternoon a few days ago with the Jeena Cho, author (along with her co-author, Karen Gifford) of the upcoming book, The Anxious Lawyer, to be published in mid-2015 by the ABA.  Jeena recorded our conversation for her on-going podcast series, known as “The Resilient Lawyer.”

As you can probably tell from the resulting podcast (you can also listen to it and download it on iTunes), Jeena (although a lawyer) is very very nice, exceedingly resilient and not in the least bit anxious.  She’s also an expert on stuff like mindfulness and meditation, especially as it might play a part in rendering other lawyers’ lives a tad calmer and happier.

We covered a lot of ground – Jeena is easy to talk to, a great listener and asker of insightful questions.  You’ll have to overlook the gentle sounds of my miniature dachshund, Simon, snoring in the background, but I’m certain it’s worth the sacrifice.  Simon certainly wasn’t complaining.  IMG_5113

Jeena and Karen offer mindfulness meditation training for law firms, which seems like a good idea to me.  If any of you out there happen to manage a law firm and are in the market for calming bliss – well, I can’t think of anyone better with whom to attain it.

Thank you, Jeena, for the opportunity to meet you, and discuss the  important issues of our times…all accompanied by the soothing, slumberous susurrus of my much-loved senior canine colleague.

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My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Bad-Therapist-A-Romance-ebook/dp/B00BY8GV8M&#8221; target=”_blank”>Bad Therapist: A Romance</a>.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Worse-Than-Being-Dentist-ebook/dp/B007UVXG0I&#8221; target=”_blank”>Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist</a>

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Life-Brief-Opportunity-Will-Meyerhofer/dp/1937600475&#8243; target=”_blank”>Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy</a>

King-Kandy-1306451680I recently attended a conference at a law school – a pretty good law school – and they invited me to appear on a panel and paid for my transportation and even offered a hotel (if I needed one, which it turns out I didn’t, but still…nice.)

I am a psychotherapist, which means, under ordinary circumstances, I never go anywhere, let alone on anything resembling a “business trip.” Instead, I sit in my office and listen to someone else talk. Whether that someone else is sitting on a chair in front of me, or in a chair in Australia via Skype on my computer screen, there I sit, listening, in my office, in the morning and in the afternoon, and in the evening, too. If I didn’t work out at the gym four times per week, I’d probably go all soft and pudgy and endomorphic and begin to assume (like many of my peers, who shall go nameless) the contours of the chair I sit in. Which is to say I’d look like a pear. It turns out there are two kinds of therapists – those who make the effort to step outside their offices and get some exercise, and those who look like pears.

But I digress. And regress. Which is okay in psychotherapy – free association and all – but I was talking about this conference at the pretty good law school.

The conference’s first discussion panel – which I wasn’t invited to be on, for reasons which will become obvious – was titled “An In-Depth Look at Firm Life.” (Well, actually, this was a conference for Asian Pacific American law students, so it was titled “Peering Through the Glass Ceiling: An In-Depth Look at Firm Life for Minorities” but being Asian Pacific American seemed a minor consideration compared to dealing with biglaw, even at a conference for Asian Pacific American law students.)

I wasn’t on that panel – I was on the one about Mental Health and lawyers (once again, Asian Pacific American mental health and lawyers, but whatever – I’m married to a Chinese-American and I love my Asian Pacific American fans and their mental health and their lawyers.)

What struck me, at least in retrospect, about the classy panel – the one I wasn’t on – was who was on it. Just for reference, my panel – the one about going nuts – was staffed with a research psychologist, two psychiatrists, a psychotherapist (me) and a guy who runs a recovery/support center for lawyers. Two or three of us were lawyers, but mostly incidentally. There was also a third, afternoon panel at the conference about Asian Pacific Americans being a “model minority.” That afternoon panel was populated with academics (no lawyers at all, so far as I could tell) and so things predictably took a highfalutin, theoretical turn – more like college than law school.

Only the panel purportedly concerning the actual reality of law firm life was stocked with 100% lawyers. Clearly, there was to be no fooling around with non-lawyer riffraff for them. The breakdown among the lawyers on this panel was interesting, too (for reasons I’ll disclose shortly.) First, all five of them were lawyers at biglaw firms, with the exception of one former biglaw lawyer who is now a corporate counsel at a humongous, famous, fancy-pants software company. Two panelists were partners at humongous, fancy-pants biglaw firms. There was also a senior associate at another biglaw firm, but she’d clerked for two federal judges and looked like she meant business; she was clearly not planning to be a mere senior associate for much longer – at least, if she had any say in the matter. And there was a lone junior associate, who looked slightly terrified, but she was at a top biglaw firm. Slightly terrified or not, she looked like she was dead set on going places, too.

So? Nothing wrong with that panel, right? Here were a bunch of success stories – Asian Pacific American lawyers in top jobs, reaping the success that comes with hard work. And they said all the stuff you’d expect them to say – advice on getting ahead and racing to the top, stuff like seeking out mentors, checking in to make sure you’re delivering what they want and…well, a lot of stuff about working hard and achieving success like they did. That’s hard to argue with.

But here’s the issue with that panel. The thing that stuck in my craw. The problem (if there was one) – which only dawned me in retrospect: They were only telling us the good news.

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munchkins3-lgReaders of my blog express surprise when they discover that all my clients aren’t lawyers – indeed, a small but sizable percentage of my clientele consists of ordinary civilians, non-combatants, plain folk who have nothing whatsoever to do with law. But the people surprised by this situation are mostly biglaw lawyers – and what really surprises them is not that I work with non-lawyers, but that I work with non-lawyers employed in biglaw – secretaries, law librarians, human resources folks, paralegals and so on. In other words, what surprises them is that I work with those people, those other people.

You know…the Little People.

Before you pile, on accusing me of snobbery, let me point out that I’m the one who’s treating these card-carrying members of the hoi polloi, and often for sliding fees. Let’s also admit that a rigid social hierarchy exists at law firms – in fact, a very rigid social hierarchy, something akin to the caste system under the Raj.

At Shearman & Sterling, where I summered one year, and at Sullivan & Cromwell, where I worked after blowing off Shearman & Sterling because it wasn’t (sniff sniff) quite up to snuff (yes, that’s a social hierarchy, too), I distinctly remember encountering what were referred to as “attorney dining rooms.” These were private dining rooms – partners and associates only. The very existence of these exclusive (as in, everyone except lawyers was excluded) dining chambers sent something of a…uh…message. The lawyers at the firm didn’t require separate water fountains, but message-wise, the effect was along the same lines.

Granted, back in the days when I worked in biglaw, partners arrived at the office in horse-drawn broughams and sported top hats and tails. I fondly remember Old Caesar, the darkie who toiled cheerfully in the S&C stables, and Irish Polly, the scullery drab – and who could forget wee Pip, the cripple foundling lad who maintained the fire in my office, always stoking it high with coal on a cold winter’s morning to earn his ha’penny and an affectionate pat on his cinder-begrimed cap as he hobbled off on his homemade crutches. Those were merry times.

But I shouldn’t permit misty nostalgia for another era to distract from my serious message: No kidding, there really were dining rooms reserved for the lawyers (and for all I know, there still are) and the message around them was clear: No Little People allowed.

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1979290_10100404104782581_1932280347_o-300x200I’m thrilled and excited and flattered and deeply pleased to be participating as a panelist at the Penn Apalsa Conference on Saturday January 31, 2015. The theme is “Crescendo:  Amplifying the Asian-American Voice”.

As a lawyer, a native Philadelphian and the spouse of a Chinese-American, I expect The People’s Therapist will fit right in with this crowd.

Special thanks to Sherry Shen, Grace Kim, Anthony Gin, Katherine Chu and the University of Pennsylvania Law School for helping put the conference together.

Here’s a link for more information.  I look forward to a terrific event and hope to see you there!
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My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)

“He lets me down every time.  Why did I think this time would be different?  Was it because I needed him so much?”

We sat in silence, in my office, while I gave my client the space she needed to have her tears.  She had just crossed the country to Oregon to visit a father she barely knew.  The visit was intended to give their relationship another chance, but sure enough he was worse than ever – drunk and abusive.  His first comment when she stepped off the plane was about her weight.  She was crushed.

I was reminded of another client I’d seen the week before, preparing to come out as gay to his Venezuelan mother.

“I can’t tell her.  It’s killing me to live this lie, but she’s all I have – my only family.  If she disowns me, I’ll be alone.”

He, too, shed tears.

These clients are two examples of people navigating parental separation.

You will go through this, too, like everyone else.  It is inevitable.

You might be close to your parents.  They might be wonderfully supportive, and good friends.  You may love them deeply.  But love and anger go together – two sides of the same coin.  If you love people intensely, you must also have your anger towards them.  A child cannot own his anger at his parents – he requires their care to survive, so if there is any disruption in that care, he blames himself for failing to please his care providers.  In the child’s mind, it must be his fault that the parents are failing to provide the care he needs.  Above all else, he knows he cannot survive without his parents’ care, so he must please them, and that means he cannot have anger towards them.  As an adult, you can own your anger at your parents – and so you must, just as you must begin to provide care for yourself.

As an adult, you digest the reality that parents are people, no different from yourself – not the omnipotent gods of your childhood.  Your parents will fail you.  They will disappoint you – even the very most well-intentioned parents.  All parents disappoint their children, because parenting is an impossible job.
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roachesMy client – a second year corporate associate working in a foreign office – compared remaining at her biglaw firm to eating cockroaches.

“You know, on one of those reality game shows where they dare you to eat a bucket of cockroaches and they’ll pay you a million bucks if you do.”

I requested she elaborate.

“My point is, at some juncture you stop and think – and this is probably a rational part of your brain: Hell, for a million bucks, I’ll do it. I mean, for a million bucks, you’ll do anything, so long as you can get it over with in a minute or two. The plan is to keep repeating in your head a million dollars a million dollars a million dollars until – bingo! – all done, and you’re rich.”

Alas, there’s a wrinkle.

“It should only take a minute or two to eat a bucket of cockroaches. You hold your breath, close your eyes, keep swallowing, and a minute later you’re a millionaire.”

“Then you realize it’s not so easy. The problem is, once you’re actually there, faced with the situation, you can’t get them down. Maybe one or two cockroaches, but then you’re gagging, and it all comes back up. And then you’re on all fours puking your guts out with half a bucket left to eat and you realize this might not work out as planned. You can think to yourself – I can do this, I can do this…a million bucks, a million bucks…but the fact is, you can’t pull it off.”

Why does eating a bucket of cockroaches serve as an apt metaphor for working in biglaw? Because at some point in many lawyers’ careers, you’ve paid off – or mostly paid off – the loans. And you know you’re not sticking around for much longer, because you hate it more than anything you’ve ever hated before in your life – it’s literally unbearable. On the other hand, without the loans, you are faced more starkly than ever before with the reality of why you pursued a career in the legal profession in the first place: Money.

Remember money? That was the whole point. Back when you thought a law degree could actually earn you some.

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My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)

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