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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

images-4To talk about lawyer burnout in a meaningful way, we have to mention the finish line problem. It’s the common element in every lawyer burnout story I’ve heard.

So imagine you’re running a marathon and arrive, gasping for air, at the final hundred yards. Onlookers cheer. Digging deep for that last ounce of energy, you can almost feel the relief of crossing the finish line.

Then some guy emerges from the crowd with unsettling news.

“Did we forget to mention there’s another marathon, starting right now? We need you to run that one too.”

You process these words. You don’t scoff, or laugh, because this isn’t a joke. He means it, and you’re going to do it. First of all, because you’re a trooper, and a team player. Second, (setting aside our metaphor for the moment) because you’re a lawyer and so you don’t have a choice in the matter, not merely because you’re a born pleaser and deeply risk-averse and highly competitive and ambitious (and maybe never asked yourself in any meaningful way what else you might want to do with your life) but also (perhaps) because you owe a fortune in school loans.

In an attempt to pull yourself into a frame of mind suitable to running another 26 ½ miles without a break, you tell yourself that, after this second marathon, there’ll be another finish line, and this time there will be an end, a respite, some rest. Might as well look on the bright side – you are young and smart and capable and filled with an unstoppable go-getter spirit. You’ll pull off the impossible.

Sure enough, you make it to the second home stretch. Once again the crowd cheers. You can just about taste the sweetness of slowing down and resting.

Then someone else steps out of the crowd. Her tone is matter of fact: “It turns out there’s another marathon, and we’re short-handed. You’ll have to run it.”

You feel numb, or maybe like screaming, or maybe just numb – it’s hard to tell. Another marathon, with no break. You have to keep running.

So you do. But at some point, while running, you’re also crying. Still running, just crying at the same time. And there’s anxiety, that comes in waves, leaving you gasping. Weirdest of all, there’s also a persistent fantasy of tripping and twisting your ankle, and you contemplate how nice it seems like that would be, to twist your ankle. Not to die or anything like that, just limp off to the hospital and lie down and sleep and not run anymore. That would be better than this.

But that doesn’t happen. You don’t trip, or twist your ankle. You do find yourself hurling a cup of gatorade at a race official, which almost gets you kicked out. But you cool it, because you can’t get kicked out (although part of you wants very much to be.) You have to think about your career. You have to keep your cool. You have to keep running.

All you want in the world is to stop running, which is the one thing in the world you’re not allowed to do.

This, in a nutshell (a metaphorical nutshell – and yeah, the nutshell itself is also a metaphor so wow, we’re getting meta here) is lawyer burnout, a phenomenon that’s all about denial, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, by the time you realize burnout might be coming, it’s already here, and a whole lot worse than you think.

How bad does lawyer burnout get? On a reasonably regular basis, lawyers arrive at my office, sit down, and burst into tears. That happens. And these aren’t people with much history of bursting into tears.

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upsidedownhouseWe all know lawyers are pleasers. Everyone knows that. The weird thing is how it doesn’t feel that way from the inside. When you are a lawyer, and a pleaser, you don’t think you’re a pleaser – it seems more like you’re the only conscientious person in the world. You are the one who shows up on time, sits in the first row and hands your homework in on schedule, always perfect. Other people don’t, and that’s annoying. Thus begins a typical lawyer pet peeve – that other people never live up to their obligations. Stretch that out to the extreme, and you wind up doing a job where you bill 3,000 hours a year, just to set a good example for everyone else.

The odd thing is that lawyers simultaneously manage to feel a bit like imposters even as they’re pleasing, because pleasing isn’t the same thing as achieving. Achieving is an objective fact – you have accomplished something useful, good, of value. Pleasing just means you’ve convinced someone else that you’ve given them what they wanted, which might involve little more than smoke, mirrors and billable hours.

Lawyers are good at working hard, just like they’re good at racking up grades in school, which amounts to pleasing teachers. But hard work and good grades in school don’t mean you can play saxophone or or paint a portrait or write a gripping novel. It doesn’t mean you can design a computer or cure cancer either, especially since lawyers tend not to be much good at science and math (if you were any good at that stuff, you’ve have gone to med school and really pleased your parents.) Even if you are a lawyer good at science or math, it’s unlikely you’re designing computers or curing cancer because you’re probably an IP lawyer, who fled the lab bench for “money and prestige” (the magical lawyer incantation.) It’s a small wonder “imposter syndrome” thrives among lawyers. Don’t think you fooled me. We both know you aren’t really that good – you just run around trying to please everybody to distract them from the sense of defectiveness that haunts you, keeps you dancing so it won’t become obvious you’ve no idea what you want to do with your life. Everyone else seems to have somehow figured out what they want to do with theirs. Except lawyers.

So who do lawyers seek to please? Lots of folks. Pretty much everyone, except themselves.

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SONY DSCI’m always hearing that I’m a downer, that all I ever write about is the negative side of law. Nothing could be further from the truth. If The People’s Therapist has one precept he lives by, it’s that old adage (okay, so maybe it’s a tenet) from management theory: Don’t bring me a problem unless you’re also bringing me a solution. It’s hardly my issue that all people ever seem to bring me (at least where law’s concerned) is problems. I’m drowning in their problems, and they must have the wrong guy, because I’m a constitutionally upbeat, constructive person – all about solutions, and upbeat ones, at that. Upbeat, constructive solutions are my forte. But these law people…what can I say? They just keep coming with the problems.

This dynamic plays out a lot when I do interviews. As an international celebrity, trend-setter and raconteur on all-things legal, I’m flooded – or, I should say my people (agents, managers, major domos, land stewards, footmen, grand viziers, and so forth) are flooded – with requests for interviews, podcasts, panels, speeches, award ceremonies, ribbon-cuttings, product endorsements, mall openings, ship launchings, red carpet appearances and the like. Of course, I always say yes, since I’m an upbeat, constructive guy. But in the course of these lavish, star-studded galas, my merriment is again and again interrupted by pesky, repetitive questions about anxiety and lawyers, depression and lawyers, suicide and lawyers, yadda yadda yadda. For whatever reason, these appear to be the favorite topics of whoever wants to chat about law in these situations, and so I find myself reluctantly fielding inquiry after inquiry regarding how common these phenomena are, why they occur and (just to drive home how ridiculous this all gets) if there’s something about law or law firms that might somehow be responsible for the sky-high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide that apparently seem to occur among lawyers.

I’m an upbeat, constructive, cosmopolitan kind of a guy, more flaneur than talking head, and this is downer, negative stuff coming at me when I’d rather opine about matters fun and hip. But I’m also a celebrity and a spokesmodel, with the attendant obligations (as well as a plain old, down-homey, profoundly decent and modest regular guy), and so I do the best I can to satisfy the peculiar one-track tunnel vision of certain persons out there with regard to this thing we all love that we call law.

At some point in these events, there inevitably arrives a juncture at which I’m expected to answer one key question: How can lawyers manage anxiety and depression (and thus stop committing suicide), because, you know…it’s getting to be a drag.

I get that, and as an upbeat and constructive person, I welcome this juncture when it arrives, because we need to fix this! We need answers here. I’m as positive and rah-rah and gung-ho about law as anyone – in fact, I’m Mr. Gung-ho, and I eat and breathe a love for law in everything I do, and I’m not too proud to admit that. And I totally agree that it is time to stop whining and griping and start finding solutions!

There’s just one little problem, though, and it’s a doozie…

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mikeMike DeBlis is an exhilarating interviewer. After chatting away merrily for nearly an hour, delving down into the issues in a refreshingly honest and unvarnished manner, he surprised me by nonchalantly announcing:  “Will, this is great.”  I, of course, enthusiastically agreed.  Then he added, even more nonchalantly, “So, shall we begin recording?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but “sure.”  And so we did.

logoI realized that’s the secret to how Mike gets such open, authentic, natural sounding podcasts for his series – he uses that first hour as the warm-up, to actually sit down and talk and talk and get to know his guests.

The good news is it really works.  We kept going, and going, and going, and I think – no exaggeration – we probably talked for about three hours, and covered a lot of meaningful ground in what was probably the most enjoyable and heartfelt interview I’ve ever participated in.

Happily, Mike, and Riche (Mike’s Social Media Director, who helps Mike produce the Emotion in the Courtroom podcast series) edited down the tapes to a mere hour of all the best bits…and here’s the result.  I hope you’ll enjoy listening in as much as we enjoyed spending those hours together getting acquainted, sharing ideas and digging into the issues surrounding depression, anxiety and the practice of law today.
Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 5.46.57 PM

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

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

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

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written 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

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Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 2.37.45 PMThere’s no escaping CLE – so why not make it fun, with The People’s Therapist!  I’ve just finished helping to create an hour-long CLE On-Demand course concerning law and mental health for the LexisNexis University CLE On-Demand program.  The title of the course is “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy: Mental Health Awareness in the Legal Profession.”

1e28494I’m interviewed during the program by another attorney with a varied and interesting career, Julie Mallin, and the entire program was produced and edited by Lisa Carper, a legal editor at LexisNexis.113aed7  I was under strict orders not to wear a suit and tie – just a sweater, to make me look like a therapist (or maybe a therapist/lawyer) instead of just a lawyer.  We talked about anxiety and depression and other concerns affecting lawyers, as well as some issues involving legal ethics.

Thanks, Julie and Lisa, for putting this together!

To give you an idea what the course is like, here’s a “highlights reel” featuring several segments:

 

…and here’s a brief “biography” segment they put together with information about me:

 

To sign up to take the course (and receive your CLE credit!), and for more information on the entire LexisNexis University CLE program (which offers hundreds of CLE On-Demand courses), please click here.

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==========

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

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

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

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written 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

Read Full Post »

scared_bugs_bunny_by_yetioner-d6asv54Bet you didn’t even realize you were such a nervous wreck!

Thank goodness, here, in the nick of time, is a podcast I recorded with Stephanie Francis Ward, of the ABA Journal, all about lawyers and anxiety. So everything’s going to be okay!

Here’s a link to the podcast – it’s been given the amusing and quirkily unexpected title, “What can Lawyers do to Manage and Conquer Anxiety” and runs for about half an hour of scintillating online entertainment. And it might calm you down.

photo_20My thanks to the lovely and talented Stephanie Francis Ward, and the ABA Journal, and her producer, Larry Colletti, for their help with this project.  For more information on Stephanie and her journalism, click here.

==========

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

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

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

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written 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

Read Full Post »

162546268-495x328I must be, because I was just interviewed by the celebrated Leslie A. Gordon of none other than the ABA Journal for her article, entitled “How Lawyers can avoid Burnout and Debilitating Anxiety”.

And Leslie also interviewed my old friend, Jeena Cho – and I know she’s famous!

And there’s this great portrait of me taken by the photographer, Len Irish! 0715FANXIOUS-MEYERHOFERL

The article does a great job of highlighting the issues of anxiety and burnout among lawyers.

I modestly confess that I particularly liked this quote, which somehow fell trippingly from the tongue of little-ol’ Moi:

It’s important to note that no strategy should be touted as a cure-all. “The implication can become that you’re struggling with anxiety or depression because you’re not doing your yoga or not meditating or not eating right or somehow choosing to go without sleep,” Meyerhofer says, “that it’s your fault for not having mastered some ‘effective strategy’ that would make all these issues disappear.” The fact remains that law can be brutal, and most young associates are not equipped for what they find when they enter the profession, he says. “You’re not tossing and turning in bed, roiled by anxiety, because you’re choosing to eat badly or to skip your yoga class. It has a lot more to do with being thrown into the deep end in an extremely competitive, exploitive business driven not by compassion or collegiality or the desire to mentor, but by profit and money and competition for prestige.”

Thank you, ABA Journal, and Leslie, and everyone who helped produce this piece.  I hope the message gets out that being a lawyers doesn’t have to be synonymous with being stressed out and miserable.

==========

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

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

My latest 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

Read Full Post »

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