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Posts Tagged ‘CLE’

Elvis-on-Camera-BoomIf you’re like me, the letters CLE, lined up, one next to the other, might not set your pulse racing.  Contemplating an hour devoted to continuing legal education, the terms that spring to mind – “somnolent,” “soporific,” “soul-crushing” – seldom correspond to the seat-of-your-pants thrill-seeking typically associated with the practice of law.

Néamoins, as we say à Paris.  Il y a des exceptions.

Imagine if CLE could be fun, gripping, in fact – an outlet for a cry of anguish from the depths of your soul – projected before your eyes as if by sorcery!  Picture in your mind a CLE that beguiles, entices, titillates…betrays even as, and what, it portrays.

I did.  And I had a vision that lit my soul on fire.

And so, in partnership with the gangsta cinematic visionaries of Lawline (including that sultry siren of the silver screen, Sarah Mills!) I crafted what can only be termed the Citizen Kane of CLE videos.

An alchemical admixture that simmers the savage honesty of Godard alongside the fragrant whimsy of Spielberg, baked en croute with a sprinkle of Kurosawa-ian poignance, “Mental Health, Substance Abuse & Competence in the Legal Profession” is an instant classic – often harrowing, sometimes hypnotic – a kaleidoscope of sound and image imbued (merci, M. Kubrick!) with the searing cry of primordial birth pangs exploding across human existence.

Don’t believe me?  Here are some clips.

I’ll set them up (since I’ll probably be doing the talk show circuit soon as word spreads and “MHSA&CinLP” becomes an international phenomenon.)

Go ahead, make popcorn, grab a diet root beer. I’ll wait.

We begin with “Understanding Depression and Anxiety in a Law Firm” – the CLE equivalent of the shower scene in Psycho:

Still with me? Need to catch your breath?

Brace yourself for “How Anxiety Works.” Remember the bicycle with E.T. in the basket, lifting off into a starry summer sky? Well, here we go again…

What to say about “How to Handle Being Trapped by Debt & Burnout”? Everyone repeats the same mantra:  ‘The Andalusian Dog” meets “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” But press fast forward, beyond the clichés.  Film language is not about words on a page, but light, color…and, perhaps, a smidgen of je ne sais quoi.

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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

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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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I’ve always been awestruck by tax lawyers. They are the dudes.

As a transactional attorney, you can’t make a move without a tax guy. M&A is based on IRS consequences. It’s the tax guy who hands you a chart with boxes and arrows, holding companies and off-shore limited partnerships buying and selling and re-selling and issuing and repurchasing and spinning off. Everything starts there.

Tax lawyers do stuff no one else would attempt. They swagger out the door at 5 pm.

“Don’t start with me. I’m in tax.

Way back when, I took an advanced tax course in law school – to see if I could roll with the gangstas. I even took it the wrong semester, so instead of JD students, it was LLM’s snickering at my desperation. I received my lowest grade ever. I also discovered tax law is like higher mathematics: there is no big picture. Tax is not intuitive or guided by over-arching principle; it’s a mess of staggering, intimidating complication.

What I’ve come to realize lately, as a therapist working with tax lawyers, is that these seemingly unapproachable superstars are human. And being “the expert” can exact a toll.

One guy – a senior tax lawyer from a big city firm – walked into my office last week. He had the usual frustrations. In an ordinary economy he’d be making partner soon, but business was terrible, so even the partners at his firm were being laid off. He was expecting a pink slip.

There was a deeper issue, too: He didn’t like being a tax lawyer.

I gave him a speech about my admiration for his kind.

He appreciated the fawning worship, but his expression remained grim.

“What you describe is actually what I hate about it.”

It turns out being “the expert” can be isolating – and scary. From where he’s sitting, there’s incredible pressure to know everything and solve every problem.

He clued me in to his experiences, and in the process brought me down to Earth. Tax lawyers aren’t a race of super-beings from Planet Krypton. Tax is incredibly complicated for them, too. The job is about helping rich people avoid the IRS, which translates into “gaming” each tax law to create loopholes that the government closes up in the next version the following year.

There isn’t just a “tax code,” either. There’s an endless labyrinth of fine print: contradictory court decisions, administrative regulations, IRS guidances, state and local and international consequences for every move you make…it goes on and on and on, twisting and turning like something from the imagination of Borges or Kafka.

The mind reels. At least my mind reels. I always believed that – by some miracle – if you were a tax lawyer, your mind didn’t reel.

My client was a senior tax guy at a top firm. His mind was beginning to reel.

“They want to hear you say it’s possible – whatever deal they dream up. So you’re under massive pressure to find a way to do it. And it’s all riding on you. If you screw up… I try not to think about it.”

I thought about it. The entire deal blows up – probably in the papers. Millions of dollars lost by your client, who might try to sue you. Criminal penalties. Malpractice. Disbarment. All that bad stuff.

It’s like writing an opinion letter. No lawyer wants to write an opinion letter. Why? The same reason no one wants to step into the sights of a high-powered rifle.

“I can’t do this anymore,” this guy said. “I feel like I’m wracking my brain, dealing with incredible complexity, holding on by my fingertips – all to save billionaires from paying their due.”

It isn’t only tax lawyers who end up “the expert.” We had a bunch of experts at Sullivan & Cromwell. I remember an environmental guy whose only job was to review deals for pollution issues. There was an ERISA guy, too, who only reviewed stuff for ERISA issues (whatever they are).  And there was a strange tall guy with a mustache who always smiled and whistled to himself. He was the ’40 Act guy. I once sat through a CLE presentation he gave, and remember thinking it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the details – I couldn’t figure out what the ’40 Act was.

Sometimes the role of expert seems like a hot potato – everyone wants to pass it off to someone else. I remember doing a deal with AIG – some complicated nightmare with a dozen side agreements and sub-corporations selling and repurchasing their own holding corps. At the umpteenth drafting session, a banker scribbled down a formula on a napkin – no kidding, it was a mathematical formula, and he said “stick this in there.” They’d been arguing for days about some clause in the back of the contract and this is what he told us to stick in there. I looked at it. There was what I recognized as a numerator, and a denominator, and a bunch of letters.

The partner glanced at it and told the of counsel to stick it in there. She handed it to me, and told me to stick it in there. I stuck it in there, but I didn’t know what it was.

Of course, I knew the general rule that you’re not allowed to put math into a contract, you have to put it into plain English. So that’s what I tried to do: “the Pre-determined Selling Price shall be determined by a formula in which the numerator shall be the amount of the Settlement Price and the denominator shall be one added to the amount of the Sales Price multiplied by the First Pre-Settlement Price minus the Third Sub-Corporation Preliminary Offering Variable…”

You get the idea. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried, a few times, inserting numbers, just to see what would happen. The first time I got something like one hundred billion dollars. I knew I’d done something wrong. The second time I got something like 0.000125782 dollars.

I should add that it was late at night and I’d been wearing the same wool suit for 17 hours.

I gave up and handed it nonchalantly to the of-counsel. No biggie. I’d “taken a stab at it.” She might yell at me, but she’d know what to do. If she had to, she’d fix it herself.

But she didn’t.

I watched her disappear into the partner’s office, then return. Her face was set. She approached my desk and plopped the offending passage down in front of me.

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