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Posts Tagged ‘substance abuse’

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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downward drift image
“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at WalMart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”

Well, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.

There’s a phrase, “The Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.

Weirdly, the same phenomenon – the Downward Drift – affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees. It sort of makes sense, since – at least nowadays, with people like me bellowing jeremiads on every street corner, it would be evidence of utter madness – textbook psychosis, perhaps – for anyone to head in the direction of law school, at least unless that law school is one of the top three in the country and someone else is footing the bill. But try to persuade a kid with a high LSAT score not to apply to law school – it’s nearly as tough as persuading a kid who’s gotten into a “top-500” (or whatever) law school into not attending (especially if he’s “won” one of those risible $20,000 so-called “scholarships” they hand out like pushers showering crack vials on newbie users.) If that task sounds Herculean (or Sisyphean), try talking a kid who’s blown $80,000 on his first year of law school out of “finishing up” the other two (useless) years – even if he’s hated every moment of the experience so far. This is where the parallel with addiction comes in because I guarantee you it’s no easier than convincing a chronic alcoholic that ten martinis is really enough. Even my own much-vaunted powers of persuasion come up short at that juncture. Because it’s impossible. An addict will keep drinking and drugging until he passes out face down in a puddle on the sidewalk. And a law student will blow that additional $160,000 to finish those two more pointless years. It’s a sure thing – just like zombies like eating flesh, the sun likes rising in the morning and Pat Robertson likes blaming bad weather on the homosexual agenda.

So how does the “Downward Drift” work, at least for lawyers?

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My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep – it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 pm to 2 am, lying in bed – mostly, playing Angry Birds.

Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time” – even for sleep – was out of the question.

Morning to night, she spent at the firm. Weekends didn’t exist, in any meaningful sense – they were workdays. Laundry went undone, as did other stuff, like getting her driver’s license renewed or her taxes filed. The only hours devoted to anything for herself were stolen from her sleep schedule, and spent slingshotting daredevil birds at sneering pigs (that’s an Angry Birds reference.)

She needed to vegetate. You need to vegetate, too. There’s only so much work anyone can do. That’s why you find yourself playing video games at 2 am instead of sleeping. You need to play and you need to sleep. You need both.

A medical resident told me law sounded worse than medicine. At least with medicine when you’re on-call, you’re on-call, and when you’re not, you’re not. With law, you’re always on call. Just because you’re asleep in bed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working.

Another lawyer client crawled home from the office recently after midnight, only to be awakened at 3 am by the alarm on her Blackberry. She turned it off, but noticed an email from a senior associate, still at his desk. She glanced at the email, but decided to ignore it – nothing critical – and deal with him in the morning.

She forgot his account was set up so he could see she’d opened the email.

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This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about staying conscious of the real impact of alcohol on our lives – especially at New Year’s Eve.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about ten minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.  And be sure to check out Terry’s new show “Journey to Recovery” which deals specifically with substance abuse and recovery issues.

If you enjoy his shows, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book:  “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

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