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Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

b775975a44e3d7a4395cfdebcc7db7cdI just turned fifty, so I can tell you about old. Old isn’t merely the words “Mission: Impossible” conjuring memories of a show you watched as a kid in 1973 on a “color console tv set” the size of a freezer chest. Old transcends. Old abides. Old pushes through to not caring if everyone else’s memories zip directly to a movie with Tom Cruise hanging off a cliff. Old concedes Jean-Luc Picard a place in the pantheon beside Kirk and Spock, but remains firm in its belief Peter Graves and the miniature reel-to-reel tape player that self-destructed after five seconds were the height of awesome, Tom Cruise or no Tom Cruise. Old is about “values.” Old doesn’t haggle over this stuff.

What made the original Mission: Impossible show so much fun (other than its co-starring Martin Landau, which already made it fun) was the bizarrely improbable nature of the missions. They were supposed to be “impossible” to carry out, but in reality that was the least of the issues. The “mission” generally took place in some made-up Eastern European country with a name like “Vladistan” with a grey, oppressive capital city (“Vodkagrad” sounds good) and there was always an evil dictator holding a good, democratic leader guy captive in Vodkagrad (not that I remember details – I was seven years old, chomping a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during much of the action.) I mostly recall that a couple of the IMF (“Impossible Mission Force”) agents hung out in equipment rooms tapping phone lines and fiddling with electronic gadgets, glancing nervously at their watches, while the others (including Martin Landau!) wore disguises so convincing you only realized who they were when they peeled off plastic masks. How cool was that?

But my point – and I do (despite advancing age) have a point – is that I’ve recently, in my role of psychotherapist to the lawyers, been assigned “missions” by biglaw firms, requests for my services, that leave me feeling like Mr. Phelps watching wisps of smoke rise from the little reel-to-reel. I’m a publicity whore, like any author who ever sold a book (or tried to) and yes, I might be termed a whore-whore as well, in some respects, like any public speaker who ever pocketed a fee. Points conceded. But on those occasions when I’ve managed to get hired to speak at conferences and panels and industry events and even at law schools, everything has come off if not without a hitch, then at least without a major conflagration. Invite me over, serve me lunch, treat me nice, and I’m a total pro, no trouble at all.

Yet, somehow, when it’s a biglaw firm that comes calling for my services, everything goes all pear-shaped. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and be your own Mr. Phelps – check out a couple “impossible missions” that came my way recently, and decide for yourself whether you’d “choose to accept” them. I’m still scratching my head, long after the tape self-destructed. To wit:

Impossible Mission #1: Death 

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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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members-onlyI was recently interviewed by the lovely and vivacious Melissa Maleske, Senior Reporter for Law 360, for an article entitled “How to Stop Hating Your BigLaw Life” – and you can read it here.

Aha!  But there’s a catch (there always seems to be a catch in law, n’est-ce pas?)  You see, Law 360 is a LexisNexis Company, and you know how LexisNexis works:  You no pay, You no read.

Yes….One must subscribe to LexisNexis in order to indulge in the sybaritic delights that await you behind its sturdy paywall.

Luckily, they have a free trial offer.  So it’s really no big deal.

But, in order to tantalize you further – and to render the temptation frankly unendurable – here’s an excerpt from the article:

Based on the statistics, their pool of potential clients is considerable. The American Psychological Association has found that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to have depression than the general population. The Centers for Disease Control says lawyers are near the top of the list when suicide deaths are sorted by profession.
“It’s pretty clear that firms don’t care [about lawyer happiness],” Meyerhofer says. “Frankly, there are plenty more lawyers out there, you can grind one up and spit it out and another lines up. … I think they’ve created a world where everyone from the junior associates to the senior partners are making a tradeoff — money in exchange for an unhealthy lifestyle — and it’s kind of tragic.”

…and one more tantalizing tidbit:

There are lawyers who get a genuine thrill and sense of satisfaction out of practicing law. If you’re not one of them and you’re miserable, there’s a way out. For Meyerhofer, the realization came when he confronted the fact that this isn’t just a dress rehearsal for life, this is it. Why spend his life on work that he had no true interest in or acumen for?
“The big problem in law is that the profession has an awful lot of people who don’t belong there,” Meyerhofer says. “They just don’t really love law. They’re smart and they can do it. The schools are eager to train them and the firms snap them up. … Law is so intense that you better love it. I know lawyers who don’t mind working all night on that brief or staying all weekend to close that deal because they love it. But that’s a rare bird.”

Now you must keep reading.  Resistance is futile.  Go ahead, sign up, log in.  Tune in, turn on, drop out.  Tear down the wall.  Do what you must.  Foment revolution.  Burn it all down.  But get inside.
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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

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

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There is a curious passage in a recent book by Oliver Sacks, “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,” in which Sacks discusses whether Sigmund Freud liked music.

There are contemporary accounts of Freud that mention he rarely listened to music, and only permitted himself to be “dragged” to opera on rare occasion – and then only if it was Mozart.  And there is a quote from a not-terribly-reliable memoir by Freud’s nephew, Harry, in which he claimed Freud “despised” music.

Freud wrote about his own response to music in the introduction to “The Moses of Michelangelo”:

I am no connoisseur in art…nevertheless, works of art do exercise a powerful effect on me, especially those of literature and sculpture, less often of painting…[I] spend a long time before them trying to apprehend them in my own way, i.e. to explain to myself what their effect is due to.  Wherever I cannot do this, as for instance with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure.  Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.

This is a fascinating observation.  Freud is essentially saying that, because music is such an abstract art form and he cannot analyze the source of music’s effects upon his emotions, he doesn’t trust those effects and so avoids music as an art form.  That might explain why Freud wrote so seldom about music, although he wrote at length about works of fiction or theatre or painting or sculpture.

It is not the last word, however, on whether Freud actually enjoyed music.  His friend, Theodor Reik, wrote that he’d gone out to hear music on at least two occasions with Freud, and that it wasn’t only the mystery of music’s effects on the emotions that troubled Freud, but a fear of actually giving himself over to those mysterious effects. Reik felt that Freud’s resistance to music amounted to:

[a] turning-away…[an] act of will in the interest of self-defense…[and the] more energetic and violent, the more the emotional effects of music appeared undesirable to him.  He became more and more convinced that he had to keep his reason unclouded and his emotions in abeyance.  He developed an increasing reluctance to surrendering to the dark power of music.  Such an avoidance of the emotional effect of melodies can sometimes be seen in people who feel endangered by the intensity of their feelings.

What draws me to this discussion in Sacks’ book is that it reveals the “hidden” Freud, the struggle between the serious, scholarly author of countless books, the “father of psychoanalysis” – and the man who, like everyone else, was filled with secret, overwhelming emotions – perhaps triggered by something as innocent as a beautiful work of music – that he could only struggle to comprehend.

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This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand we discussed a particularly troubling topic – suicide among LGBT teenagers.  You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about nine 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.

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

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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Last October, a law school placement director friend of mine forwarded me an email with a juicy piece of big law gossip. A former associate at Sullivan & Cromwell had offed himself. He was 39.

The body was discovered beneath a highway bridge in Toronto. A few days earlier, it was revealed that since the mid-90’s, he and a co-conspirator made ten million dollars on an insider trading scheme. He’d stolen insider information from S&C, arriving early in the morning to dig through waste baskets, rifle partners’ desks and employ temporary word-processor codes to break into the computer system.

“You can’t make this shit up,” was my friend’s comment. “Wasn’t he from around your time?”

It took a minute to locate the face. Gil Cornblum. Jewish, a bit pudgy, with big round glasses. Gil, in that ridiculous little office two doors down from mine.

What was Gil like? Mild-mannered, pleasant, always smiling.

I should have known something was wrong.

The pieces fit together.

Gil kept weird hours. He used to chuckle that he liked to get in early so he didn’t have to stay late. It turned out he was in at 5 am, combing the firm for insider tips.

The lavish wedding, too. A mutual friend was invited up to Canada to watch Gil tie the knot, and was blown away.

As people do in these situations, I stopped for a moment to contemplate Gil’s death. His body was discovered at the bottom of a highway bridge. He was still breathing, according to the bits of news I found online.

So far as I could tell, that meant portly, lovable Gil Cornblum threw himself off a bridge on a Canadian highway in the middle of the night and lay on the bottom – of what? A rocky riverbed? – shattered and dying.

Suicide amounts to punishing whoever is supposed to take care of you because you feel their care is inadequate.

Certainly, the care we all received at S&C was inadequate, and we committed suicide a little each day just by staying there and putting ourselves through that abuse as our lives passed us by. Our slow suicide manifested in other ways as well. Most of us mistreated ourselves by neglecting our health, letting our friendships die off, ignoring our families, our hobbies, our lives.

Maybe insider trading was Gil’s grand suicidal gesture, his protest against the abuse he received. He put his entire life on the line, knowing he might well be caught, end up in jail and lose everything. He was playing Russian roulette, and maybe he knew he’d kill himself if he got caught.

And all for what? Money.

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