Leaving the Law

leavingWhen I was 29 years old I left the practice of law for a while.  I had lived for a time in Washington D.C. and decided that becoming a bartender was the way I could find work anywhere I wanted to live, so when I followed a woman I was involved with back to the Bay Area, I enrolled in the Golden Gate Bartending School.  I recall to this day with great fondness, old Mac McLaughlin hiking his chubby body onto a bar stool with the San Francisco Chronicle splayed out before him, ordering various cocktails which I made from liquor bottles filled with colored water.  I’d make my Manhattans and Mai Tai’s while Mac would keep up a constant banter, “So, Mr. Joe, what do you think of that People’s Temple thing, there?   That’s sweet vermouth you need…”  When I had my private practice for many years afterward, I hung my Diploma from Mac’s school along with my other sheepskin on the wall.

Upon my graduation from bartending school, I went looking for jobs and, predictably, experience counted for a lot in a fairly tight market.  I finally landed a job in a bar which was attached to an old, institutional Italian restaurant, “Bellini’s” on Telegraph Avenue right on the border of Oakland and Berkeley.  It was a pretty dicey area and a pretty dead bar, but on those few nights when we had a nice crowd in, the concentration required to keep all the orders straight was a Zen experience – hours passed by in seconds.  To this day, I cannot hear “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor or “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart without being shot back to that dark, often empty, bar and the mindnumbing number of times the owner put those songs on the jukebox.

One Friday night, on a particularly busy night in the bar, the front door swung open and in walked a guy dressed in jeans, a sweater, and with his entire head covered in gauze.  Gloves covered his hands and when he sat down at my bar, the conversation level dropped to a whisper.  He pulled out a steno pad and pen and wrote, “A beer please.”  I asked if domestic was ok and he nodded his assent to that question and, also, whether he wanted a Bud.  He introduced himself as “Mickey” and wrote that he had experienced an allergic reaction to painting his apartment and couldn’t talk and his wife had told him to get out of the house and go to a bar after being cooped up at home too long.  I asked him how long he was going to look like The Mummy and he wrote “No Mummy Jokes!”  Mickey was a delight and his company brightened my night.  About an hour into his visit, he wrote me the question: “Where did you go to high school?”  When I told him, he asked if I knew a particular woman with whom I had gone to high school and law school.  Suspicion flooded my system as I looked into those eyes and asked, “Who the f*** are you?”  He shrugged, said he had to go to the bathroom and when he emerged, bandages unrolled, he turned out to be one of my dearest friends from law school who lived in Santa Barbara.  Steven Faulstich wanted to come see me as a bartender, but didn’t want me to know it was him, thus no voice and no face.  Definitely one of the greatest things anyone has ever done for me.

As the weeks went on, and I would say to patrons of this neighborhood bar that I was a lawyer, but had decided to try something else, these working class people looked at me in disbelief and even some disgust – finding it incomprehensible that I would take this incredible opportunity to be a lawyer and just piss it away.  It got me to thinking and, out of respect for these people as much as for any other reason, I returned to practice for another 8 years before I finally went back to school to earn my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Still, it took me another 10 years to fully disconnect from the practice, as I had great anxiety about what else I could do – having more experience in a field for which I was temperamentally ill-suited than for anything else.  Slowly, as I gained experience and confidence in my writing and therapeutic work, I was able to fully detach and have since enjoyed the happiest years of my life.

My experience is certainly not unique.  Now and again I read of others who have made this transition.  The most recent is a wonderful column by Bob Markowitz in the New York Times  entitled “Abandoning the Work I Hated.”  Enjoy – and for all you disaffected lawyers out there, take hope!

Therapy Thoughts – The Importance and Elusiveness of Self-Compassion

You may have heard.  The Seahawks lost.  They didn’t just lose – they tore out the heart of a region with a poorly called or poorly executed or poorly blessed play at the end of the Seahawk.cryingSuper Bowl.  If you haven’t heard, then you’re not reading this and are probably foraging for breakfast on your deserted island.  As for the rest of us….wow!  Wow wow wow wow.  On Monday after the game, I processed this hardly imaginable disaster with a few friends and none of them had slept on Sunday night.  My wife, who doesn’t give a hoot for sports, recovered about five seconds after Butler’s interception.  I usually pity her for not being able to get excited about the drama of good sports contests, but this week I envied her.  Seriously, this was a visceral blow to those of us who were all engaged with this scintillating drama.

Then again, it wasn’t Ebola.  It wasn’t a suicide bomb detonating at our place of worship.  Tanks aren’t rolling down our street to crush dissent.  My family is healthy and secure.  Really, in the big picture, it IS a game and three days later, I’m just glad I’m not one of the team members.  Now, they must be having a real hard time right now.  Still, their families are safe and they  will be able to cash their checks.  This all got me to thinking about people in therapy who have suffered emotionally in their lives and who dismiss their pain by saying, often glibly, “What right have I to complain?  I’m not blind.  I’m not a starving child in Africa.”  Well, that’s true.  Our distress can often be easily dismissed as “First World Problems,” but to do this matter-of-factly really misses what I think is a very important point.

People who struggle emotionally have a really heartbreaking paucity of self-compassion.  There seems to be this either/or duality in our thinking, so that we think that the choice is (a) wring our hands and cry “woe is me,” collapsing into a mound of self-pitying protoplasm, or (b) dismiss our pain because we have two functioning legs (and others don’t) or two functioning eyes (and others don’t), etc.  However, I do believe that many of us hold fear, shame, grief and other honest and very real feelings inside (and usually have for a long, long time).  When we first experienced the violations or wounds that caused us to experience these, we also reasoned with our youthful brains that we could never show the world, or ourselves, the horrible pain or the belief that a powerful force outside ourselves (adult parental figures) were wrong or uncontrollable.  That would be intolerably confusing and frightening.  So we hold it inside and when we get older dismiss our deepest wounds with off-hand comments like, “What do I have to complain about…”   In dealing with most of the world, that’s a smart decision.  But in our closest relationships, or in therapy, by thinking these thoughts, we deny ourselves the care we have longed for and, at the same time, found so risky.  I have sat in amazement and great sadness watching the determined energy with which  people bat away truly caring statements from their partners in couples therapy – or me in individual work.  We are so many things in our lives – filled with such an array of feelings.  Many such feelings are safe to show to the world.  Others, comprising an essential and intense core, are very risky.  Chief among them is the grief we harbor for the love we needed and the anger, neglect and judgment we received in its stead.  For many of us, it’s part of our personality and isn’t going to simply evaporate over time.  We need to embrace it – embrace ourselves – and allow others to embrace us as well – to embrace our hearts while we are experiencing this grief.  Yes, we have both eyes or both legs – and we also have weeping hearts that we shield from ourselves and others.  If we can be able to say to ourselves, “It’s okay.  That part of myself is there along with all the other parts. I can grieve for the embracing love I needed and didn’t receive” I think we can experience our world more fully and freely – more joyously.    No one is a “victim” unless they choose to be – and that won’t ever get you anywhere.  There’s a difference, though, between embracing our own hearts and letting ourselves be cared for, now, and being a victim.  Self-compassion is one of the great gifts of personal therapy, actually.  Even New England Patriot fans deserve that  in their lives.

Springsteen

springsteenIn 1975, I was a year out of law school and a pal asked if I wanted to drive up from L.A. to Santa Barbara to catch a Bruce Springsteen concert.  I hadn’t heard of the guy.  I went up on a “what the heck” ride.  It remains the most rocking, outrageous concert experience of my life.  What I remember now years later is that he had a band that was so tight, had practiced so much, that they acted as one instrument.  The other thing I remember was the man’s energy.  Jon Stewart once said that Springsteen empties the tank in his concerts and that is an apt description.  When he was young, the guy would light up a city when he’d come through.  He did 4 consecutive nights in L.A. in the late 70’s and everywhere you went for days afterward, people were in a daze – “Which night did you go?”  “Did he play ‘It’s My Life’ (an old 60’s classic) at your concert?” “Can you believe it….3 encores!”  Set aside his great melodies and poetic lyrics.  The guy found the thing he knew he was 10+ on a scale of 10 and he did it.  Every public pronouncement from him is admonition to us to do the same.  Embrace the passion of being alive.  It’s a hard road for so many of us and the only thing we can ever control is our belief in ourselves.  Encouragement of that is one of therapy’s goals.  Many of us learned who we were in this world through families that told us we weren’t much (or worse, were burdens and fundamentally bad).  Perhaps more common was the encouragement of aspects of self that didn’t reflect what we somehow knew to be our essence.  This would go hand-in-hand with discouragement or disregard for parts of our character that we knew were truly an expression of our true and best selves.  One reason I think that Bruce Springsteen galvanized so many people to loyalty bordering on idolatry is that his work provided the constant message: “Life can be hard.  You’ll be challenged – but you’re up to the task.”  Seligman would add, “Learn and embrace your signature strengths (see my earlier post).  They’re yours.  Their expression in your life is where you’ll find meaning and happiness.”  Right on, Marty!  Right on, Bruce!

Your Signature Strengths

A few years ago Martin Seligman (former President of the American Psychological Association and developer of positive psychology, a significant force in the current mental health environment) and Christopher Peterson came up with this notion of Signature Strengths – those qualities we are nstrengthsaturally drawn to and which are considered to be positive (and have for millennia).  There are 24 of these and it is possible to visit a web site and go through a 30 minute test that will give you a sense of your top signature strengths.  You can access this test here (scroll down to the VIA Survey of Character Strengths).    Seligman describes these different strengths so well in his book Authentic Happiness.  In a more detailed discussion, Seligman and Peterson in their book Character Strengths and Virtues (a book I purchased out of an excess of enthusiasm only to decide that the tome was helpful, but did not merit it’s size or price) break the 24 strengths into Six Categories: Wisdom and Knowledge; Courage; Humanity; Justice; Temperance and Transcendence.  What I particularly appreciated about this material is similar to the value I find in Myers-Briggs psychological type.  Many of us struggle with the belief that there is something about our basic nature that is inadequate.  We aren’t smart enough, or clever enough, or spiritual, empathic, mentally tough, athletic or social enough.  These products of “programing” we received from parental figures who, themselves, struggled with their own sense of defect and want,  leave us with an inflated sense of what is missing in our character and an altogether limited idea of our own personal assets.   The most successful, content people in the world have holes in their character and the most confused have great, though unmined, character strengths.  Recognizing, and playing to, those strengths is a key to life satisfaction, as Seligman teaches.  He suggests that we seek out work that allows us to exercise these strengths and indulge in recreation that lets us express them.  Great advice in my book.  I invite you to take the test linked above and explore it’s benefits.

Personality Styles

type.tabletype.tableMany of us are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personality sorter that tells us if we tend toward Introversion or ExtrovMBTI.2ersion as a preference – whether we are likely to make decisions based upon the straightforward and logical Thinking function or the more subjective and personal values-based Feeling function – how we take in the world we experience,  as concrete and evidence reliant Sensors or future oriented and inspired Intuitive types – and finally if we prefer to affect our world in an organized, results-oriented Judging fashion or rather let our world affect us in the observant, keep-our-options-open Perceiving way.  These eight preferences result in 16 different Personality Types.   Scores of journal articles have been written about lawyers and the MBTI.  It is a standard part of many law school orientation programs.  I have presented this material in a number of law firms – to great effect and enjoyment.

Recently, I was introduced to an instrument which is similar to the MBTI, but is quicker to take, simpler to explain and enjoys almost all of the valuable insights to be gained by the lengthier instrument.  Its simplicity and brevity lends itself to a 2 hour lunchtime presentation.  The break-downs are quite simple.  We are sorted into Four basic preferences – each having its own way to prioritize information; communicate and make decisions.puzzle.4  We will usually have one style – or perhaps two – which dominate our approach to life and business tasks.  One of the great values of this material is that we can begin to understand that (1) there are other approaches which, (2) while different are valuable and which (3) exist in all environments, to one degree or another and (4) which, without some instruction and reflection will be impermeable to our efforts to connect and persuade.  These styles are characterized by colors, for ease.  Certainly the quick thinking, results oriented Directives will have some difficulty working with, and getting through to, the more easy-going, “take it as it comes, but make it entertaining Adaptives.  These latter folks may have some difficulty understanding the need of the Analyticals to get it right and find their difficulty in reaching conclusion frustrating.  That doesn’t even begin with the care these people take with their communication which can dismay the Supportive style, who finds the over-concern with precision to be antithetical to the higher value of empathic and interpersonally harmonious exchanges.  Different environments will find certain styles dominating.  Likely any law firm will see an abundance of Analyticals and Directives.   In fact, there may be such a predominance of these two styles, that the livelier Adaptives and more empathic Supportives may have difficulty understanding and expressing the value they provide.  It is the choice and challenge of every working system to find a way to harvest the kernels of skill and natural talents of every part.  The first, obvious, step is to be able to identify these difference and then to knit the fabric of our collective powers to make the overall organization energetic, effective, resilient and a place of belonging for all involved.

type.table

The Weight of Depression

Those of us who have suffered with depression isolate.  We cannot bear contact with others.  It’s as if our brains are exquisitely sensitive to touch.  Nobody can understand the depth and the utter truth of our dark, endless despair.  When we are in an intimate relationship the complications can magnify.  We can’t really isolate.  In the depth of a depressive episode, we maintain such a focus on our horrible inner pain that the very notion that we have an impact on another is hard to fathom – well, we easily see ourselves as a burden on others – but we don’t understand the depression as something other than ourselves.  Depression is an illness that challenges the relationship.  It is not the depressed person who challenges the relationship.   A good web article on this subject may be found here:    Depression and intimate relationships  My wish for all depression sufferers who struggle in your marriages is that you embrace the reality that this darkness is not you and that with treatment you can come to know that the pain is not permanent – it can pass and you can recover a life that allows kindness, peace and joy to touch your heart.  Having a loving partner who will join with you is among your greatest gifts.

Lawyers’ Stress

A recent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal discusses a disturbingupward trend in attorney suicides.  This is not an altogether new concern.  More than 25 years ago, Dr. Andy Benjamin and his colleagues identified legal education and the resulting culture that has been created as leading to serious mental distress among attorneys, as reflected in much higher than normal rates of substance abuse and depression.  There are many causes for this, generally unacknowledged, problem.  Perhaps the greatest is that it is unacknowledged.  Lawyers are trained from the inception of their education, and are probably self-selected as well, to eschew emotion at the expense of reason.  I recall at the beginning of law school we would exalt the ARM (the Average Reasonable Man).  No greater disdain exists than that heaped by lawyers upon anything that is “touchy feely.”  No wonder that lawyers (who are human beings, after all – with active limbic systems that generate the normal amount of fear, caution, anger and grief over loss) will erect concrete mental defenses against acknowledging  their fear, caution, anger and grief….well, not anger.  That emotion gets a pass.  It’s easy to protect oneself against appearing vulnerable with the expression of anger.  When we are forced to protect ourselves from judgment – which is leveled at our natural thoughts and feelings – life can become exhausting and alienating.  I see this even among my colleagues in the collaborative law community.  These are a group of lawyers (and other professionals) who are striving to make the experience of law healing, rather than damaging, for those who encounter it.  Yet these lawyers, too, avoid disclosure of personal doubt, worry, sadness or fear.  These precise feelings that are universal and which can form the real basis of a bonded community are dismissed as inappropriate within this professional world.  More’s the pity.

Couples Counseling and the High Funtioning Woman

Many (most) women who come into my office with their partners  to work on their troubled relationships are quite high functioning.  At least from my observations, these woman really display a skill in multi-tasking.  Sometimes, this remarkable functionality keeps her busy – so busy that I get the impression that she’s racing to keep ahead of something.  While I am not a fan of long dissections of our childhood to get at what is going on now, I also believe its impossible to understand that now without some flavor of the past.  Our families of origin are where we learn our earliest and most indelible lessons.  True or false – here is where we first learn about ourselves in the world.   Are intimate relationships safe?  Am I worthy of love?  How do others really see me?

The highly effective woman will often come into my office with the most poignant, powerful dilemma.  On the one hand, she has gotten it done throughout her life – often in the face of an utter absence of love and support from her important caretaker(s).  She grew up believing that there was nobody she could ever really lean on.  In fact, the idea of really leaning on anyone is so frightening – What if they can’t or don’t want to be there for me.  What if my need is an imposition or a reason for them to judge and dismiss me as not worthy of love.  Better I take care of myself.

Yet that is exactly what a close, bonded, adult attachment relationship is – Knowing that you will be there to catch me if I fall.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be taken care of.  There are lots of ways that can happen for us.  Guys need it in their ways.  He may think of it in terms of sex or as being okay and still loved even if he screws something up.  She may just need to know that she can collapse every once in a while – to be exhausted or overwhelmed or scared and it’ll be okay.  She will be okay.  She will still be seen as strong, worthy, desired – still be loved.

Divorce and Assertiveness

“Criminal lawyers see the worst people at their best; divorce lawyers see the best people at their worst.” (Attributed to Thomas Concannon, Jr., Former Mayor of Newton, N.J. and Family Lawyer)

Studies conclude that divorce is life’s most stressful challenge.  When we experience high stress in our lives, our automatic, often painfully limiting, behaviors rise up and overtake us.  What is your own idiosyncratic behavior when you are under stress?  Do you become habitually angry…depressed…isolated….workaholic…sugar addicted?   Those of us who tend to lose ourselves in another, may become so fearful of asserting themselves and their needs that they will swing between the extremes of abject passivity and righteous anger.

There is, however, a middle ground that is far more self-supportive and that is the stance of assertiveness.  Back in the 1970’s assertiveness was first highlighted in books and mental health trainings and it has fallen out of use as a theme since then.  However, we are well served to revive some of the tenets of assertiveness when struggling with the dynamics of divorce (and, of course, if we have an intact relationship as well).   Lange and Jakublowski in their classic, The Assertive Option – Your Rights and Respoinsibilities list Eleven Fundamental Assertive Rights which we should all hold close to us when facing intense interpersonal stress and conflict.  They are:

1.  The right to act in ways that promote our dignity and self-respect as long as others’ rights are not violated in the process.

2.  The right to be treated with respect.

3.  The right to say no and not feel guilty.

4.  The right to experience and express your feelings.

5.  The right to take time to slow down and think.

6.  The right to change your mind.

7.  The right to ask for what you want.

8.  The right to do less than you are humanly capable of doing.

9.  The right to ask for information.

10.  The right to make mistakes.

11.  The right to feel good about yourself.

If we can keep these basic personal rights close to our minds and hearts, we will have less occasion to roll over or become explosive in our interpersonal conflicts.

Law as a Healing Profession

I was fortunate recently to be asked to write an article for the Washington State Bar monthly magazine about the new trends in law and how they contribute to civility in the profession. I thought I’d reproduce it here because the theme of law as a healing profession is so important today.

Starting in around 1960 and continuing through the ‘80’s, the practice of law was marked by the ascendancy of litigation as both the engine of economic growth in the profession and the prevailing ethic. Competent, smart, hard-working and, above all, tough – these were the values which permeated our professional world. Aggressive was good, results (measured in monetary terms) were paramount. Adversarial litigation exploded as a practice form, and with it came the concomitant rise in interpersonally destructive behavior. The oft-referenced rise in incivility among lawyers was both striking in its metastatic growth and often shocking in its brazenness. Isolated voices would express concern about the law’s shift from a “profession” to a “business” and its effect on the well-being of both the lawyers and the clients they served, but during this time they remained just that – isolated. But in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, these voices coalesced into what law professor Susan Daicoff has called the “Comprehensive Law Movement.”

If there is one driving force behind this, now formidable, movement within our midst, it is the recognition that law should not be an instrument for inflicting avoidable personal (and interpersonal) damage in the service of reaching a specific “legal” objective. Indeed, if there is one theme which is shared by these approaches to practice, it is that when we can manage to turn down the heat generated by adversarial conflict, we are actually able to arrive at solutions which are far more satisfying to our clients. It is about the ascendancy of civility in how we conduct our affairs – not just to be “nice” but to achieve effective results. The various “vectors” of this Comprehensive Law Movement include:

• Collaborative Law: Arising 20 years ago from the creative mind of Stu Webb, a Minnesota family lawyer, Collaborative Law is predicated on the notion that the last place to resolve disputes between wounded, divorcing individuals is an adversarial litigation process. In Collaborative Law, all professionals and the clients sign a contract explicitly abandoning litigated adjudication as the means for resolving disputes. There is a generous use of neutral professionals to support the individuals in managing their emotional challenges, making parenting decisions and untangling their financial community.
• Therapeutic Jurisprudence: In 1990, law professors David Wexler and Bruce Winnick began to write about the various psychologically destructive consequences of legal action. They explicitly joined the social sciences of law and psychology in an effort to enhance the therapeutic possibilities inherent in both legal process and result. Starting in the mental health courts, TJ (the subject of more than 600 articles and 18 books) has had a significant impact in such diverse practice areas as workers compensation, sexual orientation law and business negotiation.
• Transformative Mediation: First discussed in a 1994 book by law professor R. Baruch Bush and communications professor, Joseph Folger (The Promise of Mediation) this form of dispute resolution seeks to fashion a resolution that reaches beyond a settlement of the legal issues between parties. Baruch and Folger emphasized the promotion of each party’s empowerment and voice and the recognition of each party and their concerns by the other. TM, at its highest expression, explores the power of empathy and forgiveness, making mediation a vehicle for growth and reconciliation.
• Restorative Justice: More than 25 years old, RJ is founded in the criminal justice system. It is an avenue for healing between the criminal offender, the victim, and their community. It is founded not on adjudication of guilt and sentencing, but rather upon dialogue, future problem solving and, critically, the offender’s acceptance of accountability for his/her conduct and the damage which has resulted. RJ seeks to heal the deep rift which arises from the commission of criminal acts.
• Holistic Justice: Again, from the single seed from the brain of attorney Bill van Zyverden, Holistic Law seeks to “promote peaceful advocacy…encourage compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing.” HJ emphasizes the spiritual elements of dispute resolution. The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers is a vibrant, 20 year old organization.
• Humanizing Legal Education: Florida State law professor, Lawrence Krieger, authored an influential research report on the destructive impact of the law school environment on the well-being of law students in the early ‘00’s. His observations found a very enthusiastic audience in the legal academy and today there is a section on Balance in Legal Education which seeks to encourage and support avenues for law students to strengthen their resources for dealing with stress and deepen their interpersonal skills.

Back in 1974 we used to talk about law school as training to become “high speed legal tools.” This led to troubling blindness to a fundamental truth – we, lawyers, are people. Our clients are people… with dreams and troubles and a fundamental need for connection. During the last 20 years, our colleagues, by the thousands, have striven to sculpt a new and different profession which is wiser and more civil – not because it is nicer, but because it is a return to our roots as lawyers as counselors and supporters of our clients’ lives and endeavors.