If you’re unhappy in law because you

  • hate the lack of creativity in it,
  • despise having to show each tiny piss-ante step of reasoning when it’s freaking OBVIOUS how you got there,
  • get bored and pissed with all the pointless bickering back and forth about commas and such–except when you’re really exorcised about something you wrote,
  • rail at all the ridiculous workplace rules about listening to music on your computer (for example),
  • seethe at the dress codes with such specific rules about flip-flops v. sandals,
  • billing time is the albatross of your existence, plus
  • buckling down to work often feels impossible, even though you know you should,
  • miss deadline often, and
  • are late to work often

you may want to contemplate whether an evaluation for ADD makes sense.

Post-it pile on ADDer desk
Post-it pile on ADDer desk

(Here’s one quiz to get you started.) Just because you did well in school doesn’t mean that you are immune from ADD. The authors of one of the ADD bibles, Driven to Distraction, are MDs who practice in Boston, and are ADDers themselves.

I’ll write another post about my theory that ADD is hugely underdiagnosed among attorneys, but here are some experiences to get you thinking.

Real-life ADD symptoms in lawyers

Looking back, I had ADD symptoms out the yin-yang when I started practicing. They included things like:

Spending hours customizing my calendar display options. By picking all the pretty colors and fun sounds for reminders, I was (unconsciously) trying to increase the stimulation of my organizing tools, so that maybe they would interest me enough to use them.

Spending great amounts of time avoiding writing memos by futzing with fonts, and adjusting all the colors in various templates and in track changes. Same reason as the calendar color/sound obsession.

Hating, moaning, whining and bitching about keeping track of my work in 15 minute increments. Two reasons time tracking drove me nuts that are ADD-related: ADD brains are supersonic when they’re “on,” so I would get six hours worth of work done in half that time, and essentially got penalized for it; and 2) OMG, having to track what I was doing??? With my brain flitting everywhere and not staying neatly inside the task box at hand, I felt dishonest and stressed about my billable time. Not to mention the whole horror of keeping track of details that bored me stiff.

Arriving late to the office constantly. Now, DC is a late city where it’s normal to hit the office at 9, so I was only slightly later than many of my colleagues. But one of the traits of ADDers is their energy cycle, as nature’s night owls. Many are all but non-functional until mid-morning, have a great burst of energy over lunch-time, seriously slump until late afternoon, and then pick back up again around 5 for a few hours. I unconciously adapted to this circadian rythym by arriving late to the office (around 9:30), either bringing lunch or buying a quick sammich and working through lunch, getting coffee around 3pm, futzing around for a while, and really starting to focus on work about 5 or 5:30 for two or four more hours. (Yeah, I was single then.) In a law firm, with its work-all-the-time mentality, this did not seem unusual, but once I started working in corporate America, it rubbed a LOT of people the wrong way. Especially the 8am-in-the-office types, who strangely enough were usually the executives at the top of the food chain.

Being clueless about organizing a case file. I had no idea what was important. I grasped the idea that correspondence should be in reverse chron order, but that was about it. And I was beyond irritated that no one thought to instruct associates in how to organize their part of the case. How were we supposed to just KNOW?

Performing very inconsistently. One day, I could write a section of a brief that went into the final version almost untouched. The next, I could barely research my way out of a corner. Performance issues plague ADDers, because their brains are, in fact, not consistent performers.

Missing deadlines, even reasonable ones. I knew I was avoiding work, and I tried countless books on how to organize and prioritize. They sounded great in theory, but never worked in practice. Do the hard tasks for your day first–are you kidding me? I barely knew my name then. Do the most important tasks before lunch? Well, that kinda worked, if the phone didn’t ring, people didn’t drop by by office, I didn’t get a lunch invitation for noon instead of, say, 1:30, and I didn’t get too many emails. Or, if I didn’t decide I needed another cup of coffee.

Deadlines being the only way work got done. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I do not understand people who can see that they have a week to get a project done, and who then actually START WORKING ON IT. Only when I had almost no chance of meeting a deadline, and terror struck deep in my heart, would I actually start work on a project. Part of this was due to the then-unconscious ADD need to make things more interesting (the adrenaline rush), and part due to the ADD trait of having a very poor sense of how long things actually take. Time is a very elastic concept to most ADDers.

Desk always piled precariously. In all my professional life, I’ve had a neat desk for about 30 days total. By neat, I mean folders in a pile related to only one case, and only three piles on my desk, with no trail of post-its wandering from my bulletin board to my computer to around my keyboard then spilling over to any space available (book spines, say). Actually, 30 days is probably a generous estimate.

Now in isolation, many of these experiences are normal reactions to a punitive, dysfunctional law firm environment. But when you have many of these issues simultaneously, that’s when you start wondering about ADD. Most people would recognize a couple of these traits, but it’s the ones who see themselves in nearly all of them that probably have some degree of ADD, or at least should investigate a bit further.

So what do you think–anything I’ve discussed ring a bell for you? What are your ADD-driven work habits that drive you nuts? Drop me a comment or send me an email, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who is getting better at showing up on time. But if she’s writing, time becomes stretchy, and all bets are off. You can email her at jalveyATwordsolutionsDOTbiz.