Leaving the Law

Time to Talk, Depressed Lawyers. To Yourself.

The head of the neuroscience lab at NYU, Dr. Elizabeth Phelps, has pointed out, “If you are pessimistic, you are unlikely to even try” to do things that will help you improve or guard your health. Wow. This may, just possibly, sound like a familiar dynamic to lawyers.
The good news is, pessimism is not completely hard-wired. It is, to a significant extent, learned behavior. That means, naturally, that it can be unlearned, and replaced with more useful ways of viewing problems.

Perfection, Depression and Lawyers

If you suspect you may have depression—even if you think it’s just because you work in a hellhole, and you will be FINE once you leave—go ahead and get help. Because unless you’ve got a job offer in hand, you’re going to be there for at least a couple more months. And take it from me, those “couple more months” often translate suddenly into 6 months or 9 months or a year, between workload and inertia. That’s a long time to be depressed, untreated, and miserable.

Why Are There So Many Asshole Lawyers?

Even when those 500 lawyers finished talking about the email, it still left an emotional mark on those who already were unhappy about the firm and the profession. Emails like Morrison’s are a trigger. They set off waves of unrest and dissatisfaction, if not outright plunges into depression and anxiety. Focus gets lost, and it’s hard to regain. So you have a bunch of lawyers who are not thinking well or clearly. They may end up doing substandard work, which means that other people have to review work and catch mistakes (cha-ching!) that they wouldn’t have had to do otherwise. And the distracted lawyer has to fix stuff (more cha-ching!). Plus it makes it hard for many of them to even drag themselves to the office the next day, or get to work at all, if the experiences of me and my clients is any indicator.

50 Days of Joy—Yes, Even for Lawyers

Lawyers, for lots of reasons, tend to overlook, dismiss, or minimize the little joys in life. For something to count as truly joyful, it has to be BIG. Overlooking the Grand Canyon, rather thana creek that wanders through the park. I’m not suggesting that there’s something wrong with those really massive moments of joy. But they’re not the only game in town. Joy doesn’t need to be big, expansive and headline-worthy to profoundly change your life.

Shedding Light on Lawyer Creativity

My own view is that often, creatives arrive in Lawyerland because pattern recognition is also an important part of analytic thinking. I can’t tell you the number of clients I’ve had who tell me they just can’t take a job that doesn’t require analytic skills. They say that they get huge satisfaction out of analyzing problems and finding solutions. Some of those clients really are meant to use those pattern recognition skills as a lawyer does, but most of them, not so much. What they crave, but don’t understand they crave, is using pattern recognition in creative ways.

Saddest Lawyers: “I Don’t Even Know What I Like Doing”

Exploring stuff simply because you’re interested in it is how you get to know yourself and honor that inner voice. Defaulting to the choice that allows you to check off a punch list item on the road to success—and only because it helps guarantee “success”—guarantees only that you will lose touch with yourself a little bit more.

Compassion for the Asshole Lawyers in Your Life

Compassion is the antidote to judgment. If nothing else, lawyers typically operate as master judges of, basically, everything. Judgment is often what makes our lives unhappy and unsatisfying. We judge ourselves as less than, because we fall short of some standard that we imagine will unlock the key to happiness. (Newsflash: The key to happiness and a satisfying life is connection with others. Ask Brené Brown.)

What (Unhappy) Lawyer Isn’t Anxiety-Ridden?

Dr. Dave Carbonell says, “Our brains are organs devoted to solving problems, just like our stomachs are organs devoted to digesting food. When we direct them to solve a problem, like adding up numbers or reading a paragraph, brains generally do a good job. But there is no “off switch” to the brain. It is always looking for problems, just as our stomachs are always waiting for food. When our brains lack problems to solve, they often make some up.” But when lawyers aren’t working, they don’t turn off that switch. They likely aren’t even aware there is a switch; they’ve been drilled that “THIS IS THE WAY IT IS.”

What It Takes For Miserable Lawyers To Blossom

The hardest part of a life change for lawyers, whether it’s your career or other important parts of your life, usually is the waiting. In our go-go, get-it-done-NOW culture, waiting is seen as weak, passive, and therefore completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, it’s also very necessary for any big change to occur. Miserable lawyers, especially, hate this fact.

Thawing the Frozen Souls of Unhappy Lawyers

For unhappy attorneys, this point in winter feels dire. Your soul was already stuck in permanent freeze before the actual cold and dark encroached. Now, getting out of bed and getting to work are sheer acts of will and heroism. More than a few of you may have sneaked a look at your insurance policy’s coverage for being a mental health in-patient, and wondered if you could convince someone you are a danger to yourself or others. Three days away from billable hours and all your other worries sounds like a sweet deal.