Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bumps in the Road

The Practice of Law Begins in Law School

Do we all agree that substance abuse, addiction, gambling, depression, and burnout are serious problems within the profession?  Do we all agree that they are also serious problems within our law schools? 

Benjamin For facts, figures and proactive recommendations, see Making the Most out of Law School, a power point slide show combining the expertise and talents of Professor Andy Benjamin (University of Washington School of Law) and Professor Paula Lustbader (Seattle University School of Law).

Professor Benjamin

"Practicing" law in law school is not limited to practicing working long hours and solving complex problems by careful analysis.  The "practice" must also include developing and maintaining . . .

  • self-knowledge
  • self-restraint
  • self-control
  • self-healing

One of the problems with bringing these issues to the forefront in law school is that many of the students have heard most of the temperance lectures in high school and, most recently, college.  "We're adults now."  Unfortunately, these are adult problems.  Suggestion: bring to their attention that these are problems lawyers encounter — law students can begin "practicing" for their law career by addressing the problems now, as lawyers do.  Do lawyers address these problems?  You bet. 

The General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section of the American Bar Association provides a wealth of reading material to help us and our students understand and cope with the many problems addressed by the Benjamin/Lustbader slides. 

Solo_magazine_1 An entire issue of GPSOLO, the section's magazine, is dedicated to problems associated with these "Bumps in the Road."  In the featured article, Myer J. (Michael) Cohen writes about long hours, demanding clients, and inhospitable work environments — a guaranteed recipe for stress, burnout, depression, and substance abuse. He reports that the organized bar is fighting back, helping lawyers regain health, save licenses, salvage families, and protect clients.  Query: Is your law school fighting back?

Just as excellent law students often become excellent lawyers, law students who succumb to these problems often become lawyers plagued by these problems. 

Other articles in this issue address:

  • Spotting addiction in colleagues.
  • Depression ("Are you suffering from a “blue” moment or the kind of depression that requires professional intervention?")
  • How to spot the signs of a gambling problem, and how to use a compulsive
    gambling defense when facing sentencing or disbarment proceedings.
  • Internet addiction (which is "... being identified as the culprit in an increasing number of divorce cases, child custody battles, criminal litigations, and law practice failures.")
  • Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (finding out "whether ADD is affecting your life.)
  • Recovery Success Stories ("Not everyone makes it to the other side, but these lawyers have. Here are their stories.")
  • The dangerous link between chronic office chaos, stress, depression, and substance abuse ("Last-minute panics, little pre-planning of case strategies, weak leadership, mismanagement of files, high turnover, and frequent client complaints — is this a snapshot of your office? If so, find
    out how to decrease office chaos and improve morale.")  [Is this similar to a snapshot of many of the students you assist?]
  • Protecting personal relationships ("Lawyers can unwittingly undermine relationships with family and friends when they bring home an
    adversarial turn of mind. Find out how to communicate with your loved ones.") [How many "breakups" and divorces did your student population experience last year?]

A note about Michael Cohen: He has a story to tell.  "In my own case, a 23 year history of dependence on drugs and alcohol led to the loss of my material possessions, my marriage, my family and friends, my ability to practice law, and finally my license."  He got it back.  Read his story beginning on the second page of Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company's bulletin, "The Risk Manager."

Consider directing some of these articles to the attention of your students.  (A quick Google search will lead you to pages featuring reprints of some of the individual articles ... examples: Bumps in the Road, Depression ... for more focused referral.)  (djt)

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