Sunday, August 2, 2020
(A bit of the harvest picked from my parent's garden in north Georgia yesterday)
Last Thursday my neighborhood book club discussed work by poet David Whyte. This book club has been especially life-giving during the pandemic. I have deep admiration for every member of the group and always learn from our meetings. In March and April, we briefly moved to Zoom, but were unable to capture the same energy. We then decided to meet in person, bringing chairs to a member’s spacious driveway that backs up to common green space.
The work we discussed last week was not actually a book, but rather a few hours of David Whyte’s musings, only available in audio form. Much of the talk involves Whyte reading poetry – primarily his own, Rainer Maria Rilke’s and Mary Oliver’s – and relating that poetry to questions many of us ponder in midlife.
While I can’t locate the exact quote in the long recording, Whyte used a harvesting metaphor effectively. Whyte suggests that if we don’t slow down to be present for the harvest times in our lives, the fruit will rot on the vine. He reminds us, for example, that our child will only be five years old for a relatively short season. By being present for the harvest, I think Whyte means celebrate (among other things).
The practice of law, at least as it appears to be carried out by most major firms, leaves precious little time for celebration. In fact, during my handful of years at two major law firms, I can only recall a single occasion of truly pausing to celebrate the harvest.
This occasion involved a closing dinner. A celebratory dinner after closing a deal to buy or sell a company is relatively common in M&A practice. In my somewhat limited experience, however, law firms often organized these dinners to impress clients and tee up future deals. Networking, not savoring, is the focus. Often only the partners and clients attend closing dinners. The associates (or at least the junior associates) are usually back in the office working on the next matter.
This dinner was different. King & Spalding partner Russ Richards had just closed two relatively large deals in the same week with the assistance of same four associate attorneys. While the hours had been grueling, even by BigLaw standards, I didn’t expect to be invited to a closing dinner. Surprisingly, Russ not only invited the other three associates and me, but also encouraged us to bring a dates. Moreover, this was not a dinner to impress the clients; no clients were invited. We did not spend much time, if any, setting up future deals. We just celebrated work well done with wonderful wine, food, and company.
If there were more of this sort of unadulterated celebration of the harvest in BigLaw, I imagine the turnover would be much lower. And maybe one of the reasons Russ Richards excelled in a 45+ year career with the same firm is because he created moments of celebration and reflection like these. As I have argued before, I think one of the ways to make BigLaw more humane is to work in some time for celebration and rejuvenation, perhaps in the form of sabbaticals. A formal promotion to “senior associate” around the four-year mark, followed by a brief sabbatical (even as short as one month) would do wonders for the profession. Even longer sabbaticals, perhaps tied to a project improving the community, could be worthwhile as well.
Of course life is not, and probably should not be, constant celebration. To stretch Whyte’s metaphor further—as anyone who has tried their hand at farming knows—fruit that is the product of a season of sweat tastes sweeter than fruit obtained from a grocery deliver service. The gritty, difficult, back-spasm-inducing times are an important part of the process. That said, especially for those of us bent more in the direction of overwork, making some space to celebrate the harvest is essential.
Finally, and importantly, we should make a point to notice and celebrate the achievements of others. Whyte seems to focus on being present for the fruition of our own work, but I am convinced that pausing to celebrate the accomplishments of others can be even more worthwhile.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
A few months ago, I mentioned taking the free Yale University online course The Science of Well Being taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
Before jumping into the substance of the course, I wanted to talk a bit about the format. The course was likely filmed with better equipment than most of us will have in the fall. The videos were mostly under 15 minutes each, and the videos usually had quiz questions to keep you engaged. Then there were longer quizzes at the end of sections and discussion boards.
Even though this was a Yale course, on an interesting subject, with a gifted professor, I probably would not have paid even $1 for this course. The material was surely worth more than $1, but there is simply too much good free information online, in this format, for me to pay anything for it. This fact is sobering to me as a professor, given that at least some of my students will be online-only this fall. The real value, I think, springs from interaction – between professor and student, and between the students themselves. As such, I need to plan my courses with a fair bit of this interaction.
Moving to the substance, Professor Santos noted eight things that the science shows improves well-being:
- Social Interaction
- Meaningful Goals
Professor Santos' ReWi application helps you track these things.
Think all of us know that those eight things are good for us, even if we do not always prioritize them.
Most helpful for me was the discussion of savoring. Previously, I simply had not paused long enough to dwell on the many good things in life. In The Plague, Dr. Rieux and his friend Tarrou savor nature before swimming during a brief break fighting disease. Camus describes it as follows:
Once they were on the pier they saw the sea spread out before them, a gently heaving expanse of deep-piled velvet, supple and sleek as a creature of the wild. They sat down on a boulder facing the open. Slowly the waters rose and sank, and with their tranquil breathing sudden oily glints formed and flickered over the surface in a haze of broken lights. Before them the darkness stretched out into infinity. Rieux could feel under his hand the gnarled, weather-worn visage of the rocks, and a strange happiness possessed him. (256)
Pausing long enough to watch the sea and feel the rocks on his hand is what Professor Santos is talking about when she describes savoring. Think we could all benefit by stopping, noticing, and savoring more I am committed to doing so
(Photo taken savoring the scene at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, North Carolina)
Sunday, April 19, 2020
In a reflection on the meaning of career success, a majority of my business ethics students mentioned happiness as a barometer.
“Happiness,” however, is an incredibly imprecise term. For example, here is over seventy-five minutes of Jennifer Frey (University of South Carolina, Philosophy) and Jonathan Masur (University of Chicago, Law) discussing happiness under two different definitions.
Frey, in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas, considers happiness not as a private good, but rather as the highest common good. Happiness is enjoyed in community. True happiness according to Frey, is bound up in the cultivation of virtue and human excellence. Under Frey’s definition, happiness makes room for sacrifice and suffering as beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Masur, a self-described hedonist, seems to have a more psychological, subjective view of happiness. Masur defines happiness as positive feelings, and unhappiness as negative feelings. Masur acknowledges that happiness--maybe even the deepest happiness--can arise from relationships and altruistic behavior. Unlike Frey, however, Masur includes positive feelings that are artificially produced or arising from unvirtuous behavior as part of “happiness.” Masur sees happiness and living a good, moral life as often overlapping, but as not necessarily intertwined.
These are two different conceptions of happiness. I think we need seperate words for the different conceptions--perhaps joy and pleasure--though I do not think any two English words fully capture the differences.
Somewhat relatedly, this month, my neighborhood book club is reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Throughout the book, Huxley explores a future devoted to pleasure. In this world, a drug called soma, a sport called obstacle golf, and touch-engaging films called the "feelies" combine to drown out negative emotions. While the elimination of virtually all infectious diseases seems enviable in this moment, there is very little I admire in the brave new world---it seems incredibly shallow. Some of Aristotle’s virtues are largely missing. Courage, temperance, and liberality are only seen in the outcasts of this world. Self-denial and committed relationships are strongly discouraged.
Ross Douthat, in The New York Times, hits some similar notes below:
- In effect, both Huxley and [C. S.] Lewis looked at the utilitarian's paradise--a world where all material needs are met, pleasure is maximized, and pain is eliminated--and pointed out what we might be giving up to get there: the entire vertical dimension in human life, the quest for the sublime and the transcendent, for romance and honor, beauty and truth.
But even John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian, seemed to realize that there can be a depth to happiness that extends beyond pure pleasure. Mill wrote:
- It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
Near the conclusion of Brave New World, the Savage (John) has an illuminating verbal spat with the Controller Mustapha Mond:
- Savage: "But I like the inconveniences [of life.]"
- "We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."
- "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
- "In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
- "All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I am claiming the right to be unhappy."
The Savage meets a tragic end (in part because he gets cut off from supportive community and has not grasped the concept of forgiveness), but I am still more drawn to his life--of pain and love, desire and disappointment, art and decay, principle and struggle--than to a life plugged into the pleasure producing experience machine.
Even though Frey and Masur disagree on the breadth of the term “happiness,” both seem to agree that devoted relationships, selflessness, and self-transcendence often lead to durable, deep happiness. While many of my business ethics students did not define “happiness” in their reflections, I hope they increasingly realize the fulfillment that can come from cultivating virtue in the midst of difficulty.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) previously defined "social enterprise" as businesses that (1) Directly address social need; (2) Commercial activity [not donations] drives revenue; and (3) Common good is the primary purpose. SEA's definition has evolved to be more inclusive, now recognizing three different models based on -- (1) opportunity employment, (2) transformative products/services, or (3) donations. While the first definition could be criticized for being too narrow (Ben & Jerry's would not qualify because their product does not directly address a "social need"), SEA's new definition is likely too broad because it seems to cover all donating businesses.
Personally, I am most fond of social enterprises that produce products/services that lead directly to human flourishing.
For Lent, I gave up Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. While these products have their uses, on the whole they tend distract me from what is truly important. Perhaps social media has improved since the advent of Covid-19, and I admit to feeling somewhat out of the loop. But I also feel much more at peace, and may not return to those forms of social media after Easter, or, if I do, I hope it will be on a much more limited basis.
In contrast, Strava is one form of social media that has been a constant positive in my life. Strava, for those who don't know, is a free app to log all kinds of physical exercise. I credit Strava (and my friends on Strava) with keeping me accountable to exercise 4+ times a week for the past 4+ years. The community on Strava is unlike any social media I have seen or heard of elsewhere. People are relentlessly encouraging, and the focus is on fitness not controversy. Also, as a Strava friend recently posted -- "love Strava because it’s the only social media platform with almost 100% factually accurate information and statistics. (Besides minor GPS errors and the occasional ‘wrong activity type’)." Strava has truly created a product that likely improves the lives of nearly all of its users.
Anyway, no sponsorship for me for this post, but I do hope to see more readers on Strava!
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
I am taking a free online course from Coursera and Yale University on the Science of Well-Being. The course is taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
I may blog about the course at a later date. I am taking the course both for the content and for online teaching strategies.
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Last year, in a post about personal finance, I mentioned my friend Joey Elaskr, who is completing a PHD/MD program at Vanderbilt University. In late 2019, Joey qualified for the Olympic Trials at the Monumental Marathon in an impressive 2:18:57 (5:18 per mile for 26.2 miles). On February 29th this year, just a couple weeks after successfully defending his dissertation, he competed in the Olympic Trials in Atlanta. You can read a bit about Joey's running on Lets Run and on Money & Megabytes. While the tie to "business law" is admittedly stretched, I do think our readers can learn a good bit about juggling demanding responsibilities from Joey, and I am glad he agreed to answer a few questions below the break.
Monday, October 28, 2019
After spending the entire day grading undergraduate business law exams, I drove to my son’s elementary school for our first parent-teacher conference. On my wife’s advice, I mostly just listened. My legal and academic training have given me “a very particular set of skills” that I can use to construct and deconstruct arguments in a way some people find combative, so my wife's advice was probably wise.
The parent-teacher conference for our kindergarten-aged son went well. Most important to me, it was clear that our son’s teacher already appeared to love him and seemed committed to helping him develop. But I worry about what our education system may do to my son. Only two months into formal school, my sweet son, who has been in speech therapy since age two, is already receiving grades. Granted, the grades are pretty soft at this point – 3 for mastery, 2 for on track to complete this year, 1 for behind schedule. I hope he will not get overly discouraged. I also know he will not receive nearly as much affirmation in school for his impressive, budding artistic skills as he would for a photographic memory.
This parent-teacher conference, coupled with a handful of especially weak student exams, prompted a lot of thoughts about grading over the past few days.
As a parent, and increasingly as a professor, I am becoming convinced that we (as a society) over-focus on grades and our grades largely miss what is truly important. As a parent, I feel a good deal of responsibility for the development of my children, and as a professor, I obviously think education is an important part of human development. But before my oldest son started kindergarten this August, I wrote down some of the traits I hope my children will develop before they leave our home. In alphabetic order, they include:
While it is tempting to fixate on quantifiable things, like grades, I am attempting to model, praise, and teach the character traits above. And sometimes “failure” will develop these character traits better than “success.” I am seeing this in my son. He has already struggled more academically than I did in my entire educational experience, but, perhaps because of this, he is already significantly ahead of me in compassion and kindness.
As educators, if we are wed to giving grades, why do we only grade such a narrow set of skills? (For a debate in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the usefulness of grades, see here: useful and not useful.) For example, why do we often regulate athletic, artistic, and communication-based courses to pass/fail or effort-based grades, but mark academic work with such relative precision? (One theory is that teachers and administrators are generally naturally gifted in academic pursuits, but are generally not as gifted in athletic, artistic and communication-based areas.) In middle school, for physical education class, we were graded, in part, on our 1-mile time. If I remember correctly, under 6:00 was a 100% and you failed if you ran over 12:00. While it was only maybe 10% of our overall PE grade, I can’t imagine that many schools do that these days. And I understand the arguments against doing so – namely, some students have a significant genetic advantage over other students in endurance running. That said, the same can be said for test-taking. For most students, both endurance running and test-taking can be improved, but some students face much higher hurdles than others.
All of this thinking about grading has not led me to any definite conclusions yet, but I welcome thoughts in the comments. And, in coming semesters, I may try to diversify my grading even more, to capture more skills and to challenge a wider range of students. (The students who are most harmed by our current system may actually be the straight-A students who find tests easy, but who never or rarely face assessment in their naturally weaker areas). I already include a group project and participation as parts of the grade in most of my classes, but I could probably expand this to a higher percentage of the overall grade. That said, I also think that grades should reflect the level of proficiency obtained, so I think substantive knowledge will and should remain important.
Monday, August 12, 2019
In college, I majored in business administration with a concentration in finance, but I learned next to nothing about personal finance. Thankfully, my father provided some advice, and I did a bit of reading on the subject before I graduated law school. But I am still learning, and have dug deeper this summer.
More universities should instruct their students on matters of personal finance. As I mentioned a few months ago, I spoke on personal finance for a group of students at my university last school year, and I hope to bring Joey Elsakr to speak at my university this school year. Joey is a graduate student and is the co-founder of the blog Money and Megabytes.
Last week, Joey graciously invited me to guest post on his blog. As I mention in the post, I don’t think I have that much to add to his many useful and detailed posts on personal finance, but I do think personal finance gets a lot more difficult after you have a family (namely because there are so many more non-financial factors to weigh in most financial decisions). I pose some of those difficult questions in the linked post below, and I welcome any thoughts on those questions from our readers.
Friday, July 12, 2019
This picture brings me joy. It captures the mood among all of us (me, my UT Law emeritus colleague John Sobieski, and a group of UT Law students) after my last UT Law yoga session this past spring. I need to begin to wrestle with how I will be able to teach yoga at the College of Law this coming semester, since I will be full-time back in the classroom teaching two demanding business law courses (Business Associations and Corporate Finance). All ideas are welcomed . . . .
My law school yoga teaching came to mind this week not because I am already deep into planning the fall semester (although that comes soon) but because of two independent health/wellness items that hit my radar screen this week. First, I was reminded that the Knoxville Bar Association (of which I am a member) is offering a full-day continuing legal education program in September entitled "Balancing the Scales of Work and Wellness - Finding Joy through Self-Care Practical Advice & Wellness Strategies". Second, I learned today that my UT Law colleague Paula Schaefer penned a nifty post yesterday on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog: Examples of How Law Schools are Addressing Law Student Well-Being. She mentions yoga, although not our UT Law classes. It seemed that I was being focused on self-care, and that made me think about our UT Law yoga sessions (and the above picture) . . . .
All of this reminded me that I should recommit myself to my goal of learning more about mental health issues and promoting mental health awareness this year. Health and wellness are far more than physical. They are emotional and psychological. I may just try to attend the Knoxville Bar Association program (or part of it). And I plan to be attentive to the ideas mentioned by Paula in her blog post.
Enjoy the weekend!
Sunday, June 16, 2019
One student, more than any other in the scandal, has been in the media’s crosshairs: Olivia Jade Giannulli. Olivia Jade - a social media influencer (whatever that means) - seems to be getting so much attention because of her famous parents (actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli), and because of some unfortunate comments she made about college on YouTube. Olivia Jade said: "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend but I'm going to go in and talk to my deans and everyone and hope I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of game day and partying, I don't really care about school. As you guys all know. " I don’t know much about Olivia Jade, but she comes across as spoiled, arrogant, selfish, entitled, obnoxious, and lacking self-awareness. In many ways, I hope my children and my students grow up to be her opposite.
In contrast, three runners who I have met at the Music City Distance Carnival (“MCDC”) track meet over the past few years embody character traits that I hope my children and students develop. These traits include toughness, self-discipline, humility, and perseverance.
First is Gabe Grunewald. Gabe passed away earlier this week, after four bouts with cancer. She ran the 1500m at MCDC 2017, just days after a round of chemo. Gabe was tenacious, but also immediately likable, kind, and selfless. Much of her massive, worldwide impact, stemmed from the positivity and resolve with which she faced her grim diagnosis. Her sponsor, Brooks Running, made this moving documentary that features some of her last races and shows the depth of her relationships. After her death, running clubs across the country gathered to run in her honor, and many pro runners featured #bravelikegabe on their race bibs. Gabe’s foundation still funds research to find cures for rare cancers.
Second, 50-year old, former Irish Olympian Shane Healy is still training and racing hard. At MCDC two weeks ago, Share broke the 50-54 year old world record in the mile (4:22), but he actually came in second to 53 year old Brad Barton who also broke the record in 4:19. I spoke to Shane the day after his race. He was gracious and thoughtful despite not claiming the record he flew across the Atlantic Ocean to secure. Shane's childhood (including time in an orphanage) and his adolescence (being bullied and facing financial difficulties) was rough, but seem to have helped build his resilience. He is currently in much better shape than the vast majority of people half his age, and is fiercely competitive, but I also sensed a kindness in him that is usually only found in people who have known deep pain.
Third, Heather (Dorniden) Kampf is probably best known for her college 600m race where she fell, but got up and willed herself to the win. (The 600m is almost a sprint, so this is incredibly impressive). Heather, now known as “the queen of the road mile,” has had a good bit of success, but has finished 7th and 15th in the U.S. Olympic Trials, failing to make the team. She has battled through injuries and even penned an article titled Embracing the Struggle. I talked with Heather briefly at MCDC, and I could quickly tell that she has benefited from not being handed success. She is putting in the work to continue to improve.
These runners are admirable, interesting, likable, and influential, in large part, because of their struggles, because of the way they faced adversity. Yet, the parents in the college admissions scandal, and "lawn mower parents" everywhere, seek to remove all adversity from the lives of their children. Professors now give more "As" than any other grade and the percentage of the top mark appears to be continually on the rise, even though I bet most professors would opine that the quality of student work product is declining overall. As a father of three young children and as a professor, I understand the urge to smooth the path - it is extremely difficult to watch people you care about struggle. Of course, there are times when we should step in and protect, but rather than shielding our children and students from all adversity, I believe we should teach them to deal with the inevitable struggles of life with integrity, humility, determination, and selflessness. As for Olivia Jade, I truly hope she takes her current adversity and uses it as a tool to shape positive character traits.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Joey Elsakr, a PHD/MD student at Vanderbilt University, has teamed up with his roommate for a blog called Money & Megabytes. The blog covers personal finance and technology topics, which I think may be of interest to many of our readers and their students.
Last year, convinced that students need more guidance on personal finance, I gave a talk at Belmont University on the topic. Given the very limited advertising of the talk, I was surprised by the strong turnout. The students were quite engaged, and some simple personal finance topics seemed to be news to many of them. I plan on asking Joey to join me in giving a similar talk next year.
One post that I would like to draw our readers' attention to is Joey's recent post on his monthly income/expenses. You can read the entire post here, but here are a few takeaways:
- Know Where Your Money Goes. How many students (or professors!) actually have a firm grasp on where they are spending money? While creating a spreadsheet like Joey's could be time consuming, the information gained can be really helpful (and just recording the information -- down to your nail clippers purchase! -- probably makes you more careful). Bank of America users can create something similar, very quickly, using their free My Portfolio tab.
- Power of Roommates: Many of my students complain of the high rent prices in Nashville. Some have even said "it is impossible to find a decent place for under $1000/mo." Joey pays $600/mo, in a prime location near Vanderbilt, in a nice building, because he has two roommates. Also, because he has roommates, Joey only pays a third of the typical utilities. Now, if you have the wrong roommates, this could be problematic, but having roommates not only helps save you money but also helps work those dispute resolution skills.
- Charitable Giving. I am inspired that Joey, a grad student, devotes a sizable portion of his income to charitable giving. Great example for all of us.
- Multiple Forms of Income. Even though Joey is a dual-degree graduate student at Vanderbilt and training to make the Olympic Trials in the Marathon -- he ran collegiately at Duke University -- Joey has at least four different streams of income. Other than his graduate stipend, his other three streams of income appear to be very flexible, which is probably necessary given his schedule. This income may seem pretty minor, but it adds up over the year, and it gives him less time to spend money.
- Food Budget. This is an area where I think a lot of students and professors could save a good bit of money. My wife and I have started tracking our expenses more closely and the food category is the one where we have made the most savings -- thank you ALDI's. A lot of the food expenses are mindless purchases---for me, coffee and snacks from the Corner Court near my office---and those expenses add up quickly over the month.
Follow Joey's blog. Even though I consider myself fairly well-versed on personal finance topics, Joey recently convinced me that a savings account is the wrong place to house my emergency fund. And I agree with Joey's post here -- paying attention to personal finance can actually be a fun challenge. Joey's blog also introduced me to The Frugal Professor, though I am not sure I am ready to take the cell phone plunge quite yet.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Colleen's post yesterday--and more specifically the last interview questions she asked ("[H]ow can power yoga be particularly helpful for professors or students?“)--inspired me to write about some work that I have recently done in studying the benefits of mindfulness to lawyers and in lawyering, and more specifically in business lawyering. Colleen's entrepreneur yogi noted the obvious benefits of power yoga to physical health. But she also noted what she termed "clarity of mind." More specifically, she said: "I practice yoga to allow time away from devices and work emails, which in turn creates some distance to clear my mind and create clarity in how I want to interact with my environment."
I do, too. And I have noticed that it makes a difference in the way I interact with people. I am not alone.
I recently was challenged by my friends at the Tennessee Bar Association to present an hour of continuing legal education on mindfulness, reflecting on some of what I learned in my yoga instructor training last year and linking it to law practice. Three of the eight limbs of yoga--asana (poses), pranayama (breath control), and dhyana (object-focused meditation)--are traditional mindfulness practices that I studied in that training program. Of course, there are many more mindfulness practices in which one may engage.
So, if yoga and other mindfulness practices offer clarity of mind, why? What's the secret? And how might mindfulness practices practices affect business lawyers and their work? I will start by offering a brief definition of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, which is defined here as "the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance,” involves a focused state of mind that screens out life's distractions and allows one to observe one's sense of being in the here-and-now. We can practice mindfulness in many everyday situations: speaking and listening, cooking, reading, crafting, etc. Mindfulness trainers have examples and exercises that they employ to illustrate some of these mindfulness practices. We also can practice mindfulness through yoga poses, breath work, and meditation. I showed the Tennessee Bar Association audience some chair yoga, a breathing technique, and positioning for a chair-seated meditation--mindfulness practices that folks can do at their desks in an office setting or at home.
Of course, a clear mind should enable more fluid decision-making in the problem-solving that business lawyers do day-in and day-out. Overall, communication and drafting should be easier--more efficient and effective. But there's more.
A 2014 article in Time reported that “scientists have been able to prove that meditation and rigorous mindfulness training can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immune response and possibly even affect gene expression. Scientific study is also showing that meditation can have an impact on the structure of the brain itself.” In fact, neuroscientists have found (see here) that mindfulness may better enable the brain's gray matter in the frontal cortex to control decision-making rather that allowing the amygdala (the fight-or-flight part of the brain) to control decision-making.
This means that mindfulness practice--including yoga--can impact business law practice by conditioning lawyers to "hit the pause button" and rationally think through contested matters. As a result, tmindfulness practice has the capacity to reduce professional stress and enhance civility and collegiality. (See Jan Jacobowitz's take on this for the American Bare Association.) I have seen a lot of lawyers--in practice and in the law academy--whose anger is hair-triggered by stressful situations (especially negotiations or disagreements on process that generate frustration--more on that below). It seems that scientists have begun to establish that yoga and other mindfulness practice (meditation seems to be the most-studied practice) can help us keep our cool in those situations.
I know that when I am over-caff'ed or over-tired, I am more assertive, more easily angered, and less able to take into account the whole of a situation in approaching requests, responses, negotiations, and other communications. I also know that if I have just engaged in a focused yoga practice (that's me holding a Warrior II--Virabhadrasana II--pose, with a prop, in the photo above), I am more careful and considerate of others in engaging in those same communications. Overall, my mind seems less burdened, less cluttered, more able to sort the important from the unimportant. Business lawyers--and especially transitional business lawyers--cannot afford to squander relationships with clients, colleagues, and opposing counsel (not to mention an opposing counsel's client!) by over-reacting or responding to queries in anger or frustration.
A personal business law story seems appropriate at this juncture. In practice, I once participated in an unexpectedly hostile transaction negotiation session in which a mindful colleague was confronted by an over-stressed opposing counsel. He leaned across the conference room table in an angry manner, with a reddened face and an imposing physical attitude, yelling about open deal items. A representative of the lawyer's client soon called him off (and took him aside privately outside the room for a bit). I have always been proud that the opposing counsel's client hired my colleague and me to represent it on a subsequent transaction. The client representative who had been present at that ugly meeting called my colleague personally and asked if she and I would work with the firm on that later transaction.
My friend and Colorado Law professor Peter Huang published a piece in the Houston Law Review about two years ago that expands on much of what I have written here--and more. The article, entitled "Can Practicing Mindfulness Improve Lawyer Decision-Making, Ethics, and Leadership?," includes information from a fascinating array of sources and, like Peter's work generally, is very readable (even if long). Peter is an economist and a lawyer. He teaches business law. In the article, he notes that "Mindfulness is now a part of business and finance, yet is not part of business law." He's right about that. But we have the power to make it so, if we believe that mindfulness is important to business law. In concluding, Peter offers us the link: "Practicing mindfulness offers lawyers an empirically-validated, potentially sustainable process to improve their decision-making, ethical behavior, and leadership. Doing so can improve the lives of lawyers, their clients, and the public."
So be it. A good note on which to end.
[Editorial note: Footnotes have been omitted from the quotes to Peter Huang's article. Check out the original for cited sources.]
Monday, February 11, 2019
A bit over three years ago, I publicly noted in this space that I am an active yoga practitioner. In a post on "Mindfulness and Legal Drafting for Business Lawyers (A Yoga Analogy)," I wrote about common touchpoints in an asana practice (what many folks just call "yoga") and contract drafting, sharing thoughts that had first come to me after a yoga class one weekend. In my three-part 2017 series of "Traveling Business Law Prof" posts on packing for business travel, I also mentioned my asana practice here and here.
Today, I set out to start posting a bit more on the intersections of yoga and business law teaching and practice. I will have help from BLPB co-blogger Colleen Baker, a fellow yogi. In fact, it is Colleen who has spurred this on. We have shared a bunch of ideas on things to write about.
I begin with the news that I now am a Registered Yoga Teacher with a 200-hour certification. I set out to achieve that goal about 18 months ago, after a discussion (at the wedding of a former student) with the life partner of a UT Law alum who is about 30 years my junior. She got me really excited about the prospect by mentioning an upcoming training program that she had investigated. We became Facebook friends, and the rest is, as they say, history. That's us in the picture above, on on graduation day. (Please don't criticize the form! My arms should be perpendicular to the floor. We were having fun goofing around after passing our exams, as you can see from my attention to the camera!)
My desire to complete a teacher training program was borne in part from a desire to deepen my practice. But the core impetus came from wanting to share yoga practice with others--in particular, my faculty and staff colleagues and students at UT Law. The benefits I get from my yoga practice are substantial. They include participation in a more active lifestyle, self care, stress management and relief, increased focus, and other things that I know are useful to those who inhabit law schools. Of course, I understood that I could share my yoga practice with others without the teacher certification. However, I knew that my credibility--with my Dean and others--would be greater with the 11 months of training capped off by a written and practical exam.
Somewhat less than three weeks ago, with permission from my Dean, I started leading a regular early Friday morning yoga practice at UT Law for faculty, staff, and students. I lead the sessions free of charge. We have had three sessions so far. I move some furniture around to create space for our regular sessions in a common area of the law school. I also plan to lead some pop-up sessions from time to time (perhaps in other areas of the law school building or even outside once the weather improves) to reach folks who cannot make the early Friday classes. My focus so far has been slow, controlled, thoughtful movement through basic poses (asanas) and breath work (pranayama)--two of the eight limbs of yoga.
I am far from the first person to engage folks in yoga practice in a law school setting. I read with interest this article from several years ago on yoga instruction at my law alma mater (and how yoga practice can help develop professional skills). A quick Google search reveals yoga recently being offered at Chicago and Columbia and having been offered in the past at Harvard and Marquette. I sense there is more out there . . . . I am sure that Colleen and Haskell have information about yoga in the business school setting, too. I know our campus offers a Yoga Fest in the fall. And I will be teaching two free classes to campus faculty at the request of the Faculty Senate over the next month.
In future posts, Colleen and I hope to cover other topics near and dear to business law profs and our friends, including potentially posts focusing on yoga and lawyers, lawyering, legal analysis, law firms, business, teaching, mental health, and injury prevention. (What am I missing from our conversation, Colleen?) Readers should feel free to share their interests and add to the list.
Monday, January 28, 2019
Back in November, my sister invited me to join her for the second time for a three-day break at Miraval, a resort in Tucson, Arizona. I accepted her invitation with the understanding that I needed to recharge a bit after a rough 2018. A visit to Miraval, I thought, would be a great way to do that and jumpstart my research this spring. I signed on. Then, my sister had to back out on the trip late-in-the-game for professional reasons. My dilemma: to cancel/reschedule the trip . . . or just go by myself? I decided to go anyway.
Miraval's distinctive claim to fame as a resort is mindfulness. Among other things, it promotes "Life in Balance." Mindfulness has been a hot topic for the legal profession, law schools (see, e.g., the University of Miami's Mindfulness in Law Program), and the American Bar Association (the "ABA") in recent years. Among other things, mindfulness may help attorneys process difficult situations in a healthier manner, acting as an antidote (in some circumstances) for lawyer mental health issues I wrote about a few weeks ago. (See also Marcia Narine Weldon's follow-on post.) Berkeley Law has published a helpful reading list here.
In an excerpt from an article originally published in the ABA's Litigation magazine, Jan L. Jacobowitz writes:
When attorneys practice mindfulness, the experience they gain by noticing their minds moving off into distraction, and returning their attention to their breath, makes them better equipped to deal with the unexpected—because they catch the thoughts and feelings that are resisting the moment, and are better equipped to stay on task and respond in proportion to the challenge. For the same reasons, they enhance their capacity to be more genuine and present for what arises in their interactions with their clients, their colleagues, witnesses, and adversaries. They are better able to focus on and enjoy their work.
In that same excerpt, Jacobowitz describes mindfulness.
Mindfulness is an awareness of life in the present moment: Simple to state, but not necessarily so easy to accomplish. Our minds are often cluttered with ruminations about the past and concerns about the future. We are so busy living in the past or projecting onto the future that often we are not acutely attuned to what is happening in the present moment. The clutter inhibits clarity of thought and increases stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness creates the opportunity to pause, breathe, and connect with one’s inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions; in other words, to become aware of how we are reacting in a given situation and to provide ourselves with the opportunity to moderate our reaction and respond thoughtfully.
Hmm. Too "woo-woo" for you? Join the many lawyers who feel that way. (Jacobowitz refers to lawyers in this connection as "by nature are a skeptical group.") I once was one of those skeptics.
But I am now among the converted, having begin to practice mindfulness in a number of its manifestations. I am especially fond of mindfulness though movement, especially through yoga asana and pranayama practices.
With that in mind, as I rejuvenate myself, I am gathering intelligence to take with me. I plan to bring elements of Miraval's mindfulness/life in balance ethos back to my yoga teaching at The University of Tennessee College of Law. (I started teaching a regular class to faculty, staff, and students last Friday morning. I will have more to say on that yoga teaching experience in later posts.) After just a half day at Miraval, I already have information and ideas . . . . Wish me luck in this endeavor! And offer tips if you have any.
Saturday, January 5, 2019
It's the start of a new year and a new semester. As Joan wrote earlier this week, we need to step back and take stock of our mental health. I'm the happiest lawyer I know and have been since I graduated from law school in 1992, but many lawyers and students aren't so lucky. In fact, I probably spend 25-35% of my time on campus calming students down. Some have normal anxiety that fades as they gain more confidence. I often recommend that those students read Grit or at least listen to the Ted talk. Others tell me (without my asking) about addictions, clinical depression, and other information that I should not know about. I know enough to refer to them to help. Closer to home, my 22-year old son has lost several friends to suicide. Many of those friends went to the best high schools and colleges in the country and seemed to have bright futures. And as we know, the suicide rate for lawyers is climbing.
Thankfully, the American Bar Association has gathered a number of resources for law students here. Practicing lawyers can find valuable tools for lawyer well-being here and a podcast for lawyers in recovery here. Law students can access their own ABA wellness podcast here. To help keep my energy high, I listen to a lot of podcasts of all types. I’ve found that listening to wellness podcasts, meditating, and exercising instead of watching the news has had a dramatic impact on my health. I know for a fact that the wellness stuff works. Due to significant stressors as a caretaker, my blood pressure spiked to a clinically dangerous level last week. This week, with mindfulness exercises and other wellness activities, I was able to lower it to normal levels without my new medication having kicked in yet. This is a big deal for me because despite my professional happiness, I’ve been hospitalized twice in 14 months for medical conditions exacerbated by stress. Being calm and stress free is literally a matter of life and death for me. Some of the podcasts I listen to are probably too “woo woo” to post for this audience but if you’re interested, you can email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll keep your secret.
Mainstream lawyer/business wellness podcasts include:
The Happy Lawyer Project (“The Happy Lawyer Project is an inspirational podcast for young lawyers looking to find happiness in life with a law degree. Each episode provides you with the tips, advice, encouragement and inspiration you need to craft a life and career you love.")
The Resilient Lawyer (“Practical and actionable information you can use to be a better lawyer. The Resilient Lawyer podcast is inspired by those in the legal profession living with authenticity and courage. Each week, we share tools and strategies for finding more balance, joy, and satisfaction in your professional and personal life! You'll meet lawyers, entrepreneurs, mentors and teachers successfully bridging the gap between their personal and professional lives, connecting the dots between their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual selves.”)
Happy Lawyer, Happy Life ("A knowledge centre for lawyers who want to make the best of their life in and outside of the law.")
The Tim Ferris Show (“Each episode, I deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use. This includes favorite books, morning routines, exercise habits, time-management tricks, and much more.”)
The Mindful Lawyer (it's no longer running, but my colleague Scott Rogers pioneered the field and these are short tracks.)
Dina Cataldo Soul Roadmap (“So, you’re a lawyer who doesn’t have it all figured out? Design the life you deserve. Stop killing yourself to achieve success and redefine it instead.”)
You may need more than a podcast to get you through whatever you're going through right now. If you, a student, a colleague, or family member needs immediate help, please get it. I’ve cut and pasted the resources below from our law school’s web page for students.
Key National Referral Services
Chemical Dependency and Self-Help Sites
Addition Recovery Resources for Professionals, 540-815-4214
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 212-870-3400
American Medical Association, 800-621-8335
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), 240-276-1660
Cocaine Anonymous (CA), 310-559-5833
CODA Drug Abuse Hotlines, 1-877-446-9087
Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA), 213-488-4455
Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA), 913-991-2703
International Lawyers in A.A. (ILAA), 944-566-9040
Marijuana Anonymous (MA), 800-766-6779
Narcotics Anonymous (NA), 818-773-9999
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information(SAMHSA), 1-877-SAMHSA (726-4727)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 301-443-1124
Nicotine Anonymous (NA), 415-750-0328
Anorexia Nervosa & Associated (Eating) Disorders (ANAD), 630-577-1330
Overeaters Anonymous (OA), 505-891-2664
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), 562-595-7831
Nar-Anon Family Groups, 310-534-8188
Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA), 888-444-2359
Co-Dependents of Sex Addicts (COSA), 763-537-6904
Mental Health Sites
Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), 240-485-1001
Journal of General Psychiatry (JAMA), 1-800-262-2350
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD), 1-800-233-4050
Depression and Bipolor Support Alliance (DBSA), 800-826-3632
Lawyers with Depression
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 800-950-6264
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1-866-615-6464
National Mental Health Association (NMHA), 703-684-7722
Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity
I'm sure that I've missed a number of resources. I just finished attending a wellness tea brunch at a French patisserie with fresh baked goods and champagne so I'm incredibly relaxed (#selfcare). If you have more resources to add, please feel free to comment below. Let’s make this the best year yet for our students and for ourselves. If I can ever be an ear for anyone, I’m always available.
Friday, January 5, 2018
In 2017, I was 25 out of 34 (73.5%). (Yes, I set 34 resolutions; I may be crazy).
The biggest realization I had this year was that I struggled with resolutions that required daily/weekly tracking. A daily/weekly resolution has at least three issues: (1) if screw up once, you’ve blown the resolution for the year, (2) just tracking the resolution takes habit formation and daily/weekly time, and (3) creating a daily/weekly habit is generally difficult.
So, instead of a resolution to run 5x a week, I had better luck with an achievement goal like “run a mile under 5 minutes by the end of the year.” If the achievement goal was tough enough to require roughly 5x a week running then the achievement goal could get you to basically the same place as the weekly goal without the meticulous tracking requirement and with allowing occasional time off. The bigger achievement goals, however, may need to be broken into smaller steps.
My toughest resolution for 2018, and I “only” have 22 resolutions this year, will probably be “at least 15 minutes of quiet/reflection/prayer before any screens (computer, TV, phone, etc.)” I think I had to structure this one as a daily goal, as its importance is tied up in getting each day off to a good start. We will see how it goes - so far so go, but we are only 5 days deep in 2018. It is possible that I will not do this every day, but the “stick” is that I don’t get any internet use that day either.
Best of luck to all in 2018, whether you choose to make resolutions for the year or not.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Below are a few wellness tips, with a focus on student life. I didn’t do all, or even many, of these things consistently well when I was in school, but I was better off when I did, and I paid for it when I didn’t. Many of these things are obvious, but many are also ignored.
Consistent Sleep. Sleep is incredibly important. So many of the things we do during waking hours depend on getting good sleep. Shoot for going to bed at a consistent time and waking up at a consistent time. This might be difficult with roommates and you may need to request new roommates. All-nighters, either from studying or social events, are relatively common in college and law school, but all-nighters almost always produce more poor results than if the studying or social events were more evenly distributed across the semester. Sadly, I see too many students sleep walking through the day, armed with caffeine to self-medicate.
Eat Well. I am always in search of fast, healthy, and inexpensive meals. The options are not plentiful, but I can really feel it when the quality of my food slips. Thankfully, most colleges, like Belmont, have a well-stocked cafeteria, but students still have to make the right choices within the cafeteria.
Intentional Quiet Time. Carving out time that is intentionally quiet and reflective is a constant struggle, but it can really improve the day, even if it is just 10-15 minutes.
Distraction-Free Studying. Sometimes students who did poorly on an exam claim that they studied for “48 hours straight” for my exam. As discussed above, this is a bad idea because it interrupts consistent sleep. I also ask where this studying was done. Often this studying was done in a noisy dorm room, with the TV on, which simply isn’t a very efficient way to study. Students may not read many physical books these days, but the library is still a great place to get in some focused, distraction-free studying.
Quality Social Time. During my first two years of college I had much more social time than during the last two, but I had more quality time during the last two years. Too much of social time is unintentional and low quality – playing video games comes to mind. Better, I think, is to spend social time creating memories, taking trips, having focused conversations.
Extracurricular Focus. Opinions will differ on this, but I think it is better to do a few extracurricular activities really well rather than being involved in fifteen different things, on a very surface level. Personally, I am more impressed by someone who was a captain of a sports team or president of a serious organization or founded and grew their own organization or worked dozens of hours a week or started their own business than I am by someone who just showed up for a plethora of somewhat unrelated organizations. That said, college and even graduate school can and should be places to explore, so, by all means, check out many different extracurricular activities, but try to just pick a couple, relatively early on, to do with excellence.
Friday, September 15, 2017
From August 31 to September 10, I participated in an excellent 6-week online boot camp called Miler Method. The camp is led by 2x Olympic medalist in the 1500m, Nick Willis, and his wife Sierra. The camp led up to the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in NYC.
As I have posted about before, I have enjoyed taking some massive open online courses (MOOCs), and I think all educators should familiarize themselves with this form, as the online world is already impacting even the most traditional courses.
The Miler Method, like MOOCs, taught me not only valuable substantive information, but also further instructed me on the art of online education. Below are a few reflections on the pros and cons of the online format as applied to the Miler Method running training camp. My thoughts follow below the page break.
Friday, September 8, 2017
Gabriel (“Gabe”) Azar and I graduated one year apart, from the same law school. He has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech and started his legal career as an associate practicing patent law at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP. He moved from Finnegan to Paul Hastings and from there to an in-house position with FIS. Currently, he is Senior Patent Counsel at Johnson & Johnson. I’ve admired, mostly from a distance (he lives in Jacksonville, FL now), how Gabe has balanced family, work, and health. We recently reconnected on Strava, and it has been inspiring to see a dedicated husband/father/attorney taking his fitness seriously.
The interview is below the page break.
Friday, September 1, 2017
There has been quite a lot written about the relative lack of women on boards of directors (and their impact on boards of directors). See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Women hold slightly less than 20% of the board of director seats at major U.S. companies, depending on what group of companies you consider. See here, here, and here.
In this post, I am not going to discuss the vast literature on the topic of women in the boardroom or the quotas that some countries have established, but I do want to point out the curious lack of fathers at playgrounds in Nashville this summer. I am including this post in the Law & Wellness series because I think men and women would both benefit if we saw more fathers at playgrounds during the week.
During ten trips to our popular neighborhood playground, during weekday working hours, I saw 6 men and 72 women. Now, it is probable that some of the people I saw were nannies or grandparents, but I excluded the obvious ones and quite a large percentage seemed like parents anyway.
This is an extremely small sample, but the percentage of fathers at playgrounds with their children looks lower than the percentage of women on boards. While I haven’t counted, I have noted fairly similar ratios at the public library story-time, the trampoline park, the zoo, and the YMCA pool during weekday working hours.
Perhaps this is not surprising, and perhaps the ratios are different in non-Southern cities (though Nashville is pretty progressive, at least for this area of the country). But I will say that I sometimes feel out of place and sometimes feel the need to explain myself when I am out solo with my children during "working hours."
When asked, I do have a “good” explanation – a fabulously flexible job – but I sometimes imagine those conversations if I had chosen to stay home while my wife worked or if I were taking time off a "normal" 8 to 5 job. Unfortunately, I don't think we are at a place, at least in my community, where we give fathers much respect for taking care of their children. I consider raising my children an incredibly important and valuable role. Raising children is demanding and draining, but my life is undoubtedly richer for it. Over the last few years, I have also gained quite a lot of appreciation for people who raise children on their own; the job is difficult enough for my wife and me together. I am not sure what actions from government and business would be best for children, but I do know that both should be seriously considering their options.