By Cynthia Pong, Esq.
The stress of working in a high-stakes legal environment often negatively affects employees and office culture. Just as a cotton ball placed in a glass of water will absorb the water, individuals working within high-stress legal environments will absorb the stressful energy surrounding them. Whether we want to admit it or not, our workplace environments affect us.
As I discussed in my Lawline webinar, Ethics in a High-Stress, High-Stakes Legal Work Environment, stress can manifest itself in many different ways in lawyers. It can zap productivity and creativity, hamper employee engagement, and lead to employee attrition. Lawyers and legal staff may appear exhausted, checked out, burnt out, overwhelmed, frustrated, and defeated. They also might feel these ways inside, but cover it up in front of others.
It’s the cold, hard truth that there is a strong correlation between being a lawyer and depression, mental illness, and suicide. The troubling statistics are related to, and can often reinforce and exacerbate, stressful work environments.
There are a number of important reasons to be concerned by the level of stress in many of these law offices, firms, and legal organizations. These reasons include ethical ones. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 requires that lawyers “provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” Rules 1.3 requires that lawyers “act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Furthermore, Rule 5.1 requires lawyers with any kind of managerial or supervisory role to ensure that line attorneys comply with the Model Rules.
Although we often do not think of the ethical rules in very expansive ways (to the contrary, most conversations about ethics and the law are focused on the bare minimum that lawyers must do in order to avoid violating the rules), I urge my fellow lawyers – particularly those in management – to start thinking about these rules more broadly. We should be thinking about elevating the “reasonableness” standard in Rules 1.1, 1.3, and 5.1 so that we are constantly looking for ways to improve our practice for our clients, ourselves, our organizations, our profession. We should be aiming higher.
So what’s the solution here? How do we ensure that we and our colleagues in our legal organizations aren’t allowing our legal work to suffer as a result of excessive levels of stress in the workplace?
Fortunately, mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness meditation provide a way forward for us.
The practice of mindfulness offers a multitude of benefits to the individual lawyer. For example, regularly practicing mindfulness will elevate lawyers’ litigation and negotiation practice by helping them hone their listening, observation, and coping skills. A regular practice of mindfulness will also decrease overall stress reactions and rewire the brain in order to function at a more efficient level on a day-to-day basis. (For more information on mindfulness, visit embracechange.nyc) These critical improvements to individual lawyers will then raise the level of practice at the entire legal organization, propelling it forward.
Lawyers and legal organizations that want to succeed, thrive, and flourish need to consider mindfulness as a way to address the stressful environments in which they work. And if we find that we or our colleagues are too stressed to do our best work and do not (or cannot) prepare clients’ cases to the best of our ability, then Rules 1.1 and 1.3 should be a reminder to us to practice mindfulness to step up our legal work, while protecting – and, in fact, improving – our mental or physical health.
For more on how high-stress legal work environments hurt legal organizations, how the ethical rules are implicated by this, and how to take back control in your work and personal life, watch Ethics in a High-Stress, High-Stakes Legal Work Environment and visit embracechange.nyc!
Mark Twain said, “It’s Spring Fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
In many respects, professionals are akin to plants. For those plants that survive the winter to be born again come spring, winter is a time to conserve energy, and focus on preserving the roots. Much like plants, professionals enter a mode of winter hibernation: We spend the summer expanding our knowledge; overcoming hurdles; and, focusing on growing. Then, when that first cold front hits, we hibernate, focusing our minds and energy on getting through the winter’s case load, relying on the skills and tactics we’ve spent the year developing.
Come Spring, our mimicry of plant cycles progresses. As the ground warms and the sun is set higher in the sky, the plants get an itch: in time, the first buds will break the soil, allowing for the first fruits and flowers to set. At FurtherEd, we view the springtime as the perfect time and opportunity for professionals, like plants, to spread their leaves, soak up the knowledge and grow to newer and greater heights than any spring before.
To assist in this quest, we’re assembling some exciting content that is sure to help generate the energy needed to tackle the growth season, head on.
For new seeds (newly admitted attorneys), we’ve put together some phenomenal Bridge the Gap courses that will ditch the dated style of slow, meaningless legal indoctrination. Instead we’re providing spring growers with exciting, forward thinking educational content sure to a boost in the race to expand and conquer! Attorneys in attendance in the coming months will learn: how to start a firm with no money down; how to focus that firm’s energy on targeting the burgeoning, American Start-Up culture; and, to master new means of exploiting old skills to take on new, demanding, dynamic practice related tasks and clients.
For our perennials (veteran attorneys), the potential is limitless! 2012 was a year characterized by rapid evolution in a variety of fields. Our Spring goal: to provide you the advice, direction and skills necessary to be among the leaders in these developing areas. Partnering with the top attorneys in their fields, we’ll bring you all you need to know about pharmaceuticals, healthcare, business planning, and software licensing. Plus… what’s more topical to the Spring season than a course on Bike Law (get your helmets on!)?
As you can see, we’re excited. The grass is growing, the cherry blossoms are in bloom and professionals of all types are exiting their caves, ready to learn, grow and excel in 2013.
As Christopher Morley so eloquently stated, “April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go!” As your mind reopens, ready to consume all the new knowledge of the coming harvest, we hope you’ll GO with FurtherEd, so we can GROW together.