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Kick back and relax: Show us how you chill with #LawyerVacay

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 11:00


Practicing law can be stressful, so it is important to take time to unwind and think of your well-being.

Long hours, heavy workloads, and client relations can impact practitioners in many ways. That’s why this month’s issue of the Texas Bar Journal focuses on wellness and well-being in the practice of law and provides insights and resources for attorneys to deal with pressures of the job.

In that spirit, we are re-launching a successful photo contest, #LawyerVacay. With summer here, we want to see how you’re taking a break from the law and reenergizing—whether it’s a day at the beach, an adventurous hike, cycling (or traveling on one of those motorized scooters) around the city, or simply enjoying a staycation.

Share your vacation photos with the State Bar of Texas (@statebaroftexas) via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #LawyerVacay. Not on social media? You can also email them to tbj@texasbar.com.

Some of our favorite pics will be featured on the Texas Bar Blog and our social media accounts.

According to a recent study, over 50 percent of American workers don’t take advantage of their vacation time. Use yours and maximize your well-being. We can’t way to see how you relax!

Disclaimer: By submitting any photographs via social media to #LawyerVacay at the State Bar of Texas, you agree to give the State Bar of Texas, Texas Bar Blog, and Texas Bar Journal the right to use, publish, and edit the photograph(s) and that they can credit you by name upon publication. You also agree that the photograph(s) and additional information you submit are original, accurate, under your ownership, and that they do not violate the rights of any third party.

Alistair Dawson elected fellows chair of Texas Bar Foundation

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 10:00

Alistair B. Dawson, a member of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors and a partner in Beck Redden in Houston, has been elected 2018-2019 fellows chair of the Texas Bar Foundation.

Dawson previously served as the foundation’s District 4 nominating co-chair for five year, as the fellows secretary, and as fellows chair-elect. He took office on June 22.

“I am honored to serve as the chair of the Texas Bar Foundation Fellows. The fellows enable the Bar Foundation to continue its mission and award much-needed grant money to charities throughout Texas. This year, we have increased our goal for the fellows program in hopes that we can award even more grant money in the future,” Dawson said in a news release.

The Texas Bar Foundation will award $1,350,000 in grants this year. The foundation awards grants in the fall and spring of each year. For more information, go to txbf.org.

Finding Your Niche

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 08:16

Martha McIntire Newman on how finding your niche and narrowing your focus can make you happier and more successful.

Knowledge Center offers members practical resources

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 16:07

New offerings are available at the State Bar of Texas Knowledge Center, a repository of relevant, vendor-sponsored news and information that practitioners can access for free. Need help automating your practice? Get tips and strategies from MyCase. Additional new resources include an e-book from LawPay that offers advice on providing clients with modern payment options, articles from the National Institute for Trial Advocacy that feature techniques to enhance your advocacy skills, a 10-page downloadable document from Thomson Reuters that highlights issues to consider when noticing a deposition in Texas district or county court, and more. The Knowledge Center is a program by the State Bar of Texas aimed at offering members a resource for the latest vendor-sponsored whitepapers, case studies, trial reports, and more. To get started, go to texasbar.com/knowledgecenter.

Austin Bar, AYLA produce video

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:00

This year’s class of the Leadership Academy, a joint effort of the Austin Bar Association and the Austin Young Lawyers Association, has produced Law: A Profession of Service, a video of interviews with highly accomplished and well-known lawyers in Central Texas that aims to shine a positive light on the legal profession.

Attorney Elliott Beck, a member of the 2018 Leadership Academy class, said the idea for the video came from a conversation he had with attorney Sarah Weddington, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives best known for successfully arguing Roe v. Wade before the United States Supreme Court when she was 26 years old.

“One of our goals was to revive and reinvigorate the public’s opinion of the law,” said Beck.

The 10-minute video features interviews with eight members of the Central Texas legal community, including Berry Crowley, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, Dirk Jordan, Frank King, Judge Lora Livingston, Judge Robert Pitman, state Sen. Kirk Watson, and Weddington.

Beck anticipates showing the video to members of mock trial teams, debate teams, and high school government classes around the area. “We hope that a young person will hear these stories and be inspired to follow in their footsteps.”

The film will debut at the 125th anniversary celebration of the Austin Bar on August 29, which will be held at the Austin Central Library’s Special Event Center.

For more information about the Austin Bar Association, go to austinbar.org.

Free legal clinic for veterans in Katy

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 16:26

Veterans in Katy can receive free legal advice at a clinic hosted by the Katy Bar Association and the Houston Bar Foundation’s Veterans Legal Initiative on Saturday, July 14.

The clinic will offer veterans, or spouses of deceased veterans, one-on-one advice and counsel from volunteer attorneys in areas of law including family law, wills and probate, consumer law, and real estate and tax law, as well as disability and veterans benefits.

Veterans who qualify for legal aid and are in need of legal representation may be assigned a pro bono attorney from the Houston Volunteer Lawyers.

The event will take place from 9 a.m. to noon at the Katy VA Outpatient Clinic, 750 Westgreen Blvd., 2nd Fl., Katy 77450. No appointment is necessary.

For more information on the clinic and other veterans services, call the Veterans Legal Initiative at (713) 759-1133 or go to hba.org.

To view a list of other free veteran legal clinics around the state, please go to the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans webpage at texasbar.com/veterans.

Sponsored Content: How to Track Productivity at a Mid-Sized Law Firm

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 23:01

This is a guest post from Rachel Parisi, Managing Partner at Ledbetter Parisi LLC.

“I’m not a numbers person—that’s why I went to law school.” Ever heard that phrase? Maybe you’ve even said it yourself.

Except for that interesting breed of tax attorneys, it’s not uncommon to shy away from the heavy lifting when it comes to numbers. But if you’re the managing partner—or have any interest in your firm’s efficiency—there are certain numbers that you’ll need to stay on top of.

For all of you non-numbers attorneys out there (myself included), here’s a number you cannot afford to avoid: The 2017 Legal Trends Report found that attorneys spend only 2.3 hours per day on billable tasks. That means that lawyers are spending less than 30% of their day creating revenue for their firms with billable work.

If you have any doubts about how important tracking productivity is, take a look at the report: It is an eye-opener.

In the meantime, read on to get some ideas on how to use productivity tracking at your firm. We’ll take a look at a real-life example of putting productivity tracking to the test, dealing with common objections to tracking productivity, ways to get creative insights from your productivity statistics, and more.

Tracking productivity successfully: A very short case study

Billable hours are the lifeblood of most firms, including mine. When we switched to Clio three years ago, one of the first functions I dug into was the productivity reports option. We had added a number of associates to the team and wanted to make sure our internal processes were scaling as our staff grew.

It didn’t take long to identify which key productivity metrics our firm wanted to track. We wanted to be able to:

  • Track how many hours were being worked.
  • Determine what percentage of those hours were billable.
  • Identify inefficiencies in staffing and workload.
  • Provide staff with a way to easily monitor their own hours.

Once we knew what we were looking for, we were able to implement our tracking system. It took a bit of fine-tuning, but before long, we were effectively using productivity tracking on a weekly and monthly basis.

How to track productivity

What’s worked for our firm is a framework in which the managing partner tracks time on an ongoing basis, runs the productivity reports, and works with staff if there are productivity problems. At monthly partner meetings, we include a recurring agenda item for productivity review. The review looks at where we are as a firm, whether there are any issues on a staff member basis, and what can be done to improve productivity.

Read the full article for more insights into how Rachel uses Clio to track productivity at her law firm.

Three Texas attorneys named to Fastcase 50 list of top innovators

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 14:00

Three Texas attorneys were included on the annual Fastcase 50 list, which honors top innovators in the legal field.

Kenton Brice, director of technology innovation at the University of Oklahoma College of Law; John Browning, a shareholder in Passman & Jones in Dallas and an adjunct professor of law at SMU Dedman School of Law; and Darryl Towell, CEO of Docket Navigator, received the honor alongside attorneys, professors, and entrepreneurs from across the nation.

Brice, the first digital resources law librarian for the College of Law at the University of Oklahoma, was applauded for his tech-focused classes and articles and for advocating for the use of artificial intelligence, or AI, and virtual reality to enhance law practice.

Fastcase recognized Browning for the four books he has published on social media and the law and named him a leading resource on the issue. He is chair-elect of the State Bar of Texas Computer & Technology Section.

Towell was honored for the Docket Report, a litigation data and analytics summary that provides daily updates of the latest key holdings. He developed his software— which reads every patent infringement docket sheet in district courts and the International Trade Commission—because it provides what he had wished for while he was practicing.

“Every part of the legal market is changing right now—from law school through every part of the practice,” said Fastcase CEO Ed Walters on the Fastcase website. “That change can be daunting or discouraging to many people. And that’s one reason that our team enjoys celebrating the accomplishments of the Fastcase 50. These are people who inspire us by their intelligence, creativity, and leadership. We hope they will inspire others as well, especially during a time of great change for the profession.”

You are just in time for CLE at the Texas Advanced Paralegal Seminar

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 17:10

The Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas is hosting its annual three-day CLE event on September 26-28 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Addison.

Early registration is open until August 14. Online registration ends September 17. There is an option for one-day or three-day registration. Register here.

The Texas Advanced Paralegal Seminar (TAPS) is a conference for paralegals, which includes up to 14 hours of continuing legal education in a variety of specialties, networking events, and other professional development opportunities.

To reserve your hotel, book here or call 972-980-8877 and request the group rate for TAPS 2018.

The Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas will award up to two educational scholarships for the three-day registration but all travel and hotel expenses are not included. The application deadline is July 20. For the scholarship application, go here.

The State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division, founded in 1981, was created to enhance paralegals’ participation in the administration of justice, professional responsibility, and public service in cooperation with the State Bar and to provide a statewide organization for communication between paralegals in Texas.

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity!

Summer fun with the Member Benefits Program

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 08:00

You can have some fun this summer with the Member Benefit Program, which has savings on concerts, theme parks and more. Visit the Travel and Entertainment pages to start saving.

  • Premium Seats: Concert Tickets – If you don’t want to be stuck on the upper deck when watching your favorite performer, get your tickets from Premium Seats: Concert Tickets now. Use the code BENEPLACE to save 10%.
  • Ticket Monster – Don’t overpay for your tickets. Use Ticket Monster for 50% off tickets to sports, concerts and theater events worldwide.
  • Hawaiian Falls – You can relax all season with a 2018 Hawaiian Falls Season Pass for just $64.99 per person. If you’re stopping by for the day, you can get your Daily Admission Ticket for just $19.99 per person.
  • TicketsAtWork – Make your next vacation memorable with TicketsatWork! Save on admissions to popular theme parks, special events and attractions.
  • Wyndham Hotel Group – You can save up to 20% at more than 8,000 hotels. With locations around the world, Wyndham has the right hotel for you.
  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car – Convenience and affordability come standard with Enterprise. When you’re ready to go, we make it easy!
  • LMT Club Cruise – You can save up to 35% on applicable launch fares. Your Last Minute Travel Club membership gives you access to exclusive savings on sailings to the world’s most popular cruise destinations, including the Caribbean, South America, Alaska, Hawaii, Europe and more!

Current offers provided by Beneplace.

For more information on other discounts you’re eligible for as a member of the State Bar of Texas, visit texasbar.com/benefits.

Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange
The Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is a multi-carrier private exchange designed for State Bar of Texas members and their staff and dependents. Available to both individuals and employer groups, the exchange offers a wide range of health insurance choices and more.

State Bar of Texas – Benefits & Services

Reed Smith attorneys, staff get active with “Get Moving Challenge”

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 10:30

More and more people are focusing on wellness and well-being, a movement that has been around for decades and gained mainstream media attention in the past couple of years. In fact, the July issue of the Texas Bar Journal focuses on lawyer wellness and well-being with articles on brain health, how meaningful work boosts well-being, and an overview of the wellness movement in the legal profession.

In the spirit of wellness and well-being, this summer the Reed Smith’s Wellness Works team launched the “Get Moving Challenge,” a six-week challenge using creative activities, education, friendly competitions, and technology to help attorneys and staff increase their physical fitness activities. More than 900 of the firm’s lawyers and staff members worldwide have signed on to participate.

The Wellness Works team was formed in January to promote, support, and sustain the well-being of all employees at the firm in response to the high-pressure environment of the legal profession. The program focuses on mindfulness, healthy habits, stress management, and work-life balance.

Challenge participants use smart devices or fitness trackers to log their daily activity and advance across a virtual map of the firm’s offices. Grand prizes will be awarded to participants who log the most physical activity in the period, as well as awarding weekly prizes to randomly chosen participants. The office with the highest participation rate will also be honored. Reed Smith has offices in Austin and Houston.

For more information on wellness and well-being and for resources on ways to merge healthy living with the legal practice, go to the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program website at tlaphelps.org.

Texas Bar Journal must-reads for July

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 12:53


Can’t wait for the July issue of the Texas Bar Journal to arrive? Check out our editorial staff’s must-reads for stories on wellness, remarks from February’s bar exam high scorer, and a commencement speech from a past president. And don’t forget to catch up on Movers and Shakers, Memorials, and Disciplinary Actions.

Other Food Besides
Remarks from the high scorer of the Texas Bar Examination.
By Jeffrey Tyler Crough

Brain Power
Make the best investment of your life by taking charge of your health.
By Kimber Hartmann and Jennifer Zientz

Texas Tech University School of Law Commencement Speech
Frank E. Stevenson, 2016-17 President of the State Bar of Texas

Culture Shift
A look at how focusing on well-being and self-care can help save lives in the legal profession.
By Eric Quitugua

Austin Bar and AYLA name new leaders

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 09:00

The Austin Bar Association and Austin Young Lawyers Association, or AYLA, announced new officers recently.

Adam Schramek, of Norton Rose Fulbright, is now president of the Austin Bar; president-elect is D. Todd Smith; Kennon Wooten is secretary; David Courreges is treasurer; and Amy Welborn will serve as immediate past-president. Other members of the board of directors are Blair Dancy, Chari Kelly, Amy Meredith, Cindy Saiter, Amanda Arriaga, Vasu Behara, Greg Sapire, and Amanda Taylor.

AYLA’s new president is Jorge Padilla, who took office on July 1. Additional new leaders include Sandy Bayne as president-elect; Rachel Jones as secretary; David King as treasurer; and Austin Kaplan will serve as immediate past-president. Michael Choate, Sarah Harp, Eric Nelson, Kayvon Rashidi, Francesca Di Troia, Blair Leake, Brittani Miller, and Monica Stallings comprise the rest of the board of directors.

The Austin Bar Foundation will hold elections for its officers and board later this summer.

For more information, go to austinbar.org.

Justice Phil Johnson receives award from Texas Bar Foundation

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 14:00

The Texas Bar Foundation named Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson as the 2018 Samuel Pessara Outstanding Jurist Award winner at the foundation’s dinner during the 2018 State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting.

The Samuel Pessara Outstanding Jurist Award recognizes an active federal or state judge who exhibits an outstanding reputation for competency, efficiency, and integrity.

Johnson has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 2005. He served on the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo from 1999 to 2005 and was elected chief justice of the appeals court in 2002.

Texas Tech School of Law will receive a $1,000 scholarship donation in honor of Johnson, who graduated from Texas Tech Law School in 1975 and was an attorney in the Lubbock area with Crenshaw, Dupree & Milam until 1998.

For more information about the Texas Bar Foundation, go to txbf.org.

Texas Access to Justice Foundation establishes Randy Chapman Fellowship

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 09:00

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, or TAJF, announced the creation of the Randy Chapman Fellowship program for legal aid lawyers on June 20.

The announcement coincided with an event celebrating Chapman’s retirement in 2017 as executive director of the Texas Legal Services Center, a nonprofit that serves the legal needs of the elderly, sexual assault survivors, veterans, and other disadvantaged Texans. TAJF will fund and administer a four-year fellowship for a lawyer at the center to continue to provide creative approaches to civil legal services in Texas.

Chapman served as executive director of the center from 1985 until his retirement. He is credited with creating new statewide funding streams for civil legal services in Texas through various partnerships and collaborations.

“Randy Chapman has a deep commitment and passion for the cause of justice, and is uniquely known for his creative approaches to legal aid challenges,” said Richard L. Tate, TAJF Board of Directors chair, in a news release. “This fellowship will encourage new ideas and creative approaches to the delivery of legal services as a lasting reminder of Randy’s work for those in need of legal help.”

For more information and eligibility guidelines for the fellowship, go to www.teajf.org.

Stories of Recovery: A Rocky Road to Sobriety

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 16:04

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.

I started drinking in high school and immediately liked the way it made me feel. It made me smarter, better looking, cooler, and more athletic. I knew I was onto something good.

In college I joined a fraternity and drinking was just what we did. I respected the guys who drank hard. So I naturally began drinking more.

At this point in my life I didn’t see a problem. I didn’t have any severe consequences from my drinking, just lots of hangovers, some missed classes, and girls who thought I was an idiot. What I didn’t realize then was that I was drinking to change the way I felt inside. 

In law school I took my studies seriously but when Thursday afternoon rolled around, I drank with a purpose. I had switched to hard liquor by this point but still saw no problem because my drinking was “contained” to Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Once out of law school I employed this same formula of drinking only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. But when I drank it was to get drunk.

I still didn’t see a problem with my drinking because I employed a “work hard, play hard” mentality. I told myself that hard-charging lawyers drank heavily. I embraced the image and partied on. I incorporated some moderate drug use into the mix, but alcohol was my thing.

Eventually my drinking spilled into Sundays, which made Monday mornings difficult.  Anything to put off the coming week of work and reality. Slowly I began to lose self-respect and self-worth, but I continued drinking. I thought journaling or charitable work would make me feel better — it didn’t.

During these days I always set out to get drunk when I drank. Friends and family members began expressing concern for me, which I casually brushed off. But at some point a few years before I quit drinking, I had the foggy notion that I should rein things in, to manage my drinking better. That thought was usually on Monday mornings when I was hungover. It was the thought that the next weekend I wouldn’t get so out of control. This was the first time I even thought about regulating my drinking, but at this point I was beyond human aid even though I didn’t know it.

Why couldn’t I regulate my drinking? I showed self-discipline in other areas of my life but had none where it concerned alcohol. Of course, once again I reasoned my way out of it — I’m single, I work hard, I haven’t had a DWI, I’m not hurting anyone but myself, etc. … Or I would try switching to beer or vodka rather than my drink of choice.

It didn’t matter what I did or what change I tried to make, I was still getting insanely drunk. Of course by this time I was drinking every night, mostly to black out.

One Sunday afternoon I wrecked my car after drinking heavily on the golf course. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but I knew I was going to jail and that my drinking would finally result in a negative, tangible consequence. When the responding officer asked me how much I’d had to drink, I responded “way too much.” He felt sorry for me and gave me a ride home.

This incident had such a profound effect on me that I quit drinking — three years later. Any normal person would have had no trouble stopping or regulating his drinking, but I could do neither. What I didn’t understand then was that I was in the grip of a progressive disease, a disease that told me I didn’t have a disease: alcoholism.

The decline continued over the next three years. When I woke up on a Monday morning in June of 2011, I didn’t remember anything since the previous Thursday. I’d had enough. The four horsemen of terror, bewilderment, frustration, and despair were upon me. Physically I was wrecked but emotionally I was bankrupt. But I knew I couldn’t stop this cycle on my own.  Self-reliance had failed me.

A close friend had gotten sober about a year before and I reached out to him. I went to a 30-day treatment center and admitted that I was an alcoholic. When I got out, my friend took me to a meeting. I continued going to meetings, met other alcoholics, got a sponsor, worked the steps, and worked with other alcoholics. Eventually my obsession to drink was removed.

I continue to do all of these things and, most importantly, I have a relationship with a higher power. That was seven years ago, and I’ve been sober since.

When I decided to try sobriety, I fully believed that life would be boring and monotonous. I’ve since learned that I have an appalling lack of perspective. In fact, my life is more fun than it’s ever been.

I live a full and useful life because I remain active in a program of recovery. I enjoy the practice of law rather than seeing it as a means to an end. Difficulties still happen, but that’s a part of life. I don’t have to pick up a drink or feel the way I felt that Monday morning in June 2011 ever again. And for that I am eternally grateful.

State Bar of Texas and TRLA promote disaster legal hotline for people affected by Valley flooding

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 13:28

The State Bar of Texas and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) remind residents that free legal resources are available to low-income individuals struggling to recover from a disaster such as recent flooding that has affected Aransas, Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces, San Patricio and Willacy counties.

TRLA operates a toll-free disaster legal hotline — (866) 757-1570 — that can help with issues such as replacing lost documents, answering insurance questions, helping with landlord-tenant problems, and addressing scam or consumer protection concerns. People who qualify for assistance will be matched with lawyers who can provide free, limited legal help.

Read the full news release here.

TCDLA hosts Declaration of Independence readings

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 09:00

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, or TCDLA, will host readings of the Declaration of Independence across the state in recognition of the Fourth of July.

The readings, which will take place in over 100 Texas counties on July 3, have been sponsored by TCDLA for several years. Some of the gatherings will also include a reading of the Bill of the Rights.

“This is an opportunity for every Texas community—large and small—to stand and support the documents that make us what we are: free and brave Americans. I hope people will show up at their local courthouses to witness this very patriotic annual events,” said TCDLA President Mark Snodgrass in a press release.

Most of the readings are scheduled for 9 a.m. July 3. For a full list of readings and more information, go to the TCDLA website.

State Bar President Joe Longley offers update from the border

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 16:24

Joe K. Longley

Editor’s note: State Bar of Texas President Joe K. Longley sent the following message to members on Thursday. 

This week I traveled to the border to learn how we can promote access to justice and the rule of law related to the separation of immigrant families. I met with a number of dedicated attorneys and organizations that are working long hours and pouring all of their energies into ensuring that children and parents are reunited and that legal rights are protected through due process of law.

I’m saddened to report that many children are still separated from their parents.

Attorneys who visited an adult detention facility recounted women sobbing immediately upon being asked whether their children had been taken away. Others described struggling to explain legal rights to detained children whose sole desire was to be back with their parents. These accounts are from pro bono and legal aid attorneys who are accustomed to working with clients in difficult situations; they said the sorrow they witnessed at these facilities was on a wholly different level.

Your State Bar of Texas exists, in part, to aid the courts in carrying on and improving the administration of justice and to advance the quality of legal services to the public. In that spirit, the State Bar is compiling a list of volunteer trainings and opportunities at texasbar.com/volunteer for those who would like to get involved in reuniting children with their parents.

By far, the greatest need is for Spanish-speaking immigration attorneys to volunteer their time at the border. Many organizations are also seeking monetary donations. The State Bar will continually update the volunteer webpage as resources and information develop.

In my presidential inaugural address last Friday in Houston, I said we are uniquely equipped to address the problems vexing our nation—including the current family separation crisis. This is not about politics. It’s about access to justice. The people involved in this crisis may not be citizens, but they are still entitled to due process in a land that values the rule of law.

Sincerely,

Joe K. Longley 
President, State Bar of Texas

A Lawyer’s Story

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 13:19

Death, drugs, and depression have gained gradual attention within the legal profession. Only a decade or two ago, few would even expel a whisper concerning these issues. But news organizations and films increase needed attention by providing a glimpse into a world most do not understand.

In The New York Times last summer (July 15, 2017), Eilene Zimmerman crafted a sensitive account with incisive current research of the hidden rise of drug abuse and depression in the legal profession. She told the compelling story that concluded in the overdose death of her former husband, a lawyer in a big-city practice.

Living in a constant state of stress, “[he] obsessed about the competition, about his compensation, about the clients, their demands and his fear of losing them … [and he] hated the combative nature of the profession,” in which, “you are financially rewarded for being hostile.” Through his career, he often said, “I can’t do this forever.”

After being the one to find his body, she extensively researched the relevant issues, citing reports that “lawyers also have the highest rate of depression of any occupational group in the country” and that law students shift focus to status and competition and that they shed their idealism away from “helping and community-oriented values to extrinsic, rewards-based values.”

Issued just months after her former husband’s overdose, a study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs noted that nearly 75 percent of responding attorneys skipped the questions on drug use. The lead researcher opined they were afraid to answer. That study, released in 2016, further found that 28 percent of lawyers suffer depression.

Conducting this research to heal her children’s broken hearts, Zimmerman concluded from her analysis, “I firmly believe that law-firm culture, particularly at big firms, has to become more compassionate and more aware of the signs that one of their own is struggling.” But she also recognized how this is “complicated by an entrenched culture of privacy combined with an allegiance to billable hours.” Cleaning out her former husband’s personal effects, Zimmerman found his list of final New Year’s resolutions, written just months before his death, with the word “quit” printed in red ink.

In a recent New York Law Journal (March 28, 2018), Joseph Milowic III lays bare his own personal bouts of depression as a partner in one of the largest national firms, bravely admitting openly what few only whisper. Milowic sensed his “lack of energy and motivation only seemed to get worse … [and felt] consumed by an endless loop of anxiety and negativity … [L]osing interest in everything. I questioned the purpose of my work and even life. What was the point of it all? Why spend so many hours working at a job that seems so pointless?”

Though lost, he found help … and then “meaning in things again.”

These media reports paint a grim picture from lived experience across the nation. The big screen has also portrayed the legal profession through various characters.

In one such portrayal, Roman J. Israel, Esq., Denzel Washington breathes life into his lawyer character as a socially awkward legal savant. From beginning to end, Israel struggles with his ideals of the nobility of law to achieve a just world and the frustrations of making a decent living. Nearly broken by that confrontation, Israel laments he’s “tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful.” After about 30 years in this small practice, Israel loses everything: his senior partner dies, his law firm shutters, his job disappears, his tenuous financial security evaporates, and his fight for human rights and justice collapses—worst of all his belief in humanity falters and his whole purpose for living now seems a lie.

Sound familiar? In the film, Israel—under duress—takes a wrong turn to “get mine” for materialistic pursuits. But soon he is overcome with guilt and seeks to make things right, becoming the sacrificial lamb, atoning for his transgressions, even unto death.
These stories—fictional and real—share a kind of commonality wrought by the law profession, exposing the malaise among many lawyers. Great legal minds solve problems for clients every day, and it’s time to turn that immense talent toward the more difficult problem seemingly inherent within the legal profession. These same stories—and studies and statistics easily found during research—confirm a widespread dilemma, thus no one need feel alone. Brain drain, broken dreams, lost love, and shattered lives needn’t be normalized or perpetuated.

When this is recognized, we can turn for help. For ourselves or our colleagues, we may start by reaching out to the Lawyers’ Assistance Programs of the state bars. Click here to see a list of LAP programs across the country. The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP, provides confidential assistance 24/7 at (800) 343-8527 (TLAP). For more information, go to tlaphelps.org.

Van VanBebber is an attorney, CPA, and writer on cultural trends, professional ethics, and cross-functional thinkers, with a forthcoming book on related issues.

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