Podcast: 18 April 2017

In this morning’s podcast, I talk about what it means to connect deeply with our soul.

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Simplicity

“Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.”
― Lao Tzu

I struggle to make my point. Undoubtedly, I make things too complex.

Perhaps this is why I’m attracted to Charles Bukowski.

But it goes beyond words.

The thing is, we’re swimming in an ocean of complexity, and we think, stupidly, we’re better off.

Really?

I can say from 50 years of living that having less (of everything) is more liberating than any other regime I’ve experienced.

If we must waste our life looking for an answer, then so be it. Personally, it’s easy — but bloody hard; namely, let simplicity be your north star.

And (then) see where that takes you.

Managing lawyers

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
― Plato

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”
― Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank: the play

It’s the most hackneyed expression I know: managing lawyers is like herding cats.

Oh, really!

What you actually mean, is that you’ve got to deal with a group of people who don’t think like you. Or, who need to know more about you idea, thesis or one-dimensional plan that only serves a limited group, i.e. equity partners.

Don’t get me wrong, as contradictory as it may sound, lawyers are bloody hard to manage but no more so than any other group — e.g. builders, professional sports people and itinerant workers.

To be honest, the thing that’s (actually) missing is ‘management‘.

Duh!

Yes, you heard me.

Let’s be honest, who is it that manages other lawyers?

Other lawyers? (The blind leading the blind…)

Are they professionally trained?

Not normally.

Are they high on the EI scale?

It’s questionable.

Do they know why they’re managing?

No. Normally it’s because they see it as a route to partnership or because no one else wanted the job!

You don’t need me to tell you that management is an art. I wouldn’t like to say that some people have it and others don’t, but there’s a huge difference between someone who gets the best out of their people by actively managing them, and those that rule by fear — which is more often the case.

But of course none of what I’m telling you is new. Indeed, since my earliest days in law (1996) nothing much has changed. It doesn’t need to be this way. Firms, which after all are private businesses, need to put more effort, resources and money to developing managers (and everyone) to their full capability. And please don’t tell me you do, because if you did then those in management wouldn’t still be asked to bill, deal with clients, network, deal with complaints and win clients to keep feeding all those hungry mouths.

No, they’d be managing full time.

Come on. It’s not rocket science.

One final thing: don’t forget that people leave companies because of their bosses not the company.

Sobering eh?

Podcast: 13 April 2017

In today’s podcast I start with a reading from “New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton, and then go on to consider the significance of the true self vs. false self dichotomy in the context of the inner critic. Heavy stuff, eh; but I think it important that before we listen to or react to our inner critic we question the arising or the negative reaction.

Resilience and wellbeing survey report — Junior Lawyers Division: April 2017

“There was an exhausted woodcutter who kept wasting time and energy chopping wood with a blunt axe because he did not have the time, he said, to stop and sharpen the blade.” ― Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight

I’ve just read the JLD survey report.

OMG! — and that’s an understatement (I’ve avoided profanity for now, but it makes for depressing reading).

A few highlights for you:

  • 50% of respondents didn’t know where to turn to externally for help;
  • 50% of respondents said their firms (91% of the respondents were from private practice) “could do more to provide help/guidance/support to employees in relation to mental health at work”;
  • 68% of respondents experienced “problems with family life or relationships” in the last month (which I take to mean were related to stress at work);
  • 24% of employers were aware that the respondents were suffering from a mental health problem (meaning 76% didn’t know!);
  • 53% of respondents “nearly made a mistake that would not have happened otherwise”;
  • 65% of respondents said that high workload was the cause of stress; the next most significant factor was ineffective management (50%);
  • 25% of LPC respondents suffered severe stress; 11% of the same group extreme stress;
  • 69% of LPC respondents felt stressed “defined as being under too much emotional or mental pressure” in the last month; and
  • 28% of LPC respondents were regularly unable to cope as a result of stress.

I’m not sure the circulation of the report within those firms that employ lawyers in the stated categories — I would imagine it covers the majority of private practice firms — but I hope those with any compassion take note and act.

Of course, there will be the die hard cohort who brush this off as another bout of navel-gazing and expect everyone to put up or shut up (“We all had to endure the same regime”); but that would only reinforce the available evidence which suggests that legal practice is an unenviable place to work if you want to come out the other end emotionally and mentally unscathed.

For me, as coach and consultant, what stands out is the fact that the group who chose to respond (it was less that 1% which only reinforces the ‘keep everything to ourselves’ approach to mental health) were practically pleading for help with:

  • training (with an outcomes focus I hope);
  • yoga, meditation, counselling and courses on coping with stress;
  • better management from partners “too busy to supervise”;
  • reducing their workload — forget the 5/6 multiple of income;
  • more regular checks on employee wellbeing; and
  • the appointment of ‘wellbeing champions’.

I’d love to think that firms will adopt some of these suggestions. Sure, there might be a small cost, but it pales in comparison to the disengaged nature of the lawyers, the likely absences, the effect on the lawyers which might give rise to a DDA claim, and, most especially of all (for everyone concerned), the reputational harm. But let’s be honest, we shouldn’t need these types of surveys — as well-meaning as they are — to tell us something that any employer worth their salt should know.

I could end by saying that this report is more grist to my ‘get better’ message but I’d much rather have read a report that showed the profession understanding of the nature of its self-induced demands and the need to support and understand mental health. My sense is that firms might be operating on the principle, ‘Hear no evil, see no evil’.

One final note: the report throws into stark relief the partnership model. I mean, can it really say it’s fit for purpose with these numbers? To put things less prosaically, if partnerships only exists to provide significant PEP, the people cost is enormous. And let’s be honest, even if you thought yourself capable of putting up with long hours, high workloads and the possibility of high earnings, would you really want to enter a profession knowing these numbers? I know for one thing, if it were my children I was advising, I’d invite them to look elsewhere before throwing their hat in the legal ring.