1,000 DAYS, A MILLION REASONS & A MILLION WAYS: Saying Goodbye to Alcohol

I used to love drinking. Until I didn’t anymore. 

People curious about my decision to quit drinking alcohol usually ask me (privately) some version of the same two questions: Why? and How?

THE “WHY”

The “Why” is different for everybody. 

My “Why” was like an everything bagel – a really stale one. 

Some people quit out of necessity. They get in legal trouble, their spouse threatens divorce, the doctor (or priest) says “it’s time,” they develop an allergy (that’s a real thing), they “accidentally” say something that incinerates a most-cherished relationship, their boss threatens them with termination, etc. 

Others quit for personal health reasons. They want to lose weight, exercise more, lower their stress levels, reduce anxiety, sleep better, communicate more deeply with their loved ones, learn a new skill, find a new purpose or meaning in life, etc. 

Others quit because they see the effects of alcohol around them and they just want to do things differently. They’re tired of the drama, the missed deadlines, the prurient behavior, the disappointments, the dishonesty, the worrying, etc. Alcohol weighs them down – indirectly, but in a powerful way. And it’s just plain exhausting. 

Some quit for financial reasons. Regular boozing is expensive. I did the math for myself, and I figure (conservatively) that if I had never started drinking in the first place, I would have saved enough money to pay cash for law school. 

Look: 21 years of drinking (I’m 42 and it actually started way earlier than that) x $25 (average) per day = $191,625. My law school charged me a whopping $120,000 (plus a boatload of compounding interest). 

If that math sounds wonky to you, try this one: I quit 981 days ago. My sobriety tracker app estimates I’ve saved myself $24,425 since quitting. Think about what that means moving forward. I’m hoping to get another 50 years out of this ride! 

Even moderate drinking drains the bank. A 6-pack of beer costs $6 – $10. If I bought one every other day (no more than three beers a day): that’s $18 – $40 a week; $936 – $2,080 a year; $46,800 – $104,000 in 50 years.  

The numbers above don’t even account for lost productivity or the healthcare costs associated with regular or prolonged drinking. When I started my journey, I estimated I spent one hour a day drinking (it was way more). I’ve earned back almost 1,000 hours of my life – but it feels like a million. My productivity now is threefold what it was when I quit. I have three active boys, a busy law practice with my spouse, and a side-gig as an artist and marketer. I need all the energy I can get. And I love all of the energy that I have! 

Truth is: there are a million different reasons to quit.  No matter what yours are, have been or will be, keep a few things in mind: 

1. Your “why” is the most important “why” for you, even if someone else tells you it is silly, stupid, meaningless, an overreaction etc. Nobody knows you like you. DO YOU. All the rest of it is just noise. 

2. No one else’s “why” is better or worse than yours. Playing the comparison game will not – I repeat – will not help you. Compare yourself only to yourself and keep moving! It’s a game of progress not perfection. 

3. Your “why” is not a point of shame – no matter how bad you think it is. YOUR WHY IS YOUR SUPERPOWER. Own it. Love it. Remember it. Honor it. Your “Why” got you where you are. And that, my friends, is a blessing – even if it hurts in the beginning. It won’t hurt forever, I promise! 

4. You are allowed to share your “why” with others, but you don’t have to, especially if you’re not ready. Take your time. You may not even really understand your “why” fully until you’ve had some time to clear your mind and think about the impact of your choices and actions. Be patient with yourself and with others. Growth takes time. A lot of it. You’re allowed a little privacy in this process. 

There are plenty of medical professionals with ample advice on how to quit drinking and scientific treatments that will help you do it. I am neither an expert nor a professional. But I learned a thing or two in my own furnace and I’ve talked to enough folks to know there are a million ways to quit. No matter which path you choose, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the following strategies

THE “HOW”

First, talk kindly to yourself. When you quit drinking, you are going to have feelings. Lots of them. Some may be painful or uncomfortable. And some may be wonderful beyond your wildest expectations. Positive self-talk is absolutely essential to riding this roller coaster. If you’re lucky, your parents taught you how to do this and you’re already good at it. But lots of folks are clueless when it comes to self-soothing. So, try this simple exercise: Imagine yourself 20 years into the future. Close your eyes and picture what you look like, how you feel and all of the wisdom you’ve earned over the years. Picture yourself happy, content, fulfilled and proud. Now, ask that future version of you to talk to the current you. Do it out loud. And keep it simple: “You can do this.” “I’m proud of you.” “This will pass.” “Just breathe.” Do this every. single. day. Keep in mind, there is no such thing as a right way or a wrong way. Just do your best and thank yourself for the effort!

Second, if you’re going to quit drinking, you’ve got to replace old habits with new ones. Use your hands. Try knitting, whittling, braiding leather, stringing beads, weaving. Get yourself a cheap sketchbook, a pocket-sized watercolor set, a notebook, a camera (your smart phone works!). Paint, write, draw, photograph, write poetry, imagine. Whatever you use, it needs to be portable, it needs to be mind-numbing and it needs to be with you all the time. Something you can carry through airport security (okay, maybe not a whittling knife). Every time you feel the old habit creep up, grab your “thing” and get those hands busy. Don’t stop until the urge passes. It will pass. 

Third, there will be plenty of days when you want to drink. Have a plan. When I first decided to quit drinking, I took all the alcohol out of the house. We were in Covid lockdown so there was really no place for me to go to drink, so that made it easy (easier). But, if you know that going to Happy Hour on Thursdays with your coworkers will be a temptation for you, don’t go. Go see a movie instead or check out your local park or nature trail. If you do socialize with drinking friends, ask the bartender in advance to make you a fancy, refillable “mocktail.” I kept a pretty glass, soda water and fresh lemon and lime on hand at all times for the first year. Hot tea is a great sippy cup substitute also. 

Fourth, sweat out that stress. You absolutely have to exercise. Make time. If you had time to drink yesterday, you have time to sweat today. At my drinking peak, I used alcohol daily to blunt a fairly heavy level of work/parenting stress. So when I quit, that energy had to go somewhere. I literally felt like I was going to explode. The first 60 days were the worst. Then my mom and sisters insisted we do remote cardio classes together. I cursed them for days. But it worked. With their help, I started a new habit, and prevented what I thought was sure to be a case of premature death by spontaneous combustion. Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be expensive. Cleaning house counts. Yard work counts. Just move. And make sure you’re sweating when you do it. 

Fifth, ask for help if you need it. Everybody’s circumstances are different. You may have an unsupportive roommate or partner. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start (or how to stop). Maybe you feel trapped or ashamed or like you’re just not strong enough to weather the next storm. There are people who are ready to help you. Ask a doctor, a priest, a family member, a close friend, a local non-profit or a support group. Reach out to someone you trust. Loving arms will catch you. 

Finally, think about how you see alcohol in your life. Look around. We are bombarded with advertising encouraging alcohol consumption in every one of life’s most glorious occasions: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, the Super Bowl. We use it for celebration and in moments of sorrow. Did you get dumped? Blow that big presentation? Fail your final exam? There’s a concoction for that! 

Alcohol. Is. Literally. Everywhere. I never really noticed this until I decided to quit. And then I asked myself, why do they want me to drink so much? It’s an odd thing, really. 

I often wonder how things would be if, instead of asking “How” and “Why” a person quits drinking, we were to ask “How” and “Why” we all start drinking in the first place. The answer, of course, does not matter. All that matters is what you do today. And I have a question for you: What have you got to lose? 

Author Bio: Christina T. Mazaheri is Managing Partner at Mazaheri & Mazaheri where she practices primarily in the areas of Employment & Civil Rights Law. She is a native South Carolinian and met her husband and law partner, Bernie, while working at the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ firm in Florida. Christina and her family (Bernie, their three boys and their Great Danes) moved to their “forever home” in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky in 2018. Christina handles cases in several states, and she has published articles and spoken on topics dealing with Wage & Hour, Age Discrimination, Arbitration and Family Medical Leave issues in the workplace. When she’s not practicing law, Christina takes an active role in educating her children, who are full-time practitioners of the Art of Fencing. Christina also enjoys creative urban agriculture, historic renovation, painting, music & textile arts, raising and showing Great Danes, and remaining active with her church.  

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

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How Do I Avoid Burnout? I Have Learned to Practice Renewal.

This week, we offer a guest post from a friend and supporter of the blog who is doing great work out in the world. Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick found me and the blog on LinkedIn and she’s been an active supporter of it. We love her work to promote diversity, inclusion, and wellness in the legal profession and want to support her back here. Welcome Joseline to Brilliant Legal Mind!

Many lawyers and other professionals are experiencing burnout. Are you going through a hard time in your life and career and are constantly struggling with chronic stress that leaves you feeling exhausted to the core and helpless to the extent where you think nothing can ever go right? 

No job in this world is easy. Every task, every goal, and every journey has its fair share of struggles and obstacles. That said, being a lawyer has its troubles on another level. It is certainly not easy to tackle difficult cases, prepare strategies for your client, and stand strong in the grueling atmosphere of the courtroom. This job and your daily routine certainly take a toll on your well-being and can easily produce a state of complete burnout.

What Burnout Does to You

Burnout is a traumatizing state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that makes you feel swamped and shattered. It is normal to have occasional or even routine bouts of stress, particularly in this line of work. However, things take an unexpected, undesirable turn when you do not manage your stress on time and soothe it daily.

When you don’t address the routine stress, it grows bigger and more monstrous. There then comes the point when you become so emotionally drained and overwhelmed that your body and mind keep you from going any further. You lose the motivation to take on any case; you feel withdrawn from even the activities you once found incredibly enjoyable, and you simply let go of the will to push yourself any harder.

You become cynical, hopeless, pessimistic, lethargic, exhausted, and even highly resentful. You do not wish to progress in life because you feel you don’t have that spark anymore. Burnout manifests itself in many different symptoms, including feeling drained, emotionally and physically, all the time; having muscular pain frequently, drastic changes in appetite, insomnia, lowered immunity, and a very low sense of self-esteem, among other things. If you experience any of these daily, it is clear you are not in a healthy physical, emotional, and mental state.

Whether you work as a litigator or as a transactional attorney, or you’re in academia or government, if you find yourself overwhelmed and cynical often, that’s because of burnout. Fortunately, a creative way out of this rut is a unique approach to soothe burnout and reclaim your energy, motivation, and life for good.

A Creative Solution to Handle Burnout

Having struggled with burnout excessively and frequently myself, I realized that I would have to find a unique fix for the problem to turn things around. When we are stuck in a bad rut, often, our go-to approach to get ourselves out of the problem is to push past the walls. We keep pushing ourselves forward to end the problem, but we only exhaust ourselves more in the process.

The right way to turn the tables around in your favor is to look for a new angle, just like you do in a deposition. Instead of beating around the bush, you bring up a completely new and creative perspective on the table and turn the odds in your favor. Similarly, to soothe your burnout, you need to adopt an innovative approach.

This approach is about finding joy in the journey by engaging yourself in useful activities that help you channel your stressful energy into something positive, meaningful, and productive. I call this approach “RENEWAL.” 

What is Renewal?

The RENEWAL process involves the following:

  • R: Review your strengths, priorities, and talents and review your schedule to understand everything better.
  • E: Energize yourself by eating healthily, sleeping well, and taking care of your body.
  • N: Noticing things peacefully and becoming more mindful of yourself and your surroundings.
  • E: Expressing gratitude for everything you have to attain contentment from within.
  • W: Withdrawing yourself from the digital world to give yourself a break from the online media and different technological tools.
  • A: Assess your routine and responsibilities and prioritize things that matter to you.
  • L: Love is an essential requirement to live happily, so you need to infuse meaningful relationships and connections in your life.

This approach helps you change your thinking and behavior to modify your current state of life. Understand that nothing always happens as you plan it, but you need to let go of your former ideas and create a new you to improve on things. 

While doing that, understand that you must have a clear goal moving forward, especially in the study and practice of law.

In case you’re wondering if any of these ideas are backed by research – they are! The anecdotal evidence and your personal lived experience tell you that being a law student and lawyer is stressful. But so do all the studies. The studies also show that the techniques can lead to lawyer satisfaction in their personal and professional lives.

One such study is What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success by Lawrence S. Krieger and Kenno Sheldon. They conducted a theory-guided empirical research project to identify the activities and behaviors that correlate and contribute to lawyers’ well-being and life satisfaction.

One thing they noticed is that most law students and lawyers focus almost exclusively on external factors. These factors include money and status-such as earnings, partnership in a law firm, law school debt, class rank, law review membership, and U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings. But the study shows almost no correlation between those external factors and lawyer well-being.

But they found that internal and psychological factors correlate to “happiness” and “satisfaction.” But unfortunately, focusing on the internal factors, such as autonomy, interest, freedom, a sense of worth, choices regarding family and personal life, erode in law school.

Interestingly, money and status factors and demographic differences were least important in lawyer happiness. Different practice types and settings further exemplified the issues that arise with a misplaced focus between internal and external factors. For example, lawyers in large firms and other prestigious positions were not “as happy” as public service attorneys. This held true even though the latter had much better grades and pay than the former group. And junior partners in law firms show no significant improvement in happiness than senior associates. Even with the higher pay, benefits, and prestige of a partner, there was no actual increase in the sense of satisfaction.

The bottom line is, lawyers are like everybody else. Despite specialized cognitive training and the common perception that lawyers are fundamentally different, we are people first and lawyers second. 

So do yourself a favor, practice RENEWAL regularly to prevent and overcome burnout because the world needs and deserves, well-balanced attorneys. 

Author Bio: Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick is an associate professor at WMU -Thomas M. Cooley Law School. She teaches Criminal Law and Constitutional Law and assists graduates with bar preparation. She is the founder and director of Diversity Access Pipeline. Inc., a nonprofit organization that runs the Journey to Esquire® Scholarship & Leadership Program, Blog, and Podcast to promote diversity and create access for law students. She is the author of Finding Joy in the Journey to Esquire A Guide to RENEWAL for Lawyers and Law students. She magically finds spare time, which she uses to paint, dance, and watch sci-fi movies.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

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Spirited, Moral Injury, and Examining the Concept of Redemption

This post contains references to suicide. It is published with permission from and deep respect for the family of the affected attorney. It is written by my dear friend, Robyn Smith, who I met in law school. Though we have handled cases on the opposite sides of the “v” for much of our practices, we have remained friends and benefitted from sharing our different experiences. We recently shared a post from Bob Coursey, an employer-side employment lawyer. This post from Robyn offers a different perspective but I think you’ll find that both Robyn and Bob think humanity and decency are essential to law practice.

Just in time for Christmas, Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell, and Octavia Spencer star in Spirited, a musical comedy adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It’s a fantastic story of human struggle, self-loathing, and redemption. If you have not yet seen the movie, go watch it right now. We’ll wait.

[INTERMISSION]

Finished? You’re welcome. It was great, wasn’t it? 

And there could not be a better cinematic explanation of people struggling with something called moral injury – a concept that describes the price paid by people like us, attorneys who work as we are taught, and who exist within a system that tests our personal senses of right and wrong … and who are hurt by it. Moral injury, according to Veterans Affairs, is a psychological injury that comes from perpetrating, failing to prevent, or witnessing events that go against a your deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.

These injuries have been studied in the instances of combat veterans who have had to inflict harm on others, as well as health care workers who have had to turn away people in need of care.  Scientists have noted that it changes the brain, but not in the same ways as PTSD. Spirited depicts several folks struggling with their own pasts, presents, and futures, as their choices and career paths have consequences.

The Spirited character to have watched was Octavia Spencer’s. She does as she is told. She conducts the opposition research. She works up the facts. She discloses the truth. She knows how it will be used. She is hurt as the fruits of her efforts are used to destroy other people’s lives. She knows that’s how it will go. But she is just researching, like we do. She’s just portraying facts, like we do. She’s just doing her job … like we do. 

And she hurts because of it. Like we do.

I believe that the law industry is designed to subject lawyers to moral injury. We are trained to work in our clients’ best interests and to keep their confidences. We are permitted to withdraw from representations most of the time – but not all. We may only raise an alert when a client is about to inflict certain types of injuries on other human beings. We have knowledge that can weigh on us. We have to argue things that we do not admire or respect. We are complicit in systems that oppress and injure. And whoever structured this industry decided that was okay, at our peril.

Not all of us, and not all of the time, of course. But our ethical rules do not allow us to prioritize our own morality – ever. I don’t think I’ve met a lawyer who has not had to take a position she abhors, or oppose a person she truly believed to be in the right. In those circumstances, we are told, we have to consider our clients’ best interests, the integrity of the tribunal, and a handful of other things that are not our own precious peace of mind.

I represent workers, including attorneys. Some of them know what is happening around them is wrong, and they feel gaslit by the failure of others to speak up or break free. It’s a lonely feeling.  Some of the people I admire the most are people who, astonished, have asked me “Am I crazy?” after recognizing a severe and unbearable moral injury and declaring the pain of it. And suffering the fallout. Speaking out against the machine is taboo, isn’t it? 

I had an attorney friend who undertook a very important job overseeing Kentucky’s unemployment insurance agency in early 2020. When the pandemic set in, he went to work, putting every ounce of his energy into connecting newly locked-down workers with the money they needed to buy food, medicine, diapers, and medicine. He would call it “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” He saw problems with the system, some ethical, others legal. He rationalized what he could. He opposed the rest. My friend was fired.

He spent the next several months watching in horror as the benefits system crumbled, with workers spending endless months without benefits, hitting metaphoric brick walls in the agency, and having nobody in the agency empowered to advocate for them. My friend gave an interview to a national media outlet, and when the reporter asked how it felt to watch all of the people in pain as they waited for help that was promised but never provided, he responded simply, “It kills me.” A few weeks later, my friend took his own life.

For well over a year, I did what many people affected by suicide do. I talked with people. I raged against the people who hurt my friend and his family. I blamed myself. I researched and read, looking for something to make it make sense. I looked at studies. Everything I learned about depression, anxiety, PTSD, secondary trauma, and how they affected lawyers was really insightful, but never really a complete picture.

Then one day, I was in my car, listening to a science podcast about the “invisible epidemic” of moral injury. I gripped my steering wheel and yelled, struck by the realization that this was the piece that fit. When a principled person leans into his moral fortitude at a time when very little else is available, and when that sense of morality is shattered … it’s a whole lot to come back from. And we are made of flesh and bone, not iron and steel

I had been staring into the same abyss as my friend. Because the fact is that I truly believed that I had let him down. And I carried with me every cut from every point in my career when I had helped people advance their own interests against my own sense of morality. In recent years, I opened my own firm. I represent only people I want to and do a lot of pro bono.

While I don’t represent people I don’t want to represent, I am still at risk for moral injury every time I see the justice system (that I prop up) hurt people who don’t deserve it. I’ve watched my opposing counsel wince as they open old wounds in my clients in depositions because it is their job. I’ve heard a government lawyer lament, “Robyn, I have no discretion here” when a person’s ability to feed a family was at stake. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it, and I know that it’s real. 

You are reading this piece on a blogsite where my dear friend Claire gives you tools to process, understand, and heal. You are here to learn about the tools to help you work within the sphere of your own control. But in case nobody has told you this lately, it’s okay to conclude that the things outside your control might be wrong. Real wrong. And you are not a freak for wanting to break free from it.  It’s incredibly okay to leave. To adapt. To grow.

My favorite scene from Spirited is a deleted scene showcased in the credits. Will Ferrell’s character wants to know what the everlasting effect of a single act can be – a “ripple.” He wonders, “I have to believe, inside the worst of us there is some decency there …  we can achieve something miraculous if we only dare.” That’s true. It is. It’s true of our clients, and it is always true of us.

Because it’s not about winning. Or raking in money. Or having other people be afraid of you.  That’s the old way of evaluating success in our industry. The new way, and the way Spirited has considerately reminded us of, is that you can take account of your own worth. And you can decide when someone has asked of you the unaskable. And you can say “no.” You can heal, and you can help others heal. And you can determine your fate from there.

Robyn Smith is an employee-side lawyer at The Law Office of Robyn Smith in Louisville, Kentucky.  She chose the area of employment law to protect workers, who she believes are Kentucky’s greatest resource. Robyn has represented workers in litigation against massive institutions, both public and private. She is also a mother of two and committed to improving her community and the profession. Robyn has been honored for her pro bono work, is a coach for law school client counseling competitions, and teaches Law Practice Management at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

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Inspirational Interview with a Lawyer Who Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro

This month, I am talking and thinking a lot about possibilities. It’s a fitting theme for me because a totally new possibility opened up for me when I published my first book How to Be a Badass Lawyer. No, the world didn’t stop and it wasn’t an international bestseller overnight, though I was ecstatic when it attained #1 New Release status on Amazon.

Still, I have wanted to write a book for years. When you achieve a long-term goal like that, it causes you to reconsider who you are and what you can do. I have a lawyer friend, Christon Halkiotis, who recently did something that caused the same reflection. She’s a lawyer in North Carolina and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this September to raise money for Multiple Myeloma Research. All told, her group raised $200,000.00.

It’s a pretty amazing story and Christon has some others to share too. She started her law practice just before the pandemic started, she learned to market her practice on social media, and she is one of my awesome co-authors for the bestselling book Networked.

I had Christon join me on Instagram Live for one of the blog’s Easy Like Sunday chats. She shared her story and dropped some knowledge, badassery, and inspiration. What I loved most was that Christon explained that mindfulness helped her get through the toughest parts of the climb. Check out the interview here.

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Compliance with Care? How Intentional Lawyering Can Save the World

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by experienced employment attorney and friend of the blog, Bob Coursey. You’ll learn about Bob’s character and values just by reading this piece but for more detail check out his bio below.

I was talking with a fellow management-side employment lawyer (who is also a friend) recently and I made an offhand comment encouraging her to go out and continue doing the good work of protecting our nation’s employers.

She corrected me: “Actually, I feel like most of what I do when it comes to counseling employers is protecting employees . . .” 

She was 100% right.

I told her I was glad she “corrected” my comment about our job being all about protecting employers. I further told her I felt a little silly that we were even having this exchange, because this is one of my pet issues: I believe there is a common misconception among many (including some of my close friends and family) that, as an employment lawyer who counsels and represents management, my job is somehow anti-employee. 

That is so far from the truth. But convincing anyone of that is not the point of this article.  Instead, my point is that by lawyering with intentionality we can make the world a better place. My life experience is as a management-side employment lawyer, so the specifics I discuss here relate to employment law.

I’ve been a lawyer for a long time now, and it’s clear to me that management-side employment lawyers are in a position to be a great force for good for employees. But being in that position and acting on it are two different things. I can look to my own 24-year career as a management-side employment lawyer and see that. 

Early in my career (before many humbling life experiences, and before discovering meditation, mindfulness, and intentionality), I didn’t consider, at least not with any intentionality, the bigger picture of my counsel to and representation of my clients. Being a zealous advocate meant the client’s interest was my singular focus. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that philosophy. I was very effective and abided by all of my professional ethical duties.

Fast forward a couple decades. I’m a work in progress, like all of us, but I feel confident saying the years have made me wiser when it comes to how I advise my clients.

If you’re not interested in making the world a better place, this article isn’t for you, and that’s fine. But for those of you lawyers who want to be a force for good but aren’t sure how, let me remind you that our jobs likely provide us many opportunities to be a force for good–if we’re intentional about how we lawyer. By lawyering with intentionality, we can help our clients do well by helping them do good.

There’s a lot of suck in the world. To counter the suck, we need good people to act. For most people, the ability to do good is often limited to their own direct actions. But if you’re a lawyer, doing your job often means advising other people on how to act. There’s power there. 

We wield that power whether we are intentional about it or not. 

Let me be clear: Nothing I’m saying here should be interpreted as suggesting we lawyers violate, or even flirt with violating, our ethical duties to our clients. Our counsel to our clients should never put our clients’ interests or legal compliance subservient to the interests of others. What I am suggesting is that for lawyers to ignore the bigger picture, the broader community of interests, is often to do a disservice not only to those other interests, but to our clients too.

It’s easy for lawyers to fall into the trap of thinking of the much of the world as an us-versus-them environment. We rarely hear from our clients when things are rosy. The world can sound like a pretty troublesome place when every call you take, every email you read, is about disagreements, arguments, accusations, and various troubles between humans. For those lawyers who spend a significant part of their time defending their clients in litigation (like I did for the first 10 years of my career), it may be even harder to avoid falling into this us-versus-them trap.

Now 24 years and lots of life experiences into my career, my heart is softer, my perspective is broader, and at the same time I feel like I’ve never been a better legal adviser. I guess practice makes perfect, because I’ve spent thousands of hours counseling companies to:

  • -protect employees from harassers/bullies/jerks
  • -accommodate employees with health, family, religious, or other needs
  • -support or coach employees instead of imposing discipline
  • -communicate better with employees
  • -promote deserving employees
  • -allow employees to work from home for health or other personal reasons

These are some examples of the type of employee-friendly counsel that I offer when I believe it’s in my client’s best interests, which is almost 100% of the time.

It’s exceedingly rare that good legal counsel in a workplace situation calls for taking an aggressively antagonistic, anti-employee approach. When those unfortunate situations present themselves, we management-side employment lawyers should counsel our clients accordingly. But treating employees with humanity, dignity, and fairness should always be the default.

In my field of employment law, this philosophy yields good client results. How do I know? Clients tell me. I see the lawsuits that don’t get filed. I see the careers that aren’t ended prematurely. I see workplace relationships salvaged. I hear about workplaces where trust exists between employees and management. I could tell you about countless situations that had lawsuit written all over them, but because I worked with my client to take an intentionally employee-focused approach to handling the situation, litigation was avoided.

I believe the same philosophy can yield similar positive results in other areas of law. Regardless of the area of law, there’s almost always a broader perspective to consider than our clients’ specific interest. There’s almost always going to be others affected by our clients’ decisions and actions, for better or worse. For me, it’s my clients’ employees and those employees’ families and communities that I choose to consider with intentionality when I advise my clients. Who is it for your clients?

The world can look like a very dark place to a lot of people in 2022. Our clients and their communities are dealing with everything ranging from mental health struggles to hate and violence. As lawyers, the nature of our job means that we are sought out by clients when they are facing some of the hardest times in their lives, and they look to us for counsel through these dark times.

Are lawyers going to solve all of these problems? Of course not. But in my small part of the world, I have no doubt that my clients have a huge role to play in their employees’ lives, which means that as their employment lawyer, I’m in a position to do some good, not only for my clients, but often in the broader sense. And the world needs every single bit of good it can get. I bet you can say the same about your clients, and your role in advising them.

Our jobs give us the privilege of having a part to play in the lives of many people, which has ripple effects on the world. It’s up to us what we do with that privilege, whether those ripples are positive or negative. Today, I’m going to look for opportunities to do some good in the world. I hope you’ll join me.

Author Bio: Bob Coursey has been an employment lawyer for over 20 years. He spent his first 10 years of practice at Fisher Phillips, one of the most respected employment law firms in the country, where he defended companies in employment related litigation. He then spent 11 years at Employers Council, where he focused his practice on keeping employers out of trouble. In 2021, Bob started his own company—Modern Age Employment Law—where he counsels, represents, and trains employers who are looking for a modern approach to their employment law and HR challenges. Bob is licensed to practice law in Utah and Georgia. He’s also a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).Despite all that very dry sounding info, Bob is actually a real person too. He’s a music lover, an OK drummer who still dreams of being a rock star, a daily meditator and certified meditation teacher, a Peloton enthusiast, a t-shirt re-designer, a lover of Utah’s outdoors, and a husband and father of four kids who bring him immense joy.

Not Every Meditation Teacher Is for Everyone; An Interview about Eckhart Tolle.

There are so many resources, websites, books, and teachers of meditation out there now that it is very likely that, at some point, you may come across one you don’t like. You know what? That’s not really a problem.

There are many different meditation techniques from numerous disciplines. Even though many meditation practices have been studied in a clinical setting, the practice can be deeply personal and spiritual. In this way, it’s a good thing that there are lots of different teachers out there because there is bound to be one or more who speak to your experience.

In this interview, our founder, Claire Parsons, talks with her friend, Talar Heculian Coursey about influential teacher, Eckhart Tolle. Claire isn’t a superfan but Talar is. Check it out to learn more about Tolle’s teachings and style and to consider how teaching style can affect the way you’ve learned mindfulness.

Not into video? No problem. Scroll on down for a full transcript of the video with some links to Talar’s profile and website, as well as the past blog posts and other resources we mentioned.

Claire Parsons (“CP”): All right. Hey, everyone. This is Claire Parsons from the Brilliant Legal Mind blog and we are trying something new this week. We are trying one of our first ever video blog series. So I have with me to Talar Herculian Coursey. And if I said her name wrong, I’m sorry. She’s a good friend of mine from LinkedIn.

I am debunking myths this month on the blog. And so one of the myths that I wanted to debunk in this series is to talk about the idea that what happens when you come across a meditation teacher, you maybe don’t care for that much. If you saw a few weeks ago, I did a post about Kendrick Lamar, his new album and men’s mental health. And in that album, Kendrick Lamar name drops, Eckhart Tolle quite a bit. Eckhart Tolle had been on my reading list for a long time and when Kendrick Lamar you know, mentioned him so much I was kind of intrigued.

So I listened to The Power of Now and my honest opinion, is it it wasn’t amazing to me. I didn’t think it was bad. I didn’t think you said anything wrong. But it just didn’t speak to me. But my friend Talar loves Eckhart Tolle, and so I wanted to have her here to talk about why, just to sort of point out that maybe you don’t like a meditation teacher, but maybe somebody else does and that there’s a lot of different opinions out there about meditation teachers and what works. So we can talk about this so Talar, can you first of all, give me just an overview, a quick snapshot of who you are.

Talar Herculian Coursey (“TC”): Hi Claire. I am a wife, a mom to four kids, a dog mom, general counsel for an auto dealership during the day, children’s book author by night, and now a new life coach with my certification pending, among other things.

CP: Yeah, congratulations. on that. I just saw that. So that’s amazing. Talar. I know in addition to all of those things, you you have been certified to teach yoga and I know you do have an interest in mindfulness. Can you talk about that? Just a little bit.

TC: Definitely. My, my first introduction to mindfulness was through yoga. And I, I used to refer to it as my moving meditation. And while I do meditate, I use the calm app, and I try to meditate at least 10 minutes every day through the daily 10 minute meditation. I am not very consistent. I do enjoy it, but not as much as yoga so for me, the mindfulness practice of yoga that includes both not just both mind, body and breath, the connection is what really works for me and what I look forward to doing as opposed to sitting down to meditate which confession, even when I do my 10 minute meditations, I do it lying down. I know she tells you straight back, sit up, stay alert. I don’t do it. I don’t follow those instructions. But it works for me.

CP: And yeah, I usually sit up because I don’t want to fall asleep. But I sometimes lay down to meditate and it’s generally okay to find a posture that works for you. She’s probably just telling you to try to be alert on that app, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. So I asked you here to talk about Eckhart Tolle, and I know at some point on LinkedIn, like you had like Eckhart Tolle, like fan girl or devotee or something on your LinkedIn profile. So what is it about Eckhart Tolle that you like so much?

TC: It’s groupie. I am a self proclaimed Eckhart Tolle groupie. I don’t think that group these are just for musical bands. I think that authors can have them too and I and I’m one of his. I would like to think I’m his number one groupie. It’s really hard to say it’s kind of like obscenity you know, when you see it you know, and I guess for Eckhart toll, it’s, it’s when you listen to it, or when you read it. And it’s funny, you mentioned that, you know, you’re not a fan.

My first introduction to Eckhart Tolle was actually in Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier. I don’t know if you’ve read that or if you’re Dan Harris, and he wasn’t a fan either. But I went down that rabbit hole, and actually started with listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Eckhart Tolle. She did you know, I think it was a 10 part series, one podcast episode, per chapter where she interviewed at cart. So I listened to that before I read the book, and I don’t know if perhaps that helped me. Get you know more comfortable with the book. But I have the book in print. I have multiple copies that I gift to people, whether they want it or not. Some people return that gift. It does happen because he’s not for everyone. It’s kind of like caviar. You know, I don’t like caviar, but apparently some people do. I also have the power of now and a new earth on audio.

And so I like going to various chapters on the audio when I’m taking a walk and need to recenter myself. I just I just the way that he explains concepts and what he talks about, really works for me, and specifically, this concept of us being the watcher of the ego. You know, for me when I am trying to practice mindfulness, and not just because I’m trying to meditate or do yoga, really in interpersonal relationships. And conflict, even in communications on LinkedIn. After reading a Eckhart’s work, I will literally take a step back and watch my ego my ego might want to trash talk and complain and and argue but I will take a step back to watch my ego and recognize that it’s my ego that’s having that reaction. And in my opinion, I think most of the time, when we are reactive, you know, that is the ego at work as opposed to your you no mindful, true self. I can’t remember the question, but hopefully somewhere in there I answered.

CP: I think you did. You might have gotten into some of my later questions too, but no worries I can adjust. So, one of the things that in when you say when you talked about this think the thing that I like about Eckhart Tolle was the fact that I think he does explain concepts with a lot of clarity. The thing about his story that I think is the hardest for me is that in everything that I’ve learned about meditation and Buddhism, the enlightenment piece is the thing I struggle with most like I can’t necessarily conceive of it. You know, I’ve read about it, and I understand like, what in general it means, but I think his story is the hard part for me to understand how that just happens.

And so I think, he doesn’t get into the method as much like how to actually do these things. You know, he talks about concepts, but he doesn’t as much explain how to do it. He does get into meditation a little bit. I do like that. He talks about the importance of the body and meditation because I agree that that is very central. But like, that’s the piece that I have a disconnect with. He tells me where what the goal is. And he explains it very clearly. He doesn’t as much tell me how to get there. So when you say that you can watch yourself and your ego because you listen to him. Like can you connect those dots for me at all like in a practical way how his his work helped you do that?

TC: Like, you know, it’s hard to explain and I don’t you know, I don’t disagree with you. I don’t know that. His work. I don’t necessarily think of it as a you know, handbook guide for how to meditate and how to go about life. I think I think of it is more conceptual. And that you know, if you want to really hone in your mindfulness practice, you need to go deeper. You need to, you know, subscribe to your blog and listen to people like you to get the how, I don’t think he necessarily talks about how. I think he’s just painting the picture of where you can get to, and you know.

It’s interesting. I’m gonna go to something else you just said about the enlightenment piece. So I in addition to being Eckhart groupie, I’m also a Jesus groupie. And one of the things that I like about the way Eckhart describes his concepts he does pull in these great teachers, including Jesus, including Buddha, and Muhammad and all these other people. And his point as these concepts already exist and beliefs that you may already have you don’t have to choose one or the other. They’re not mutually exclusive. And he I feel like he describes it in different ways that different members of the audience might be able to understand it and for me as a Jesus groupie his reference to the Holy Spirit resonates with me in terms of enlightenment. So that’s what you know, my goal Nirvana, enlightenment that I’m trying to get to is access to the Holy Spirit within me, and stay true to that rather than the ego of my human form.

And for some people, you know, who don’t follow Jesus there that you know, maybe something else will. I, you know, I don’t think I’m fooling myself. I have had these moments where I feel like I’m back there. I’m literally having this out of body experience. And when I say back there, because I feel like I consider, you know, the ego being the outer shell of my body, not necessarily just in physical form, but the, you know, the animal part of me, and and when I think about having my out of body experience or tapping into the Holy Spirit, I literally envision myself stepping back. You know what I mean?

And watching this other person that happens to be me having this human experience, and that’s what I think that’s one of the other things he says is, he describes us as the spirit having a human experience, you know, and I just, I don’t know for me, it. I really enjoy the kinds of visuals that he represents, and especially as it relates to how much emphasis he puts on connection of all of us, that we are all connected by one Spirit, one energy, you know, and it each one of us is just having a human experience of that energy. So I like that concept and and because I do believe that we are all connected, and I think it’s just not just in our own personal best interests to support that mission. But also for the greater good as well.

CP: So you got a little mystical on me there. And I’m not necessarily I don’t think that’s bad or unimportant because I think those pieces of life matter a lot, but in practical terms, because honestly, the reason I love meditation so much is because it’s practical, and it’s useful. So, you know, for our readers, who are lawyers and professionals, I mean, what are the practical things that his teachings have helped you, you know, do in your life, what are the practical benefits, and you can just list them if it’s easier.

TC: Well, you know, I think it just comes down to one general term. And, and it’s avoiding being reactive. You know, and I think that that’s part of the goal in meditation, as mindfulness is to be able to take that pause and be responsive instead of being reactive. And after reading his work several times and listening to it. I’ve gotten better and better at doing it both in my personal relationships work on LinkedIn in any situations where like, I can feel the fire of reactive, you know, bubbling up, but I’m able to step back and pause. And my personal method, like I said, is questioning you know, the reactivity that I want to deliver, questioning whether that’s my ego or my true self. So that’s, that that’s been how I’ve been able to adopt it. So

CP: Basically, my next question was going to be that, you know, I read the power of now and what other resources would you look to but it sounds to me that you maybe already answered that earlier when you said that interview with Oprah, to kind of go through that and listen to Eckhart talk about his book and what it means maybe in a more personable setting, since Oprah is a miracle worker in terms of her interviews.

TC: Yeah, it was phenomenal. And like I said, I don’t know if I would be such a fan had I not listened to that first because it made work so much more accessible. Okay, great. That’s a good tip. Definitely that one and for anybody who hasn’t read 10% Happier. You know, that was my introduction to mindfulness work, I think, but I really enjoyed that. He’s a good storyteller too.

CP: Well, on that note, I am a fan of Tara Brach and in 10% Happier Dan Harris actually is kind of critical of Tara Brach, too. And I referenced one of this on one of our earlier blog posts, but there’s a later interview of Tara Brach on Dan Harris’s podcast and they discuss that and they have a real nice conversation about how they both learn from that. So I definitely, I think for that reason, I’m probably like not wanting to go after Eckart Tolle and say bad things about him because like, I got really mad at Dan Harris. I was like “really?”

So I try I understand that there’s a lot of differences with respect to how people react to teachers, and that every teacher isn’t for everybody. So that’s kind of why I wanted to do this. So on that note, like if there is someone out there who finds a meditation teacher or reads a book or listens to some guided meditations or whatever, and they just don’t like the teacher, what would you tell them to do? If they were still interested in mindfulness?

TC: Keep looking. Absolutely keep looking. You know what, what I would analogize it to is food. We we all like different things. Just because you like fish and I don’t doesn’t make the fish bad. And you don’t stop eating. You keep searching for what works for you. And, I mean, personally, it’s been suggestions from friends and of course, my husband is also a certified meditation teacher, and he’s the one who first introduced me to Dan Harris and 10% Happier and he’s had a great practice for many years, but I would take suggestions from different people don’t hold it against them if you don’t like it.

I mean, Claire, you and I can still be friends even though you don’t understand how wonderful Eckhart is. He’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. But I think with the amazing amount of literature and people who are available in the mindfulness realm right now, you will find people that you love. It’s the same for yoga teachers with me. There’s, I love yoga, but if I don’t have a teacher, whose voice I like to hear, like if it’s cringy I’m gonna have a terrible practice the same with a meditation teacher, or if I don’t like the way that they are describing the poses or if they’re going too fast, whatever the case.

You know, I, I absolutely think it’s worth the effort to find someone that you like and you enjoy and it doesn’t have to be just one person you can find several. If there’s one thing I could tell my younger self, have a mindfulness practice sooner. In fact, one of my goals is to start a yoga practice at my son’s middle school like once a week 10 minutes to start getting them familiar and use us to mindfulness at a younger age because, you know, I didn’t learn about it until I was in my 40s.

CP: Okay, so Talar I really appreciate you talking to me today and explaining some things that I may have missed with respect to Eckhart, so thank you very much. So just so people can find you. If people do want to find you, where should they look? You can find

TC: Find me most days at the LinkedIn coffee shop, which is just the platform but it’s kinda like a coffee shop, Talar Herculian Coursey. I also have a website, which is wwwtalaresq.com. And if you’re in Salt Lake City where I live, give me a shout just don’t be creepy and follow me home or anything like that. That’s where you can find me.

CP: All right, follow on LinkedIn. Do not follow home. All right, everyone. This is our interview blog with Talar and I really appreciate you taking a watch and checking out the blog. So I hope we’ll have some new stuff up next month including we might have a guest post from to Talar’s husband Bob so stay tuned for that. And we will see you later. Bye.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Is Compassion for Others Different from Self-Compassion?

I spent a lot of time this summer thinking and writing about compassion. For much of the summer, I was writing my forthcoming book on mindfulness and compassion for lawyers (more details on that to follow). I also completed the Compassion Educator Certification course with the Compassion Education Alliance. In the midst of all this writing and learning, I realized a gray area existed in my understanding of the subject.

Most of the time, teachers instruct self-compassion separately from compassion for others. But as I wrote about it and thought about it more I realized something unexpected: they weren’t separate at all. This was kind of surprising to me, so I asked my teacher and the founder of the Compassion Education Alliance, Aly Waibel (full bio below), to clarify. Her answer was so good that I asked her for an interview so I could share it with you here.

Q. Self-compassion is fortunately getting more attention lately, but is it any different from compassion for everyone else? If so, can you explain how? 

AW: Compassion is the awareness of another’s suffering coupled with a willingness to take action to relieve it. Compassion is relational and so always includes self and other, by definition. The suffering we’re aware of may be in ourselves or another, and the compassionate response or the desire to relieve the suffering is similar, regardless of who is suffering. 

Self-compassion is a new term, and was originated by Kristin Neff as an antidote to self-esteem, which is based on social comparison. The self component of compassion is important to develop as many of us are inclined or conditioned to offer compassion to others and we can forget about ourselves. We can forget that we are just as deserving of compassion as others, or forget to include ourselves in the circle of compassion.

Most of us have a negative critical voice in the head that is constantly narrating our experience with judgments, criticisms and preferences. This voice in the head can be like a bully or cruel tyrant. Self-compassion is a way to bring awareness to this negative self-talk in order to shift it toward more kindness. It helps connect us to our core values and strengths so we are more resourceful and available to others.

Q. So, why are we hearing about all these studies that say self-compassion is good for us? Why would we want to build self-compassion at all? Shouldn’t we just focus on building compassion overall?

AW: There are three RCT studies on the Mindful Self-Compassion training program and over 4000 published studies on self-compassion in other forms. This growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is a primary factor in predicting resilience, decreasing stress, and increasing wellbeing.

The benefits of recognizing our common humanity and offering ourselves the kindness we’d offer a friend are many. However, it’s one component of the bigger process we call compassion. Compassion is relational and our concepts of self and other arise simultaneously. Any time we practice compassion for another, we are the primary beneficiary, and when we practice compassion for ourselves, others in our lives benefit. 

Q. Are you saying that self-compassion and compassion for others aren’t in opposition to each other? Do they actually work together/help each other? 

AW: They must go together, like two wheels of a bike. We can’t have one without the other. If we go too far into compassion for others we run the risk of becoming codependent and if we go too far into self-focused compassion we run the risk of becoming narcissistic or indulging in unhealthy self regard at the expense of others. 

It’s all about balance. When I’m attending to my own needs, for example, I’m less of a burden on my loved ones. When I practice self-inquiry to question the thoughts I’m believing that cause my own stress, I feel more freedom and peace. And then I’m more aware and available to others who may need support or help. When I’m overly self-focused, I miss opportunities to help others. When I’m overly other-focused I run the risk of becoming burned out and then, again, less helpful to others. Most of us have experienced going through a really difficult time or life event and how offering compassion to someone else in the midst of that can feel really good. In other words, shifting focus away from me and my suffering to be there for you can support us both. 

So the caution around self-compassion, for me, is that it may sound like it’s separate from compassion for others, or compassion in itself. Compassion is one process – it flows through individuals and helps each one who is involved — the giver and the receiver. Eventually, the distinction between the giver and the receiver of compassion becomes much less relevant. So regardless of where the suffering originates (in me or in you) the response to it is the same — an awareness of it and a willingness to relieve it, to reduce overall suffering in the system or in the world. 

Q. Wait, if there is no dividing line between compassion for self and compassion for others, how do I protect myself and set appropriate boundaries?  

AW: My experience is that with compassion practice, boundaries naturally arise. I don’t need to calculate, plan or think about boundaries as much. The ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ are more natural and intuitive and flow more naturally. There’s less obligation to say ‘yes’ and less guilt when ‘no’ is the answer.

Q. If compassion is a natural response for most humans, why do we need to do practices to cultivate it? What’s the best way to get started?  

AW: It’s sort of like working out. If we’re fortunate enough to have healthy bodies, we can work out and build our muscles to become stronger, or not. The body is innate and what we choose to do with it, or how we train it, is a choice. Compassion is like a muscle we’re born with that we can build with practices (meditation and visualization practices), so when we’re confronted with suffering in and around us, the compassionate response and capacity to relieve the suffering will be more likely to arise. Similar to how athletes will visualize their race or the game before going out to the field, remembering or imagining moments of compassion in a visualization or meditation can have a similar effect on our performance out on the field of daily life.

One of the best places to start practicing compassion is with mindfulness. Mindfulness is being with what is in the moment without judgment. You share great resources for getting started with mindfulness on your blog! 

Most of us are very caught up in thinking – thinking about the past, planning for the future, judging others or circumstances, comparing ourselves to others, etc. We can get so caught up in and distracted by our thinking that we miss the present moment. And compassion requires our presence. 


Aly Waibel has taught mindfulness and compassion courses and workshops since 2012 and she is a Senior Certified Teacher of the Compassion Cultivation Training course developed at Stanford University. Aly received her PhD in Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona College of Education in 2015 and has served in nonprofit leadership roles since 2015. She is currently the Associate Executive Director of Professional Training and Operations at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. In 2021, Aly founded the nonprofit organization Compassion Education Alliance (CEA), a global collective that offers courses and support to compassion practitioners, educators and social change agents. She works closely with her fiancé, James Wood, author of Ten Paths to Freedom: Awakening Made Simple.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Severance: A Thought Provoking Show about Controlling Thoughts

How would it feel to be fully present at home, without a thought or worry about any work-related issue?

How would you feel if you could experience that same presence while at work?

If that sounds appealing, would you ever consider a procedure that could create complete work/life separation?

That’s the premise of Severance, a sci-fi series set in a fictional town in which employees undergo a surgical procedure to separate their thoughts about work and home. Employees who are “severed” can’t think about work once they leave the office and they can’t carry their home stressors into the workplace.

I binge watched the series this summer and I can’t stop thinking about it, both because of its stellar cast and the thought-provoking questions it presents.

The first season focused on Mark, an office worker who undergoes the severance procedure as a way to deal with the loss of his wife. The procedure enables him to shed his grief each day as he rides the elevator to his office. Once the elevator doors open, Mark has no awareness of his life outside the office, which enables him and his colleagues to focus solely on their work.

At least that’s the intention. The reality is that the severed employees spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their “outies,” their selves outside the workplace. They wonder if they have families, whether they are good people and if they are happy. And when they need support, the severed employees are treated to stories about their “outies,” which suggests that the company understands how important it is for the workers to understand all aspects of their lives.

Although the show provides an extreme example of corporate culture and the quest for work/life balance, it presents some fascinating questions like:

  • What does it mean to be fully present? Is it necessary to clear our mind from distracting thoughts in order to focus on the present moment? If you’ve studied or practiced mindfulness, you know how unrealistic that is. And even in the fictional world of Severance, the goal of having a singular focus is not achieved, despite surgical intervention.
  • Is there an expectation that we can (or should) be able to compartmentalize our lives? In the show, the severance procedure is touted as a way to be more productive at work and to be more present at home. But is separating these parts of our lives a good thing? Do we want coworkers who can’t draw on life lessons, ambitions and beliefs formed outside the workplace? Is it good for them to be severed from the connections that ground them and the commitments that provide the motivation to tackle hard things? Conversely, don’t we want people to apply lessons learned on the job in their lives outside the workplace? And don’t we want coworkers to build connections and support networks outside the office?
  • Do we sometimes use work as an escape? Mark’s choice to undergo the severance procedure to escape his grief is not unlike the choices many people make to keep themselves busy and avoid feeling difficult emotions. [Spoiler alert] In the show, as in real life, that doesn’t really work.
  • What happens when we can’t find meaning, purpose or a reasonable amount of autonomy in our work? Mark and his team work in the Department of Macrodata Refinement sorting numbers. Aside from being told that their jobs are “mysterious and important,” they don’t understand the purpose of their work or how it fits into the larger picture. Instead, they are given rigid instructions, kept under constant surveillance and given meager incentives like company branded finger traps and team photos. Not surprisingly, this creates discontent, makes them less invested in their work and [another spoiler alert] sets them on a journey to change things. It is not that hard to see how this part of the series is an example of the disconnect that often exists between what employers think will lead to job satisfaction and what employees need or want.

My takeaway from Severance is that a complete separation of thoughts about your work and home life is neither achievable nor desirable. Although you may view the person you are at work as different than the person you are to your family and friends, the reality is that we bring our whole selves to the workplace – our experiences, our biases, our feelings, our thoughts, our hopes – all of it. And when we leave the job at the end of
the day, a piece of that work self comes home with us.

The story of Mark and his severed coworkers also shows what can happen when we are stuck in a life that exists solely for work. It demonstrates how connection is a powerful motivator and that even surgically induced-work life separation or carefully curated employee incentives are no match for the human need for community and purpose.

Laura Anthony is a lawyer who is fascinated by the intersection of law and human behavior. She is an education lawyer as well as a mediator, investigator and hearing officer and often draws upon her background and interest in psychology in her practice. She is also a not-so-regular practitioner of yoga and meditation and brings her real-world struggles making healthy choices to her role as the chair of her firm’s Wellness
Committee. Laura can be found posting about her practice and her love of chocolate and libraries on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

Neurodiversity in Law Advocate, Haley Moss, Shares Her Thoughts on Extraordinary Attorney Woo

This blog usually encourages you to meditate, but in this post I’m going to make a recommendation that you may not expect: watch some Korean TV. You may have heard or watched Squid Game, but if that’s your only frame of reference you are missing out. Kingdom was a great political period drama but also with zombies. Rookie Historian was a great political period drama but also with the most deliciously awkward romantic subplot I have ever seen. Inspector Koo was a great mystery show but with a female detective so unruly she might make Veronica Mars laugh out loud and blush at the same time.

Even though I don’t really love legal TV dramas, this background compelled me to take note when my lawyer friends started to talk about Extraordinary Attorney Woo, now streaming on Netflix. I’m a school lawyer and have extensive experience with special education matters. One of the neat things I’ve seen evolve during the last decade is the increased attention to disability issues and neurodiversity in popular culture. As the show tells us, Attorney Woo is about a young attorney starting her practice in Korea but she’s an attorney who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The show is entertaining and it definitely has some of that delicious awkward romantic tension I loved from Rookie Historian. Critically, though, it also educates and advocates at the same time. When I saw this, Haley Moss immediately came to mind.

I have never met Haley, but I was supposed to in March, 2020 when we were both honored by Ms. JD. Unfortunately, the awards ceremony was the same week that states of emergency relating to COVID-19 began rolling out and so I never met Haley. Fortunately, though, I stayed connected with her and watched her work progress.

Haley is a leader on disability inclusion, autism and neurodiversity in the workplace, the author of 4 books, and, upon her swearing in, she became Florida’s first documented openly autistic attorney in 2019. At this point, she’s also an unofficial expert of Extraordinary Attorney Woo because she has been busy lately talking to numerous Korean press outlets about it.

I reached out to Haley to get her thoughts on the show. Here’s my brief interview with her:

Q: You’ve expressed a favorable reaction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo in past interviews, what about the show is exciting to you? 

A: The show definitely pushed some boundaries in a good way, although it isn’t enough and it’s a trend that needs to continue. I love how Attorney Woo has “main character energy” and gets to grow and learn and be her best self like many nondisabled characters do. She isn’t a prop for someone else’s growth. She has friends, hobbies, family – very “typical” things like any other young lawyer should have.

There is a pivotal moment to me where she represents an autistic person and comments on autism perceptions throughout history and how 80 years ago we weren’t worthy of life apparently and casting doubt on Hans Asperger’s legacy (if you didn’t know: he’s problematic – and Woo calls it out!). The show has slowly pushed boundaries, especially by showing someone in the legal field, a woman no less, and that monologue really got me. 

Q. Most of us know that lawyer TV shows aren’t always the most realistic, but was there anything about Attorney Woo that spoke to your experience as an attorney?

A: I can’t even comment on the realism too much since we know the Korean legal system and American legal system are not the same! But, how Attorney Woo approaches problem solving and is creative with a different thought process than her colleagues is most similar to what my experiences have been. 

Q. In this blog, we focus on mindfulness and mental health topics for lawyers and professionals. What role, if any, does the representation of neurodiversity in popular media have on mental health? 

A. Neurodiversity and mental health go hand in hand. I think that’s something that gets lost a lot in both the mainstream neurodiversity conversation and the mainstream mental health conversation – especially for lawyers. 

Mainstream neurodiversity has an overarching focus on autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities that may require less workplace support or perceived as superpowers; traditionally this focuses on who society perceives as being more “desirable.” But what media representation we get out of autism, especially in popular media, is limited and often damaging; think Rain Man, a movie that is older than me and lives on in peoples’ minds about what autism is.   

Lawyer mental health almost exclusively focuses on depression, anxiety, and substance use – which leaves out people with more highly stigmatized mental health conditions, and ignores the fact that nearly all of these conditions are forms of neurodivergence. In addition, most “traditional” forms of neurodivergence (for lack of a better word; i.e., autism, ADHD, learning disabilities) more often than not do have co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Q: If the streaming higher powers bring us an American remake of Attorney Woo, what would you like to see done differently and why? 

A: Well, I’d like to consult on it! There are known autistic attorneys in the U.S., so not inviting our perspective would be a massive faux pas. There are also no autistic actors, writers, directors, or creatives involved in the show, which is disheartening. Disability (and autism) representation in Hollywood has always been an inclusion issue that’s poorly addressed. How we’re portrayed also matters.

Q. What other shows, movies or other media (besides your own books which I already plugged) do you recommend for lawyers who want to  learn more about neurodiversity at work? 

A: I love some of the resources from Genius Within CIC, Victoria Honeybourne’s “The Neurodiverse Workplace,” (although it is a little UK-centric), and some big company employee resource groups are really doing great stuff. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot solely dedicated to lawyers but I am working hard to change that! 

Have you watched Extraordinary Attorney Woo? What did you think about it? Leave us a comment to let us know.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Confidence in Job Searches: Interview with Legal Recruiter Bryan Silver

We are talking about confidence this month on the blog. What does that term mean to you as it relates to the work you do for attorney recruitment?

In terms of my work, confidence means trusting my experience and skills enough to do the work involved in building rapport quickly with the best and brightest BigLaw Mid-Level Associates, and getting them to trust me with their careers.  I have confidence in my communication style that I’ve built over the years that allows me to get along stupidly well with smart attorneys.  I get confidence when I think about the ways in which what I do has significantly helped people. 

I’ve had a candidate get a $110K boost in his base salary.  Others get the mentoring or the adjustment in responsibilities they’re looking for.  Some move to a place where the billable hourly requirement offers an improvement in work-life balance.  I know these things give people meaningful change that they feel both in their careers but also in their lives outside of work. 

The job market for lawyers is really active right now. Does that mean confidence doesn’t really matter or matters less?

It always matters.  Having confidence allows someone to do their best work. Whether they are on an interview, or doing attorney work.  Even if there is an increased demand for talent, the firms and businesses who hire attorneys are still interested in working with the best people.  

Confidence tends to be important for lawyers, but how important is it when searching for a job or transitioning to a new role? Why do you think it is important?

I think it’s very important to appear confident when job searching or starting somewhere new.  The reason that it’s so important is because there is competition for each role.  All that law firm or business cares about is their needs and how to fill them.  They’re interested in hiring the candidate who makes the very best business sense.  The margin between the candidate who gets an offer and the one who doesn’t could be razor-thin. 

I often compare it to the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding competition.  Can you tell the difference between who wins first and second place?  Me neither.  Your interview might come down to a “photo finish.”  Feeling and appearing as confident as possible will help you achieve your peak performance and make the best possible presentation in an interview.  

Do attorneys looking for new roles care about how confident prospective firms appear? If so, in what ways?

Absolutely.  Attorneys are looking for firms that can help them achieve their goals and solve their limitations.  I deal with candidates who get multiple offers.  They select the firm that best checks their important boxes.  The one that can best be the aspirin to their headache.  The main boxes are money, responsibilities, hours, lifestyle, environment and future career growth. 

How does one effectively project confidence while searching for a job without looking like an arrogant jerk or overselling their abilities? 

Your interview is a sales presentation.  Zig Ziglar said, “selling is caring, and if you care you must sell.”  I think adopting a more positive outlook on sales helps.  Instead of looking at it as something that you do TO somebody, look at it as something you do FOR and WITH somebody.” You don’t want to sell ice to an Eskimo.  You want to sell HEAT to an Eskimo.  You can confidently present that your experience and skills are the solution to the company’s problems.  This is not arrogance.  It’s exactly what the interviewer is hoping to see.  I always remind people before interviews to turn the volume up on their strength and what is unique about them. 

Recently I presented a candidate who mostly did Toxic Tort Defense work to a firm that did more sophisticated complex commercial litigation.  He was worried that his experience wouldn’t be very highly regarded.  I reminded him that they wouldn’t be interviewing him if there wasn’t a serious chance that he could win.  Then I remember saying, “maybe you haven’t worked on Cryptocurrency matters yet, but I bet you’re the only candidate they’re going to meet who speaks English, Spanish and Chinese.”  I learned that the team was divided between him and one other candidate and the final decision came down to the Practice Group lead. 

What practical tips do you offer the attorneys you work with to help them boost confidence to prepare for interviews?

I tell people to do their homework on the firm and the interviewers.  Think of their best skills and plan to tell stories that demonstrate these skills.  I tell people to prepare good questions for the interviewers because asking questions shows interest.  I always suggest that people try to relax and trust their experience.  I liken it to Tiger Woods teeing off on the first hole at Torrey Pines.  When he walks to the tee, he’s not thinking about every little nuance of his swing.  He’s not thinking about his foot position or club-head speed.  Because he’s so well prepared by all of his experience, he’s able to simply approach the ball and swing.  I tell people that no one is going to be able to talk about their experience better than they can, so just approach the ball and swing. 

Bryan Silver leads the national associate division for the Attorney Search Group. In this role, he helps law firms build the best teams and helps associate attorneys accelerate their careers. Bryan grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. He is an Eagles fan and aims to prove that it is possible to be a decent human being at the same time. After pivoting from a career in digital animation and visual effects in movies, Bryan spent years in a niche sales role, aimed at the legal industry. Outside of work, he enjoys stand-up comedy, baseball games, movies, playing guitar, trivia nights, barbecuing and scuba diving. He lives in San Diego with his Wife, Marie and 5-year-old Twins, Lily and Joey. Bryan has an interest in mindfulness and that’s what led me to connect with him on LinkedIn. He’s a good follow and you should find him there too.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.