Thanks for the Reminder

February 27, 2007

Here’s a link to an insightful article about the prevalence of depression in the legal profession. Some points to ponder from the studies cited in the article:

  • Of 28 occupations studied, lawyers were the most likely to suffer depression, and were more than 3.6 times more likely than average to do so.
  • A quality-of-life survey by the North Carolina Bar Association in 1991 revealed that almost 26% of respondents exhibited symptoms of clinical depression, and almost 12% said they contemplated suicide at least once a month.
  • Male lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide.
  • In all graduate-school programs in all professional fields except one, optimists outperform pessimists. The one exception: law school.

Every now and then, I toy with the idea of returning to practice.  This article reminds me why I left it in the first place.


Cold, Wet, Tired and Happy

February 26, 2007

official-time.JPGI ran the Colonial Half Marathon yesterday in Williamsburg.  It was wet, it was cold, it was long, it was hilly, and it was great fun.  My wife and 3-year old son were there cheering me on which made it all the better.

Next up:  an 8K in a couple of weeks with my 13 year old daughter.  Unlike her old man, I think she actually has some talent for this running thing, so I’m hoping it will be a good experience for her. 

Law Practice Part I – Not Your Typical Situation

February 18, 2007

While I’m 17 years out of law school and have recently passed the point at which I have spent as many years out of law practice as I did in it, I still often refer to myself as a “recovering lawyer”.  I am not sure why I feel compelled to do this.  By using this label I am simultaneously distancing myself from my lawyer self and embracing it.  If my first career path had been in publishing and I had then become a lawyer, would I refer to myself as a “recovering publisher”?  Somehow I doubt it.  For good or ill, three years of law school and learning to “think like a lawyer” , followed by the several-month ordeal of studying for and then taking the bar exam, leaves its mark.

And then there’s law practice. 

A few of my law school classmates joined a law firm directly out of school and have remained with the same firm ever since.  Most have moved around a bit, though, and a substantial number have left the practice entirely.  Regardless, I’d be willing to bet that few have had the variety of law practice experiences that I have.


My first position as a lawyer was with a solo practitioner who was extremely bright and extremely burned out.  He had recently split off from his law firm under circumstances that were somewhat less than amicable, and the baggage that he carried around from that was second only to the baggage that he carried around from his divorce, which had been nothing close to amicable.  Still, he was a good lawyer and a nice guy, and he basically gave me the keys to the store.  In some respects, it was an ideal situation for a newly-minted attorney who was still bubbling over with energy and idealism.  My boss paid the office rent and my salary (such as it was), and I had free rein to take on the world – as long as I didn’t expect him to share in my enthusiasm.  He made it quite clear that he would rather be doing something other than practicing law.  His cynicism and disillusionment would soon start to take their toll. 


One thing that he did enjoy, but hadn’t been able to turn into a full-time career, was teaching.  He was an adjunct professor at the local university’s business school, teaching business law.  On a couple of occasions he had a conflict with class, and turned things over to me – his first-year associate and designated substitute.  I was woefully underqualified to step in front of a classroom of 80 MBA students, most of whom were older and smarter than I was, and all of whom had more real-world business experience, and teach them anything – but it was great fun.  Thanks to a good course outline and more than a little bit of luck, I managed to stay a step ahead of them.


I did have some memorable law practice experiences as well.  Notably, though, I have very few memories of working at my desk – the office just wasn’t an inspiring atmosphere.  Instead, the experiences that made an impression on me took place outside of the office.  For instance, I vividly recall the sights, sounds and smells of my first jailhouse interview, talking to my client through a grate in the thick plexiglass window that separated visitor from inmate, and struggling to hear him over the yells and catcalls coming from inside. 


I also remember a trip to the state mental institution to meet with a woman for whom I had been appointed guardian ad litem.  I don’t recall too much about my client.  What I remember instead was almost jumping out of my skin when another patient who had been quietly shuffling down the hallway, shoulders slumped and head down, suddenly looked up, locked her eyes with mine, pointed straight at me and started laughing maniacally.  I don’t know what she saw, or what she thought she saw, but it wasn’t the same thing that I saw when I looked in the mirror.


Another memorable field trip was to a restaurant that had suddenly gone out of business.  My job was to inspect the premises to see what assets would be available for sale to satisfy the claims of its many creditors.  I went armed with a key and a flashlight – the key was to the padlock on the front door, and the flashlight was to find my way around, since the power had been cut off.  The owners had left in a hurry – the cash registers were empty, but the freezers weren’t.  Imagine, if you will, the sights and smells that awaited me upon entering a walk-in freezer after the power had been cut off for a couple of weeks….       


These are the sorts of memories that I have from my first year in practice.  Quite different from those of many of my law school classmates, some of whom wouldn’t even meet a client during their first year or two of practice.  I wasn’t yet a slave to the billable hour (that would come later), and I knew and appreciated that fact.  However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to be in a practice where I was being encouraged and mentored to look forward to something other than being out of practice.


So, after about a year, I thanked my boss for the opportunity and the experiences that he had made available to me, and told him that my wife and I had decided to move back to my hometown.  He took it personally, I’m afraid, and I’ve always regretted that.

Next: Part II

Automagic Import

February 16, 2007

A couple of weeks ago I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress, and explained that as I had not been able to “automagically” import the old blog posts onto the new site, I had to do it manually and as a result the imported posts would all have the same Feb. 3, 2007 date. Fortunately, David was good enough leave a comment pointing out that WordPress had recently upgraded its importing capabilities, and now supported imports from the “new” Blogger. So, I have taken advantage of this feature, imported the old blog, and deleted the posts that I had manually brought over to the new site. The good news is that all posts are now archived by date. The bad news is that I lost some good comments that had recently been left on some of the older posts that I manually brought over.  Should hopefully be smooth sailing going forward, though.

Clear as mud?

Last PACEM Post

February 14, 2007

My Sunday School class* had dinner duty for PACEM last night. A couple class members did the shopping (for 60 people!) on Sunday afternoon, a couple more spent most of Monday doing the cooking, and then the entire class, most of whom had their young children in tow, showed up at church on Monday evening to set up and serve. Everyone was eager to help out, as evidenced by my youngest daughter wielding a jello ladle in each hand.  jello-girl.JPGHow’s that for multitasking?

Several snippets of conversation that I had with our PACEM guests have stuck with me:


The man who, after meeting my youngest daughter, proudly told me that his own daughter would be turning 1 on Saturday.  I didn’t ask for details, but a tinge of sadness colored his fatherly pride.           

The man who took me aside to tell me that one of our church members, who was at a nearby table playing UNO with several PACEM guests and two of my daughters, was “the best lawyer in town.”  I knew from my experience as an attorney that he was right.

The man whose eyes lit up while watching my 3-year old son and his friends play with their Matchbox cars, and recounted his long ago and far away boyhood memories of his own extensive Matchbox car collection.  I imagined that little boy of 40 years ago, and wondered about the bumps in the road that he had encountered in the years since.   

There but for the grace of God….

*My Sunday School class is called the Kairos class.  “Kairos” is Greek for “the appointed time in the purpose of God”, the time when God acts.  Appropriate for last night, I think.   

How Long Do We Have?

February 13, 2007

At this writing, it’s 28 degrees, everything outside is coated with an icy glaze, freezing rain continues to fall, and the forecast is calling for another half inch or so of ice before it’s all said and done.

It’s only a matter of time before our power goes out.  We are surrounded by oak trees, and all it takes is one ice-laden tree to fall, or even a just a heavy branch to snap off and land on a power line, and we’re in the 19th century.  Living by candlelight isn’t a problem – the kids love it, anyway – and we can deal with the lack of heat by bundling up.  Living without water, though, is no fun.  We’re on a well, and when the power goes, so does the pump.  We have enough drinking water to last for a few days, but the flushing (or lack thereof) is another story….

PACEM Overnight

February 10, 2007

My Dad and I shared a good experience last night, staying overnight at our church as volunteers with PACEM’s rotating homeless shelter program.

Our PACEM coordinator has done a great job of orchestrating the many dozens of volunteers to cover the three shifts of the program every night for two weeks: (1) dinner (buying, preparing, and serving), (2) activities (mainly a ministry of presence – simply being there with the men for a few hours after dinner – talking, watching tv, playing cards, etc.) and (3) staying overnight and setting up breakfast the next morning.  Although I was on the third (overnight) shift, I arrived a bit early, with my four kids in tow, to spend some time with the men.

My kids wanted to be there – PACEM’s been going on for a week at our church, and they’ve been there a couple of times already.  My wife is coordinating laundry efforts for the  two-week session so has been checking in almost daily, and there’s also this thing about us feeling the need to be at the church whenever the doors are open….  Anyway, it wasn’t the kids’ first experience with the men.  They watch tv with them, keep score during their card games, and share in the plentiful snacks and hot chocolate that is made available.  Last year one of the men showed them some magic tricks – they were disappointed that he’s not one of our guests again this year.  Some of the men really seem to enjoy their presence.  The innocence of childhood isn’t something that most of them get to see too much of, I imagine.

After a couple of hours, we bundled up the kids and my wife took them home.  Lights out wasn’t until 11:00 pm, but by 10:00 most of the men were already asleep in their cots or headed that way.  My Dad and I watched the rest of a movie with the few remaining nightowls, shut things down at 11:00, did some prep work for breakfast the next morning, and were in our sleeping bag by 11:30. 

The alarm on my cell phone went off at 5:00 a.m., and I wasted no time getting up and out to the Fellowship Hall where the men were staying.  Their official wakeup call wasn’t until 5:45 a.m., but I knew from my overnight shifts the last couple of years that there would be some who were already awake, up and on their second or third cup of coffee.  Fortunately I hadn’t botched the coffee again this year.  Last year I had filled up the 50-cup pot with water and placed the foil packets of coffee in the filter, so all the PACEM staffer would have to do was open the packets, pour the coffee into the filter, and plug it in.  He plugged it in, but didn’t realize that the foil packets hadn’t been opened yet.   Whoops.  Coffee doesn’t exactly brew when it’s still in the foil packet.   Imagine having to tell several dozen homeless men who were eagerly lined up at the coffee pot that it held 50 cups of hot water and that it was going to take another hour for the coffee to brew.  Fortunately I had been able to scrounge up enough instant coffee to make do, but I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

Sure enough, a half dozen were already up and about.  The coffee was flowing, Dad and I brought out the pastries, milk and orange juice, and the men startled cycling through the line.  A few wolfed down some food, grabbed the sack lunch that had been prepared for them, and headed off into the pre-dawn dark.  Some had jobs to clock into.  Others may have just been anxious to hit the streets. 

Not all were as eager to leave.  For many of them, the next stop would be the Salvation Army, which offered a hot breakfast, and after that they might seek the warmth of the downtown library.  After a day spent there, or in the park across the street, they would convene once again at the PACEM intake center, to start the process again. 

From a distance, it’s easy to be judgmental about these men.  It’s considerably less so once you have spent time with them, learned their names, traded small talk, played a round of spades,  or stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them at the bathroom sink while brushing your teeth.