Healing What Ails the Legal Profession

[This post is adapted from a longer article by Pauline H. Tesler in the Winter 2014 issue of the Collaborative Review, the journal of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.. You can read it here.]

We lawyers suffer dangerously  high rates of emotional distress and substance abuse. Overwhelming empirical evidence shows that lawyers arrive in law school with
personality characteristics markedly different from the general population – notably, a discomfort with emotion and a temperament favoring thought over feeling. Law school intensifies those qualities, diminishing our capacity to bring our full humanity
into our work.depressed male lawyer

The legal profession produces impaired lawyers.  While pre-law students show only slightly higher levels of significant depression than the general population (10% as compared to 3-9% in the general population), by late spring of their first year in law school 32% report much higher depression levels, rising to a “stunning” level of 40% by late spring of the third year. These levels never fall to pre-law school levels. No matter how long they have been in practice, a steady 17-18% of lawyers suffer from clinically significant depression. Study after study shows that most lawyers would not choose law if they had it to do again, nor would they want their children to become awyers. The rate at which we experience depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and other psychological problems is about twice the rate found in the general population, and one in five lawyers suffers from psychological problems severe enough to call for clinical intervention.

What happens to us in law school and on the job that wreaks such harm to our mental health? How is it that becoming a lawyer divorces so many of us from our own deepest moral and spiritual selves to the point that we don’t see our clients’ yearning for love, compassion and forgiveness, much less practice in ways that might incorporate attention to those needs?depressed lawyer

Adversarial law practice requires lawyers to focus clients resolutely on past injuries and pain, without attending to recovery and possibilities for a better future.  Add to that a distressed lawyer and we have a recipe for keeping clients mired in pain and suffering. The growing body of psycho-biological research into the neuroscience of entrainment, limbic resonance, and emotional contagion teaches us that working with depressed, angry, cynical, irritable, detached and numb lawyers is likely to impair clients’ emotional resilience and capacity for thoughtful decision-making. Positive psychology research confirms that emotional states are transmitted to others remarkably easily and that the direction of contagion in a relationship is from the more powerful to the less.Legal profession: too many depressed, angry lawyers and judges

In other words, depressed, suicidal, angry lawyers – which too many of us seem to be – present a danger to health and well-being, not only for ourselves but for our clients, the others on the case, the family, and even the community.

What could change this picture?  Teaching lawyers client-centered service delivery models (such as mediation and collaborative practice)  is helpful but woefully insufficient as a remedy.   We lawyers need encouragement to integrate a private inner spiritual life with an outer life of values-driven professional service if we are to reclaim a sense of purpose and professional identity that can  meet  the human needs of clients and of the communities we all inhabit. This change, more than any other I can envision, would transform how law is practiced by infusing lawyers and eventually judges, too, with the human compassion that invites clients’ stories to be heard and their pain to be seen. Without such deep personal change in those who must embrace it, broad scale innovation too often fails to thrive or is relegated to the level of lip service.

Law school curriculum change is in the air, but the pace is glacial. We can’t afford the human and social costs of graduating even one more class of lawyers who have been taught to devalue their own spiritual and emotional intelligence – and yet hundreds of thousands more lawyers will be socialized in that way before widespread humanistic legal education becomes a reality. That’s why the Integrative Law Institute’s programs target  practicing lawyers who would never choose to attend a symposium about love, or even a collaborative law training. We begin by addressing the personal, professional, and social costs of practicing law in a way that ignores the human needs of our clients and that is divorced from our own deepest humanity.Legal profession harms its own members

The gateway that can lead  lawyers toward integration and transformation turns out to be hard evidence from psychological, sociological, and neuroscience studies that illuminates the human damage caused by  practicing law in ways that run contrary to our biological nature and that disregard our evolutionary endowment as human primates: compassion, trust, forgiveness, generosity, cooperation.  When the intellect of adversarial lawyers is engaged by compelling information about the astonishing irrationality of human behavior in conflict resolution, an opening can occur for experiential exercises to trigger epiphanies, large and small, about the high toll our training as lawyers has taken on us and on our clients too, even those we achieved great trial victories for.

As this transformative journey deepens, we may remember with pain how we treated others in a normal day’s work. We may recall, for instance, humiliating the opposing party to tears during that deposition in the child custody case, or relishing demolition of a percipient witness during a probate trial that pits siblings against one another,  because our ability to see the human being sitting opposite us had been deadened by a belief that our own human feelings had no place in our work and that take-no-prisoners assault tactics are the professional responsibility of a competent lawyer.

I believe work that divorces us, in the name of professionalism, from our own ability to feel empathy or compassion for the other humans we meet is work that is immoral. When we lawyers start to see this, shame may be what we feel. It is often the case that the first person needing forgiveness is ourself. And that’s an act of love.

Finding Center Among Chaos–an Integrative Law BFOQ

My colleague Jennifer Tull, a collaborative lawyer from Austin, Texas, is blogging about how to keep your center and sense of purpose while working with clients going through major life transitions.  She writes beautifully and epitomizes the journey toward wholeness that is the hallmark of integrative law.    Here is her first post (we’ll be offering others from time to time):

Roller Coaster of Joy
Finding center among chaos

When I was a kid we would sometimes go to AstroWorld, a now-defunct theme park in Houston. Some of my friends were partial to the Alpine Sleigh Ride (which I did enjoy on some of those southeast Texas days where the temperature and the humidity are both somewhere around 10,000). Others went straight for the Bamboo Shoot, especially if there was someone in the crowd who didn’t know that the person who sits in front always gets soaked.

I was willing to go along with these wimps for a while, but before long I was impatient to climb aboard the Texas Rattler, and later, Greased Lightnin’ – once called the greatest roller coaster in the world. I loved everything about roller coasters – the dread that came with the click, click, click of the chain hill as you go up the first rise; that moment of liminal space when you’re not going up anymore but you haven’t yet started going down; the thrill of going 70 miles an hour down a 60 degree slope into a banking turn that becomes a full loop before you can catch your breath … and then it’s over, as you stumble in exhilaration to the back of the line to do it all over again.rollercoaster

I haven’t had the opportunity to ride a roller coaster in a decade or so, but it seems like lately I’m surrounded by people who are on emotional roller coasters: Clients who think they’re on the path to reconciliation only to learn of an ongoing affair; dear friends whose children are having life-threatening physical and mental health issues; colleagues being betrayed by trusted co-workers. It’s difficult to watch as their emotions careen from dark despair, through some double loops, to elation, then plummet to depths that seem to have no stopping point – all based on snippets of information that trickle into their world about things over which they have absolutely no control.

I was unprepared for life’s roller coaster with my own child, and because I never, ever want to be there again, I mined that event for everything I thought The Universe might be trying to teach me.

I learned that experiencing both highs and lows are equally important, and neither is reality. Reality is the platform from which you embark on your journey and to which you return when all the drama has ended – your place of spiritual poise or stasis. It’s where you live when things are not in crisis, and it informs how you perceive, interact with, and move through the world – in short, it defines your experience. I guess this place of repose is what some people would call your personality or prevailing world view. I like to think of it as my operating system – the thing that keeps everything running and from which all other programs are sourced.

I learned that if I start my roller coaster ride from a platform of chaos and fear, the ride will only make it worse. If I start the ride from a place of arrogance and perceived control, I just have that much farther to fall, and the process of falling might destroy me. But if I start my journey from a place of acceptance – the knowledge that the lows are temporary and so are the highs – I can have a completely different experience. Lows become rich times to absorb and appreciate all of the love and support I have from those around me; highs are opportunities for gratitude and giving back to others who are not as fortunate as I in that moment.

integrative brain wiring

Choosing your operating system

I learned that you can select the operating system you use. There are lots of fine operating systems to choose from, but if you don’t consciously choose, you will be stuck with the operating system that was installed at the factory, and that one is based on the limited amount of information available to you while you were becoming the person you are today. Much of that data is probably outdated, at best, and will leave you ill-equipped to take the next roller coaster ride that’s waiting for you right around the corner.

My roller coaster rides have caused me to upgrade my operating system, and I have settled on Joy. Joy combines all of the best features of Gratitude and Playfulness and is still agile enough to afford me a full range of emotions. Joy recognizes that there is no jumping for joyupper limit to how great things can be, while keeping me grounded and present. Joy allows me to be the one who yells, “BRING IT ON!” when faced with a challenge, and “WAHOO!” when an opportunity presents itself. Joy promises, when I get good enough at it, to allow me to be a solid, sturdy, centered me no matter what is going on in my world – and that’s so much better than AstroWorld it makes me laugh.

(Copyright © 2014 The Law Offices of Jennifer Tull, All rights reserved. Published here by permission.)

 

Copyright © |2014 *The Law Offices of Jennifer Tull, All rights reserved.

Men and Women: Our Brains Really Are Wired Differently

Men from Mars, Women from Venus?

Men from Mars, Women from Venus?

Does it make you uncomfortable to think that there really are biological differences in the brains of men and women?  Not me; I’ve seen those differences play out over a lifetime in precisely the ways suggested by a new study  published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.        Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered many more neural connections running from the front of the brain to the back within each hemisphere in males, while in females there are far more connections running left and right across the two hemispheres.

According to lead investigator Ragini Verma, Ph.D.,   the wiring in men supports greater connectivity between sense perceptions and coordinated actions.  In contrast, female wiring patterns facilitate greater connectivity  between analytical and intuitive capabilities. “These maps show us a stark difference–and complementarity–in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” the researchers concluded.

For instance, they report that  on average, men tend to be better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women tend to display superior memory and social cognition skills, making them on average better equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group.Male and Female Brain Wiring

Why do studies like this matter?  Sure, sex discrimination in the workplace remains real and limits income and upward mobility for too many talented women. But don’t we now see enough women of power and accomplishment in business, industry, education, the professions, and government that we may be ready to celebrate and make good use of our differences rather than insisting on biological sameness as necessary  foundation for sexual equality?

Might these differences also have implications for the work of conflict resolution professionals?  I’m not suggesting sexual stereotyping, but  we’ve now got hard science to support our intuitions about  how  clients process information.  Since these  gender-based brain differences are real, I’m suggesting that awareness of the differences might be a tool that could help us quickly figure out what’s going on during negotiations and how we might help.

Consider that the  “homework assignments” we give clients to prepare for negotiating sessions can serve more than one purpose.  There is specific information we need them to gather that is an essential foundation for bargaining toward settlement.  At the same time, we may be able to help emotionally overloaded clients to calm down and feel more competent if we make sure that the  homework we give them includes tasks that play to their strong suit, whether it’s drilling down on a specific problem and solution, or whether it’s intuitively imagining what the human needs and challenges might be in connection with various options for resolution.

What do you think?  Are these biological differences in the architecture of male and female human brains a useful perspective for illuminating how our emotionally-distressed clients–or even our professional colleagues– may be approaching problem solving?

 

 

Outstanding Jurist Joins Integrative Law Institute Advisory Board

Judge Kevin Burke

Judge Kevin Burke

Kevin Burke’s official title is  District Judge in Hennepin County, Minnesota, but he is much more than that:   one of the most recognized leaders within the American judiciary today. 

During Judge Burke’s  four terms as Chief Judge and three terms as Assistant Chief Judge of the Hennepin County Courts,  he instituted social science studies – and reforms improving – procedural fairness in the court system, in ways that enhance public respect for and confidence in our judicial system itself. Among his achievements are serving as the Chair of the Minnesota Conference of Chief Judges and of  the State Board of Public Defense.  He was a leader in the effort to improve and expand the Minnesota’s public defender system, a vital link in the public’s perception of fairness in criminal proceedings.

            Judge Burke has been recognized by his peers for extraordinary leadership and creativity.  He was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the history of Minnesota by that state’s Law & Politics magazine.  In 1996 he received the Toll Fellowship, which  identifies emerging  leaders from all three branches of state government across the United States.  In 1997 he received the Director’s Community Leadership Award from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  In 2002 the National Center for State Courts awarded him its Distinguished Service Award.  In 2003 he was selected as the William H. Rehnquist Award recipient by the National Center for State Courts.  The Rehnquist Award is presented annually to a state judge who exemplifies the highest level of judicial excellence, integrity, fairness and professional ethics.  He was named Public Official of the Year by Governing Magazine in 2004.  In 2005 the Minnesota Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates named him Trial Judge of the Year.  The American Bar Association named him Judicial Educator of the year in 2010.

Judge Burke teaches at the University of Minnesota and University of St. Thomas law schools.  For many years he served on the faculty of the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute’s Reflective Leadership Program.  Currently, Judge Burke is teaching the principles of neuro-literacy to judges across the U.S. and elsewhere; he has been a speaker in 38 states as well as Abu Dhabi, Canada, Egypt, Mexico, China, India and Ireland regarding improvement in judicial administration and court leadership.

Judge Burke has authored numerous articles, including (as co-author) two American Judges Association White Papers, “Procedural Fairness:  A Key Ingredient in Public Satisfaction” and “Minding the Court:  Enhancing the Decision-Making Process.”  He presently serves on the Board of the Institute for the Reform of the American Legal System.  He is a past Board member of the National Center for State Courts and the American Judicature Society.

Few  can equal Judge Burke’s commitment to improving the legal system in ways that affect ordinary people, and few can equal the range  of his intellectual interests or his contributions to bringing our court system into the 21st Century.  ILI is privileged to welcome Judge Burke to the Integrative Law Institute’s  Advisory Board.

Integrative Law Institute Partner Offers “Mindfulness and Compassion” workshop in March

Greater Good Science Center           Mindful

I’m pleased to pass on to the Integrative Law community this announcement from Advisory Board member Dacher Keltner’s Greater Good Science Center, one of ILI’s partner organizations.  Mindfulness  and other self-awareness practices are part of the core skills that integrative lawyers can bring to our work with clients experiencing conflict.  Learning the skills taught in this workshop can make you more present, energetic, attentive, and compassionate when working on high-stress cases, to your own personal benefit as well as to the benefit of your clients.

 Here is the workshop description: 

with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Paul Gilbert, Dacher Keltner, Kristin Neff, Shauna Shapiro, and others
When: March 8, 2013
Where: Craneway Conference Center, Richmond, CA (just north of Berkeley–map it) or tune in via Live Webcast
Hosted by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and Mindful: Taking Time for What Matters

A day-long conference to help you deepen connections to others and care for yourself, drawing on cutting-edge science

This day-long conference, featuring a keynote by Jon Kabat-Zinn, will illuminate the connections between mindfulness and compassion, focusing on how mindfulness can deepen relationships and build compassion, including self-compassion. Speakers will discuss how to apply scientific findings to the real world, drawing on cutting-edge research and inspiring success stories. Attendees will practice research-tested mindfulness and compassion techniques and learn from program leaders who have fostered mindfulness and compassion in schools, health care, and beyond.

Other presenters will include Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion; Paul Gilbert, PhD, founder of Compassion Focused Therapy; Shauna Shapiro, PhD, expert on integrating mindfulness into Western psychology, medicine, and education; and Dacher Keltner, PhD, faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center. Event will be webcast live!

Learn more at www.mindfulnesscompassion.com

Leading positive psychology researcher joins Integrative Law Institute Advisory Board

Integrative law vector: positive psychologyWe are delighted to announce that Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., has joined the Advisory Board of the Integrative Law Institute.  A leading researcher and scholar in the relatively new field of positive psychologyDacher is the executive editor of Greater Good, the founding faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center, and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life and a co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness. His prolific research and writing have helped to transform our understanding of what it means to be human by investigating positive attributes such as compassion, empathy, cooperation, and altruism as the evolutionary endowment that enabled our survival and flourishing as a species, and that make us–well–human.

Here is a description of the domain of positive psychology that makes it clear why ILI includes basic elements of positive psychology in its programming for lawyers:

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. . . . This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.

Dacher Keltner’s research interests include not only the workings of emotion and power in social relationships (areas of obvious relevance to lawyers whose clients are experiencing legal issues that arise from fractured human relationships) but also human morality.  Here is how he describes that aspect of his work:

My final research interest lies in the study of how humans negotiate moral concerns. Here I have examined how opposing partisans tend to assume that they alone see the issues objectively and in principled fashion, a tendency we call “naive realism”. We have shown that opposing partisans attribute extremism and bias to their opponents.

In studies of moral judgment, I have shown how emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear influence judgments of causality, fairness, and risk. More recently, I have begun to study the contents of three moral domains – autonomy, community, and purity – and how these domains relate to emotion and prejudice.

Morality,  “neuro-morality,” and positive psychology are vectors that ILI includes in its programs teaching Integrative Law.  It is exciting and gratifying for us to have the support of one of the most creative scholars in the field.

 

 

 

Powerful People Believe Everyone–Except Themselves–Should Follow Rules

Which one feels more powerful?

A recent study explored the impact of having power–or even thinking for a moment about power–on moral judgements.  Power causes  people to be much more likely to advocate for moral judgments based upon following the rules.  In contrast, people primed to think about or experience powerlessness  are much likelier to make situational moral judgments that aim at accomplishing the right outcome,  even if the means flout clear rules.

Jorris Lammers and his colleagues presented volunteers with sharp moral dilemmas, and asked them to decide the right course of conduct.  Should police interrogators falsely tell an admitted kidnapper that a world expert in use of torture (a prohibited interrogation method) was en route via helicopter to force disclosure of where the kidnapped young boy was being hidden?  Should doctors who knew a young man had only six months to live because of an incurable, fatal illness hide the diagnosis from him, as requested by his girlfriend but prohibited by applicable ethical rules, long enough for the young man to enjoy a forthcoming and long-anticipated vacation with  her?

Probing the impact of power on people’s moral thinking, the researchers assigned two conditions to the volunteers.  One group was primed with words associated with being powerful, or put in an experimental situation in which they were given power over others, while the second group was primed with words relating to powerlessness, or put in experimental situations in which others had power over them.  The powerful group was far more likely to insist that the rules must be followed.  The powerless group was far more likely to decide that the desirable end justified the impermissible means.

So are people more likely to act according to the rules if they are in positions of power?

Yes, unless it’s their own ox that is being gored.

Lammers’ group then asked both the “power-primed” and the “powerless-primed” groups to read a short narrative and decide whether it was OK for an impoverished apartment-seeker to jump a three-year waiting list for subsidized public housing by using a trick that would place him or her at the front of the queue. Again, those randomly assigned to the power condition were much likelier to disapprove of breaking the rules than those assigned to the powerless condition.

But this time, the study included a tricky wrinkle.  Half of each group read the narrative in the third person, while the other half of each group read the story in the first person, as follows:

“Suppose you are looking for a new apartment after your landlord has terminated the tenancy. However, the only affordable option is public housing, for which there is a three-year waiting list. There is however a trick that allows you to bypass the waiting list and immediately obtain a house.”

The impact of self interest was startling:  if the story was seen as about themselves, the effects of power on moral judgment were reversed.  Those in power were much less likely to insist that the rules should be applied to themselves, while those who were powerless were much more likely to insist that the rules must be followed if they envisioned themselves actually placed in the moral dilemma.

According to Irish neuroscientist Ian H. Robertson, “Power has strong neurological effects on the brain and one of them is that power fosters moral exceptionalism, where rules are applied strenuously to other people. . .but the {same people}. . . feel themselves excepted from equivalent rules governing their conduct.”

Why this insight matters in conflict resolution practice:

When lawyers handle legal conflicts that arise out of an important but  fractured human relationship (think: divorce, will contests, small partnership dissolutions, family business disputes) it’s common for existing or perceived power dynamics in the relationship to become magnified during litigation and settlement negotiations.

Experienced lawyers know that the designated or self-designated powerless party may carry an exaggerated notion of the other party’s ability to dominate negotiations.  Such perceptions may feed reactive, fear-based choices of aggressive legal counsel as well as flooding of “fight-or flight” emotions during key events in the dispute resolution process, whether in court or at the negotiating table.

This research adds a more complex dimension to power dynamics at the negotiating table.  Collaborative law and other interest-based settlement modalities depend on transparency and good faith negotiating practices.  Could it be that in disputes between parties who display  significant power disparities, the more powerful party may be more susceptible to bending the rules for personal advantage than the process permits?  Could it be that the more powerful lawyer at the table may do the same?

Conversely, might the more powerless party be likelier to cherry-pick, insisting on legal rights and entitlements when the rules benefit him/her, while advocating for outcome-based solutions when the rules benefit the other party?

We don’t have firm answers to these questions, but the study should cause us to ask: What tools and techniques could we devise that might re-weight the  moral scales back toward transparency, clarity, and a level playing field?

We might begin by doing a little neuro-education, adapting Lammers’ study with moral dilemmas more closely related to legal negotiations, and presenting our clients with those  moral dilemmas when we prepare them for negotiating sessions.  If we sensitize ourselves and our clients to the dynamics of power through education, we can name the problem and perhaps mitigate the impact.

And of course, we can make use of priming ourselves, to re-balance the scales.

Look for ILI courses in Neuro-Resolution to earn CLE credits while learning more about priming and other realities at the intersection of neuroscience and conflict resolution practice.

Ask your bar association to bring ILI’s Neuro-Resolution courses to your community.

The study is:   Lammers, Joris et al  (2009) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 279-289.  Robertson discusses this study in his forthcoming book:  The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain, to be released in  October by St Martin’s Press.

Integrative Law Institute Welcomes Leading Neuroscientists and Conflict Resolution Pioneers to Advisory Board

A strong, innovative Advisory Board helps ILI to build outstanding programming at the intersection of law, social policy, neuroscience, positive psychology, restorative justice, and other Integrative Law vectors. We are proud to announce the following new members of ILI’s Advisory Board:

It’s an honor to have the support of pioneering thinkers and researchers of this caliber.

We are inviting other leaders in fields relating to Integrative Law to join ILI’s Advisory Board this year and will announce new members from time to time.