Today’s Thought: Are you living the worst case scenario?



thRecently, A lawyer client told me that she was living the worst case scenario. Nothing was going right in her life or her practice. Cases in litigation seem to be going downhill. Her clients weren’t paying timely. And she was dealing with adversaries who were bullying her at every turn. Everything was going wrong. She was in despair and depression. There was no hope and no light at the end of the tunnel.

How do we respond to such a comment from someone? As lawyers, we identify the issues and provide a solution. As a therapist, we do the same, but in a different way, focusing more on the emotions and feelings of the person making the statement, with the intent that the other person feels like they are understood. As individuals in everyday life, we may do a little of both, depending on our skill sets and our relationship to the other person.

In this case, and logically, it’s probably not the worst case scenario. With a little imagination, things could actually be far worse. What is important is that the person making the statement is simply feeling so badly that their first attempt at expressing how they feel comes out with this exaggerated statement.

So how do we handle this? Empathize, investigate, challenge, and foster hope.

The first step is to truly understand the person, or at least make a genuine attempt to understand what they’re feeling. This not only includes your understanding, but conveying your understanding to the other so that they believe you understand them. At a minimum, your attempt to understand the other person results in the other believing or feeling you are attempting to understand them.

Second, explore the bases for this feeling. Do so gently, without unnecessary judgment or opinion from your own frame of reference.

Third, suggest there may be other ways to approach viewing the world. Is there another lens with which to look at the world or the scenario in which the other is presently? If possible, provide the conditions for the other to come to the conclusion that they have found another way to look at things. It’s much more effective and lasting when the person you are speaking with has the epiphany, as opposed to you telling them how it is.

Lastly, attempt to instill hope in the person. This could be anything from a cheerful anecdote to creating a map or guideline to success. Together, create something that sets a desirable goal.

To put the answer to the question of what do we do with such a person in the negative, avoid dismissing the emotion and discounting the perception, then providing a quick solution. This, unfortunately, comes off as invalidating. In this case, this might be the worst thing you could do to that other person – the worst case scenario.the-ten-commandments-movie-clip-screenshot-thou-art-god_large

As always, I am happy to discuss further.

Resilience and success

Some thrive, no matter what the odds are against them. Others wilt in the face of stress, even though they should have all the tools to succeed. 

How do we explain this? In 1989, a developmental psychologist named Emmy Werner published a longitudinal study that covered the lives of multiple individuals over the span of 32 years. This is what she found.”… most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates.”

And for you psychology wonks, “… [i]n fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.”

So what is the apparent lesson here? To the extent you can choose to accept the fact that you are 100% in control of your life, do so. Empower yourself. Do not blame others or external forces for your current situation. 

This applies not only to children, parents, but to lawyers and judges, as well. In my professional work, I have seen too many lawyers blame their problems with a disciplinary board or the corresponding committee on character and fitness on things other than themselves. The fact is, each attorney who may be in trouble is responsible for his or her own actions. They are in charge of themselves.

If you are unable to – on your own – become more resilient by accepting that you are responsible for your actions, get a coach, counselor, or mentor to assist you. 

What’s that old saying, carpe diem? Start today.

For this post, I was inspired by Maria Konnikova’s article. February 11, 2016. The New Yorker, “How People Learn to Become Resilient”

Today’s Thought: Time to Begin Again

One year ago I wrote in this blog. Later that day, my father was killed. I have not written since. I think it may be time to begin again.

My topic that terrible day was about appreciating the moment, including the people in it. This includes my late father. I am glad to say that before his untimely death, at each hello and especially each goodbye, I looked into his eyes and told him I loved him. I am confident that we understood each other and that nothing was left unsaid between us.

There is not much more I wish to write today, other than I miss you, Dad. I am thinking of you. And I am sure you would say, it’s time to begin again.

Today’s thought: Life is like a garden


Perhaps you are aware that Leonard Nimoy died recently. 

He wrote,

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.

— Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) February 23, 2015

His words remind me of themes that I return to often, personally, and with my clients. Life is fleeting. Enjoy each moment. Be in the moment as fully as possible.

How do we apply this? We must be aware that at any time there are beautiful things around us. We have the opportunity, as individuals, professionals, family members, sons and daughters, or observers of life, to appreciate all of the wonderful things this life has to offer.

It is easy, however, to get caught up in the anxieties of the day. These include worrying about job or money, things that should have been done or that we need to do. 

Do not forget to look at those things that are right in front of you: a child, a friend, a beautiful scene, a sunrise or sunset, even the mundane can provide beauty.

Perhaps we should spend less time attempting to preserve those things we think we have and coveting what others appear to have. Perhaps we should spend more time tending to our own garden.

If you would like some advice or counseling on how to tend to your garden, please contact me.

Today’s thought: do things that make you feel good


, , , ,

I haven’t been walking or running on the lake for quite some time. I think I blamed the weather, the holidays, and anything else I could think of. So today, I ventured out to the lakefront for the first time in a long time. It was very cold. Like 3°.
So I put on my cold-weather gear, my new Adidas trail shoes, and headed out into the snow and ice. I grabbed a coffee from a local vendor and walked to the lake. The windchill was significant. I almost thought about turning around and heading home, where it was warm and comfortable. But I’m glad I didn’t.
I was greeted by a beautiful sunrise and some fantastic colors on the horizon. Perhaps the lesson here is one of perseverance. You have to continue to do things in order to see a positive change. Or to put it another way, keep moving and good things will come. Like a memorable sunrise, or something in your personal or professional world. But you have to keep moving forward. Don’t stop moving.
And perhaps more simply, I really enjoy getting up and walking running by the lake and seeing the fantastic sunrises in Chicago.
Perhaps you’ll join me?

Today’s thought: sometimes the path is clear – then the road moves


, ,

I came upon this section of the running / bike path one morning after a particularly strong storm hit the Lakefront.  It’s amazing how powerful Mother Nature is.

IMG_7314The photo reminds me of some of my clients who think they are on the right path and then something changes that takes them way off course.

I’m thinking of both law- and counseling clients who expect their professional lives to be a certain way and then a wrench is thrown into the works.  That wrench could be a complaint with the ARDC, a delay in certification by Character and Fitness, or something else.

It could also be depression, anxiety or drug or alcohol addiction.  Whatever the event is that seems life- or career ending, it’s not.  When you find yourself facing the worst thing possible, the insurmountable, you must march on.  Get help if you can, but create and maintain momentum moving forward.

Those hurdles you now encounter will become life lessons.  Just don’t give up.  And don’t do it alone.  It’s easier and more effective when you have assistance.

If any of this applies to you, please contact me.  I’d be glad to help.

Today’s thought: Lawyers save your marriage by not solving your spouses


, , ,

I recently worked with a lawyer-client who was having problems with her husband.  The husband was dealing with depression and a few other issues, perhaps even a personality disorder.  He would constantly share his anxieties and fears with her.  She would answer with something like, “it is what it is, just deal with it; there’s nothing you can do – so what happens will happen.”  Please understand I am paraphrasing. The issues are too complex to fully describe here.  She asked me what she should do.  She wanted me to help her solve her husband.

The bottom line is that you cannot “solve” people.  You can provide support, guide, assist, and otherwise help.  But you cannot fix them.  They have to choose to change themselves.  What I could assist her with was learning how to help herself so that she could better cope with her dysfunctional husband.  I suggested she try empathy and unconditional positive regard.  “Huh?”  She replied.  Empathy is trying to understand and conveying that you actually do understand (or at least you are trying to) and the other person recognizes that.  Unconditional positive regard is complex under Carl Rogers’ theory, but simply stated, it is accepting a person as they are, without condition and expectation.

Like all good lawyers, she gave me a “hypothetical.”  So, she said, her husband was complaining about his anxieties concerning money – specifically, he was worried that a potential employer would not hire him.  Her retort was that he put his best foot forward and that the decision to hire him was out of his control and that he should just relax and wait for the answer – there was nothing he could do about it now.  He reacted by exploding at her, angry words were shared and everyone felt badly.

In a matter of seconds, she invalidated her husband by doing what lawyers do well: solve problems.  Clearly the hiring process was out of his hands.  But that’s not what he needed.  I told her that he needed to share his feelings and wanted her to understand what he was experiencing.  He didn’t want her to provide a solution; he wanted to be heard.

“Huh?”  She said.  “I don’t get it.”

Alright – I said, let’s put it in lawyer terms.  Take a simple auto case, for example.  You’re investigating the matter and the client gives you what he believes to be a sufficient explanation to the question, “what happened?”  The other guy rear-ended me.  What else is there to say?  As we know, lots.  Where were you in the lanes of traffic, where were your hands on the wheel, where were you looking, what was your speed, were you accelerating or decelerating, did you use your signals, were there any distractions, traffic signals, etc. You ask questions with the intent of fully understanding the scene and circumstances of the accident. And the client is going crazy with all of these seemingly repetitive, or at least unnecessary questions.  Why do you ask all these questions? You’re just trying to understand.  “Oh, I get it.” She said.

In this case, she could respond to her husband with statements like, “You’re concerned about our income flow.” “You are not sure what the employer will come back with and that is unsettling.” “You’re not sure how you’ll react to the employer’s decision when they call.”  All of these possible questions or statements are geared to more fully understanding your spouse.  And guess what?  There are no solutions here.  Importantly, your spouse will understand that you are trying to understand them.  That will diffuse any potential land mines of misunderstanding.

Totally empathize w'you bro'

Totally empathize w’you bro’

So I left her with a task: Try to understand your husband and don’t try to solve his problems.  Unless he specifically asks for it.  Accept him as he is and lower or eliminate your expectations.  Also suspend judgment and realize that your husband is doing the best he can with what he’s got.  When he comes to you with an issue, stand in his shoes – empathize with him.

And now I have to remember to not be a hypocrite when dealing with my own family.

If you have a hypothetical you’d like to explore with me, contact me by visiting the “about” link in the upper left of this Blawg.

Today’s Thought: Sometimes it’s OK to be selfish


, ,

When are we lawyers not being selfish, you say?  But this post isn’t dedicated to the esoterics of the philosophy behind rational selfishness, for example. This post is for those lawyers who find themselves overwhelmed by the needs of their peers.

You, as an attorney, have friends in the law.  Yes, lawyers have friends.  But there may be one friend, for example, whose needs always seem to supersede yours.  They talk; you listen.  You get a chance to speak about yourself, and your friend interrupts with, “… Oh, that reminds me of what I had to deal with the other day …”  And on and on it goes, until you are left exhausted and wanting the peace one might find during a discovery dispute before a judge on the 22nd floor of the Daley Center.

I had the occasion to speak with a colleague recently who told me about his dealings with a friend in the law who was having problems, personal and with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).  The issues are not that important.  What is important is that the lawyer with whom I was speaking found himself wanting nothing to do with his friend.  He was tired with the “glass-half-empty” attitude and “woe is me” attitude.  He could only provide words of encouragement for so long.  And now the exercise was wearing on him.  His friend was fatiguing; an energy-suck.

So what to do?


Be selfish.  Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself.  Sometimes you have to sneak away from others and eat that entire cotton candy all by yourself, notwithstanding the extreme sugar buzz and the wrath your father incurs after your mother finds out.

Surround yourself with people that give you energy; that energize you!  You’ll find that you have much more energy to give back to others in the long run.

And perhaps, you may have to withdraw from the friend. It is the friend’s job / duty / role to choose a different mindset.  It is not your job to save him from himself.  And psychologically speaking, some persons have personality disorders or personality types that just are not compatible with yours.

Finding it hard to withdraw?  Then follow this rule: acknowledge and redirect.  Like you might do with a toddler throwing a tantrum.  Acknowledging their comments is validating.  Ignoring a person is invalidating – that’s always a bad idea.  Redirection could be something like, “Hey, did you hear about that recent opinion …?” Or “How ’bout them Blackhawks …?”

Eventually, the friend will get the point that whining is not really appreciated.  If the friend doesn’t, well, then at least you’ve made your best attempt to move on.  You may wish to let them know that you feel uncomfortable discussing certain issues and that they are better discussed with a professional counselor or mentor.

Selfish does not have to be a bad word.  What you do not want is to subjugate your needs for the needs of another.  It creates resentment and a disingenuous relationship.    We should all be striving to be genuine in our interactions with others.

Want to run a “hypothetical” past me? Contact me via the “About” link, above.

Today’s thought: You received a letter from the ARDC ?!?!


, ,


And it isn’t even annual registration time! What happens when you receive a letter from your registration and disciplinary body, agency or commission?  Perhaps feelings of panic, fear, anxiety, among others, creep in.  What if it’s a client complaint that dwells within the envelope?  Or an investigation of some sort?  Perhaps a full-blown complaint from the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission?  Or maybe something worse …

What should you do?  Put it in your in-box hoping for a better time to open it.  No, put it in the pile of special mail that you open when you are mentally prepared to do so.  Maybe just put it at the bottom of the pile.  Your assistant could open it … but what if it’s embarrassing?

Open it. Now.

Believe it or not, there are attorneys who are so anxious about opening mail from my regulatory body, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois (ARDC), that they don’t do it.  True story.  Or true stories.  The mail never gets opened.  Guess what’s next?  A complaint (or amended complaint) alleging that the offending attorney never assisted or participated in the initial ARDC investigation.  And if you don’t participate, you’ll lose your license, or it will be suspended.  And that will – for sure, cause some real anxiety.

Is this anxiety real?

Yes it is.  Anxiety can be debilitating.  Especially when it’s paired with depression.  One’s ability to think correctly is hindered.  It can be paralyzing.  The issue of anxiety is an enormous topic that merits its own blog.  I do not have time to address its nuances here.  It is enough to say that no lawyer is immune.  If any lawyer claims otherwise, he or she is lying.  It can, however, be healthy.  It heightens the senses and allows one to prepare for battle.  But when it prevents you from opening the mail, or requires drink or drug to quell the beast, that is an entirely different problem that needs to be addressed.

So what do you do?

Call a counselor, coach or psychotherapist.  Bring your ARDC letter(s) and open it (or them) with your counselor of choice.  I have, by the way, done this very thing with my clients.  Sometimes, the mere planning to do this with a client allows them to find the courage to open the letter(s) on their own!  Inaction, however, is not recommended.

Once the letters are opened, a plan of action can be made.  Steps to create momentum toward the goal of addressing outstanding issues with the ARDC can be made and taken.  Underlying issues that cause or exacerbate anxiety can also be identified and addressed.

Need more questions answered?  Want to run a “hypothetical” by me … ?  Contact me from the “About” page, above.

And can you identify the screen grab, above? Look familiar?  Yes, I have two young girls requiring princess movies be shown often.

Credit to Disney’s Cinderella.

Today’s thought: Sometimes, you just don’t feel like yourself.


, ,


Sometimes, you just don’t feel like yourself.  But it gets better.  Most of the time.  Sometimes extra effort is required. Learn to identify issues in others (or yourself) to keep your firm or practice successful and profitable.

Get help before the meltdown.

Have you ever seen someone in your firm who just wasn’t the same old lawyer anymore? Not as fun, a downer; perhaps they simply don’t interact with members of the firm like they used to. Sure they’re busy, kids are in college – an additional expense, or perhaps something’s going on at home … You’ve given up asking them to join you for lunch.  You’re busy yourself.  Chances are very good, however, that something else is occurring for that lawyer who is withdrawing from his or her peers.

There exists a John Hopkins University study (1990), which found that of 100 occupations, lawyers have the highest incidence of depression. (fn.1) Yes, that reads, “1990.”  It’s a good thing that a new study is currently underway. (fn.2)  In addition, it has been reported that lawyers are “… 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.” (fn.3) Great.

There are many factors that can lead to depression, anxiety, or alcohol abuse. If you have a hunch that a colleague suffers from one of these, how can you “prove” it.  And I assume that you do so with the intent to assist your colleague in getting better, not to extricate him or her from the firm, because that just makes things worse.

Look for telltale signs, some of which were suggested above.  Additionally, one might see a decrease in the quality of work product, more absenteeism – particularly on Mondays and Fridays.  Tardiness increases.  Personal hygiene suffers.  There are other signs, as well; it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario.  Contact me with questions or to run a “hypo” by me.

So what do you do? Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the impact on the firm, there is much you can do. There is a spectrum of action.  You can confront, and gently suggest the attorney gets help, or you can mandate treatment and condition future employment upon successful attendance at counseling and/or treatment. I have seen both ends of the spectrum utilized with success.

What if the meltdown occurs?  In that case, it gets ugly.  Reputations suffer.  Clients suffer.  Cases are compromised.  Disciplinary complaints get filed.  Lawyers lose their licenses.  And all of these bad things can be prevented.  But you have to take action.  If interested or concerned, please contact me.

1. Eaton, Occupations and the Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder (1990) 32(11) Journal of Occupation Medicine 1079-1087.

2. See,

3. Flores & Arce, Why are lawyers killing themselves? CNN (Jan. 20, 2014),