Friday, May 13, 2016
Earlier this year I gave two interviews about my books on Dr. Richard Miller's public radio program, Mind Body Health & Politics. The interviews were broadcast on March 8, 2016 and March 15, 2016. Recordings of both interviews can be found by clicking on this link to Dr. Miller's website: http://www.mindbodyhealthpolitics.org/.
Monday, February 29, 2016
A new study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs reveals high levels of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse among lawyers in the United States. The results of the study were published in February 2016 by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. 12,825 members of the legal profession were included in the study.
Twenty-eight percent of the study participants experienced symptoms of depression and slightly more than twenty percent met the criteria for alcohol abuse. Nineteen percent of the participants experienced symptoms of anxiety. These percentages are significantly higher than comparable percentages for the general population, indicating that lawyers in the United States are significantly more likely than the general population to suffer from depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.
Those conditions are manifestations of distress, and the data suggest that the level of distress within the legal profession is getting worse. The rates of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse among lawyers reported in the new study are somewhat higher than the rates reported in earlier studies based on data collected roughly twenty years ago.
The results of the new study are broken down demographically by gender and by years in the practice. Lawyers in the first ten years of their practice were found to have higher rates of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse than lawyers who have been practicing longer. This may suggest that the clinical manifestations of distress among lawyers are more likely the result of increasing levels of stress within the profession, and less likely the result of professional burnout.
The factors contributing to widespread distress within the legal profession are described in my recent book, Transforming the Practice of Law: Reclaiming the Soul of the Legal Profession. The book also contains specific suggestions for reforms that will lead the profession to a better future. We should all be concerned about the current state of affairs since the legal profession is responsible for administering our system of justice, for ensuring that our society is governed by the rule of law, for and safeguarding our constitutional rights.
Copyright ©2016 John R. Allison. All rights reserved.
Friday, December 11, 2015
The current state of the legal profession in the United States is, overall, not a happy state. There is an epidemic of distress and dissatisfaction among lawyers, and public esteem for the profession has fallen to an all-time low. My latest book, Transforming the Practice of Law: Reclaiming the Soul of the Legal Profession, contains an in-depth analysis of the factors contributing to the current state of affairs, beginning with a discussion about the nature of legal education. Significant developments affecting the behavior of lawyers and the reputation of the profession are also discussed.
The American Bar Association's Model Code of Professional Responsibility established the professional ideal of zealous representation, encouraging lawyers to be fervent partisans on behalf of their clients. Widespread publicity about the Watergate conspiracy exposed a number of lawyers acting as though they were above the law. As a result of the Supreme Court's decision ending bans on advertising by lawyers and the growing influence of large law firms within the profession, the private practice of law has become a highly competitive commercial enterprise. So long as the profession stays on its current path, many lawyers will experience distress and dissatisfaction in their professional lives and the reputation of the profession will continue to decline.
Transforming the Practice of Law: Reclaiming the Soul of the Legal Profession contains suggestions for specific steps that can be taken to guide the profession to a path that leads to a better destination, where lawyers find meaning and fulfillment in their professional lives and where the legal profession is held once again in high regard by the society it serves. Copies of the book can be purchased online at: http://www.amazon.com/Transforming-Practice-Law-Reclaiming-Profession/dp/0692514120.
Copyright ©2015 John R. Allison. All rights reserved.
Monday, July 21, 2014
The success of a law firm depends on many factors. Having a reputation for quality legal work, excellent client service and professional integrity are critical. A law firm that clearly defines itself in the marketplace will be more likely to attract the clients it wants to represent. Other factors which are less visible to the outside world are also important as they will affect the degree and duration of a law firm's success.
Creating a positive work environment for everyone in the firm is essential to a law firm's long term success. In a positive work environment people feel inspired to do their best. They look forward to coming to work. In addition to being committed to serving the firm's clients, they are committed to the success of the firm.
To create a positive work environment a law firm needs to establish and maintain a culture of trust. In such a culture people trust each other to be honest, to say what they mean and to treat people fairly without playing favorites. They take personal responsibility for doing their best, while being mutually supportive and working together as a team.
People in a law firm, like people in any organization, are able to do their best when they feel safe to take reasonable risks and even make an occasional mistake. A work environment in which people are afraid to make a mistake is a place where creative expression is nearly impossible. Creativity can also be stifled by micromanagement. People need to feel empowered to develop and share creative solutions to the task at hand.
It is also helpful for the partners in the law firm to have good leadership skills. An analysis performed by two researchers for the Association of Legal Administrators and reported in 2008 found a statistical correlation between the leadership skills of a law firm's partners and the success and profitability of the firm.
An effective leader, at the core, has a high degree of self-awareness. We each have different personalities, thinking styles, ways of perceiving the world and ways of relating to others. A leader who has developed a high degree of self-awareness will communicate more effectively with everyone in the firm and will also inspire trust by demonstrating sensitivity to the impact he or she has on other people. An effective leader will avoid behaviors that undermine trust, such as being quick to blame others when things do not turn out well. Effective leaders also demonstrate that they genuinely care about the well-being and professional growth of the people in their firm.
Copyright ©2014 John R. Allison. All rights reserved.
Friday, May 16, 2014
People can tell the difference instinctively between a positive work environment and a toxic one. In a positive work environment they feel inspired to do their best. They look forward to coming to work. In a toxic work environment people simply want to survive. They may be on the lookout for a better employment situation someplace else. This is true for any business or other organization, including law firms and corporate legal departments.
To create a positive work environment leadership of the organization needs to establish a culture of trust. In such a culture, employees trust their leaders to be honest, to say what they mean and to treat people fairly without playing favorites. The leaders trust their employees to take personal responsibility for doing their best. The employees trust each other to work collaboratively and to be mutually supportive. They work as a team and live by the motto, "When one of us looks good, we all look good."
It is also important for the leaders in an organization to let go of their need for control so that employees feel empowered to develop their own creative solutions for the task at hand, seeking help and suggestions only when needed. Micromanagement stifles creativity. Employees also need to feel safe and supported when they take reasonable risks and when they make an occasional mistake. An environment in which employees are afraid to make a mistake is a place where creative expression is nearly impossible.
In a positive work environment each employee feels that his or her unique talents are recognized and valued. Leaders in the organization try to match employees' unique talents with their work assignments. The leaders also genuinely care about the well-being of the employees. In all of their interactions they treat employees as human beings rather than as "human capital."
Copyright ©2014 John R. Allison. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
As a lawyer who enjoyed rewarding careers in private practice and then in-house with a Fortune 100 company, I am often asked by lawyers who are thinking about moving from private practice to an in-house position to discuss my experience. I would like to highlight some of my thoughts and observations in this short article.
A successful lawyer in private practice may want to consider joining a company or other organization as in-house counsel for any number of reasons. A lawyer may want to really feel a part of the client's business, or may want relief from the financial and marketing pressures of private practice, or may simply want a new challenge. Regardless of the reason or reasons that moving from private practice to an in-house position may seem attractive, it is important for a lawyer to confine the search to companies or other organizations with a culture and values that are aligned with those of the lawyer.
A lawyer who is thinking about moving in-house also needs to have at least some idea of what to expect. Conversations with friends who are practicing in a corporate legal department should help shed light on what in-house professional life is like. Private practice and in-house practice are quite different. From my personal experience, these are some of the key differences:
- In-house lawyers really need to be accessible. Clients may be upstairs, down the hall or in the building next door. They will drop in unexpectedly when they feel they need to see their lawyer.
- The ability to be flexible is critical. In today's fast-paced business climate, clients need and expect real-time service. Priorities and schedules change frequently. In-house lawyers have relatively little control over their schedule.
- Clients want their in-house lawyer's best judgment, usually on the spot. In most situations there is little time to reflect or research a point.
- Clients want to feel that their in-house lawyer is part of the business team. While lawyers have an ethical obligation to give clients independent professional legal advice, they need to communicate advice in a way that makes in-house clients feel that their lawyer is part of the team.
- Clients want creative solutions to their business problems. Cautionary advice needs to be communicated in a way that lets the clients know that their lawyer is trying as hard as the clients are to find a workable solution to whatever the business problem may be.
Networking is probably the most effective way to find an in-house position, though job postings can also be found on various websites. A successful lawyer in private practice should approach his or her in-house job search with caution and discretion, especially if the lawyer wants to find an in-house position in the same geographic area where the lawyer is practicing or in the same industry in which the lawyer is currently representing clients. Existing clients may react negatively if they learn that one of their key lawyers is thinking about leaving the private practice; they may start sending their legal work elsewhere. Working with an executive recruiter should help reduce that risk by adding a layer of confidentiality to the lawyer's job search.
Copyright ©2014 John R. Allison. All rights reserved.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Choosing Your Lawyer: An Insider's Practical Guide to Making a Really Good Choice
This practical guidebook is written for people who are thinking about hiring a lawyer to represent them in a personal legal matter or to represent their company or other organization. The book contains useful checklists and clear descriptions of the practical steps clients can take to find lawyers with the legal skills and personal qualities that will serve them well. Readers will learn how to research lawyers online, identify lawyers to avoid, and interview lawyers before deciding which lawyer to hire. Lawyers reading this book will gain insights into the personal qualities, attributes and approaches to legal problems that are valued by clients. Copies of the book can be purchased online from amazon.com.