Friday, May 13, 2016

Radio Interviews About My Books

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

New Study Confirms Widespread Distress Among Lawyers

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

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, April 20, 2015

Negotiating Effectively

In order to be able to negotiate effectively it is essential for a lawyer to put the adversarial mindset aside.  A negotiation is not about winning an argument.  The goal of a negotiation is not to persuade or convince the other party or parties. Arguing a client's position in a negotiation can be expected to provoke an adversarial response and will usually get in the way of a negotiated resolution.

Prepare yourself mentally for the negotiation session before the session begins. Negotiations involve subtle balances and imbalances of power.  Develop a ritual or practice that helps you remain calm, centered, comfortable with yourself and in full possession of your own power.  Make sure you have your client's goals and your key points clearly in mind.

In the negotiation session, be yourself.  Negotiating skills and techniques should be adapted to your own style and personality.  Embody integrity and credibility. Choose words carefully and communicate clearly.  Make sure everything you say is true and follow up on any commitments you make.  Promptly correct any inadvertent misstatements.

Be confident and self-assured without being arrogant.  Stay comfortable with yourself and remember that opposing counsel's behavior is not about you.  Take the high road and stay on it.  Treat the other parties and their lawyers with dignity and respect, no matter what happens.  Reactive adversarial behavior is nearly always counterproductive.  Find a way to stand your ground without responding in kind.

Avoid giving your power away to the other party or the other lawyer.  Making friends is not your goal.  Be respectful, but not deferential.  Avoid becoming defensive.  Avoid appearing nervous, impatient, distracted or unprepared.  Keep note-taking to a minimum.  Know when to avoid blinking or looking down.  If you feel power shifting away from you, do something to break the shift.

Try to take principled positions rather than positions that seem arbitrary. Overcome objections without arguing.  Consider using analogies and metaphors when it is appropriate to do so.  Analogies and metaphors create images that are powerful communication tools.  They can help make points in an indirect and non-confrontational manner that is less likely to provoke a defensive or adversarial response.

If you feel negotiations are stalled, consider taking a break or start talking about something else.  By expanding the conversation you may be able to find common ground.  Avoid the temptation to let the desire to reach an agreement compromise your client's objectives.  Don't negotiate against yourself.  Know when, and how, to walk away; there may well be another day.

Copyright ©2015 John R. Allison.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Preparing for a Negotiation

Thorough preparation is critical to a lawyer's ability to negotiate effectively.  It is a good idea to start by making sure you fully understand your client's goals and objectives.  What does your client want to achieve?  What does your client want to avoid?  Is there a range of acceptable outcomes?  Are matters of principle or personal values involved?  Are there any non-negotiable issues?  Also try to understand as much as possible about the other party or parties to the negotiation.  Imagine how they might answer these questions.  Try to learn as much as you can online about the other party or parties that might have a bearing on the negotiation.

As part of your preparation, learn as much as you can about opposing counsel.  What is opposing counsel's reputation from other negotiations?  Is opposing counsel trustworthy? How does opposing counsel negotiate?  What can you learn about opposing counsel online that can inform your approach to the negotiation?

Also consider matters beyond the strengths and weaknesses of the parties' legal positions. What factors might motivate the parties to reach an agreement?  Where does your client have leverage?  Where does the other party have leverage?  What might you be able to do to diffuse or neutralize the other party's leverage?  How can you use uncertainty and ambiguity to your advantage?  Imagine how the parties and their lawyers might engage in a conversation about their mutual or complementary interests that could be well served by a negotiated resolution.

Finally, remember that the negotiation itself will not be about winning an argument.  It will be helpful to develop a few key points that you can keep coming back to in the negotiation session.  Your key points should have emotional as well as intellectual appeal.  They do not need to be limited to the legal issues involved in the matter being negotiated.

Copyright ©2015 John R. Allison.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mastering the Art of the Story

Highly successful advocates have learned how to master the art of telling a good story.  They can transform a recitation of the facts into a compelling narrative.  They understand that the key to persuasion is the ability to communicate the facts of a case in a way that is aligned with how people think and that has emotional as well as intellectual appeal.

We are trained as lawyers to interpret and present the facts of a case in the context of the legal issues and the elements of the cause of action that may be involved.  The result can be a chronological or other logical narrative that fails to capture the imagination of the audience and fails to engage the audience emotionally.

Let's consider a product liability case against the manufacturer of a car that experienced a brake failure.  On March 21, 2014, shortly before noon, Molly Smith was driving her car on the interstate. She had purchased the car three months earlier from a dealer who was having a sale on new cars. Traffic was moderate and the road conditions were good.  Molly was in the right hand lane preparing to take the next exit.  After taking the exit she slowed down and saw a stop sign where the exit met a city street.  She stepped on the brakes, but her car kept going.  Molly was hit broadside by a pickup truck that could not be stopped in time.  She was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital where she underwent multiple surgeries.  She was discharged from the hospital two weeks later, but has not yet been able to return to work.  A subsequent investigation revealed that a manufacturing defect caused the brakes on Molly's car to fail.  It turns out that thirty similar incidents had been reported to the manufacturer before Molly's accident.

This narrative covers all the elements of a product liability cause of action against the manufacturer of Molly's car:  the existence of a duty, at least two breaches of duty, proximate cause and resulting damages.  It also conveys the apparent lack of contributory fault on Molly's part.  However, the narrative is not as persuasive and engaging as it could be. Emotionally, it falls flat.

Now let's consider a different narrative, one that describes Molly's experience in a more compelling way:  Molly Smith's life changed on March 21, 2014.  It was a pleasant day.  She was driving to meet some friends for lunch.  Her car was only three months old, the fist new car she ever bought.  As she left the interstate the brakes suddenly failed and her car was hit broadside by a pickup truck.  At the time Molly had no idea that the manufacturer of her car was aware of thirty similar brake failures in other cars of the same model.  She woke up in the hospital recovery room after an emergency operation saved her life.  She needed more surgeries, but was able to return home after a couple of weeks.  Molly is worried about finances because she is still not able to return to work.  She is also afraid that she will never be able to ride her horse again.

This is a more compelling narrative because it makes the case be about what happened to Molly Smith rather than about her product liability cause of action.  It describes how a happy occasion was turned into a tragedy.  It also evokes a sense of outrage about the manufacturer's apparent callous behavior.  This narrative tells Molly's story in a way that is emotionally alive.

Copyright ©2014 John R. Allison.  All rights reserved.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creating an Environment for Success

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.