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 in the Program Archives for 2016 on Dr. Miller's website at:   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 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 one.  There is an epidemic of distress and dissatisfaction among lawyers, and public esteem for the profession has fallen to an all-time low.  My second 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.  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. 
 


Friday, May 16, 2014

Creating a Positive Work Environment

People can instinctively tell the difference 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

Moving In-House

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.

Note:  This article was republished, with permission, in St. Petersburg International Legal Forum Digest (Digest 07, March 26, 2014), accessible at:  http://www.spblegalforum.com/digest07.


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.  The book can be purchased online at:  http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Your-Lawyer-Insiders-Practical/dp/0615859828.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Addressing a Problem Before it Becomes a Crisis

Crisis situations often begin as less threatening problems.  Let’s review a few examples as reported in the media to see what they have in common.

·                   An explosion and fire at Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California was apparently caused by the rupture of seriously corroded pipe.  According to the Chief of Cal/OSHA, Chevron’s employees had recommended replacing that pipe several years earlier.  Chevron now faces almost $1 million in proposed penalties and litigation by the City of Richmond and thousands of residents.
·        
           Despite objections from its safety engineers, Pacific Gas & Electric cut tens of millions of dollars from its annual budgets for natural gas pipeline inspections and maintenance.  In 2012 a pipeline owned by PG&E burst, causing an explosion that killed eight people and destroyed many homes.  The company has paid tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements and is facing a proposed nine-figure fine by the state Public Utilities Commission.
·        
           Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil subsidiary was involved in a so-called “stealth recall” of tainted Children’s Tylenol in order to avoid the adverse publicity of a public recall.  This virtually erased the public goodwill Johnson & Johnson earned by its exemplary response to the Tylenol scare thirty years ago. 
·        
            Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone tires rolled over when the tires failed, resulting in more than 100 deaths and even more injuries.  An insurance company claims analyst noticed a pattern of these accidents and notified the National Transportation Safety Board.  Firestone's CEO admitted that the company did not analyze the claims data for several years.  This crisis cost Ford at least $500 million, seriously damaged the Explorer brand, and caused the stock price of Bridgestone, Firestone’s parent, to drop by 60 percent.

These examples show that problems seldom go away.  If responsible action is not taken promptly to address a problem at its source, it may develop into a full-blown crisis that threatens the financial security and reputation of the company. 

I suggest the following approach to problems that arise in a company’s operations:

·        Know the business inside and out, so you can anticipate the areas where problems are most likely to occur.  Those areas may include products that could cause serious injuries if they malfunction, plant operations that could produce significant environmental damage, financial transactions that could generate large numbers of consumer claims, and regulatory developments.

·        Establish a process to monitor each of those areas.  The process may involve an ongoing review and analysis of product complaints, periodic safety inspections or routine audits.

·        When a problem develops, investigate the cause of the problem promptly.  Try to figure out why the problem happened so it can be corrected at its source.

·        Take responsibility for correcting the problem.

·        Consider making restitution.

·        Never cut corners with public safety.


This approach to problems should mitigate a crisis if one develops and may avoid a crisis situation altogether.