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Anti-Burnout Strategies for Solos and Associate Attorneys

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Anti-Burnout Strategies for Solos and Associate Attorneys

This talk should change your life. No small feat, but that's the goal. This program will help you understand where your sense of "overwhelm" is coming from, how the practice of the law makes it inevitable, and what you can do about it. The practice of law is toxic, but that toxicity is related to how we feel we have to "get things done." What if you could change that? As a solo or an associate, there are only so many resources around you, but understanding how to create new tools, how to shift your law practice paradigm, and how to protect yourself are key to avoiding burn out (or recognizing that you are burning out, and doing something about it). You will be introduced to some agile project management techniques that you can implement immediately, as well as principles and approaches to change the way you see the practice of law. We will also cover the three pillars of the Livable Law legal project management method: tasks, time, and things.

Transcript

Welcome to anti burnout strategies for solos and associate attorneys. My name is Giugi Carminati and I am an attorney. And we are going to start with the first thing I want you to really think about and internalize and feel comfortable with and that that is that the practice of law is broken. The system is broken. And more importantly, it will break you if you don't stop it. And that's something that's really important to understand and to really internalize. If you are a solo or an associate who is either hoping to not burn out, hoping to have a long career in the law, or if you are somebody who is already feeling burnt out and already has reached that point where you think, I can't do this forever or I'm going to break, I want to tell you this to reassure you and let you know that you're not wrong. There is something toxic about the way we practice law. And so the goal of today's presentation. Is actually to change your life. It is to help you navigate, reorganize and re-envision what it means to practice law in a way that is sustainable and in a way that will not cause long term damage to your mental health and to your relationships. I'm going to give you a little bit about me because it's helpful to understand where I'm coming from. I've been an attorney since 2008, and that is 15 years. I have left litigation before and I have actually left the practice of law entirely because I was just done because it had broken me. And I eventually made it back into the practice of law. But I did it with a far better understanding of what was wrong. And one of the outcomes of this process was what I would refer to as the Livable Law method, which is a legal project management method that I coined and developed, and then I included in a book. And you are not here to learn about legal project management, but I am going to talk about legal project management because some of the techniques that are used in legal project management are actually techniques that you can implement to help you fight burnout. Here are the principles I came up with when I was writing the Livable Law method. People are not widgets. You are not a widget. You are not expendable. And you have to remember that because it means that you have to take care of yourself and also that you can't let other people use you up. And that's unfortunately what happens. A case is not a fiefdom. I really, really took a long time to understand that in the litigation context, but it's the reality and we would talk about that more when we're talking about it from a management perspective. But that's not what we're doing today. So I'm going to go quickly over those. The workweek is finite. Case management is not process management. Those are two different things. And in fact, the law and that's one of the reasons it's actually as toxic as it is. The law is one of the very rare areas where there are no project managers. They've started to be implemented. Big firms will have them, for instance, but they're still very much an administrative or even an economic function when in fact they should really be a management function. So when you're feeling like you're being pulled in a million direction, you're not wrong. It's because we are mismanaging the law. Burnout is forever. I want you to remember that, because when burnout comes to you, it will leave you with fragilities and frailties that will not go away. Those injuries, those scars will stay with you. So it's not a question of just bouncing back. You won't. You will not come back. The same person. Self care without team care is futile. I really want you to understand that for several years now the buzzword has been self care, self care. This self care that we need to encourage our employees to engage in self care. Here's the thing. You cannot bubble bath your way out of a toxic work environment. Period. If your team is not taking care of each other, if the people in charge are not taking care of their team, no amount of self care is going to help you avoid anxiety, depression, or even burnout. You should serve the client for sure, but you should protect the team. And again, because we are not here from a management perspective, I just wanted to share these, but I'm not going to delve into them. So obviously this is more of a management piece of advice. Boundaries, not balance. Very important one. We're going to really, really dig into that one. And then templates save time and sanity, which you should always implement and think about, especially as an associate. Don't reinvent the wheel. Use templates. Here are the ones I want to talk about and we are going to touch upon that really apply to solos and associates. The workweek is finite, burnout is forever. Self care without team care is futile and you should be striving for boundaries, not balance. So let's see how we implement that. First of all, what is burnout? We talk about this concept and it's kind of a buzzword, but what does it really mean? I like to get to the really basic definitions of things and then build our way up from them. So burnout is the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion. Okay. So when you're talking about a person, it's really you being reduced to nothing because you are using up your bandwidth, your energy, your physical, mental, emotional energy. From a more clinical perspective, burnout has been defined as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a sense of low personal accomplishment that leads to decreased effectiveness at work. That's true. Sounds kind of sterile, but it's correct. Hang in there with me a little longer. This is the ICD 11 definition. So burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as chronic resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one's jobs or of or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. And burnout was also included in ICD ten, but it has since become more detailed. So this is the way experts will tell you that you will recognize burnout so you will have persistent feelings of exhaustion. Irritability or impatience with co-workers and clients. Mental retreat from work and life. Being cynical or hypercritical at work. Self-medicating with food or alcohol. Change in sleeping habits or headaches for unexplained physical complaints. When I read this list, I thought, that's fine. But it doesn't really speak to my experience. What does it mean? How does it feel? So I tried to put it in words and I tried to express when I went through burnout. And this is really what it felt like when I was in the trenches feeling dissociated or needing to dissociate. And that, for me, looked like the following. I used to put on shows when I work. And I started being enabled to not have the TV show. And that's because I am so tired and running on such low energies with so little engagement in my work that I need something else to basically create white noise in the background and keep me from being fully engaged in my work because I'm so miserable doing it. And that's a big one because you're starting to try to separate yourself from the situation you're in because it's become so painful. The second one is a big one, and I know it's going to be hard to hear for some people. And if it is, I need you to sit with that. Wishing you'd get into a fender bender, get sick, or another way to get a break. There was a woman once on a group I belong to who said, Is it wrong for me to feel like I wish I would just get into a fender bender so I could get a couple days break? It's not wrong in a moral sense, but it's wrong in a human sense. It is not okay for you to have been pushed to the limits where getting a break is only an option if you're hurt because it is an idea of self harm. And the reason I bring it up is because when we talk about self harm, we tend to think about other ways to hurt yourself. But wishing harm upon yourself is a thought of self harm. And that is for sure a part of burnout, like wanting to get a cold, for example. You know what? If I could just get a little cold so that I could just take a break for a couple of days? Another sign of burnout is scheduling every minute of every day. And it took me a long time to understand that. And actually, now that I see it in other people, I'm like, Oh, I know what's happening. This hyper achieving, hyper organized approach to life where I knew what I was going to do every minute of every day, especially on my private time. So when I got up, when I when I went to work out, when I took my shower, how long the shower was when I woke up the kids when I took the kids out of the house, when I dropped off the kids, when I made it into the office. When I left the office. When I made it back home. When dinner was. When bedtime was when lights out was when I went back to work, when I went to bed. All of that was scheduled. That is you trying to regain control over a life that controls you. And it will lead to burnout. We're going to talk a little bit more about why that's the case. Trouble, self-regulating emotions. That's an obvious one. Are you more irritable? Are you more emotional? Do you get angrier? Do you get more withdrawn? Those are all difficulty managing emotions. Waking up exhausted. That was a big one. That was a really big one. When you go to sleep, you can sleep eight hours. You can sleep seven hours, nine hours. You wake up, you're still exhausted. That's burnout creeping up on you. That is truly the remember when we said the reduction of the fuel or a substance through use or combustion? That's what it is. There is nothing left for you to replenish and regenerate through sleep being short tempered. And this is where I take a little bit of an issue with the way that burnout is defined, because they always talks about feelings of dissociation and dissatisfaction with your work life, but the reality is that it can bleed into your personal life and that you will end up being short tempered at work, Sure, but you're going to end up being short tempered at home with your spouse, with your partner, with your kids, with your loved ones. That's something to watch out for. And then the next one is feeling empty. Like some people express it as they feel like there's nothing left in the tank. That's that feeling of emptiness. Like there's nothing left. I have nothing to give anymore because I've given it all. How common is burnout? It's actually so common. That it's standard. Burnout is experienced by 86% of female lawyers and 70% of male lawyers. And the discrepancy between females and males is because women tend to be care givers. So it's actually higher for care givers. 82% for those individuals who are not care givers. So if it's a man who is a caregiver, then burnout rates are going to be higher. Why demands on you? Right. It's the literal. The demands placed on your person are what cause burnout. So if you are a caregiver, there are more demands being placed on you at all times. The rate is also really high for historically oppressed and excluded segments of the population. 86% for black lawyers, 88% for Hispanic lawyers, 84% for non heterosexual lawyers, and 83% of lawyers with disability. And for the terminology that I'm using, I'm always very sensitive to how we label groups. These are the labels that were actually used in the studies. And so I'm following the labels using the studies because that's how they define their categories. This is an important one. And if you are hearing this for the first time and it's resonating, then this presentation was worth it just for you to hear it and know that it's not in your head. Lawyers who experience bias, harassment, discrimination and vicarious trauma reported higher burnout, anxiety and depression. Why is that? Because when you are responding to harassment, bias, oppression, you are using energy to do that. And you know where I'm going. You only have so much energy. And if you're using it up to work, to be a caregiver, to be a caretaker and to survive discrimination, bias, harassment, then there's more energy being used up every single day, every minute of every day. And then unfortunately, in the law, those who experience bias or harassment, more than one third say they experienced a treatment from an opposing counsel or their current workplaces. One of the reasons I stopped litigating was because. The law not only attracted people who behaved in very reprehensible ways in dealing with conflict, which should be the one thing you know how to handle, but then incentivize them to behave in that way. The things that opposing counsels have said to me and written to me are outrageous and was just done. Big picture. Let's start up 10,000. 10,000 foot view. What causes burnout? Lack of leader and colleague support. High workload and work pressure. A lack of autonomy. Lack of recognition. There's a disconnect of values between your workplace and you and unfairness. Plain old fashioned unfairness will eventually cause burnout. But what causes burnout in the day to day? The little things that will lead someone to burnout. Here are some things that you can start doing now. We're getting into the practical advice of this presentation. Some people confuse real time communication and email. Right. And this is what it looks like. You are basically answering emails back and forth every day because people are having real time communication by email, which means your inbox is constantly at 100, 200, 300 emails that you constantly have to go through. That's not the point of email. We should be moving forward and we have in some places just not the law, unfortunately. Where real time communication is actually a different beast. So what does that look like? Slack teams. Gmail. Those are real time communication. That's you going back and forth and back and forth and being like, Oh, I'm having a conversation with someone. And then at some point you can be like, Hey, I got to go. I'll be back. And you can step aside from that communication. And if they send you a message, it just hangs there and they know that you're not back to keep going with that conversation. The issue with email is that people can send it and then move on with their life and then expect a response and it basically continuously interrupts your workflow and that is exhausting. So really understanding that your inbox is a source of huge stress and uses up your bandwidth is a critical component of fighting burnout. I actually when I had just started out as a solo, I actually had an away message, an automatic message that let people know I check my email at 9 a.m., noon, two and four or whatever it was. I won't tell you exactly what it was because it was a while ago. So if they sent me an email, they were fully aware I to get back to them for quite a while. Actually, thinking back to it, I think I only checked it 2 or 3 times a day because somebody once wrote back and said, We really envy you. This is kind of nice. And I was like, Don't envy me. Copy me. This is a great thing. Basically, I told people that I would check my email at 9 a.m. and I think it was 1 or 2 times in the afternoon, but that was it. So if you wanted an immediate response, use the phone. That's how you get an immediate response or send me a text or really think about whether you need an immediate response to this. Something that is kind of related is the lack of boundaries. This idea that you're always on. How many of you check email while you are home? Let me give you a better one. How many of you check email during this presentation? Why? It is exhausting to constantly be on. You have to be able to turn off because why? Because you have to be able to tell those parts of your brain that they are not needed and will not be needed until the morning. Being able to detach from work and give your brain an actual rest is critical. So if I can tell you something, that is to please start setting boundaries. You should not be checking your email past a certain time and before a certain time in the morning. Whatever it is, it'll get handled later. You need to give yourself boundaries. The unforgiving daily schedules is something that I mentioned about earlier, right? The idea that if you're scheduling every minute of every day, you're trying to take back control from a life that controls you. And you might ask yourself, Well, how do I change that? I cannot fix it all in a one hour. But here's the thing. At some point during the day and certainly at several points during the week, you should have downtime. And downtime is time where you don't have to be doing anything. And I don't mean like you're scheduling something else. Like meditation. No. You could be doing anything. Could read a book, you could take a walk. It's stare out into the. Into the empty vastness of the universe. I don't care. You should have moments of downtime. The next thing that you obviously want to look at is your unmanaged inbox. Definitely related to point number one. And I'm going to go back to this idea that you should only be checking your inbox certain times of day. You should only be checking your email also for a certain amount of time. And, you know, if anything takes less than five minutes, handle it. If it takes more than 15 minutes, put it on your to do list. And if it takes longer than that, you're going to put it on your to do list to be done in the morning. And that's the idea of swallowing the frog, right? You do the hardest things first, and an unmanaged inbox is a source of stress and therefore a source of anxiety. And it's going to start grading on you. The next thing you should be looking at is are there. You're simply excessive demands on your time, and that's really hard for us. We lawyers are so, so bad at this. We are by nature overachievers. Honestly, even the ones of us who feel like we're underachievers. We still went to college. We still went to law school, we still took the bar. I mean, that's not everybody, right? And so it's okay actually to be like, you know what? This is too much. I cannot take that assignment or I cannot do this thing. Or if I'm going to take that assignment, I need some advice on how to prioritize the other things that are on my plate. The idea that we can do all the things all at once, all the time, as fast as possible is it's just it's not only is it unreasonable, it's toxic. It creates completely unmanageable expectations and excessive demands on your time, on your energy, on your well-being. And so part of it is just letting go. Lack of support. It took a long time for me to realize that lack of support at work really, really caused damage. You have to feel supported at work. You really do. And if you're not feeling supported, you probably need to find somewhere else to work. And I mean that because it's going to hurt you in the long run. It's real. It will absolutely cause damage and then you'll be left picking up the pieces and your employer will go on to someone else anyway. And then financial strain. That's a big one. There's this idea that lawyers make a ton of money. We don't. Some lawyers make great money. A lot of lawyers don't. A lot of lawyers have trouble making ends meet. So when you were thinking of negotiating hourly rate or compensation. Think about that. Financial strain is going to cause anxiety and stress and lead to burnout. So you're just not you're not just negotiating about money. You're negotiating for your well-being. And I want you to remember that when you're when you're thinking about income. And now I'm going to take a moment to dig into this principle that I shared with you. Burnout is forever. Because I mentioned it once, and I want to kind of talk a little bit more about what it means, though. When you burn out. It doesn't take a week or a month to get over. It can take upwards of six months, a year or two years. It takes a long time to put the pieces back together again and you will not be the same person when you come out on the other end of it. So when you are putting yourself up for what you think is short term harm for long term gain, first of all, be absolutely sure that you are actually setting up for long term gain because I have been burnt by that trade off quite a few times. But also remember that burnout is actually not a short term cost. It's a long term damage and you need to keep that in mind. I keep talking about this idea of you only have so much to give. And I've I've said the word a couple times bandwidth. And now I'm going to talk a bit more about what that means. You have a bandwidth. I have a bandwidth. We all have a bandwidth. We all have a certain amount that we can do well without it starting to deplete us. And we can go in the red a couple times. That's okay. It happens. That's normal. But living in the red is the problem. And what you're talking about when you're talking about using your resources, being at capacity, running empty, what you're referring to is bandwidth. So bandwidth is the amount of intellectual, emotional and physical energy that a person has at their disposal. And what uses bandwidth is responding to external demands for intellectual, emotional and physical engagement. And now you understand why caregivers experience higher rates of burnout. What use is bandwidth in a very practical sense when you're feeling pulled in a million directions, that is using your bandwidth. Text messaging uses bandwidth. Emails, Chat functions. Phone calls. Meetings. Documents. Hearings. Putting out fires. Everything you do uses up your bandwidth. And you need to be protective of that bandwidth because that bandwidth is also what you invest in, human relationships and in staying happy. Burnout is the result of chronically overtaxing and then exceeding a person's bandwidth. But the problem is that in the law, as lawyers, we don't quit when our bandwidth has been exceeded. We keep going way into the red. Way, way, way, way, way into the red. We keep going after we break. And in fact, you may not know that you are burning out until after it's done. By the time people realize I'm burnt out, it's been a while. Right. So I'm going to give you a car example because it's the one that makes the most sense to me. And I'm sorry if you're not car people, but imagine that you have an oil leak, okay? In your engine and there's oil leaking and oil leaking and oil leaking and you figure, no, no, we can keep going. The engine's fine. The engine's fine. We're going to keep going. And this oil keeps leaking and leaking and leaking and leaking. And then you know what happens to your engine? It seizes up. And then there might be and then you might have some some smoke coming out of it and the car stops and you're like, no, no, no, no, I got this. And you jump out and you put it in neutral and you keep pushing that car with smoke everywhere, you know, assuming that's happening and you're like, No, no, no, I can keep doing it. I can do it. And you keep pushing that cart. That's burnout. That's when you realize, you know, maybe I should have stopped a while back. More importantly, maybe I should have not kept going when I knew there was an oil leak and maybe I should have taken care of my car. Okay. You should be taking care of yourself in the same way, right? So how do you preserve bandwidth? You have to have a match between the demands and your availability. And that may mean that you also need to have uninterrupted time now, not just uninterrupted time to have a break. No, no. You need uninterrupted time to work on a single task. That's why I'm saying to you, for instance, if you're watching this and I hope it's bringing you value, this is for you. It's for you to get better or to stay well. If you're checking your email, checking your text messages, going online, going to apps, that is the part of the using up of bandwidth. You need uninterrupted time to work on tasks because it's less tiring to do that. Another aspect of preserving bandwidth is adequate compensation. If you're going broke while working so hard, you're breaking yourself. You are. Well, first of all, you should not be breaking yourself, but you're certainly not being adequately compensated. Compensation is part of this. You want morale to improve as an employee? Tell me that getting more money doesn't help. Right. I mean, it helps somewhat. And certainly being safe and secure in your lifestyle and in your necessities is a big part of that. Another one that is not exactly money is recognition. Burnout is actually. In some ways caused by lack of recognition. And. Preserving bandwidth is in part done with recognizing people for what they've done and genuinely being grateful and genuinely thanking them for what they have contributed. And as a as a solo and as an associate, you will probably be more on the receiving end of that recognition. But understand that it is not selfish or childish or greedy or ungrateful on your part to want recognition and want adequate recognition. It's an important part of you doing the work that you're doing. And then the last one. The last one is important. And I really want you to spend time thinking about that in the context of how much control do you have over your life. Because if you do not have control over your life, then you are constantly meeting other people's demands. Because they're in control. And regaining control of your life is a big part of preserving your bandwidth. Okay, Well, let's say you said, okay, look, I'm doing my best to preserve my bandwidth and how do I replenish my bandwidth? I mean, I have this thing called a bandwidth I know of. Now, how do I make sure that, you know, I put quarters back in the machine or however it is that we're going to do this? Okay. Recreational engagement. Healthy Recreational engagement. Things where you get to focus on not work. And that can be whatever for anyone. I like to share this because people chuckle. I'm a scuba diver. I'm a scuba diving instructor and I am a rebreather diver. So when I go do my long dives, we're talking about maybe an hour or two, 3.5 hours of diving. And that's my recreational engagement. And I actually make a concerted effort to do it very often. It's it's how I get to be intellectually and physically engaged and something different. And I don't have to think about the law when I'm doing it. You also replenish your bandwidth by having an absence of demands. Now, look, I know. I know. We're busy. I have four kids. I get it. The idea that I will have no demands being placed on me for any time is a little farfetched. Okay. But realistically. You should have moments where you can just say no to people. That's really the absence of demand is the ability to say, Look, I'm going to go take 45 minutes and I'm going to be left alone for 45 minutes and I'll see you later. And nobody asks me for anything for the next couple. I don't know how long you can take. That's a big one. You're an associate. If you're a solo, you need to carve out those pieces of life for yourself and then rest. Good old fashioned rest. And I know this is now become more acceptable, but rest is a need. Rest is a right. It's not a privilege. It's not something you earn. You have the right to rest because that's how you replenish your bandwidth. And now that we have talked about these concepts, I'm hoping that you have more context around this idea of boundaries, not balance. You deserve to carve out and be firm in demanding that. Your work life and the rest of your life be separate and apart and that you can step into one and step away from the other and really give yourself fully to moments and work and engagements, because that will stop you from feeling depleted and that will preserve your bandwidth against burnout. Why is the system unlivable, though? Right. It's really hard as lawyers to just accept, well, you know, is it just someone whining about hard work? I mean, you don't know me. Maybe. Maybe I'm just a laziest person you've ever listened to. I'm not. And that, to me, was actually a big turning point. I am a proverbial workhorse. There is very little amount of work that I will ever tell you is excessive. And that was actually my downfall. It was also a way for me to come to a realization. If law firms and the legal profession. Did not consider the amount of work that I was putting in excessive. Then truly, there's no limit. And that was really helpful for me to really understand, to sit with it and realize. They're overworking me. This is bananas. And why is that the case? Well, there's numbers. It's actually a very, very quantitative analysis. So in 2001, 22 years ago, two decades, the ABA and its great wisdom asserted that there was too much emphasis placed on firms on the billable hour requirements, which was leading to build padding and general inefficiency as well as damaging firm culture. Notice that the ABA did not come at this from the perspective of we are damaging humans, but more, well, we're giving improper incentives to people. Okay. So the ABA recommended billing expectations of 2300 hours annually. This was their reasonable suggestion composed of 1900 hours of billable to clients and 400 additional hours for the variety of things we're all supposed to be doing on top of everything else. Okay, what does that look like? That actually translate to 9 to 10 hours of billable or reportable work five days a week, 48 weeks a year? All right. You'll tell yourself. Well, I mean, that's hard, but it's not crazy. Honestly, that number is crazy, because that means that if you go into the office at eight, you leave at six, which means you just have time to go home, make dinner, maybe watch a couple of crappy shows, go to sleep, start over. That's not a life. Okay. But okay, let's set that aside. The standard guideline for billable hours is that it takes approximately 10 to 12 hours to be late. That's the reality. So to achieve expectations, lawyers would actually be expected to work 12 to 15 hours daily. Which translate that. Assuming you show up at 8:30 a.m. in the morning, you're going to stop between 830 and 1130 at night. This is insane. Which brings me to this principle. Self care without teen care is futile. It is of absolute no value to tell people and for you all to receive the message. Hey, be sure to take care of yourself. Well, people expect you to be in the office 15 hours a day. That's just not doable. It is shifting the responsibility onto employees and associates rather than placing it where it should be, which is on the people giving them the work. Now let's talk a little bit about solos. It's a bit different, right? Because it's just you. I get it. There's no team care. I get it. All of that I get. But then I will bring you back to boundaries, not balance. And that when you are sending your hourly rate, when you are calculating your compensation, when you are demanding that people pay you, you are in part protecting yourself because you need to be able to live your life as well as earn a living. Why do I care so much? You can hear it from my voice. I'm giving this lecture. I talk about this all the time. I give trainings about this. Why do I care? Because it matters. Because this. Chronic mismanagement with normalized unrealistic expectations leads to inefficiency and burnout. But importantly, it leads to attrition. It leads leads to incredibly talented and intelligent and dedicated people leaving the practice of law. And if you remember the numbers of burnout. Those who leave the law are going to be women and historically marginalized people. And that hurts our diversity in the workplace. And that incenses me. In a 2004 study by Colorado lawyers helping lawyers, for instance, of more than 100 occupations, Lawyers had the highest rate of depression. In fact, lawyers are almost four times more likely to experience depression than the general population four times. And in fact, 1 in 4 lawyers also experiences feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in personal relationships, as well as anxiety or social alienation at much higher rates than the population at large. And now think about people in your surroundings, lawyers especially, who get divorces or who have difficult family lives. It's not entirely us. In part, it's the work that we are trying to do and the practice of the law. In 2016, an attorney and two mental health professionals conducted a study of 12,000 attorneys and found staggering rates of hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol dependent drinking with higher rates among men. So substantial rates of behavioral problems were found in 20.6%, screening positive for hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol dependent drinking. And men had a higher proportion of positive screens and also younger participants, which is why this is really important for associates to hear. And then the difference between men and women was significant. With 25% of men engaging in problematic alcohol related behavior versus 15% for women. I have my theories as to why that is, but I'm not going to share them because they're just anecdotal. 2017 ABA Task Force. The information is still very, very similar. More than 13,000 working lawyers responded to a survey. 28% of lawyers suffered from depression. 19% of lawyers had severe anxiety. And this one, this one should stop you in your tracks. 11.4% had suicidal thoughts in the previous year. This is staggering. As I told you, the system is broken and it will break you if you let it. 2014 report by the National Association of Women Lawyers said. The report confirmed yet again that while law schools have been great at pumping out female graduates, more than 40% of graduates have been women since the mid 1980s, according to and all law firms have been exemplary at shedding them. So if you are feeling exhausted, anxious, depressed, alienated, maybe, shall I say, even burnt out. You're not the problem. The practice of law is. And here is where I get really angry, because women of color have the highest rate of attrition from law firms as they continue to face firm cultures where their efforts and contributions are neither sufficiently recognized nor rewarded. This is a fantastic report that came out three years ago. Left out and left behind the hurdles, hassles and heartaches of achieving long term legal careers for women of color. Depressingly. In July of 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism published an article Why Women of Color are Walking Away from the Law. And they say basically nothing much has changed in 14 years. So what do we do about this, Right? What do you sitting there do about this issue? We've talked about it a little bit. We're going to really dig into it now. In law firms, which you want to see is task, assignment and completion being transparent. You want task accountability. To be clear, you want deadlines and time constraints to be planned for weeks ahead of time. You want clearly distributed workload and promotion should be based on objective outcomes. But if you're watching this, you are not in charge of a team. So how does this apply to you? Well, you can apply it in an individual capacity. And that's where I'm going to tell you a little bit more about the livable law method, which is what I came up with. And I cherry picked a couple of things that I thought would be most applicable and implementable by individuals. So first, really, really brief primer. What is project management? Project management is the application of processes, methods, skills, knowledge and experience to achieve specific project objectives according to the project acceptance criteria within agreed parameters. Imagine if all your assignments were actually given out with this in mind. Okay, there's final deliverables, there's finite timescale and budget, and it is a science and art of organizing all the components of a project. You are going to learn a little bit about the science and art of organizing the components of a project that apply to you. The liveable law method has three pillars the management of tasks, time and things within tasks. We manage deadlines, people and accountability. Within time we manage bandwidth calendaring and time for completion. Please note bandwidth is number one, right? And in the management of things I wanted three t's. Okay, sue me. It's just what I like. Doing things means documents, right? Documents, records, electronic things. You're looking at e-discovery and document management, client file management and the drafting process. Let's talk about time management. And I'm not going to go into all nine sub pillars because as I said, you are not in charge of a team. So I'm trying to really focus in on what would be most applicable to you. So when you're talking about time management, you're looking at quality over quantity, which brings me to a very important principle, and that is the workweek is finite. I promise it is. I swear to you, the workweek is finite. It does not bleed into every minute of every day, of every week of every month of every year. So. How do you do it on an individual basis? You need to have a calendar. And you need to know exactly what you need to do by when, because that means that your brain is no longer going in circles. Going click, click, click, click, click. Trying to keep track of tasks that is helping unload your bandwidth. I advise teams to circulate a separate document with deadlines 30 to 60 days out every week. You can do that for yourself once a week, Friday afternoon, which is a dead zone anyway. Sit down. Give yourself peace of mind. Pull out the piece of the document, a piece of paper, the dog, whatever it is that has your calendar, that has your deadlines listed for the next 30 days. And the reason I'm telling you not to look at your calendar, but really set out a list is because there is something about seeing it in list form that helps you really get a snapshot of, Oh, I know what's happening, right? Like, I know this week. This week. This week. This week, this is what it's going to look like for the next 60 days. And while you're there, you're going to give yourself a little weekly review of your deadlines seven days out. You're going to be like, okay, what do I have to do for the next seven days? And importantly. You are absolutely not going to schedule work over the weekend. I know. I know. Heresy. Trust me. Look at the next seven days of deadlines, understanding that the next time you're going to work is Monday morning. The first couple of weeks. You're going to work on the weekends because I know I know you have bad habits, but eventually it's going to stop because you're going to get better at managing things. And then the other thing I want to really encourage you is that you should be done with work 5 to 7 days before the external deadline. If something is due on a Friday, I would encourage you to live a life where it's done by Monday of that week. I know. Again, heresy. What are you talking about? Judy, that's insane. It's impossible. It's actually not impossible. I was managing a team. We were handling about 120 cases at once. Big cases. We were done with everything. I wouldn't say 5 to 7, but 3 to 5, three days before anything was due, it was done. And I mean done. Done. Three business days. And I saw the stress in my team plummet when we started doing that. And the other thing I would encourage is that internal deadlines are real. So let's say that you tell me, gee, I'm not doing five days, that's bananas. That's fine. Do three. Okay. So when you look at your calendar. Okay, well, that needs to be filed on Friday. Okay. Then I'll be done on Tuesday. That's the way you need to look at it. Because it gives you breathing room and it stops putting you constantly at the limit of what you can do. This is one of my favorite skills. Favorite? Tools. And I really hope that you implement it because it changed my life. The Task Matrix is a document that looks like this where you will basically list out what you have to do. What matter this is isn't a format for a team, so you can ignore the middle portion because this task matrix is only going to be for you. And then you're going to write your internal deadline and your external deadline. I have a running list like that. It's it's in a notebook because I like to have it on a hard paper on. I like to have a hard copy of it, but. It has changed my life because I sit down every week. I bring the stuff from last week into this week that I haven't done, and then I keep writing and I have a task matrix and all throughout the week I check off things and then when I realize, Oh, this is going to have to be on next week, I just put it on the next piece of paper for the next week. And it's an extraordinary tool and it gives you so much clarity and it helps you calm down. Backlog task matrix is my favorite. Backlog is probably my third favorite thing. Backlog is a list. Of tasks that have to be completed but can't because of the wrong timing, dependency or lack of personnel. And in this case. And in this case, lack of personnel might mean you you may just not be available. So my backlog is a list of things like, oh, yeah, I should do that at some point. And I just started writing it all down. So then when I have downtime or on Friday afternoon when I'm pulling out my weekly task list, I'm like, Okay, what am I doing next week? I'm like, You know what kind of running light this Thursday? Let me see what the backlog has. And you pull a task off the backlog it things that are not urgent, but you want to get them done at some point. I love the backlog because it doesn't clutter up my current to do list, but it gives me a place where I can dump that stuff and then pick it out with very little intellectual effort when I have time and capacity to do it. And this is what it looks like, right? You would have again, your task, your matter, your status as to why you can't be doing it right now. Internal deadline says backlog and external deadline. There might be one or it might just be backlog. I don't have a deadline. I just need to do this at some point in the future. Right. Repaint, bedroom wall, I'm going to put that on their backlog. I got to do that at some point. It's not you know, it's not urgent. Take my stuff to Goodwill. Clean up this folder. It's kind of a mess. I want to I need to fix this up. Look into that. I was really interested in whatever it is, right? Like, it's not a deadline, but you want to be able to get to it at some point. And this is if you were in a team member situation. And here's the thing. If you and another attorney, if you're a solo and maybe you have a paralegal, if there's any any amount of team or peer relationship, the backlog is a really good way to communicate with them, too, because you can be like, hey, this is a task of stuff that just needs to get done at some point. Let's just dump whatever we can't get to on here and then we just pick it out from there when we can, when we have time. So for example, when I had staff, the backlog was a great thing because just as I said, if they had some downtime, they'd be like, Oh yeah. So Wednesday morning that meeting fell through. So I went to the backlog and I picked this up and it's done. It was fantastic, right? It was a way for all of us to be on the same page and for people to feel useful and not have it weighing on your head. Wait, what was that thing? I had to do a thing and I forgot what it was. Electronically stored information. I know you're going to tell me what this. I don't want to do an lecture. I know. I mean, I do because I love you. See, but here's the thing. I think you should try to implement as an associate and as a solo. You don't have to have a fancy document management system. This is an Excel spreadsheet. I started doing this as an associate. It was a life changing and it actually made me really helpful on cases because other people weren't doing this. And then all of a sudden I'd be like, Hey, do you have an index? I'm like, Yes, I do have an index, by the way. Whenever I would receive documents in a case, whenever I would read documents in a case, anything like that, I would save them where they need to be saved. And I would look, if there are Bates numbers and if they didn't have Bates numbers, honestly, I would add Bates numbers and then I would have a running Excel spreadsheet where I would be like Date Bates prefix. Bates Beginning. Bates end title. And then I usually had another column to the right of that where I talked about notes like, is this this is important because that's important because, you know, I like this document because or this is a terrible document or this is a great document. And here's the thing. First of all, it was really helpful for me because it helped me keep track of what was going on in the cases, which, again, if you have trouble keeping track of documents, that is something taking up your bandwidth because your brain is going, where's that? Well, do you have to, you know, like it is taxing your resources to have to look for or think about and be inefficient in your search of documents. So that was first why I started doing this. But then amazingly, you can create timelines with this just sorted by date. You can create privilege logs. You can create exhibit lists. It's an incredible tool. You can literally create it using an Excel spreadsheet. I would strongly encourage you to do this. It's just a fantastic tool. I just mentioned this, but there's two more that I forgot. Confidentiality log and a deposition document log. These are additional uses for the tracking sheet. Absolutely. Love it. Okay. Communication is a big, difficult one and I'm going to try to be as efficient as I can in discussing this. We've talked about the fact that email is not the same thing as chat. As an associate or as a solo, you should ask yourself, how do you communicate with people on your side, colleagues, co-counsel, staff, whatever it may be with opposing counsel. How much time do you spend going through emails? Does the inbox allow threading and organization of communication? Does your method of communication create more or less work? And does your method of communication allow for real time communications? These are all things you should be asking yourself and be cognizant of. And to the extent that you can minimize how much inefficiency is caused by the way you communicate because it will help you preserve your bandwidth. One thing about chatting is that it's going to be real time. We talked about that. It's outside your inbox. Also discussed that it should be organized by case team or project. That's a big one. Your inbox is not organized by case team or project. Even if you label them, you're not talking within that label, and it usually coexists with an editing function. That's super important because that way you're not sending documents to each other back and forth. Drives me crazy at this point. You should be able to open it and have real time editing of that document together. And examples or teams Google Chat and Slack. Okay. So a summary of the practices I've been trying to teach you things you can implement right away. Culture. Your culture. What are you doing in your head? What? How are you, lifestyle wise, helping yourself? Um, to avoid the negative consequences of the toxic profession. You and I have unfortunately chosen no emails outside of work hours. And I mean that. I mean it. I'm watching you. I'm not watching you. But you know what I mean. Your workday is finite. It really is. I mean, it really is. Your workweek is finite. To take the weekend. You're done. You're done. Go back to it on Monday. Everything will be fine. Minimize frenetic communications and importantly, have business hours. Oh, my gosh. This was such a turning point. A guy emailed me once. Very nice guy. He wanted to a phone call. Like great when you want to do a phone call. And he tells me 6 p.m. and we're back. And fortunately, I'm not available outside business hours. And he goes, okay, let's do it at two. Life changing. It was amazing. It was so easy. Unfortunately, I'm not available at sub business hours and they just, you know, accommodated for a very reasonable, sane request practices that I want you to implement right now. Task list backlog, document tracking and minimizing frenetic communications and have business hours. You see, there's a theme. I know I'm repetitive, but you know, I really want you to walk away with this idea that you should have business hours. And then finally, most important of all, if you walk away with anything, please walk away with this. The 80% rule. So critical. I'm going to digress for a couple of minutes. We are by nature people who have been taught somewhere along the way. That first. You only get. Recognize, compensated or rewarded. If you go above and beyond. We have also picked up somewhere that you should always give 120%. And for a long time I believed those things to. But they are absolute nonsense. Because first off, I know you know that hard work doesn't always equal reward. I have worked exceedingly hard for not the reward I was promised, and certainly less than I was I deserved. But the second one is the one that really I want you to think about because it should give you pause. If you are constantly giving 100%, by definition you are going to burn out. And that is even more true if you're constantly going above and beyond and giving 110 or 120%, whatever that means. At any one time, you should be running at 80%. I know you're going to tell me. That's crazy. It's not. It's actually crazy to do anything but that. Why on earth would you be going 100% all the time? What do you do when there's an emergency? What do you do when someone you love? Get sick or hurt or needs you. What do you do when you get sick or hurt or you need something? If you are running at 100%, there is literally no bandwidth left to deal with that. We deal with the very normal things that happen in life. Let's look at it a different way. If you are constantly running at 100 or 120% and an absolutely extraordinary opportunity shows up. How are you going to capture that opportunity? You're already running at 100, 120%. How are you going to have the capacity to capture that thing that can maybe propel your career or give you a new experience or give you a new set of skills? You can't without hurting yourself. So the 80% rule encourages you to protect yourself and keep some reserve at all times for both the challenges and opportunities that life will inevitably throw at you so that you can rise to those occasions when it is needed. It is not lazy to run at 80%. It is smart because it will make you a better friend, a better spouse, a better partner, a better parent, a better caregiver, a better pet owner and a better worker. A better lawyer because when your client really needs you. Really, really needs you. If you're running at 120%, you can't show up for them. If you're running at 80, that's your reach goal for that week. You're going to show up for that person and you're going to be able to do it without hurting yourself, which means that you'll be able to do it again and again and again and again. You deserve better. And I hope that this lecture makes you really appreciate the truth of that statement. I am available for any emails if you ever want to contact me. If you want to ask questions, if you ever want to even discuss things. I live to help people live long, happy, productive lives in the law. And it would be my dream to stop seeing women and historically oppressed communities and LGBTQ folks flee the law because it is simply unlivable. Thank you so much.

Presenter(s)

GCL
Giugi Carminati, LLM
Space lawyer, eDiscovery attorney, legal project manager, and former litigator
Livable Law

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