Attention Lawyers: Your Most Important Client Is You (by Steve Brady)

Imagine with me that all the Lawyers, Attorneys, Solicitors, Barristers and Paralegals suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.

Actually, let's go wider than that and include Judges and Magistrates too.

What would be the result of an imaginary calamity such as this sudden disappearance of all legal professionals?

People charged with criminal offences would remain in police station holding cells.

The police would face an over-flowing dilemma.

Public safety may quickly become "public unsafety".

People on bail could stay on bail....for the rest of their lives.

Commercial disputes may remain as they are or turn into ugly conflict.

Property conveyancing? Estate provisions? The list could go on.

Legal professionals and the administration of justice are cornerstones of a civilized society.

If you're a legal professional, you perform an essential service and I certainly don't want you to disappear! 

This is vital: Your most important client is you.

 

 

Like many professionals you're probably aware of, and have seen, many articles on the importance of self-care. 

Adequate and good quality sleep, a healthy diet, consistent exercise that you enjoy, debriefing authentically, managing your workload so that it doesn't manage you, making time for the people and activities that "recharge"you.

Burnout is real....it hurts.....and it can put the brakes on your career, regardless of how resilient you are.

I'm going to list the key signs of burnout.  Imagine the following are red flashing warning lights on your car's dashboard, and you're the car!

  • Insomnia and /or interrupted sleep patterns
  • Resorting to no lunch breaks (or any sort of breaks) and over-the-top work hours over and over again
  • Persistent sense of overwhelm
  • Diminished mental agility (i.e. to recall facts and events) and  diminished work performance
  • Headaches, chest pain, palpitations, loss of appetite and/or abdominal pains (please urgently consult a doctor if you experience these symptoms as they may be indicative of serious medical conditions)
  • Uncharacteristic irritability, and/or emotional instability
  • Chronic fatigue or lethargy
  • Increased susceptibility to cold and flu viruses etc.
  • Unexplained anxiety and/or depressed moods
  • Uncharacteristic pessimism or loss of enjoyment/connection with your work

It's not a nice list, but woe to he or she who ignores it. Here's a link to a site that highlights burnout as well:

The focus of this blog is:

Why don't some of us care for ourselves?  Why do we ignore the signs and keep forging on like proverbial supermen and superwomen?

I want to share that I've been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I know that's a step up from burnout, but the principles are the same regardless: reading the signs that our own bodies are telling us, and taking care of ourselves is vitally important!

I'm not a legal professional, but this is where I can start writing "we" in this blog. I've worked as a Professional Counsellor, medical scientist, and Ambulance First Responder, and knew all the burnout information I've listed above. I knew what I needed to know about self-care and self-awareness, but these vital skills seemed to always slip down my "conscious list of priorities".

I'm writing from my head, heart, and experience about this topic. See what you think about the following list regarding why some of us may not look after ourselves as we could and should!  Particularly since legal services are an essential service for a functional society.

  • We may face an "avalanche" of work and only 24 hours in a day. Depending on our work culture, and personality traits that may dominate our professional habits, getting the job done may be what matters most for some of us. The trouble with this is there may be a steady flow of tasks and requests from the Senior Partner, but there is only one you!
  • Competitiveness, or fear of losing out in the promotion stakes. You may have heard that adage: we are human beings not human doings! It's true! Finding the balance between living our professional lives and making room for our loved ones, our passions, and ourselves dispels "compulsion" and builds wisdom into our lives.
  • Taking time out, and doing what we need to do to for the sake of our own health may make us feel guilty, or lead to a fear of what others may think of us. Remember I'm not talking about "slacking off" or not working hard. I'm talking about the "no lunch break", "13 hour work day routine" etc. that may be the "norm" not the exception. Most guilt we feel about ourselves is false guilt. We all face the decision whether to live out a vital reality: You have value as a person, and so do I. Most of us look after our cars. Why not look after ourselves?
  • Dissociation. That's a fancy term for being disconnected from parts of ourselves that don't fit the image we have of ourselves, or parts that are too hard to face. As a child I was raised as a "peoplepleaser". There is nothing inherently wrong with pleasing other people, it's just that I neglected to please myself, so I learned to hide my own needs for health and self-care.
  • The sad reality is that many of us carry invisible wounds. Childhood abuse, domestic abuse, and other traumatic experiences can leave us wounded and debilitated. We may live our lives running from the parts of ourselves that dwell in pain. You may wish to assess your own prior experience with trauma by taking the Adverse Childhood Experiences quiz.  https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/  Sometimes, without being fully aware of it, our profession is our refuge..... 
  • Some of us have an inner message that replays over and over: "I'm worthless" or "I'm a failure so I better succeed to the “max'". We may be unaware that this is happening.  A liberating and wise truth is that we are not our professions. We are us. I am me. You are you. One message that I've learned to say about myself, and really believe is: I'm a strong person, but I have some fragile parts of me. And that's OK.
  • It's important to be aware that maybe you've been strong for too long. You're exhausted. That could potentially manifest as adrenal fatigue, burnout, anxiety or even clinical depression. Other illnesses are a possibility too. If you feel persistently “down”, lack interest in things that you used to enjoy, if you have to push yourself through a cloud of lethargy and lack of energy to climb the mountain of work that you face each day, if you see that your hands are shaking, or other symptoms that shouldn't be ignored, consult your Health Care Provider as a matter of priority. When you're struggling with medical conditions that are debilitating, even self-care can seem too hard. You may eat take-out every night because you don't have the energy to cook, or you're too late to join your family for the evening meal. You may sleep most nights wherever you plonk yourself down to watch some TV. The latter has been my specialty at times. I'd rather wake up in a bed than a recliner!

I don't consider myself to be an expert. I've had a lot of experience, but I cultivate a Beginner's Mind, or a mind free from assumptions. This attitude has served me well, and it is from this state of heart and mind that I blog. Please feel free to comment...let me know if I've left something out. Let's be change agents that wake us up to what really matters. 

 This is the first of a series of blogs that I am contributing to The Trauma-Informed Law Project, an initiative of Helgi Maki, a lawyer considering the many connections between trauma and the legal system, including curating practical resources designed to help address trauma in the context of legal conflicts and fostering dialogue about best practices for trauma-informed legal practice.  ( http://www.traumainformedlaw.org./ )

A final thought: I'm thinking that my next blog needs to be a Part 2 of this one. If you recognise yourself in this blog, I welcome your comments and suggestions regarding how to live more balanced lives as human beings.

  -by Steve Brady

[Image credit: Dan McCullough]

This blog was first posted on: www.sbconsulting.space

 

 

 

What is trauma-informed law and legal practice?

Welcome to traumainformedlaw.org.  This website was launched with the purpose of bringing together existing resources on trauma and the law.  It was inspired by three observations:  (1) many clients in traumatic conflict situations have informally described the legal process and interactions with legal professionals as traumatic in nature, and it is not the intent of the justice system to retraumatize stakeholders; (2) legal professionals, like other professionals engaged in potentially traumatic situations similar to police and first responders, are exposed to traumatic situations and are at risk of secondary trauma, vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, however this phenomenon has not yet been studied in depth and few resources exist globally to enable legal professionals to prevent or reduce secondary or vicarious trauma; and (3) in common law legal systems there currently appears to be an inverse relationship between the level of trauma in a conflict situation and the likelihood of a meaningful legal process, both from the perspective of the individual stakeholders involved and the legal system itself, and insufficient analysis of how to improve the legal process for potentially "high trauma" conflict situations such as sexual assault.  

Trauma-informed law is an approach to legal analysis that explicitly and openly acknowledges the potential for trauma to impact law, and vice versa, at any stage of the legal process.

And trauma-informed legal practice is toolbox of techniques that can be used by legal professionals and clients to deal with the presence of trauma in a conflict or legal process, with the intention of handling trauma in a sensitive or informed manner so as to avoid retraumatization, exacerbation of existing trauma or the introduction of systemic trauma due to interaction with the legal system.

We hope this website becomes a valuable collection of centralized resources on the connection between trauma and law, and a catalyst for dialogue about best practices for trauma-informed law and legal practice.