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Blomquist: No Joke — Let’s Take Care of the Lawyers

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blomquist-kerryA dear non-lawyer friend of mine recently gave me a joke book about lawyers.1 If you’re like me you have received such a gift before and you smile, nod your head, chuckle at the gesture, and relegate the book to being a bathroom staple until your conscience allows you to throw it away.

Inside you are thinking “Really? Changing lawyers is like changing decks on the Titanic? I hate this kind of tripe.” After all, I belong to an ancient and honorable profession. The profession of Abraham Lincoln, Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mahatma Gandhi, and somebody’s cousin named Vinnie. People who know less of Shakespeare than they think delight in invoking him by saying “first kill all the lawyers,” when, in actuality, the Bard’s point was that if a tyrant wants to avoid challenge or accountability, getting rid of the lawyers would be a useful strategy—making that line a shout out from the Bard himself.

Nevertheless, right now we seem to be in a historical cycle when lawyers are not generally held in high esteem, and frankly, this irritates the daylights out of me for two reasons:

1. It is undeserved. For centuries lawyers have been the champions of the liberties that protect us all, including the depraved, the guilty and the wrongfully accused. What began as the moral code of biblical times has evolved into the property issues of a post-Imperial Europe, the contracts between individuals with newfound freedoms and the protection of individuals from wrongful acts. I need not remind this audience that our good work has resulted in safer workplaces, justice for marginalized populations, cleaner food and water, and safer products for our families. Lawyers have been, and continue to be, progressives in social change.

2. This negative perception of lawyers is damaging my profession and frankly my friends and colleagues. Studies show that lawyers, when being held in public low esteem often react by holding themselves in private low esteem. And lets face it: we belong to a profession that asks people to bring us their problems, and not the easy ones at that. A typical client is often unhappy about having the problem and unhappy about having to pay a lawyer to take care of the problem. We are trained to focus on logic and set aside emotion, which may be good for detached examination of a legal issue, but it is probably not the best method for dealing with personal stress. The results are both tragic and predictable. Death by suicide among lawyers is six times that of the general population. If you don’t know of a colleague who has wrestled with substance abuse or depression, you are either in denial or a tax lawyer.2

I reached out to Loretta Oleksy, attorney and clinical case manager at the Indiana Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) and she captured my attention right away by noting that our adversarial system adds a dimension not found in many other professions. Let’s face it, a surgeon may be under stress while operating on a patient, but there isn’t an equally skilled surgeon in the operating room trying to kill the patient at the same time.

Loretta noted to me that JLAP certainly helps practitioners with substance abuse and depression issues but it also helps sufferers of compassion fatigue: the cumulative physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that results from emotionally demanding work situations. Common signs of compassion fatigue include sleep disruption, feeling overwhelmed, increased anxiety and too often adopting clients’ stress as your stress.

So now I know. In the Land of Compassion Fatigue, I am their undoubted Queen.

The good news is that Loretta also gave me some marching orders—compassion fatigue is preventable and certainly treatable:

Sleep. Really. Seven to nine hours a night.

Follow a regular exercise regimen. It’s spring. Take a walk at lunch! Hint: Exercise helps you sleep better too.

Set boundaries. We rarely do our best work at 11 p.m.

Unplug. I know this is increasingly difficult but stop sending the message that you are ALWAYS reachable. You don’t have to be.

Laugh. It is the best medicine.

Good nutrition is key but don’t go crazy. Never completely eliminate chocolate if it can be avoided because, in my opinion, it is the source of all things good.

Finally, remember, JLAP is here to help and support judges, lawyers, and law students who are dealing with all issues that affect our quality of life and/or our ability to practice law. All contact is completely confidential.

And about the lawyer jokes? I remain annoyed on behalf of the profession that brought you the mythical Denny Crane, who would undoubtedly say: “If you think lawyer jokes are funny, next time you’re in a jam, call a comedian.”•

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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