By: Dawn M. Rose, LAP Contributing Author
As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are heading.” In a profession structured around countless appointments, malleable goals, and billable hours, one essential practice to keep us headed in the right direction is daily intention setting. Lawyers face challenges that other professions do not have – constant deadlines, client pressures to achieve successful outcomes, getting pulled in opposing directions, confronting emotional challenges and personal tragedies on a daily basis, executing a daily routine that often defines us, and vigilantly protecting reputation and image, for example. We can easily lose sight of the long view as we settle for making it through the day. At times, the stress of trying to balance it all appears overwhelming. In Illinois, it is estimated that 10-20% of attorneys and judges find themselves facing addictions or mental illness as a result of job-related stress.
The practice of setting daily intentions can move us out of a danger zone into a healthier space. Distinct from goals, intentions are unlimited, expansive, and more effective when we are committed to producing specific results and contributing to our workplaces, families, communities, and social circles. Daily intentions bring increased awareness and focus to our minds, so the path forward remains clear. One illuminating resource on the path of well-being and balance is The Lawyer’s Light: Daily Meditations for Growth and Recovery, authored by attorney and former Minnesota senator, Kevin Chandler. Chandler has served with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and on the board of Lawyer’s Concerned for Lawyers, a non-profit dedicated to assisting lawyers, judges and law students affected by alcohol, drugs and other addictions.
In my own personal experience, I found it increasingly difficult to focus at work while dealing with concerns about my ex-partner’s alcoholism. While I thought things were “fine” and maintained my job, I worked excessive hours to avoid dealing with him and even grew somewhat uncomfortable at my own need to “wind down” after work with a glass of wine. We spent less and less time with friends and mutual acquaintances. I experienced depths of loneliness and unhappiness like never before. It wasn’t until I started attending Alanon and engaging in daily mindfulness practices that I could regain clarity on my path forward.
The Lawyer’s Light encourages attorneys to focus daily on healthy behaviors such as nurturing friendships and family relationships, developing self-awareness, taking quiet time to rejuvenate, and reaching out for help when needed. Referring frequently to the principles and traditions of the twelve-step programs, this unique resource was created by Chandler after he realized that his training as an attorney was directly impacting his own successful recovery from alcoholism. He has compiled this daily reader that provides readily consumable, relevant perspective for those closest to the practice of law, with reflections inspired by quotes from more than 230 lawyers, jurists, and civic figures.
Chandler speaks frankly about the delicate balance that lawyers face between our personal and professional lives, which sometimes leads to emotional numbness or outright denial of our emotions: “There certainly is a perception that lawyers are ruthless, unflappable automatons who lack emotions and human feelings. In fairness, that’s an image our profession often encourages…Our logical, fact-based thinking is a great gift, but it can also be a curse if we allow it to block our true feelings, particularly with ourselves” (Chandler, Page 30).
While the messages throughout this book are spoken from his personal experiences as an alcoholic, they are equally thought-provoking for friends, family members, or colleagues in the legal community who are facing their own recovery from codependency or seeking ways to support others who are facing these issues. Chandler urges us to seek balance, to take life and its inevitable problems one day at a time, and to build a new life of honesty, trust, and order. He quotes lawyer and activist Charles Halpern, saying “[M]indfulness helps lawyers deal with the problem of stress and anxiety that overwhelms many of them and saps spontaneity and happiness from their professional lives.”
Since 1980, the Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP) has helped individuals within the Illinois legal community head in a more positive direction after being affected by addiction, mental health issues, and other sources of stress. LAP provides free and confidential assistance for lawyers, judges, law students, family members, and colleagues who have been affected by these issues. Wherever possible, LAP addresses problems before they jeopardize a lawyer’s practice, a judge’s career, or a law student’s education. Approximately 300 trained volunteers work with staff and board members to provide assistance to legal professionals throughout the State. LAP is completely independent from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and Judicial Inquiry Board. For more information or assistance, visit www.IllinoisLAP.org or email GetHelp@IllinoisLAP.org.
Dawn M. Rose, JD, CHHR serves as the Director of Planning & Human Capital for the Department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern Medicine. She has provided pro bono legal services with Equip for Equality’s Special Education Clinic, and utilizes her knowledge of disability law to advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities, including as patients in various healthcare settings. She earned her J.D. and Certificate in Labor and Employment Law in 2007 from Chicago-Kent College of Law. She is a member of the American Bar Association, and is admitted to the Illinois State Bar.