Commentary: The Lawyer, The Addict

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The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship.” – US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story in 1829

In the New York Times article “The Lawyer, the Addict”, the prevalence of addiction is discussed. Lawyers are said to one of the most depressed, anxious, unhealthy group of people.

Why?

The billable hour, the gruelling demands, the expectations of perfection, the hostile work environment, the threat of opposing counsel – are all named.

Interestingly, the article also cites the effect of law school. And refers to research that “shows that before [ ] law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally… They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.”

But the formal structure of law school changes students. “We have seven very strong studies that show this twists people’s psyches and they come out of law school significantly impaired, with depression, anxiety and hostility,”

Research studying lawyers’ happiness supports this notion. “The psychological factors seen to erode during law school are the very factors most important for the well-being of lawyers,” …“the factors most emphasized in law schools — grades, honors and potential career income — have nil to modest bearing on lawyer well-being.”

After students began law school they experienced “a marked increase in depression, negative mood and physical symptoms, with corresponding decreases in positive affect and life satisfaction,” the professors wrote.

Students also shed some of their idealism. Within the first year of law school, students’ motivation for studying law and becoming lawyers shifted from “helping and community-oriented values to extrinsic, rewards-based values.”

I agree with this research. The structure of law school and law firms shapes the minds of lawyers. And I would argue that the experience of law school and working in a law firm rewires the brain. In some ways for the better, and other ways for the worst – as neurons that fire together, wire together.

At its heart, law school is a homogenizing force. No selection of law students can change that. Selecting diverse law students does not translate into strikingly diverse lawyers. Or even translate into happier lawyers. The all too common effect of the herd mentality is strong. Diverse students enter. Homogenous students exit. Perhaps by addressing this issue, law schools can chip away at the “law school effect”.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

 

Don’t Speak: Is the Media Under Attack?

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The press speaks truth to power. And in doing so, helps uphold the rule of law. But what happens when people can sue publications into bankruptcy – effectively silencing them. Should that be allowed? Should wealthy people or corporations be able to silence publications they don’t like?
In the documentary, “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” the connection between money and the media is explored. At the centre of the documentary is the Hogan trial. Particularly, Peter Thiel’s funding of Hogan’s litigation. Used to exact vengeance against a publication he allegedly hated.
The documentary sets out how Hogan’s case was carefully constructed.
1) Hogan chose a friendly jurisdiction – Florida. 
2) Hogan had a judge in his favour (implied by the documentary), who excluded evidence that supported Gawker. 
4) Hogan struck a deal with the “videographers” of the tape to help bolster his case. 
5) Hogan purposefully dropped allegations that would entitle Gawker to be indemnified by its insurer. 
Despite Gawker being a gossip site, constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams remarks that the silencing of Gawker was very dangerous. He explains: “We don’t pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible because once we do, it allows the government to limit speech.”  
Given the danger of silencing free speech, should Hulk Hogan’s lawyers have acted differently? It appears in the documentary that Hulk Hogan’s lawyers did not know that Thiel was funding the litigation. But one wonders, were they wilfully blind? At the time of the litigation, it was rumoured that Hogan was in financial strain. And people were wondering, how he was affording his legal counsel (in the millions of dollars). 
 
I highly recommend the documentary. The documentary is a chilling look at the connection between free speech, power, and the media.
(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

What the Health: What Law Schools Can Learn from the Documentary

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In the documentary “What the Health”, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn explore the benefits of a vegan diet. They explain that there is a causal link between dairy, eggs, and meat to diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and so on. They argue that these food industries have provided sponsorship to associations for diabetes and other illnesses. And these associations in turn support recipes including animal based foods.

Similarly, they explain that these food industries lobby to be included in the food pyramid and send out information pamphlets to nutritionists. And the scope of their influence goes on and on.

They compare the animal product industry to the tobacco industry. Explaining that all these industries have to do is stir up doubt about whether it is bad for you to eat animal products. Rather than convince you that animal products are healthy for you. Doubt is enough.

So if an animal-based diet is so bad for you, then why doesn’t every doctor recommend a vegan diet?

Anderson and Kuhn point out that medical schools spend limited time teaching about nutrition. Rather medical schools are focussed on treating diseases.

So what does this have to do with law schools?

I see a parallel with medical schools obsessions with treating diseases and law schools. Law schools are similarly obsessed with treating diseases. We spend almost all of our time talking about what happens after something went wrong. In turn, almost everything begins to look like a potential death trap.

But we need to spend more time talking about preventing legal problems. To do this, we need to understand causation. We need to understand the history of law and the sociological causes of legal problems.

We need to address questions like: What brings people to the courts? Why do some groups of people repeatedly choose not to use the courts? Why are court cases so expensive? Why are some groups incarcerated at disproportionately high rates? Why does it appear that we criminalize poverty and mental illness? What is missing in our social institutions that cause and exacerbate people’s interactions with the court system? And what can we do to prevent legal problems?

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

 

 

The Last Tuesday in May: The OBA Gala

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On the last Tuesday in May, the Ontario Bar Association will be hosting its inaugural Young Lawyers Gala. The keynote speaker will be Michael Bryant, the former Attorney General of Ontario and current change-maker.

The Gala is a unique social event. Designed to bring together the next generation of legal leaders and influencers in Ontario, hosted in the elegant setting of the Gardiner Museum (111 Queens Park, Toronto).

Like the Met Gala, the event is a fusion of business and art. As Anna Wintour said in the Met Gala documentary The First Monday in May: “You need the mixture of art and commerce.” One cannot survive without the other.

Similarly, to succeed in the law you need the mixture of art and commerce. You need the marriage of analytical thought and networks. Nothing survives without the two.

So on May 30, 2017,  come join the Ontario Bar Association, as we herald in the first Gala of its kind. A Gala of young lawyers, created by young lawyers, for young lawyers.

Lawyers, law students, and articling students, I hope to see you there.

(This is not a sponsored post. Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

The Notorious RBG: The Life & Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a force to be reckoned with. Brought up in Brooklyn. Raised by Jewish immigrants. She was determined to succeed.

The book The Notorious RBG chronicles her life, with references to words of advice. “RBG often repeated her mother’s advice that getting angry was a waste of your own time.” And shared her mother-in-law’s advice that sometimes it’s best to be a little deaf. Crediting these beliefs as helpful in creating a healthy marriage.

Before becoming notorious, RBG graduated high school at the top of her class. After high school, she attended Cornell University and then Harvard Law School.

Despite her credentials, she had difficulty obtaining work. RBG had three strikes against her. She was Jewish. She was a woman. And she was a mother. She was rejected as a clerk to the Supreme Court, and she was turned down by a New York law firm.  The firm had already hired one woman and felt that one was enough.  Eventually she found work as a law clerk with a federal judge.

After clerking, RBG went on to teach law at several universities. While teaching, RBG appeared before the Supreme Court on many equality related cases. Acknowledging that “change in our society is incremental… Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time… Present the court with the next logical step… then the next and then the next. Don’t ask them to go too fast, or you’ll lose what you might have won.”

Following her time as a professor, RBG was appointed to the bench. Part of RBG’s success goes to her supportive husband, who encouraged and enabled her to reach new heights. Ten days before his death in 2010, he wrote in a note to her that “… What a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top of the legal world!!!…”

While working at the Supreme Court, RBG keeps a disciplined schedule. In writing decisions, her mantra is to “Get it right and keep it tight… If you can say it in plain English, you should.” She writes numerous drafts until getting it right, noting that: “I think that law should be a literary profession… and the best legal practitioners regard law as an art as well as a craft.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is truly an inspirational woman.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)