May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This annual campaign aims to raise awareness for mental illnesses and break the stigma associated with mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime, and every American is affected through friends and family who have mental illnesses.

Thus, it is likely that one of us has a mental illness of some kind, and a sure thing that we know someone with a mental illness.green ribbon

Many professionals deal with depression.  We work in fast-paced, highly demanding environments that can take a toll on our mental health. According to the Dave Nee Foundation, lawyers in the United States are the occupational group with the highest incidence of depression and fifth in suicides.  Further, chronic stress can trigger the onset of clinical depression.

Those are some startling statistics! But what does this have to do with women specifically? According to NAMI, women are prone to certain mental health conditions:

  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (a severe form of PMS)
  • Perinatal Depression (depression during or after pregnancy)
  • Perimenopausal Depression (depression during menopause)

sad-girl-1382940_960_720A 2014 study on depression in professional women found that women in positions of authority have more depressive symptoms than men in positions of authority (although apparently female lawyers are less depressed than male lawyers). According to the linked article, this can be attributed to women’s traditional assumption of most of the domestic responsibilities, as well as pay inequity, and the scarcity of other women at top levels. The article recommends that professional women

  • Choose a family-friendly employer
  • Find like-minded women and create a network
  • Don’t strive for perfection

unhappy manNotably, female professionals do not own the market on depression and mental health disorders. Male professionals have their own struggles.  A recent American Bar Association article on depression in attorneys cited a study by National Institute for Safety and Health which found that male lawyers age 20 to 64 are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than are men the same age in a different occupation. A study done in 2016 by the Journal of Addiction Medicine shows that male attorneys are also susceptible to problem drinking.  The rate of drinking problems among all attorneys is three times that of the general population, as 1 in 5 attorneys are problem drinkers. In a survey done on 12,000 lawyers, 25 percent of the male lawyers tested positive for hazardous and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.  According to the study, men under age 30 are most at-risk.

Interestingly, the study shows that female attorneys have even higher rates of alcohol abuse than male attorneys (which is the reverse of the general population). So, although female attorneys may be less susceptible to depression than male attorneys, they turn to alcohol more than men.

From an employer’s standpoint, taking care of employees’ mental health can increase productivity and job satisfaction. Employers should review their wellness programs and assess (and, if necessary, beef up) their coverage for mental health issues and include an employee assistance program, or EAP, to provide employees with confidential referrals to mental health professionals.

mental-1389919_960_720It is clear that male and female professionals (especially lawyers) have high-pressure, high conflict jobs that can take a mental and emotional toll, and everyone has different methods for reducing their stressors. The key is to find healthy stress outlets and methods for avoiding or dealing with depression.

Other recommendations for maintaining mental health or helping with depressive symptoms include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Meditation and breathing techniques
  • Making time to do something you enjoy or just for you
  • Set small, achievable goals
  • Make small, positive changes to your diet including increases to folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Get enough, or at least more sleep
  • Challenge negative thoughts and practice positive ones
  • Avoid withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Find something to make you laugh
  • Participate in your insurer’s Wellness  Program
  • Reach out to your insurer’s Employee Assistance program
  • Honestly talk to your doctor

Obviously, for a lot of professionals following the above advice is easier said than done.  But nobody has to go it alone.  There is no shame in asking for help.

Mental Health Month is a good time for all of us to ask ourselves whether we are doing all right and to seek help if we need it. If your employer doesn’t have a hotline or EAP, please try the following contact information below if you are in need of help of any kind:

NAMI Helpline 800-950-NAMI Suicide prevention

M-F, 10 AM – 6 PM ET

Text “NAMI” to 741741

Mental Health America Helpline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

24 hours Text “MHA” to 741741

 

Image Credits: From Google Images,  Creative Commons license: Green Ribbon; Blue Woman from Pixabay; Unhappy man from Max Pixel; Mental Health Cloud from Pixabay; Suicide Prevention Hotline from Lifelinelogo.svg-Wikipedia

Last week we published Part 1 of How the FLSA Hurts Women which discussed what women want from the workplace, and some reasons why they are leaving the workforce when it does not accommodate their work-life balance needs. In this part, we will be discussing business trends and business needs in general. Part 3 will discuss how the FLSA works against businesses’ being able to provide women with attractive work options, thus hurting women and businesses.

Business Trends9 to 5

I remember attending the annual conference for the Society for Human Resources Management a few years ago. The consistent message of the keynote and featured speakers really struck me: the 9:00 to 5:00 jobs are passing into history. Future employees will not be able to punch out before dinner, leave work behind, and lead a financially comfortable life. Instead, for business and employees to succeed — indeed for them to survive by meeting the 24/7 demands of the global marketplace — the whole concept of the work day needs to change. The tools we use for business and communication now, such as the internet and email are not limited to Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 Eastern Standard Time, not to mention our local, national, or overseas customers. As I listened to the speakers, I remember wondering how businesses in the United States could adapt to these changes when the FLSA, and similar state laws, demand that employees stop working after a certain number of hours no matter how much or how little they accomplished; stop reading, stop sending or receiving emails, stop thinking about new markets or product ideas or talking to co-workers or customers after clocking out. (Technically, the wage and hour laws don’t require that, but employers who let non-exempt employees work at all hours face the potential for astronomical overtime costs, as well as the nightmare of having to accurately record every minute worked).

50% Rise in Two Working Parents
      50 Percent Rise in Two Working Parents

These questions continue to arise after news reports of the disappearance of middle-class jobs, artificial intelligence replacing hourly employees, and articles like Forbes, Why Millennials are Ending the 9 To 5, by Kate Taylor, and Bloomberg’s It’s Time to Kill the 9-to-5, And the 8-to-6, Too, by Rebecca Greenfield. Greenfield’s article highlights the negatives of our U.S. culture which is “rooted” in an “hours mentality,” which no longer conforms to most people’s lives or their workflows. Employees who have flexibility and control over their schedule rather than 8 hours in a cubicle, have improved productivity, health, and retention rates. Greenfield also noted the 50 percent rise in two working parent households since 1970, yet there has been no structural change to the workplace to adapt to the new reality.

Continue Reading How the FLSA Hurts Women (Part 2)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and final post in the blog series Diary of a Pregnant Lawyer – Pregnancy in the Professional Workplace. The first blogmester is here, and the second is here. Mallory wrote all three installments before she had her baby on December 22.

pregnant woman and high heel shoes
“Uh, I don’t think so!”

Welcome to the Third Blogmester! This blogmester feels very near and dear to my heart, because as I am writing this one I am about as preggo as a preggo can be. I am very uncomfortable, owing to the giant baby mushing all of my innards, and writing in between contractions. Don’t worry – they are not timeable (I don’t think?).

But remember at the very beginning of my blog series when I said practicing law while being pregnant is hard? Well, that sentiment stems mostly from the third trimester, during which the difficulty of working in a professional atmosphere correlates with the growing of the baby bump. Heels, suits, pantyhose – HECK NO to all of these things, I say! I am now proudly rocking the “frumpy” professional look because it is truly the best I can do short of showing up in my pajamas.

Continue Reading Diary of a pregnant lawyer: Third blogmester

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in the three-trimester blog series Diary of a Pregnant Lawyer – Pregnancy in the Professional Workplace. The first blogmester is here. On December 22 (after she wrote her last “blogmester” post, which we’ll publish later this month), Mallory gave birth to Margot Eleanor Ricci. Congratulations, Mallory!

You have survived the first trimester! Many consider the first trimester to be the hardest of the three (I respectfully disagree and will elaborate more in the upcoming Third Blogmester post).

"Honey, I made it to my second trimester!"
“Honey, I made it to my second trimester!”

If you spent the first trimester escaping to your office for 30-minute power naps, escaping to the bathroom for vomit sessions, or escaping to the fridge for some craving-satisfying snacks, things may be looking a little better for you now.

Unless you’re like me, and the fun times are rolling for a little while longer.

In any event, this second 12-week period is considered to be the easiest. But that doesn’t mean the second trimester doesn’t come without issues, some of which involve the place where professional women spend the majority of their time – work!

Let’s read about some other practicing attorneys’ experiences during the middle of their pregnancy and see if this trimester is as uneventful as it seems . . .

“I was six months pregnant with my first child, and huge. I was at a hearing in the judge’s chambers. Opposing counsel asked when I was due, and I said in three months. The male judge looked at me in amazement and said ‘are you expecting twins?’ I said ‘no,’ and he was hugely embarrassed. Needless to say, I won the hearing.”

“I may be one of the only women who HATED being pregnant. (Or at least one of the only ones to admit it.) I was grouchy, to say the least. However, with that grouchiness came a positive. For approximately 25 weeks (after I went public in the office), I reveled in the fact that the men completely left me alone. I got more work done those 25 weeks because our male dominated office at the time treated me like I had the plague. It wasn’t mean–it was for their own safety and self-preservation. I was spared the hour-long football story distractions and petty arguments that come along with practicing law with an office full of brilliant A-type personalities. My partners also took advantage of my ‘grouchiness.’ I was the one who was always picked to have the controversial phone calls with opposing counsel (also men). It was a great way for me to vent my irritation–and useful, too, because we were preparing for trial all that summer with a very difficult opposing counsel. Needless to say–I usually got my way, and my husband enjoyed the fact that I was a little nicer at home!”

“While I was pregnant, opposing counsel was pregnant, too. Under the state rule, the duration of a deposition is severely limited, and I ended up having to ask the Court for additional time because of the number of bathroom breaks that my opponent took. She opposed the motion, but I was granted the additional time.”

Continue Reading Diary of a pregnant lawyer: Second blogmester

Being pregnant can be hard. Working while pregnant can be really hard. Practicing law while pregnant can be hard, really hard, and more.

As I sit here I am well into the third trimester of my first pregnancy. While typing this introduction, I have had to “go” three times, and I have my feet propped up on two unused computer bags under my desk because by the end of the day my feet look like wonky balloon animals. Looking back at my pregnancy journey, I am aware of how fortunate I am to not have a physically demanding job and to have had a relatively healthy pregnancy – though not without its bumps (in addition to my one big bump) along the way.  I am also aware, however, of the unique challenges pregnancy poses to professional women. Women and their employers should be equipped to handle these challenges. That is what this post is for.

Much like pregnancy, this diary is going to be divided into three “blogmesters”:

First blogmester: family planning and the first trimester;

Second blogmester: the seemingly uneventful second trimester; and

Third blogmester: working while getting ready to deliver, maternity leave, and post-partum issues.

Continue Reading Diary of a Pregnant Lawyer First Blogmester – Planning for Pregnancy and First Trimester

I do not consider myself to be a confrontational person.  Maybe that sounds like a paradox cowomen argueming from a lawyer, but I suspect I may not be the only one in my profession who feels this way. To me, making persuasive legal arguments is fun, but getting yelled at or antagonized by a not-so-nice opposing counsel really stresses me out.
I get that this is often the goal of these sorts of tactics: challenge everything, send copious nasty emails, drive up costs, and make litigation so unbearable and expensive that my client is eager to settle. I know that these bullies are trying to get under my skin, and I know that I should “not let it get to me.” But I sometimes struggle with figuring out how to get from wanting to let it go to actually letting it go.

let it goI would love to walk out of the office in the evening and not give another thought to any of the nastiness I may have encountered during my day. I do not want to be at home playing with my toddler while thinking about how to respond to an email about some petty slight. I do not want to lose sleep anticipating what ridiculous misrepresentations opposing counsel is going to make about our conversations in a discovery motion. I do not want facing these types of opponents to make me feel burned out on being a lawyer. All of these reactions might mean the bully is winning, and we can’t have that.

I recognize that I have no control over how opposing counsel acts or who I get as opposing counsel in a case.  But what I can control is how I react to and internalize difficult situations that may arise at work.  I am still working on getting better at this, but wanted to reflect on some techniques and strategies that I have come across. I work with some wonderful, wise, and kind attorneys who have given me lots of helpful advice on this subject. Here are some things that I have found to be helpful for dealing with difficult opposing counsel or other difficult individuals and confrontational situations in the workplace:

  • woman handshakeKill them with kindness. Maybe politeness is the better word here, but I have found that if I focus on maintaining my own sense of civility in my interactions with opposing counsel it distracts me from worrying as much about what they are saying. Being polite does not mean caving into unreasonable demands. It just means taking the high ground and remaining professional as you assert your position. Bullies often want a fight, so if you refuse to stoop to their level, it sometimes has the added effect of unnerving or calming them down. Smile, ignore their behavior, and act like you are not bothered by it.
  • Document everything. If opposing counsel has a tendency to misrepresent your conversations, make a habit of following up any phone conversations with an email or a letter summarizing the discussion and the positions taken by each party. Assume that this document might eventually find its way to the court so keep it professional and focused on the issues. Do not ever put anything in writing that you would be embarrassed for the court to see. If opposing counsel repeatedly becomes heated or abusive over the phone, or if he or she continues to misrepresent discussions, let the attorney know that all future discussions will need to be in writing. If an attorney is acting up during a deposition, make a statement on the record to document the behavior, but do not get pulled into an argument. If the deposition is being videotaped, let the lawyer’s behavior speak for itself.
  • Know how to end the conversation. Sometimes it becomes clear that an opposing attorney is not actually willing to agree on anything. Allow the attorney to state his or her position. Reiterate where you stand, say you have heard, and either say that you will take it under consideration or suggest allowing the court to decide the dispute. In other words, agree to disagree and move on.

These suggestions have been great in helping guide the ways that I communicate with disagreeable attorneys, but as far as figuring out how to maintain a sense of emotional well-being and actually let things go, I’ve had to dig a little bit deeper. This is where mindfulness comes in. Yes, “mindfulness” is pretty trendy right now.  Amazon has about a million books on the subject, including a variety of children’s books.  The app store on my phone contains an assortment of apps containing mindfulness exercises. You can even buy “mindful” mayonnaise and dog shampoo! Many companies, sports teams, and schools have begun offering or requiring mindfulness training for employees and students, sometimes with impressive results for participants such as improved performance, stress relief, better quality sleep, fuller enjoyment of life, and even alleviation of certain health issues.

So what exactly is mindfulness (other than a clever way to market mayonnaise)? Mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing on the present moment, observing and accepting any feelings, thoughts, and sensations that are present without judging them. It’s a form of meditation that is supposed to be carried into our everyday life. For example, there are exercises about mindful eating, which focus on enjoying the sensations of food rather than rushing through a meal. There are mindful sitting exercises, mindful walking exercises, and even exercises for mindful internet use. The goal of these exercises is not to completely clear the mind of any thoughts, but to adopt a more accepting and less judgmental way of interacting with our own thoughts and feelings. From my experiences in my pre-lawyer life as an actor, I know that focusing awareness on physical sensations and breath is an excellent way to remain present in the moment instead of judging your own performance or trying to force yourself to have feelings you think you should have, so I am definitely intrigued by the idea of incorporating mindfulness into my daily life as a lawyer.woman at desk

I have only just started to explore mindfulness to see whether it is something that works for me, but I’m going to give it a try, along with continuing to use the techniques I described above. During an unpleasant conversation with opposing counsel, practicing mindfulness might mean pausing to notice feelings of anger and the physical sensations that accompany those feelings, and focusing on taking some deep breaths. If thoughts about a confrontation with opposing counsel creep into my mind while I am trying to relax at home, a “mindful” reaction would be to notice and acknowledge the thoughts as sort of an interesting phenomenon and then focus on the physical sensations I am feeling to gently bring my mind back to the present. With time, I hope to get better at these techniques and at seeing whether I can make mindfulness practices part of my daily routine.

If you are curious about mindfulness, there are numerous resources to help you get started. I’ve even seen continuing legal education courses and books offering mindfulness courses geared specifically toward lawyers. It seems like there is a mindfulness option out there for everyone, even the mayonnaise addicts with dogs! I don’t know whether mindfulness is the magic potion for living a stress-free life, but for anyone else who has trouble taking a break from worrying about work, I recommend at least giving it a try.

During college, law school and the first few years of my practice, I never gave much (ok, any) thought to taking a break from work.  I was too focused on developing a career. Planning to not work – apart from the very distant notion of retiring someday – never really dawned on me.  In the abstract, I had formed a belief that being a professional woman would somehow provide me with options if and when I ever wanted to exercise them.  So, sure, if I could afford to take a few years off after maternity leave and return to work once my future children reached elementary school age, I could do that.  But, what I didn’t appreciate was how difficult it could be to exit and then return to my profession once I had my own clients and was responsible for my own workload.  Where would my value lie if all of my clients were transitioned to other attorneys during my absence?  What would I come back to? Realistically, could I ever really take extended time off from work and return to the career that I was working so hard to build?

Fast forward a few years (ok, maybe more than a few) and this has become a very familiar topic of discussion among my friends who work in a variety of fields.  It seemed, somehow, to catch many of us off guard that professional success and tenure made it difficult to take a prolonged break from work and return to our careers.  Sure, we would expect to find employment, but could we ever return to roles that were comparable to the ones that we had before?

Regardless of the personal decisions ultimately reached or paths taken, questions about whether it would be possible to successfully return to the workforce after a significant break are important – and I think that women especially should be asking these questions and considering these issues much earlier in our careers – before our 30s.

sabbatical

It is a fact that more women than men leave the workforce to care for a parent, spouse or child, and there are many other reasons professionals take extended leaves like military service, extended volunteer work, personal illness, sabbatical, or extended once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. So, whether planned or not, the possibility of a leave of absence exists for many women. It seems prudent, then, that our arsenal of career development tools and plans includes doing what is necessary to ensure a successful return from an extended leave should we ever need or want to take one.

A while back I was forwarded this video link to a November 2015 TED Talk given by career reentry expert Carol Fishman Cohen:

Continue Reading Plan Ahead for Extended Leaves of Absence – Even If You Never Intend to Take Them

It is fall of 2011.  I am participating in a mock trial tournament.  I am defending a (pretend) driver in a (fake) personal injury lawsuit.  I deliver the opening statement and I cross-examine the plaintiff.  After the trial, I sit by nervously awaiting comments from the judges.  I received many well-deserved compliments and critiques.  I will never forget, however, what one of the female judges said to me:

I thought you were great; you really drilled the plaintiff on cross.  But, a word of caution.  I think you are walking the line between being “assertive” and being too “aggressive.”  People often find aggressive females off-putting.  I think the problem is the color of your shirt.  It is too blue.  Try wearing a softer, more feminine color next time, like a pale pink.

FloraFaunaMerryweather2
“Pink!” “No! Blue!”

Yes … my shirt was too blue.  I was appalled at first.  But, looking back on what I am sure was meant as well-meaning advice, it all makes sense.

Female attorneys are held to certain unique standards or truths. (See Heidi Wilbur’s great take on it here.) I have been educated on all of the female golden rules since becoming a law student.

Rule number one: Don’t argue for a raise based on merit; rather, ask for a raise so that it seems like you are asking for “help.” As in, men like to be needed by women, so don’t go into the board room making demands, but rather, appear meek and needy.

Rule number two: Never wear pantsuits in court. Believe it or not I have witnessed many lawyers and judges make comments about “pantsuit” women.

Rule number three: (which has been told to me by an actual sitting judge) Keep your hair pulled back in the courtroom because long hair is distracting.

Rule number four: Don’t be overly aggressive with your witnesses, or the jury will hate you.

Rule number five: Don’t raise your voice, even when making a passionate point, or you’ll sound like Hillary Clinton (gasp!).

Rule number 6, 7, 8, 9 . .  .: Wear panty hose (Editor’s note – I actually heard a judge say this recently in Florida); wear heels; always be nice; and never cross the invisible line from assertiveness to b****iness.

Alas, the list goes on.

You might as well tell me to strive to be like Kate Middleton.  Because that is totally possible.

Be careful of that blue Kate!
      Be careful of that blue, Kate!

Being taught to follow all of these rules as a law student and young lawyer meant I could no longer dream of screaming like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men (1992):

“You can’t handle the truth!

 Jack Nicholson (as Col. Nathan R. Jessep) Nicholson’s shouted response to Tom Cruise (playing Lt. Daniel Kaffee) in the movie A Few Good Men (1992).

Or exclaiming like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar:

And the truth shall set you free!

Or even quoting My Cousin Vinny:

Everything that guy just said is bullsh*t!

2616942907_09a39d8c9d_m

Ok, maybe I would never say “bullsh*t” in court, but it is nice to have the option. The saddest part about all of these rules we have been taught is that often they continue to be perpetuated by women. Even I am guilty of passing these rules down to young women I have mentored who ask me for attire and trial advice.

Then, in 2014, I was fortunate to come to Constangy. (For those of you who haven’t heard the good news, Constangy was recently rated by the National Law Journal to be fourth best in the nation for women lawyers.) I have been exposed to so many progressive female role models who have taught me to embrace myself as I am, to say “the hell with” female stereotypes, and by golly wear whatever the heck I want so long as it is professional in the context of the situation. I’ve watched women from our firm make witnesses cry, best opposing counsel at heated arguments, and all at the same time manage to be the most nurturing mothers to their children and make it to their kids’ games and recitals.

Jessica Miranda

My message to our women (and men) readers is this: embrace yourself and surround yourself by others who encourage this as well. I also want to formally take back all the times I told my college mock trial students to not be so aggressive in the courtroom, to wear pearls, and to always pull back their hair. You too can be Lt. Daniel Kaffee, Fletcher Reede or even Vinny Gambini if that is who you are. Say to hell with the rules, and for goodness sake, wear your blue shirt.

Image Credits: From Google, Creative Commons license: Flora, Fauna and Merryweather; flickr, Creative Commons license:  Jessica Miranda in blue blouse; www.quote/counterquote.com: photo of Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men (1992); http://sylvssilverspoon.blogspot.com: photos of Kate Middleton.

Deshauna Barber made history last week by becoming the first Miss USA winner who is actively serving in the United States military.  First, it is undeniable that this woman is drop dead gorgeous. She is also the epitome of strength:  physical strength, intellectual strength, and strength of character.  After growing up in her non-“girly” military family, obtaining her master’s degree in management information systems (not exactly a traditional “girly” career choice), it is refreshingly wonderful that she openly embraces the indulgences of femininity.

So, wear your heels, wear your swimsuits, overdo your makeup, have big curls and lots of hairspray.  It just gives me the chance to be really girly, and I think that’s what fascinates me about [pageantry].

Interview of Deshauna Barber by Diana Falzone, Fox411. Continue Reading Congratulations to Deshauna Barber: Strength and Femininity

Nashville partner Teresa Bult is providing a guest post today.

Lately, I keep reading articles about how horrible the networking process is, especially for introverts and lawyers (oh wait, that may an oxymoron). And I must say, when I first started out networking, I felt exactly the same way. I still tell young associates that networking and marketing can seem like the “fine art of beating your head up against the wall.”

You can spend hours and hours and meeting after meeting and cocktail event after
cocktail event, and never walk away with any business. And the reality is, we Womens Busienss Socialare now in a legal market where young associates are told when they walk in the door of many law firms that they not only need to be good at sitting alone in their office understanding and dissecting the law, but also counterintuitively, out socializing and developing relationships and business. What? What? These two things do not mesh with lawyers’ (or introverts’) personalities, and the dichotomy might just be enough to push some lawyers off the ledge (as if lawyers didn’t have enough pressure to be hanging by a thread, anyway).

Even in-house attorneys have this problem. They need to connect with their business partners and are expected to “network” with other in-house counsel, outside counsel, and those in the C-suite. From what I understand from my peers, it can be a miserable endeavor.

Over the years, however, I have figured out it just isn’t that hard. Indeed, the fact that so many lawyers and other more introverted salespeople THINK networking is so hard is the precise reason it isn’t. It isn’t hard to distinguish yourself in a crowd of people who are clearly networking as they are gritting their teeth. Continue Reading Inverting views on Networking: How Can You Influence Someone’s Life Today?