have you taken a break lately?

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I have. I just returned from a quite long one, actually. (See above for the view from my beach perch.) For a month (plus some), I took a break from [most] work and [most] media (including writing for this blog, Twitter, reading the 12 zillion blogs in my RSS feed, and other internet rabbit holes I frequent).

[Admission: I did spend some time on Facebook because I have family that will pester me unless they’re receiving semi-regular updates.]

I spent time with family and friends. Being truly present.

It was hard at times. Yep. I jonesed more than once for a feed — any kind of feed — on my iPhone.

But the mental, emotional and psychic break I got from disconnecting and truly breaking away? I’m still processing how important this was. Is.

I traveled some of the time. I think this is key to a real break. Get out of your daily routine. Get out of your comfort zone. Get away from what you know.

Relax expectations. This is also important. If you’re like me, you spend much of your time working to fulfill expectations. Your own, your family’s, your client’s. Someone’s. Let go of this, too.

We all know that the legal profession is filled with stress, anxiety, and too much negativity. Which makes taking a real break all the more important for legal practitioners. Not a working break. A REAL break.

I know this is hard. We are taught in law school that we can never work hard enough. The programming to work insane hours (way beyond any human’s productive capacity) continues for pretty much any law firm associate. I wager it’s worse for those in bigger firms, but I can tell you that the expectations in the small firm I worked for out of law school were the same. Stay long after 5:00 (or 6:00 or 7:00) has come and gone. Come in on the weekends. Failure to do so? Then you’re deemed not worthy. You don’t want it enough.

I’m not the only one who thinks that this is anathema to being a good lawyer. Or a healthy, sane, happy person. But it seems to be a perpetuated model.

Well, I for one don’t want to have a heart attack, develop a serious addiction, contemplate or attempt suicide, or alienate my friends and family.

So I take breaks. Long breaks. Doing things that have nothing to do with work. With people I love.

Breaks make us happier. Even in jobs that we don’t love. And especially in jobs we do. They make us more resilient.

How long has it been since you took a real break? If you’re reading this and thinking that there’s no way you can leave your work and truly disconnect, then I’ve got news for you.

You’re doing it wrong. Really, really wrong. There is no work, no legal practice, that stops you from taking a break. Create the right way to work, and the breaks happen. Because you build them into how you work.

I know this because it’s how I operate. And I’m not alone. But there are far too few of us in this club.

Come join the club. And send me a postcard when you get there.

go learn something. #actionmonday

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What are you doing today to learn something new?

What can you do every day to learn something new?

And I’m not talking about mandatory continuing education. Although it would be great if folks held CLE courses to a high standard and didn’t just phone it in. But I recognize that is a problem too big for me to fix.

I suggest that making learning a part of your daily routine — a habit, dare I say — can do as much, if not more, than any single other thing you can do to grow. As a lawyer, a person, a professional, a friend, a spouse, a parent. No matter the role, you will be better.

It’s one of my three big goals: learn something new. Every day.

It’s not hard. And only takes as much time as you want it to.

Here’s how.

READ. Find something to read that interests you. Blogs, books, magazines, research papers (which can actually be quite fascinating).

TALK. Find people to talk to. People who do things you’re interested in or want to know more about. This can lead to networking but it’s really more focused on learning new stuff. Though it’s interesting how connecting with new and different people can open up new and different opportunities.

TAKE A CLASS. Preferably a workshop. That’s hands-on. Yes, there are some good CLE courses out there, but most are not great. And anyway, this is an investment in your learning, not in getting mandatory CE credit. Explore your interests, hobbies, passions, through a class, either live or online.

GO TO CONFERENCES. Get out there and meet people. Some conferences are very good. Others are not so. Do some research, figure out where the intersection of your interests exists, register, and GO.

LISTEN. Listen to what interesting and smart people have to say. Really listen. Listen to audiobooks, podcasts, NPR during your commute/run/walk.

FIND OR CREATE A GROUP. Gather together some like-minded or even not-so-like-minded folks and meet on a regular basis to explore something or everything. I’ve done this more than once and have always been surprised at how much it added to my learning.

TEACH. The best way to really learn is to study something and then teach it to others. Beyond mastery, teaching is incredibly satisfying on many levels. 

Before your mind goes to all the reasons you can’t adopt the learning mindset, let me say this: As with exercise, diet, meditation, or whatever you do to stay alive and healthy, choosing to make time for learning is a choice. You can choose to make it a prioritized goal. Or not.

What’s not an excuse.

Access? Go online, spend 10 minutes on Google and you’ll have access to more resources on your chosen topic than you can possibly get through in your lifetime. It’s all there. Maybe the seminar you’ve chosen is expensive. So choose another one. Or take a course on Udemy or Skillshare or Coursera or Kahn Academy or edX.

Money? Nope. Again, 10 minutes on Google and most of what you find is free. Courses from the online sources above are free or very low in cost. Books from the library are free. Or join Amazon Prime (cheap, but not free), and check out ebooks.

Time? Well, this one’s on you. You either make time or you don’t. Make it one of your three annual/monthly/weekly/daily goals. Or not.

Why bother?

Lifelong learners are more interesting people than stagnant ones. This is just common sense. Don’t you want to be more interesting? And more interested?

You’re more likely to earn more than non-learners.

You’re more likely to have a healthier, happier, younger brain as you age.

And as Dan Pink shares in Drive, we humans need three things in order to feel motived in and satisfied with our lives: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Lifelong learning achieves all three.

get your google on. and be productive.

The following post originally appeared on the MyCase blog, thanks to a kind invitation from Niki Black. It’s the first in a series that I’ll be publishing here about the how to get your google on.

I admit that I’m an unabashed Google fan. Some of the simplest Google tools are the most powerful in my tech toolbox, enabling me to practice both productively and efficiently. One of my more geeky hobbies is learning about all of the useful but lesser-known Google tips and tricks. Here are a few of my current favorites:

Use Google as a timer. I’m most productive when I block out my time,  devoting a chunk to really focused work and then taking a break. I use Google’s built in timer to do this. How? Type “set timer 45 minutes” into a Google search bar and up pops a timer, set for 45 minutes. (Or whatever length you choose.) I then hit the full screen button and all online distractions are blocked out, making it easier for me to focus on my work.  

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Use OK Google.  Install the Google Voice Search Hotword extension. Open a new tab in Chrome, say “Ok Google” followed by your search term. Like magic, results appear. While not perfect (it’s still in beta), I’ve found Google understands my southern drawl and results are quite accurate.

Ctrl/Command +F. Okay, perhaps not lesser-known but it bears repeating. You’re using Google Scholar to research a key issue in a case.  Hit CTRL (or Command) + F to view all instances of a word or phrase in the document or webpage. An invaluable time saver.

Gmail Shortcuts. I have too many favorites to mention them all individually. Go here to peruse and figure out which shortcuts are most relevant to your email workflow. One favorite: Ctrl+Shift+c  [Command+Shift+c for Macs) to add cc: recipients. I use it multiple times daily.

Canned Responses. The single biggest email timesaver for me is this Gmail Labs add-on. You can save canned copy and insert it into any email, at any time, simply by choosing from your saved Canned Responses. My favorite use: email disclaimers. You don’t need the 250-word disclaimer in the email to a friend scheduling lunch. Save it as a Canned Response and add it only when it’s relevant and necessary (which is much less often than you think). I also have Canned Responses for general instructions that I give to clients about processes and documents I use regularly. The time I save is extraordinary. This helpful tutorial walks you through how to enable Canned Responses, and how to create and use them, as well. 

What Google tools are in your tech toolbox?

it’s all in the presentation.

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I’m going to assume that you know the law. You know what you need to know, to perform the legal work that your clients need you to perform. You, and likely many hundreds — if not thousands — of other lawyers who could also serve your clients.

So why does a client choose you, and not one of the other hundreds or thousands?

It’s all in the presentation.

I know, I’ve probably lost you at this point. Didn’t take long. Because we lawyers spend little if any time thinking about this.

And by this, I mean all of the little things that make the difference for clients. You’re a superlawyer? Well, so are a lot of other lawyers. You’ve been doing this for X [insert impressive number of] years? Ditto. You have a high Avvo or Martindale Hubbell rating? Again, ditto.

None of these things set you apart. Now, they might appeal to another attorney who’s looking for someone to refer a client to, but to your ideal potential client? Not so much.

This is why someone hires YOU instead of another attorney: HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF.

So, how do you present yourself? What is the first impression of a potential client who …

visits your website?

calls your office?

sends you an email?

meets you at a networking event?

asks for your card?

has an initial consultation in your office?

You have one and only one opportunity to make a great first impression.

Spend some time answering the above questions. Really think about how you present to the people who you most want to work with. What can you do to present well to these folks?

I’d love to know what you come up with. And I’ll be sharing a few thoughts of my own in the next post …

the practice of law and depression, in three parts.

Along with many others, I’ve written about lawyer depression, most recently here.

I just came across a series of three posts written by a law professor (who also has extensive practice experience) about his experience with depression, and being a law student, lawyer, and law professor.

In this series, the author lays out the cold, hard facts. And he calls on lawyers and law professors to act.

However, as lawyers and law professors, we must to do more. It is clear that our students need us to do more. When you are depressed, you feel so terribly alone. You feel different. You feel ashamed. You feel weak. You feel like you will never feel better and that you can never be the person you want to be.

If 40% of our students feel this way, we must do more. They look up to us. They see us as role models and mentors. They see us as strong and successful and confident. They need to see that suffering from depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder will not curse them for all time and destroy their lives. These are treatable diseases, not character flaws. They need us to be brave and be honest.

-Professor Brian Clarke

Not every lawyer struggles with these issues. But most I know do, to some degree. Some of them sit in my office and cry. (I am not exaggerating. More than once, a lawyer seeking my help ended up crying in our initial consultation.)

In my humble opinion, the failure of our profession to grapple meaningfully with these endemic issues is tragic. And unacceptable.

The law professor who speaks out so openly in these posts is a shining example of exactly what we all need to do: TALK ABOUT IT. Bravely and honestly.

Acknowledging what most of us view as “weakness” will not be easy, or popular. But it’s absolutely necessary.

I’ve spent many of my 16+ years as a lawyer seeking a way to be really good at my work while simultaneously not losing my mind, my family, my friends. It’s not easy, folks. It takes brutal honesty to reflect and act in a way that goes against the grain for our profession.

The law part is not that hard (that was the fun part for me), but the business side of law is a bear. Finding clients, billing time, and collecting money, are just a few aspects of the business of law of which I was not a big fan. Keeping tasks and deadlines in dozens (or hundreds) of cases straight and getting everything done well and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying, especially for the type A perfectionist who is always terrified of making a mistake or doing a less than perfect job. Forget work-life balance. Forget vacations. Every day out of the office is another day you are behind.

Professor Brian Clark

And it’s why I want to help other lawyers do it. It’s really the only reason I haven’t left the profession completely. Because really, when you pencil in the pros vs. cons, why would anyone stay? (I welcome challenges to this statement, by the way.)

As I wrote in a recent post, every lawyer I know as friend or client acknowledges the very same challenges and frustrations. I wager that every single one of them would leave the profession if the right opportunity presented itself.

Granted, my group of lawyer friends and clients is very self-selected. We are of a like mind. But I don’t think we’re the minority. Not anywhere close.

While I do not remember all of the details of my decent into the hole, it was certainly rooted in trying to do it all – perfectly. After my second child was born, I was trying to be all things to all people at all times. Superstar lawyer. Superstar citizen. Superstar husband. Superstar father. Of course, this was impossible. The feeling that began to dominate my life was guilt. A constant, crushing guilt. Guilt that I was not in the office enough because I was spending too much time with my family. Guilt that I was letting my family down because I was spending too much time at work. Guilt that I was letting my bosses down because I was not being the perfect lawyer to which they had become accustomed. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. The deeper I sunk into the hole, the more energy I put into maintaining my façade of super-ness and the less energy was left for either my family or my clients. And the guiltier I felt. It was a brutal downward spiral. Eventually, it took every ounce of energy I had to maintain the façade and go through the motions of the day.

Professor Brian Clark

Does this sound familiar???

I recommend this series of posts highly to anyone who cares about our profession and the people in it.

Law Professors, Law Students and Depression … A Story of Coming Out:

Part I

Part II

Part III

If you feel, even the slightest bit, that you need help — seek it NOW.*

Know someone who you feel, even the slightest bit, may need help? Help them NOW.

Accept Brian Clarke’s challenge. Be brave and honest.

*I searched for a really good national mental health resource for lawyers. I see a gap.