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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Who Feels Sorry For Lawyers? And Other Issues of Compassion Fatigue

We aren't a relatable group are we?  We make huge money, and drive clients into poverty or even bankruptcy.  We are sharks, mean and unforgiving.  Many of us are addicts, cheats, ethically questionable.

And we all live like the Good Wife characters.


Ok, I know that was an annoying opening with overgeneralized opinions people may or may not even hold.  I do know that as an attorney I often don't want to self-identify with the public perception of my profession.

I also know that those perceptions can be just as false as they are true.  I have worked with some lawyers who work on almost nothing, put in longer hours than most of the so-called helping professionals, and receive none of the public accolades for their work.  Often, those lawyers work in almost social work positions, representing clients in jail, clients who have no money, clients who are mentally challenged, or child clients. And very often they end up with burnout - in a phenomenon known as compassion fatigue, or secondary trauma.

Compassion fatigue occurs when, in this case, an attorney has had so many difficult, sad clients, that the attorney loses that ability to relate with the client.  The attorney is swamped with too many hurting clients, with no real ability to help.

It is an overwhelming feeling, the desire to help others.  Many of us went to law school with that lofty goal, to help others, and some of us graduated with that goal still hotly pursued.  Then we got jobs, only a few of us, in those traditionally vaunted places where lawyers help those less fortunate.

Because the jobs at legal aid or public defender or guardian ad litem style offices are so few, and so poorly funded, they rarely come open.  When they
'do, the applications roll in, and the candidate who is chosen is immediately swept up in huge number of cases.  That newly hired lawyer is generally thrilled and motivated to help every last person, to resolve every single injustice rendered.

And that attitude remains - for days, weeks or even years.  But it almost never remains forever.  There in that space between injustice resolution and unending cases that never quite finish, is compassion fatigue, and its friend secondary trauma.

Much worse than the misunderstood profession and the few jobs open for opportunity to do something other than make money, compassion fatigue sneaks in and stills that heart pounding desire to really do good for others.  Secondary trauma inflicts blow after blow as attorneys - seen as cold and uninvolved at times - come to care about their clients who have experienced bone chilling pain and wrong treatment.  The client has experience trauma, there is no doubt - and research is proving more and more that those attorneys, just like other helping professions, have experienced secondary trauma.

Secondary trauma is a bit harder to spot, especially in attorneys, who have been Socratic methoded and judge lambasted as well as being the butt of many jokes.  The sure fact is, though, that it is there in attorneys who for any length of time seek to help those clients who most need help.  The signs are just under the surface - the lack of sleep, the teary eyes in an odd situation, and sadly, often excessive drinking or substance abuse.  Over time, that secondary trauma, and the symptoms, wrap up into a much harder nugget to crack: compassion fatigue.

Stay tuned for the next installment on compassion fatigue, or "have you hugged a lawyer today?"

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Good Wife

I have been on a bit of a holiday break, and as part of that break, I have been watching far too much TV.  "The Good Wife" has really captured my interest this year, even though I have been so slow to start watching.

I did this with Dexter, and Breaking Bad, and Parenthood.  It's almost like I ENJOY being wrong about shows, if only because then when I do try them, I get to binge.

So, binging on Good Wife and also Chance. Back in a week or two!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Right to protest versus right to riot

I will preface this post by saying I am trying to take the Trump win in the Presidential race with grace; I must admit that I am having a hard time with the reality that many of my neighbors, family and friends voted for a mysoginist, hate-filled, race-baiting, big mouth who at best has a terrible view of women and bases his judgment on looks, and at worse is a straight up sex offender. I'm trying so hard not to be angry, not to make this a negative four years by my own attitude.

Some of our fellow citizens are also unhappy.  This I understand, obviously.  And many are waging quiet protests, gathering to share their unhappiness, gathering to lobby the Electoral College to revolution, speaking their concerns online and in other ways.  These kinds of protest are entirely reasonable and they can be useful because they keep the focus on change and respect.

However, other protests that are happening, such as those in Chicago and Portland, are not accurately even described as protests.  Any action that involves burning, destroying or violence is not a protected speech protest, it is a riot. Riots are criminal action, and frankly, they degrade all of us with legitimate protest concerns.

If you are one of those participating in a riot or even viewing riots as necessary - you are a part of the problem, and not the solution.  By delegitimizing the long time argument of Democrats for peace and respect even in disagreement.  Look back at Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement for examples of how this must be done.  The current rioting makes it hard to distinguish between "us" and the Trump crowd!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Get out the vote!

Short and sweet: If you are a US citizen eligible to vote, walk away from this screen and get your hiney to the polls!
If you already voted, please feel free to share your experience.  I don't mean you have to reveal who you voted for (but you can).  Just let me know how your poll was.  For instance, my poll had medium turnout when I went, but that was at ten a.m. when I expected light turnout.  There was a beehive of activity and excitement, which rubbed off on me and now I just want to watch election coverage.
I'm working, but as soon as I am done you can bet I will be cozy and comfy, watching our nation make its choice.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Moment of Silence

Today I got a reminder of something that has bothered me more and more over the past decade: the difficulty hard of hearing or deaf in our society have such great difficulty getting access to many things.  Within the last four months I have been the broker for a client who could not hear in court, a friend who could not get heat because she is deaf, and then today my encounter was with a phone service who did not provide accommodation for users.

Why is this even an issue in 2016?

Shouldn't courts have an easy to use system in place to accommodate our hard of hearing or deaf citizens? It took my court several weeks of me nagging to even get ear sets for my hard of hearing client.  The accommodation was available in my county, but in many it isn't.  I have been party to a court case that went on two years where a deaf mom, deaf dad and profoundly deaf child all had to appear, which meant the court had to hire four separate interpreters.  It truly delayed the process for everyone, but especially for the parents who lost custody of their four kids and needed expert help in getting the kids back.  Finding attorneys who could schedule around interpreters that the court was reluctant to pay for was not easy, and overall I was left with the feeling that there should be a better, more efficient way for the deaf and hard of hearing to receive equal treatment under the law.

In the instance of the gas company, just signing up to have an account to get a gas line run was more like an obstacle course than an easily utilized service - especially shocking since in most counties, like this one, there is only one gas or electricity company which services the area, and therefore the deaf and hard of hearing have no choice but to follow the procedures set out by the monopoly holding company.  For my friend, I will call her Tammy, the procedures were impossible since you could only set up services by calling the gas company.  They had a TDD line, but Tammy doesn't subscribe to that service as it is slow and often error filled in matters like this; they also keep records of all the transcripts, which means Tammy's social security number, birthdate, and driver's license would be in the possession of the TDD company and therefore more open to identity theft.  Tammy could easily have provided this information in a chat or an email, but the gas company refused those methods.  She tried sending in a paper application, but a month with no heat and no contact from the gas company convinced her to ask for my help, after an afternoon of work lost in trying to go to the gas company's physical offices, where no one could help her since you can only start service - you got it, over the phone.  I called the company and within twenty minutes Tammy had a case number, an engineer's name - and his email.  Why would it have been so hard to just allow her to communicate via email in the first place?  My blood was beginning to boil by the end of my call as the chirpy voice on the other end easily gave me the engineer's email.

Maybe if some time had passed I would have forgotten that experience, or at least simmered down, but today Tammy had yet another issue that would have been made so much easier if her cell phone company had any kind of accommodating procedure for the deaf and hard of hearing.  Instead, I called for her when her iPhone was rendered useless after an iOS upgrade, and after half an hour on various holds, I finally got through to a human being in the accessibility department of Apple Support.  He was a very kind fellow but he was very upfront about the fact that Apple has no solutions for Tammy.

How can this be a thing that our society just accepts?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

After the fallout

Today I read an essay about this election season and the damage already done, no matter the outcome. It really touched something in me; our country is in a battle that encompasses so much more than politicians. For so long, the nation has been arguing and fussing and fighting and it's been getting worse and worse, with lots of "if you vote for person x, unfriend me" drama.  I admit, I have felt and potentially said similar things.

But lately my mind has been on the after.  What happens when the votes are cast and the winner is declared?  How do we go back to being neighbors, friends, family in the aftermath?

This is such a direct analogy to the court process that I can't help but make the comparisons.  When a court case ends, there is the same fallout.  Parents may or may not be "elected" to have their kids returned to them.  On all sides - mother, father, foster families, children- there have been people rooting for a specific outcome, and some of those people are going to "lose."

At the end of the case, the lawyers, the judge, the GAL, the social workers and therapists step out of the family's life, just as the commentators, campaign managers and the pollsters go away.  The real people are left trying to rebuild the family, with or without their children. If the children have returned, it might seem like things could go back to the way they were before the court was involved, but over and over parents and children have told me that is not the case. Relationships are altered, and some of them broken, and our hope is that has happened as a direct result of parents and families mending the root cause that brought them to court in abuse and neglect cases.

The extended family is also changed, and often this is because of who they supported, and who they did not, in the court case.  So often the court case stirs up the extended family, the church, the neighborhood in ways that can't easily be undone or forgotten, just like the election talk and its inevitable polarizing.  It's hard to imagine the way forward, and yet families all over America do it every day, every month of every year.

On the other hand, if the kids are not reunited with one or both parents, the whole family structure is forever altered in a way that cannot be completely mended.  A child returned to one parent but forever separated from the other adds a lot of questions into the child's future, and there is no denying the fact that loss is involved, for the child of course but also for other family members. A child removed from both parents is removed from the greater family in many cases, and if the child is placed with a family member at the conclusion and parents' rights are terminated, then the family "loses" the parents. Any solution where the child doesn't return to both parents is fraught with lots of difficulty in the future, even though that decision may be in the best interests of the child involved.

This feels like a long way around a really important point, one that a dear friend of mine faces every day, regardless of who is president: when the court gavel bangs its last tired note, the real people in child abuse and neglect cases, the ones whose lives are being scrutinized and taken apart and families disrupted, those people live the aftermath of the decision.  My dear friend has four children, all affected profoundly by a case that happened a decade ago. The family structures of the adults and the children were altered forever.

And our nation is about to experience a similar rift.  I wonder how many decades it will take for our families and friends and neighbors to right themselves, or to take on the new normal?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Time for What Do You Think Wednesday!

I'm starting a new practice here at TGFJ - "What Do You Think?" Wednesday will be a !hopefully weekly staple where I share news stories serious, practical and fluff.  I may or may not share my own thoughts, but I would love to hear yours, or get you talking in your offices and homes. Each week I will add a story or two suggested by one or more of my kids and another by one or more of my clients.

Megyn Kelly and Newt Gingrich Talk Sex - Predators That Is

(If it had been a male interviewer, would Gingrich have maintained the same exact language?)

Fashionista Rebel Says She Would Hate This

(And I just think it should be a criminal act to name all your kids with the same first letter if you have more than two or three kids.)

November is National Adoption Month

Justin Timberlake, This is For You 

Supreme Court Takes on.....Bathroom Use?
(Pssst - I'll Go With You)

Is There an Expiration on When You Can Wear Jeans?
(Who knew I was ahead of my time?)

Get the Vote Out