The blog of the NCBA Professional Vitality Committee

Of Competition, Stress, and Well-Being

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Will, a white man with a brown beard, and grey glasses, wears a blue and peach plaid shirt. By Will Graebe 

Like many other lawyers, I grew up in a competitive family. The dinner table was a debate stage. Jeopardy was a full-contact sport. Performance and achievement led to reward and affirmation. This environment prepared me for many of the challenges I would face in my adult life—law school, the bar exam, and the stress of practicing law. Somewhere along the way, though, I realized that something was missing. This way of living was not sustainable for me. So, I set out on a journey ten years ago to explore my own well-being and to redefine what flourishing looked like for me. I’d like to share some of what I have learned.

This is not another article encouraging readers to meditate, write a gratitude journal, practice mindfulness, exercise, sleep and eat better, engage in service work, get out in nature, or change their mindset. While these are all valuable practices, by now, most of us know what we can do to improve our well-being. We have been inundated with well-being content offering specific wellness tools. Instead, what follows are principles that I have found helpful in guiding my well-being journey.

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How Should We Deal With Conflict?

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Adam a white man with light brown hair, wears a white shirt, red tie with light polka dots, and a white shirt. He is smiling. By Adam G. Linett

A pro se opponent continues to file nonsensical pleadings. An opposing counsel is obnoxious and rude in a deposition. A family law case is on a roller coaster of one crisis after another, created by your own client, the other side, or both.

As legal professionals, we are often called upon to deal with one sort of conflict or another. For those of us who make our living as litigators, all of our cases are “adversarial” in nature. But if we are honest, some of the players—whether parties or our colleagues at the bar—are easier to deal with than others. The question is, then, how do we handle these more contentious situations without allowing it to rob us of our peace of mind?

First, we need to remember that we were retained because a conflict of some sort already existed. In the case of individuals, organizations, or governmental entities, the dispute could be over a contract, a tort, a family law matter, or many other areas. In the criminal law context, the client may be accused of committing a crime and is facing prosecution by the state or the federal government. Thus, the issue is not that conflict itself is inherently bad or must be avoided at all costs. Rather, the existence of a conflict shows that there is a need for some change. The conflict is also an opportunity for us to use our legal education, skills and abilities to assist our clients.

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How to Promote a Positive View of Lawyers and the Legal Profession

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Adam a white man with light brown hair, wears a white shirt, red tie with light polka dots, and a white shirt. He is smiling. By Adam G. Linett

Why are lawyers often mocked and despised in the media, and what can we do about it? As professionals, we have spent years studying the law, and we have dedicated our lives and careers to this profession. So while we may take ourselves seriously, sometimes, it is a shock to walk into a courtroom or to face a group of people from the public who view us no differently from the proverbial “snake oil salesman” or as someone out only for ourselves and prepared to pull a fast one.

Admittedly, some members of our profession have broken the law, stretched the rules of ethics, or generally made themselves a nuisance. But we cannot allow these individual examples to define, or to continue to define, us or our profession. Is there anything we can do to raise the public perception of lawyers, defend our profession, and represent our clients effectively at the same time? Let’s consider three goals we can set this year to push back on these common negative impressions.

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Making Attorney Self-Care an Atomic Habit

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Ashley Banks is a young woman with golden brown hair and brown eyes. She is pictured smiling against a black background, and she is wearing a red shirt and a black blazer. By Ashley Banks

As legal professionals, we dedicate significant time and energy to improving our practice, our knowledge, our business. But how much time do we devote to improving the way we care for ourselves? When is the last time you reviewed your self-care routine, implemented new self-care strategies, or set time aside for self-care planning? If you’re like me, your self-care routine may benefit from a well-designed system — James Clear’s Atomic Habits system.

Self-Care is Key for Legal Professionals, But it is Not Our Forte

As advocates serving others in a myriad of ways, our profession is notorious for disregarding the well-established principle of “fitting our own oxygen mask first.” But, it’s because we are advocates serving others in a myriad of ways that fitting our own oxygen mask first is so critical.

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New Kid on the Block (Pandemic Version)

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Kelly Carroll

Kelly Carroll

Linsay Boyce

Linsay Boyce

By Kelly Carroll, with assistance from Linsay Boyce

Psychologists refer to the place outside the comfort zone as a place of “optimal anxiety.”[1] Being a “new” attorney (whether practicing in a new jurisdiction or recently licensed) during a pandemic is more than being outside of your comfort zone; it is more like being in a panic zone.

Just before the pandemic began, I made the move from New York to North Carolina. Prior to moving to the Charlotte area, I lived in one zip code for 40 years. I commuted to college and law school. I worked in one office for 15 years. I was used to knowing my way around. I knew the court officers and clerks by name; I knew all the judges and their proclivities. I was friendly with most opposing counsel. I frequently attended social functions – retirement parties, holiday parties, and fundraisers.

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An Aspirational Statement of Equality and Civility

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By Adam G. Linett

The North Wind and the Sun got into a dispute about which one was stronger. To put the issue to a test, they decided that whoever sooner made a traveler take off his cloak would be the more powerful and win the argument.

The Wind blew with all its might, but the stronger he blew, the closer the traveler wrapped the cloak around him. Then, the Sun came out and, as it gently shone brighter and brighter, the traveler sat down and, overcome with heat, cast his cloak to the ground.

So goes one of Aesop’s fables, and the lesson taught some thousands of years ago is that persuasion is better than force, and that to be effective in winning an argument, one must consider how to argue, rather than to just rely on blunt force.

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Join Me on an Odyssey to E-Filing, Won’t You?

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By Matthew A. Freeze

North Carolina’s Superior and District courts are undergoing an operational sea change: electronic filing. For those of us who practice before federal courts and state appellate courts, electronic filing will be nothing new. Federal courts have used PACER since 1988[1] and North Carolina’s appellate courts have used electronic filing since 1998.[2] But for many of our colleagues, the Administrative Office of the Courts’ new journey into electronic filing will be a great departure from our standard practice at the state level and we, as practitioners, have a great deal to learn. To borrow from Homer, even an attorney learns something once it hits him.[3] But this is not something which we must be hit about the head with to accept. It is something we should embrace, as it will strengthen our practice and benefit all involved.

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Where Am I and Where Am I Going?

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The NCBA Professional Vitality Committee creates sourced articles centered on reducing inherent stress and enhancing vitality in the lives of legal professionals and offers those resources as a benefit for members of the North Carolina Bar Association.

By Celia Pistolis

I was shocked to learn that I am a “senior lawyer.” Although I am not quite certain who has the audacity to make this determination, I think it means that I can now give advice to my younger colleagues.

But before you finish your predictable eye roll, let me say that this article is not about giving you advice. I am sure you hear enough advice from all sorts of people: your spouse, your significant other, your best friends, your colleagues, your mentor, your siblings, your parents, your hairstylist/barber, your mechanic, and even strangers.

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Isolation

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The NCBA Professional Vitality Committee creates sourced articles centered on reducing inherent stress and enhancing vitality in the lives of legal professionals and offers those resources as a benefit for members of the North Carolina Bar Association.

By Michele Morris

In the morning, immediately upon waking, my mind screaming at me: “Get up. Get out of bed. You can do it. You can do this. Get up.” Not exactly high motivation. But I would indeed get up and sit in front of my computer, alone, in my apartment, drinking my first cup of coffee. I still had a small number of paying clients and an appellate brief due date looming. Even though writing it felt like pushing a rock up Mount Everest, I wrote.

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Ergo? What? My Aching Back

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The NCBA Professional Vitality Committee creates sourced articles centered on reducing inherent stress and enhancing vitality in the lives of legal professionals and offers those resources as a benefit for members of the North Carolina Bar Association.

By Theresa Joan Rosenberg

We lawyers are terrific listeners. But . . . do we listen to our bodies?

Many of us go into our respective offices – whether it’s in a spiffy office building, or, now, since last year’s initial COVID-19 “shutdown” – at the kitchen table, in a niche adjacent to a stairway, or the basement. Most of us log in to a computer and move forward with tasks of the day. How do you feel in your current workplace?

In 2021, a freelancing marketplace reported that about one-fourth of the American workforce will be remote. Two of five American respondents to a survey about working remotely since COVID-19 reported new or increased pain in back, shoulder and wrists.[ii] A digital health company found almost half of their surveyed workers had back and joint pain; almost three-quarters said the pain was new or worse.[iii]

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