Thursday, 9 December 2010

Quality of Life vs. Salary

A barrister friend of mine phoned me after the Government announced that child benefit would be stopped for those earning over £40,000. She has five children and was, naturally, a little upset by this policy decision. I have three children, so looking for solidarity she asked me how I would manage without child benefit. “The change won’t affect me,” I told her, “Since I don’t earn anything like £40,000. Not even half that, in fact.” She was astonished. “But you work in the legal sector!”

I reminded her that I actually work in the charity sector, but it did get me thinking that many people seem to assume that lawyers and all those around them are well off – children at private school, a new car every other year and a second home in the Cotswolds. If there’s one thing the calls to the LawCare helpline over the last few years have demonstrated, it’s that that is no longer true, if it ever was.

We hear regularly from lawyers who are struggling financially or whose firms are facing failure. In 2009, one in four calls to the LawCare helpline was from a lawyer facing financial difficulty, often due to redundancy. SBA The Solicitors Charity (formerly the Solicitors Benevolent Association), which provides financial support to solicitors, reported that the number of calls from solicitors seeking their assistance in 2009 was 77% higher than in 2007, before the recession had taken effect. The Barristers’ Benevolent Association also reported a large increase in the numbers approaching them for help in 2009, especially in cases of bankruptcy, IVAs and serious illness.

In some cases, of course, there is an element of choice involved. One of the things I value most about my job is the flexibility, and the fact that I can work from home. If I wanted, I daresay I could get a higher-paid job elsewhere, but I like what I do. Studies have shown that employees value the working environment – from the company of colleagues to the standard of the canteen – more than they do the salary. A good firm that respects and supports its staff is rewarded with loyalty, high morale and a higher standard of work, even when the salary may not be as high as that available elsewhere. Conversely, a bad firm that overloads its staff, does not keep them informed of decisions or allows a long-hours or a bullying culture to flourish will find it has to pay higher and higher salaries in order to get and / or keep employees.

So it may well be that there are many working within the legal profession today who are earning well below that £40,000 rate and keeping their child benefit, but are happy in what they do, and with what they have. We can no longer assume that all lawyers are rich or even comfortably off, not only because of the difficult financial climate at present, but because for many in the legal profession, money isn’t everything.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 3030145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

One Day at a Time

I recently watched a programme which showed some of the disgusting eating practices elsewhere in the world. I won’t go into too much detail, but one scene which particularly stuck with me was that of a man breaking open eggs and eating the almost-ready-to-hatch chicks from inside. Not only did it turn my stomach, but it also turned my mind to the hypocrisy of my attitude. What was the essential difference, I asked myself, between eating fluffy baby chicks fresh from the egg, and letting them live for a few weeks and then killing and eating them?

So, in a rash moment, I decided to become a vegetarian.

This was a pretty big decision for me, because on the whole I don’t much like fruit and vegetables, and I love meat. It has led to some raised eyebrows and general dubiousness from my family, but since I do the cooking and I was happy still to cook meat for them, they couldn’t really protest.

I’ve now been vegetarian for a two months and have broadened my culinary horizons considerably. I’ve tried lots of dishes I would never have had before, and really enjoyed them. Carrot and cauliflower curry, pasta with pesto, pine nuts and parmesan, and soybean stir fry. (The alliteration of food is excellent when you’re vegetarian, as you’ll have noticed.)

I’m not saying it’s easy, but a few tips have really helped:
· Don’t think about never eating meat again. At the moment, I’m still telling myself that it’s temporary, and come Christmas I will tuck into the turkey and bacon rolls with everyone else. (But I’d really like it if I found I didn’t want to, of course.)
· Take one day at a time. I can cope with not eating meat today, or for the next meal. I’m facing this challenge in bite-sized chunks.
· Plan ahead. I plan in the morning everything I will eat that day, and make sure it includes something to look forward to. Today it is a piece of sun dried tomato focaccia to go with my mushroom stoganoff. I also make the decision in advance that, however tempting the buffet looks, I will not be putting the sausages on my plate.
· Avoid temptation. For me, that means keeping out of MacDonald’s. It also means that I will avoid people who challenge my resolve. When I announced my decision on Facebook, one of my “friends” told me he was going to waft a bacon sandwich in front of my nose. I may need to avoid him for a while.
· Get support. One of my best friends is vegetarian, and has been for several years. Speaking to her regularly is very helpful and she gives me lots of recipe tips and encouragement.
Remember the reasons. I feel a lot healthier, and a lot better about myself. I’m also feeling slightly smug at finding out that I can do something I had never thought I’d be capable of.

If any of this looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same framework of advice given by Alcoholics Anonymous to those giving up alcohol, and Narcotics Anonymous to those giving up drugs. Within the framework of a twelve-step programme, these simple principles have helped many thousands of people achieve sobriety and turn their lives around.

While it may be much harder to give up an addiction than it is to give up meat, I can testify that it really does work.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

PTSD

A few weeks ago, while I was slicing bread, the knife slipped and I cut my finger badly. It was very deep and very painful, it bled a lot, and we debated going to hospital to get it stitched up. However, having spent three hours in A&E with my daughter (who broke her thumb playing dodgeball at school) the previous week, I really couldn’t face doing that again, so we just wrapped it up as best we could, and now it’s perfectly fine.

The irony is that I’m not perfectly fine. I haven’t sliced any bread since it happened, and just looking at the knife block gives me a very unpleasant sensation somewhere between fear, nervousness and revulsion. At odd moments I find myself remembering, with a shudder, how it felt to have the knife slice through my flesh. I know this is stupid; it was a minor injury and healed quickly, and I’m a grown woman who should be able to forget about something so trivial and not let it affect my life. And yet there is still that strange residual anxiety which I suppose will only pass with time and plenty of practice with a Sainsbury’s tiger loaf as I persuade my subconscious that, yes, knives are dangerous, but not the extent that I need to avoid them altogether.

Bizarre as this sounds, it has given me the smallest inkling of what it might be like to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many people who have been through shocking and distressing circumstances, be it terrorist atrocity, the horrors of war, or a car accident, find their personalities changed and their mental health compromised by the nightmares, flashbacks, sleep problems, anger and gut-wrenching terror. However strong a person you are, traumatic events can seriously impact your ability to live a normal life.

To be diagnosed as PTSD the symptoms have to last more than a month and lead to avoidance of things that remind the person of the trauma. The trauma need not be something related to violence – receiving news of a serious illness, or being verbally bullied, can lead to symptoms of PTSD. Although up to 90% of people experience a traumatic experience at some time in their life, only 8% develop PTSD. Factors which increase the risk that a person will be susceptible to this problem include being in foster care or having an unstable childhood, being physically punished in childhood, or suffering from depression. Factors which reduce the risk include having a strong paternal figure, a high level of education and being older when the traumatic event happens.

Despite having a high level of education, solicitors are not immune to PTSD, and specialist counselling and treatment is required when it occurs. Whether your fear, flashbacks and anxiety are the result of losing your job or an encounter with a violent client, LawCare can be a good starting place for finding the help and support you need.

Right, I’m off to make myself a sandwich.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Wanting to Work

My fourteen-year-old daughter has discovered that £5 per week pocket money just isn’t going to keep her phone topped up or buy her the new guitar she wants, so she needs a job. When I was fourteen I had a Saturday job at BHS. I was so new to the world of work that when I was sent off for my lunch break on my first day I came back ten minutes later having eaten my sandwiches. No one had told me that I got a whole hour off.

Unfortunately things seem to have changed since then, because BHS no longer employ anyone under the age of sixteen. Neither do the other usual suspects – fast food places and supermarkets. So we started calling into small independent shops, and none of those will have her either. Finally, with a heavy heart, she accepted that the dreaded paper round was the only answer and headed to the newsagent, only to be told that they had a long waiting list of youngsters in a similar position and she was unlikely to make it to the top of the list before her sixteenth birthday.

I haven’t been unemployed since my time at BHS, so seeing Gwen’s dilemma is giving me a small glimpse of what callers to LawCare’s helpline who have been made redundant are going through. Wanting to work, needing to work, knowing that they have the capability and skills to do an excellent job, and yet, through no fault of their own, finding themselves feeling superfluous and undervalued. Many have excellent professional qualifications and years of experience, and yet find themselves shut out and turned away time and time again. It is demoralising and frustrating and it’s not surprising that it dents their self esteem and can lead to despair and depression. It’s not easy to help these people, but with the recession easing there is at least hope on the horizon.

Gwen knows that in August 2011 she will turn 16 and can then go and toss burgers or stack shelves to her heart’s content. I hope unemployed solicitors also know that it isn’t forever; that they do have something to offer to the professional world, and that they are of value.

Anyone need a babysitter?

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Praise Where It's Due

We recently received an email at the LawCare office which brightened Monday morning for all of us. With the writer’s permission, I’m going to quote from it:

I attended your course … this morning. To be honest, I only attended because I had to visit a client in [Town] the previous evening and it occurred to me that I could fit in the course this morning whilst I was in the area. Anything for a free CPD point, I thought.

Whilst the course focussed on the stresses faced by those who have been made or think they might be made redundant, I can assure you that as a sole practitioner responsible for running every aspect of his own business, a lot of what was said hit home with me. Had I been ticking boxes for symptoms of stress I would have run out of ink (apart from IBS – I am happy to say that I don’t get that).

As I said on my feedback form, and I note one or two others have said in your ‘feedback’ section, I think this course should be compulsory for all lawyers – it has certainly made me think very seriously about actually addressing the issue of stress (if only because even I realised some time ago that being stressed out does not make me as effective as I need to be to run a successful business) rather than reaching for another beer at the end of a long day.

Your presentation was a very pleasant surprise, and it is extremely reassuring to know that there is an organisation out there that is trying to help. When I have put some of your ideas into practice I shall make a donation.

In the meantime, maybe you could try to persuade the Law Society that all lawyers would benefit from this course, failing which they could at least publicise your website more vigorously (unless they have been doing this already and I have just been too stressed out to pay attention.)

Our presentations are generally well received (it’s free CPD, what’s not to love), and all attendees are asked to fill in a feedback form which seem to indicate that we’re doing a good job. But it’s still encouraging to receive additional feedback like this.

I may have occasionally mentioned on here that I also write novels. They are not vanity published, so I do actually make money from them, but not much. But what really makes all the effort worthwhile are the emails I receive from readers who have enjoyed my books. I have a folder in my email called “fan mail” and its contents are worth far more that any royalties to me. Which is a good thing too, because the royalties from my last book were less than £1,000.

Not that I’m suggesting that lawyers should be paid in compliments, but we don’t say “to pay a compliment” and talk about “Praise where it’s due” for nothing. Compliments, praise, approval, whatever you like to call it, it’s all worth something, and it is owed. Those who are doing a good job - whether a writer, a lawyer, a secretary, or someone giving a seminar - should be told as much – failure to do so is robbing them of the satisfaction and encouragement they are entitled to.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Helping Those Who Cannot Hope

This blog is late because our family was stuck in America by the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano grounding our flight home. We ended up being away for a month, but despite the uncertainty and potential for worry we decided to hope that everything would be resolved before too long, and in the meantime enjoy our extended holiday.

You may have heard the often quoted line from the Bible that the most important things are “Faith, Hope and Love.” Someone once commented to me that they understood why Faith and Love are so special, but what is so wonderful about Hope? Surely things like generosity, honesty or kindness are more important qualities to cultivate?

Depression is the most common mental illness, with one in four people suffering from it at some point in their lives. It is also an illness which robs people of hope. On the LawCare helpline we often hear from people who are so severely clinically depressed that they really cannot see any hope to their situation. The call may go something like this:

Caller: “I just feel so bad, I can’t cope.”
LawCare: “Have you considered going to speak to your GP?”
Caller: “He won’t be able to help me.”
LawCare: “He might prescribe anti-depressants.”
Caller: “I’d only get addicted to them.”
LawCare: “Most of the newer types of anti-depressants are not addictive.”
Caller: “They won’t work.”
LawCare: “Perhaps your GP would refer you for some counselling.”
Caller: “That won’t do any good.”
LawCare: “Would it help to have a LawCare volunteer to speak to regularly?”
Caller: “It won’t make any difference, it’s not worth it.”
LawCare: “What other options have you considered?”
Caller: “There’s nothing that will help. I don’t know why I phoned you. I knew you wouldn’t be able to do anything. Goodbye.”

This may sound extreme, but calls from those who have been robbed of hope can be just like this. The caller genuinely cannot see any solution to their current predicament, no matter what is suggested. The good news is that there really is hope. Anti-depressants, especially when combined with counselling, do work. People do recover from depression and learn to find hope, optimism and even happiness again. Many of them, while subject to repeated episodes of this illness, learn to recognise and deal with it in the early stages – and it is much easier to treat depression if it is caught early, whilst there is still hope.

If you don’t think hope is as important as faith and love, just imagine what it must be like not to have any. That’s why LawCare is here to help.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Boring Tasks

The printing firm LawCare uses to print LawCare News recently sent me their newsletter which included the information that they can also manage our mailing list. So whereas, at the moment, they print 1,500 copies of LawCare News and deliver them to me, and I spend about two full working days putting them in envelopes, sticking on address labels and stamps, and traipsing to the post office with them in three large boxes, I could simply email our mailing list to the printers and they’d deal with all that. For a fee, naturally.

Appealing? It would remove one of the duller, more menial and repetitive aspects of my job, admittedly, but I’m not tempted for a moment. I actually rather enjoy those hours of stuff, seal, stick and stamp, over and over and over again. I generally do it in my comfortable lounge rather than my office because there is more space to spread out. Sometimes I put the TV on, but daytime television is extraordinarily bad so mostly I stick to the radio. Phone calls and other, more urgent, work are often, but not always, a welcome interruption. Sometimes I continue with the task in the evening as I watch House or America’s Next Top Model (my guilty pleasure) and sometimes I even have help from the rest of the family. The photo above shows clear evidence that LawCare is employing child labour!

Even those boring and mindless tasks have their place. I’m not saying that I would like to stuff envelopes for a living every day, as opposed to for a couple of days every four months, but it is a chance to relax, take some at-work “down time”.

I worked for Argos one summer when I was a student. Since it was Welsh Wales and I was English, I was in the stock room where there was no danger of my having to interact with a customer whose language I was unable to speak. For eight hours a day I ran around the warehouse, up and down ladders, collecting items customers had bought and delivering them to the collection point. At this point I had nine O levels (and was studying for my tenth, in Welsh), four A levels and had completed the first two years of my English degree so I was somewhat overqualified for the job. But I loved it. There was almost zero stress and I got fitter than I have ever been before or since.

Almost all jobs – even within the legal profession – involve aspects which are dull, repetitive, and could just as easily be done by someone with no qualifications at all, and yet you still have to do them. Rather than putting it off indefinitely, or being frustrated by the mindlessness of it, why not try to see it as a chance to relax, give your brain a break, and enjoy some stress-free time?

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Friday, 5 March 2010

Do or Die Deadlines

On 14th April I am going to Salt Lake City, Utah, and will be visiting a company there called Leatherwood Press. I am supposed to be delivering them the final manuscript of my fourth novel, the one they asked for around this time last year. Unfortunately I haven’t finished it yet. That deadline is looming pretty large at the moment.

Douglas Adams once said “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Sadly, not all of us can have the enlightened attitude to deadlines that the late lamented comic genius did. In the legal profession, a missed deadline or time limit can result in being unable to pursue a claim, major problems for your client, the potential for a costs award against you and a possible negligence claim. For all lawyers, and particularly those working in litigation, deadlines are crucial, and a fact of everyday life. They can also be a tremendous source of stress.

It’s a sad fact of life that prolonged stress can lead to clinical depression. Depression is exhibited in symptoms that include an inability to concentrate, a lack of motivation or interest in anything, sleeplessness, overwhelming apathy and hopelessness. The depressed lawyer may make it in to work, but he will not open the post – he may even hide it, hoping that if he ignores it, it will go away. He will shuffle papers around, may even tap at the computer for a while, but he will not get any productive work done. (I’ve been saying “he”, but of course women suffer from depression too.)

Depression and deadlines don’t mix. If you, or a colleague, seem to be suffering from any of these symptoms – including indifference to matters which might be regarded as urgent – get help. Call LawCare, and see your GP as soon as possible. Right away. Some things are even more important than deadlines.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle
of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Making Mistakes

Whilst I decry the poor standards of literacy these days, it also extremely entertaining to see the mistakes that are made. This morning I received two items in the post which caused me to laugh out loud. The first was a letter from the NHS National Blood Service telling me about a venue change for my blood donation sessions. It included the sentence, “In order to make this change as inconvenient as possible we have included with this letter a map detailing the new venue.” The second was a catalogue which had, among the many lovely things advertised, a pair of lighthouse bookends. I considered getting these for my brother-in-law, who is passionate about all things maritime, until I read in the description that “these na├»ve bookends will look delightful in any room in the house”. I’m sure James would not appreciate bookends which are immature and innocent about the ways of the world.

Punctuation is a particular minefield. I still laugh to remember the full-page advert printed many years ago for the Prudential Building Society with the tagline, “Were here to help you.”

You may also have read recently that the Co-op was criticised by the Plain English Campaign for selling a product which the label called an “Ambient Sausage Roll”. They have since admitted that this was an error.

As an English graduate, I believe that correct and intelligent use of the language is vital. That’s not to say I haven’t made some howlers in my time. Whilst working as an estate agent I made a typo that led to property details going out for a house which had a “dully fitted kitchen”. I also had something of a problem understanding my boss’s handwriting when transcribing the notes he had scribbled while visiting a property, with the result that the particulars stated that a lovely country cottage had “river frontage with flashing lights.” I later discovered that should have read “river frontage with fishing rights.”

Fortunately my boss at the time was very understanding – I seem to remember he found it very funny. Unfortunately there are those in authority in legal organisations who don’t seem to understand that to err is human, and that occasionally lawyers – especially trainees, pupils, the newly qualified or the overworked and stressed – will make mistakes. Yes, I know that even a small mistake in drafting a document or contract can make a crucial difference, but it is troubling how often we hear from lawyers who are being berated, belittled and bullied over the consequences of what was often, in reality, a very minor mistake. Many have sleepless nights weeks later over a simple error, not because of its consequences to the related matter, but because of the reaction of their colleagues or superiors. Others make mistakes and then get themselves into terrible trouble trying to cover it up – paying shortfalls from their own money, burying files, even leaving the firm in order to avoid the consequences.

As professional as you try to be, it’s inevitable that occasionally you will get something wrong. Don’t let an oversight or blunder become something that kills your career or mental health and wellbeing. If you’re struggling to come to terms with a mistake, free and completely confidential support is available from the LawCare helplines.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

How to Have a Holiday without the Horror of coming Home

I’m late posting the blog because I had a day off on Monday. The upshot of this was that on Tuesday I returned to a groaning email inbox with five volunteer updates, two volunteer references, a volunteer enquiry, a questionnaire from a journalist, and several other queries to deal with. I’ve only just caught up, and suspect I’ll be busier than usual until Friday.

At LawCare we advise lawyers to take their full holiday entitlement, but many are reluctant to do so because they fear the pile of work to which they might return. A week’s worth of unanswered phone messages; emails from increasingly irate clients whose deadlines are now that little bit closer. Any benefits gained from a week in the sun evaporate at the sight of the mountain of files, folders and paperwork spilling out of the in-tray and across the desk.

A good firm will, of course, arrange for someone else to cover the your work in your absence, or at the very least field emails and phone calls, but it may be necessary for you to organise this yourself. There are several things you can do to ensure that you have a relaxing holiday and don’t need to worry about what you will return to:

  • Let clients know as early as possible that you are taking some time off, and exactly when you will be away.
  • Tell them who will be dealing with your work in your absence, and give them any necessary phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Two or three days before you go away, contact clients to remind them that you are going on holiday and update them on the progress of their matter.
  • Accept that reasonable clients do not expect their lawyer to be available all the time, and unreasonable clients are welcome to go elsewhere.
  • Out-of-office reply is not recommended because it can be used by spammers to harvest your email address, but set your email to forward to your secretary or a colleague.
  • Even if you are simply going boating on the Norfolk Broads, tell anyone you think may be tempted to pester you that you are going backpacking round Africa and there is no mobile signal.
  • Remind yourself that you are not a heart surgeon, and none of the matters on your desk are so ‘life or death’ that they cannot wait a few days.

I managed to finish painting my kitchen on Monday, and now I’m eagerly looking forward to three weeks in America in April. I may miss that blog date entirely…

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Lawyer Mentality

I have started wondering recently whether being a lawyer makes you grow suspicious and sceptical, always expecting the worst in people, and assuming them to be motivated only by personal greed or to have a hidden agenda. I have noticed recently that some of the lawyers I speak to seem to take this mistrustful attitude, and it made me suspect that they are trained not only to anticipate all that can go wrong, but to think the worst of the people they deal with. Or maybe it’s a natural consequence of regularly dealing with unscrupulous, bitter, ruthless and often downright criminal people. Perhaps seeing such people day in, day out, makes you naturally jaded.

I came across something similar about a year ago. I got chatting to the grandmother of one of my daughter’s classmates and learned that she and her husband, both in their seventies, were struggling to bring up their young grandchildren because their good-for-nothing son and his drug addict girlfriend had abandoned them on their doorstep when the youngest was just six weeks old. They got no help from the government apart from children benefit, and the children had never had a holiday. The grandparents have never had so much as a weekend off, and were shattered. I offered the only help I could – I said I would have all three children come to my house every Sunday afternoon to play with my children. I’d cook them a meal, and the grandparents could be guaranteed one afternoon off every week.

At first they accepted, but before that first Sunday I had a terse phone call saying they’d changed their minds because they weren’t sure they could trust me. Well, they didn’t say it in so many words, but that was what it boiled down to.

I was naturally upset. I’d tried to do something helpful, and I’d been accused of – well, I’m still not quite sure what. It took my best friend to explain that these people had obviously been through some tough times and were very protective of the children because of that. They probably hadn’t met very many good or kind people in their lives. So when I’d offered to do something good for them they had assumed I had some ulterior motive or there was something in it for me.

I am sure it is very helpful to a lawyer to be wary and sceptical. I remember when I moved house that my solicitor went to great length to warn me about possible floods, subsidence, and a myriad of other potential disasters, and I thought how cynical she seemed to be about my lovely new home (which so far, has neither flooded nor subsided) but there is a danger that this attitude could lead to a depressed and pessimistic outlook which could lead to problems outside the office.

There are good people out there who do kind and decent things just because they can. The millions of people who have contributed to the Haiti Disaster appeal are one example. LawCare volunteers are another. Our volunteers don’t offer to support people through tough times because they think they can get business out of it, or because it looks good on their CV; they genuinely care about their fellow lawyers, and they want to help those in need.

You may encounter some selfish and cruel people who care only about themselves, but there are many good people out there. If life as a lawyer is making you feel jaded and sceptical, give us a call and speak to someone nice who only wants to help.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Just a Couple of Christmas Drinks

In past years we have noticed an increase in the number of calls to LawCare’s helplines related to alcohol misuse in January and February. The festive period seems to be a time when we can all eat, drink and be merry with a valid excuse, and many people who might have been only slightly worried about the amount they were drinking during the year suddenly find that when the restraints are off , they have good cause to be concerned. In the cold January light of day they look back at the excesses of Christmas, and New Year, and all the days in between, and see a disturbing pattern.
  • There may have been the usual family rows, generally caused by people who usually lead busy lives suddenly finding themselves thrown together over the holidays - but perhaps more than one was fuelled by alcohol-induced anger.
  • There may not have been enough wine or sherry to go round, leading to alarming feelings of panic at the realisation that it’s Christmas day and the shops are shut, so you can’t buy any more.
  • You missed that good Christmas film or TV special because you were drunk.
  • When colleagues ask, “How was your Christmas?” you find you can’t remember all of it.
It’s too early to say whether the trend for more alcohol calls will be true of 2010, but if you are worried about how much you drank over the Christmas period, and what it might say about your level of alcohol intake generally, do give us a call. Our helplines are free and completely confidential. We could help make it a much happier New Year.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 313145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)