Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In The Wake of Robin Williams' Death, Let's Talk About Depression

I suffer from major depression.  I was finally diagnosed in 1991 and have been on anti-depressants ever since.  The medication changed, and saved, my life.  My first bout of depression was long before 1991. In 1978, I suffered from postpartum depression for at least three weeks.  I probably was depressed before that.  In 1991, I felt as if I was in a tunnel with no exit.  I had trouble coping with every day living.  I was a wife and mother of two small children.  How could I be depressed.

If I had not gone on anti-depressants in 1991, I do not know where I would be now.  I have a psychiatrist who I see every 6 - 9 months for a few months to make sure my meds are working.  I no longer suffer from major depression anymore.  I have not suffered a major depression since 1991, but I wonder where I would be without modern medicine.  Thank goodness for medical science!

I write this because yesterday Robin Williams killed himself and it has affected me tremendously, as it has many others.  We treat mental illness in this country as a dark little secret.  I do not know why I am prone to depression.  I believe my grandmother suffered from depression that ultimately, indirectly, killed her.  I do not know if I inherited depression, but I do not care.  I suffer from a mental illness that is in remission because of modern medicine.  I want to shout about my depression from the rooftops. Maybe, if someone else suffers from crippling depression, if someone else realizes that having a mental illness does not mean that he or she is a bad person, that person can get help.

Too many people are ashamed of their depression and fault themselves.  My depression is a medical condition which I treat with medical care.  I want others to get the help that I got years ago and continue to get to this day.  Depression is an illness.  Depression is not a personal failing.  When life seems pointless and hopeless, there can be hope.  I know I am lucky that the meds work.  If you are thinking about ending your life, or you exist with constant self-loathing, I hope you will seek help.  Suicide may be a solution for the one in pain, but it hurts so many survivors.  Please do not give up.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How To Not Burn Out As A Lawyer

Steve Martin used to have a sketch which he entitled, "How to make a million dollars and not pay taxes."  He said, "First, get a million dollars. Then, don't pay taxes.  If anyone asks you why you didn't pay taxes, you tell them two easy words, "I FORGOT!!!!!'

Well, here is the Steve Martin answer to How To Not Burn Out As A Lawyer.  First, get your law license, and then don't burn out.  Ha!  A lot easier said than done.  Here are the reasons that lawyers flee the practice of law:

1.  Too much pressure with too boring work and too many partners looking over your shoulder.

2.   Too much work that seems tedious or a type of law that is distasteful to the lawyer.

3.  A fear of the courtroom.

4.   A hatred of legal writing and research.

5.  Being on your own with no one to mentor you and trouble paying the bills.

The flip sides of the reasons for burn-out can also be the reasons that people know they are destined for the law.  Some lawyers like the organization and camaraderie of a big firm and welcome the challenge of moving up the ladder and becoming more of a boss.  Plus the pay is usually pretty good.

For those solo practitioners or those is small firm, the stress from bosses lessens, but the stress of ultimately responsibility for being the total legal counsel for the client combined with the need to find clients and figure out how to get paid.

then, there are the boundary issues.  If you are cold and calculating, caring little for either your client or for the legal principle at issue, how could you not get burned out.  The irony is that I suspect many caring lawyers, especially in criminal case, ,but got burned out watching those for whom the lawyer cares go to prison, sometimes for long periods of time and sometimes when he or she is innocent.

All of these possibilities  is enough to break your heart.  We talk about female attorneys balancing home life and professional life, but we don't talk much about boundaries and burn-out.  We need more training to deal with our grief and sadness and even feelings of abandonment some lawyers feel.  I know I have lost quite a few clients.  One young single mother died in a one-car collision shortly after her case was settled.  One day, on the way to work, she skidded off the road, hit a tree and died.  It still tears me up.  One man I deposed killed himself two weeks after the deposition.   I do not blame myself for those deaths, but they still hurt, a lot.  After I lost one trial, I grieved, just as if it were a dearth, for at least six months.  

There is only so much pain I can take at anyone time from any one case.  The pain can come from the other side.  I know that it is not just plaintiffs suffer from the way we treat each other.

Right now, I am tried.  I do not want to get burned out and I do not want to retire. There are times that this job is the most exciting I can imagine.  There are other times when I feel like I am no good to anyone.  It's time for a vacation.  I have the best partners in the world and I want to come back.  We all need some rest from time to time and I can feel that now is the time for me.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I Am Prejudiced

I was going to title this piece, "I Am A Bigot," but I looked up "bigot" and I do not believe I am a bigot. I do not hate people who I do not know simply for who they are.

Yet, I am prejudiced. I grew up in a time and place where I formed ideas about people I don't know.  When I see strangers, I have knee-jerk reactions.  When someone looks like a "homeless person," I assume he or she is poor, living on the street, and perhaps suffering from a mental condition.  When I hear of rich people who have inherited wealth, I assume they have feelings of entitlement.  When I hear that someone does not have a high school education, I assume that he or she is less intelligent.  When someone tries to convert me to a different religion, I assume he or she is narrow-minded.  I have even more repulsive prejudices than I am willing to admit in print because I feel bad about my biases.

As bad as I feel about my prejudices, I have not been able to eliminate them.  I am embarrassed, but I cannot control my knee-jerk reactions.  The best I can do is recognize my biases, admit to them, and understand that I cannot let the prejudices, my bigotry, control me.  My grandmother was a refugee from Nazi Germany. When she saw a non-Jewish German, she would whisper, "I bet he has a Nazi in the family."  That prejudice has stuck with me.  I know that Germans and Germany cannot be considered with a broad brush, that anti-Semitism is repugnant in Germany today, but I cannot stop my knee jerk reaction.  I can fight against my pre-conceived notions, but I am incapable of eliminating the original feelings.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What's It Like To Be Sued For Discrimination?

We are all human beings.  Well not really.  Technically, while corporations may be legally considered "people"with the benefit of first amendment rights, those of us not on the Supreme Court know that corporations are fictitious concoctions invented by people to avoid real people having personal liability.

But, corporations are formed by real people.  And when a corporation is sued by a current or former employee for discrimination, real people are affected by the lawsuit.  It is hard to be accused of discrimination.  It is hard to be accused of discrimination even when the allegations are true.  Most people do not want to believe that they sexually harass employees.  Most people nowadays claim they are not racist, even if they  tell racist jokes or believe that there are "some good ones" and some who "are not so good."  Even where a manager grabs an employee's rear, he thinks it's either just a joke, or she liked it.

But, we all know that many, if not most, of those accused of discrimination do not believe that he or she has discriminated against anyone.  Sometimes they have not.  Not all plaintiffs are truthful. Not all plaintiffs have the same sensibilities as the rest of us.  I remember the time a woman sought my representation, claiming that she had been sexually harassed because her boss told her she looked nice, and "they are not allowed to do that, are they?"  Discrimination may be subjective.  Growing up in the 1960's I remember what names African-Americans were called by some white people, who probably truly believe that they were not racist.

So what is a defendant to do?  I do not mean to make light of the dilemma of the defendant in a discrimination lawsuit.  Actually, my old law firm was sued for sexual harassment when I was a partner so I have been a defendant in a lawsuit.  It is hard to be a defendant.

Employment discrimination laws had little bite until 1991 when Congress first allowed plaintiffs to have jury trials and provide for the recovery of emotional distress damages and punitive damages.  Things were different in American workplaces before the 1990's.  This spate of discrimination cases in our country is relatively new, even though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.  In the 1960's, some white people did not mind admitting they were racist, but now it is not popular to be racist, a good by-product of the Civil Rights Movement, even if there are more racists who deny being racist than before.

I guess my point, that I am stating inarticulately, is that it is hard to be sued.  Most people who are sued become angry, become defensive, and are truly hurt by being accused of discrimination.  CEO's, managers, HR professionals, and other human beings oftentimes do not like being accused of wrongdoing regardless of what might have happened.  When a company is accused of discrimination, managers can have a variety of reactions.  Some high level managers want to make their companies better and address problems, if there have been any.  Some employers are personally offended and will fight no matter what the facts show.  People are different and companies have different responses, just as people do.

I guess my point is that we are all humans.  We all have different experiences in life.  We all have learned different life lessons.  Some of us cannot tolerate being criticized, whether plaintiff or defendant.  Some of us want to learn from our experiences and become better people.  Some of us have self images that are fragile and cannot tolerate criticism, whether plaintiff or defendant.  We are all people.  Hopefully, thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the rights and responsibilities that we have in this country, we can all learn and grow and become a better society.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

RANT - Worlds Gone Wild!

What is the problem with human beings?  A passenger plane is shot done over Ukraine, Israelis and Palestinians are working on a "fewer-human-beings-who make-up-a state" solution, and life is fleeting. The world  makes me sad, and I am not getting any younger.  I went to a funeral today and I realize humanity is so screwed up.  My son suggests to me that corruption may be a way that government becomes more efficient, I see first-hand how poorly local governments are run, and . . . then we die.

I am not a bastion of optimism tonight.  Life is an existential crisis.  We kill people, probably because we have no other natural predators besides ourselves.  We inflict pain, torture and atrocities against each other, we treat each other with disrespect, humiliation and/or violence, and then we die.

I just read the first two paragraphs to a family member who responded, "Do you need a hug?" YES!!!! I, and I suspect, the most of the world, needs to hug each other.  I know I sound like a crazy hippy, but I am so disgusted with humanity.  And, quite frankly, I am not really helping.  I do not know how to solve these issues.  I am as petty as the next human.  I haven't killed anyone nor have I committed a violent act against anyone since adolescent, when I bit the shit out of my sister in our last scratching, biting physical fight, except the swat I gave my daughter one morning when she refused to go to school while I was in the middle of trial.  She and I have since made up.

I try my best as a lawyer to help with my version of justice.  But, I am not feeding hungry children, administering to the sick, or negotiating peace settlements between warring factions besides plaintiffs and defendants in discrimination cases. At least I am not protesting needy, scared children seeking refuge in this country, but I haven't done anything to help them, either.

What can one person do?  I don't know.  I delude myself that working to alleviate racism, sexism and ageism makes a difference.  Sure, the cases I work on effect the people involved, but the world is so screwed up, what can really make a difference.

Genocide, atrocities, and rape and killing still happen.  These events will probably always happen.  It's overwhelming.  I still believe that most people want to do the fair, right and just things.  I believe in the goodness of people, but why is there so much destruction now?  What are we doing wrong?

Maybe the "arc of history is long, and it curves towards justice," but I want to see justice now!  I won't be alive in a hundred years.  It is so deflating to see so many people in so much pain caused by so many other people.  What are we doing wrong?  Why do we do these things to each other?  Are we really civilized?  How can we treat others the way we do?  Why is this world so dysfunctional?

I guess I just need to learn to deal with this somehow.  Tomorrow, I go back to work and work on my cases, hopefully helping my clients.  Maybe we all just need to sleep on it.  Right now, I feel like we are caught in a nightmare.  All I can say is, "World grow up!  This shit needs to stop!"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mimi - The Rescue Dog With A Seizure Disorder

When we took Mimi to the emergency hospital, her seizure would not stop. I hold her like a baby. She would tighten, start to quiver, and then begin to convulse. This pattern repeated several times, so a grabbed her and whispered encouragement into her ear as I caressed her back and neck. I gently spoke in her ear, "Mimi, I love you.  We will take care of you.  This will stop.  You are my best girl."

It may be my imagination, but she seems to relax a little through the seizures when I speak softly and hold her this way. Mike took her into the hospital, where they aided in putting her unconscious for awhile, hopefully breaking the pattern of seizures. Just a few hours later, Mimi was back home.

She walked up to the chair in which I sat in the family room. It is a gigantic beige recliner. I moved my pink purse out of the way, and in a flash she jumped on top of me. She placed her head by mine, as I was reclined and leaning cross-way on the chair. Once little Mimi had her face by mine, she straddled her front paws across my shoulder and lay her belly flat on mine.

I circled my arms around the little dog, careful not to squeeze too tight. Again, I whispered in her ear, "I love you, I love you."  Once I called her Lisa, my daughter's name, which happens frequently.

The vets have told us that when Mimi has her seizures, it does not matter if we hold her because she doesn't have any idea of the outside world. I disagree. When Mimi seizes and I cradle her, she and I are connected. Mimi both feels love and is loving in return.  She feels like the embodiment of all my lost relatives, my connection with my past and my future. Just as when my children were infants, I received so much joy in holding and nurturing them. I have the same nurturing instincts for Mimi.

Mimi is my rescue Boston Terrier, in our lives for just one year so far. Yet, I cannot describe the love I feel for that little girl. Even with her seizures, and concomitant expense, she is perfect. My love for Mimi is a perfect love, and I am not even a perfectionist.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Will Happen To Me If I Report . . . Illegal Actions By Management

None of us wants to work for an employer where there is ongoing illegal misconduct.  The boss may be stealing computers from the company, the CEO may be "cooking the books," a supervisor nurse may be stealing drugs from the pharmacy, or a manufacturer may be cutting corners in making drugs.  When a company, through its managers, engages in illegal activity, it is serious.  Thankfully, most employees do not work at a place where illegal conduct is ongoing and unreported.

What happens when you are one of the unlucky employees, where misconduct occurs.  For example, what if you work at a business where products are mislabled as "Made in America" when they are really manufactured in China?  What do you do?

Well, oftentimes, it is very hard to report wrongdoing of a management employee to the authorities or even to other members of management.  The risk is real - job loss.  Of course, many people and many companies do not condone dishonesty or deceit by employees, and, after an investigation, the unlawful behavior is stopped, the employee committing the behavior is dealt with, and the reporting employee can be a hero, the person with the resolve and honor who stops the wrongdoing.  That is how it is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, companies do not always do the right thing.  Remember Enron, where the whistleblowers were pariahs and dismissed or discredited.  A true whistleblower is a rare and brave person, who risks not only losing his or her job, but potentially worse, bad rumors, no recommendations, blackballing, etc.

There are many different laws that apply to whistleblowers, even what is known as the "common law." for in most states when a company violates public policy by engaging in unlawful conduct and firing a whistleblower, even states that protect employers with "employment at will" laws, recognize the societal benefits of brave souls coming forward to do the right thing.  The purpose of this entry is not to provide legal advice.  There are many different laws and many different statutes of limitations.

Rather, this entry is part of my "what will happen to me if . . ." series.  Many whistleblowers, unfortunately are terminated from employment.  Although most people want to do the right thing, not all do.  Greed, power, hubris, all affect ordinary people.  While a whistleblower may be considered by an employer as merely a "snitch," a whistleblower is so much more.  A snitch rats out others to get a better deal in a criminal case.   Whistleblowers come forward even though their actions are against their own self-interest because it is the right thing to do.

Whistleblowers are courageous, but can be and are willing to endure unpopularity.  Whistleblowers suffer loss of income, reputation and security.  But whistleblowers are some of the bravest, most heroic members of society.  I have represented many whistleblowers, some cases have gone to trial.  I can tell you that my whistleblowing clients are some of the people who make me the proudest because what they do is the hardest.

In our society, it is hard to buck the status quo.  It is hard to separate from the crowd.  It is particularly hard to recognize wrongdoing and report it for the betterment of society.  When companies resist following the law, or their boards of directors are too lazy or unconcerned to take action, whistleblowers have the hardest roads to hoe.  But there are brace, concerned people out there who value justice, and they are the ones we are proud to represent.  There is no more honorable employee than one who is willing to risk all for the betterment or society.