October 26, 2004

Good question

The National Legal Aid and Defender Association will be sponsoring a lawyers' retreat immediately preceding its annual conference. The day-long session on December 1 is in collaboration with the International Centre (sic) for Healing and the Law. Participants in the retreat will try to find answers to questions such as:

"* How do I continue to practice with passion and integrity as pressures within in the legal profession build; as dysfunction, poor management or funding cuts plague my organization; and as the external political and socio-economic environment continues to demoralize my clients?

* How do I stay centered on my core values when so much of legal practice is life draining and at times feels compromising?

* How do I reclaim my wholeness and authentically integrate who I am with the profession and the clients and communities that I serve?

* How do I learn to "lead by listening" to my clients and colleagues?

* How do I balance life-giving and life-draining aspects of practicing law?"

If they do come up with some answers, I hope that they'll share them with the rest of the class. As long as we don't go overboard with the drumming circles and psychodrama, it seems that asking these sorts of questions in the context of continuing legal education would be beneficial for all of us. There's a lot of emphasis in criminal defense training on the manly art of dominating the judge and jury, almost none on how to keep your head in the game for the long term without going nuts.

At NCDC, one of my Section D team-mates, a kind woman from Milwaukee, tried to bring up questions like these, of how to cope with losing so often, with so many cases, working through burn-out and discouragement, with clients who mistrust you, many of whom are (major third rail here) of a different race or culture than you. Our famous defense lawyer instructor of the day, who I won't name (but whose name rhymes with Boglevest) ripped her a new one, flamed her for being weak, and made her cry. We studied no more that day. It was a good team-building exercise, though; we rallied around our classmate, and froze out our tormentor.

So if individual poor people's lawyers are asking the questions internally, it strikes me that they need to be aired among ourselves, in relatively safe flame-proof settings, and not be censured or pushed aside by this tough-guy p.d. legal culture. The alternative seems to be to accept the drip-drip-drip of attrition of good people from the ranks, until only the biggest *ssh*les remain to defend the downtrodden.


Melissa said...

Those are good questions. IF you find any good answers on your "retreat" let me know.

And I used to live in DC so if you need any restaurant recs let me know.

Skelly said...

Yeah, I thought they were good questions, too. I've been asking myself versions of them for a long time. My latest response has been, why don't I get out of management, take a month off, and go be a p.d. someplace cool like the Puget Sound? I'm not going to NLADA this year, though. I went last year when it was in Seattle, and this year I'll be in the midst of transitioning.

Tom Lincoln said...
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Tom Lincoln said...

These are very important questions we all have to ask and discuss in a setting in which we can offer each other support. We go through professional cycles and need to refresh. Is there a primal scream therapy session? Just kidding, but that's how I feel sometimes. Hats off to the persons with the idea, and to you for posting it. Gives me a good idea to present at the next Puerto Rico Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers meeting.

Tom Lincoln said...
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