As the song goes, you can get by with a little help from your friends. In fact there is substantial scientific research suggesting that when it comes to noticing when you’re making bad choices, it is the people who know you who notice the signs well before you ever will.¹ Pop culture noticed this long ago. Don Quixote had Sancho Panza, the Queen in Snow White asked her magic mirror for advice, and – Holy Mentorship! – Batman’s most valuable gadget was a buddy who had his back.
Remaining competent and in control of your practice is not an easy task. While working as a lawyer is quite possibly the best career possible², there are days when the stress of practice, rapid changes in law, technology and client expectations, and long hours can make it difficult to be on top of your game all the time. If you practice on your own, you may also have noticed how hard it is to take a vacation or just step back from the details of practice for a while.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a buddy to talk to, to help you when you need help, or even just to bounce ideas off someone?
The answer, of course, is yes. The good news is that there are so many ways to get a buddy, mentor, or Plus-One (however you want to put it) for your practice. Among the options are:
- Contacting Assist for a Peer Support Lawyer,
- Accessing the Law Society’s Mentor Connect program,
- Contacting someone you articled with, or went to law school with,
- If you work at a firm with several lawyers, walking down the hall and asking someone to have your back, or
- Connecting with someone at a C.B.A. Section meeting or Calgary Bar Association social event.
Keeping your brain healthy and free from depression, burnout, addiction or similar issues is not much different from maintaining strong healthy teeth. Both require daily attention to good hygiene, a healthy diet and occasional visits to a professional. For your teeth that means brushing your teeth, eating more apples and fewer cookies, and getting a cleaning twice a year. For your good brain health, it means getting regular exercise, paying attention to intrusive unhealthy patterns of thought, and seeing a therapist when you need it. Just as your life partner may point out that you have a piece of parsley stuck in your teeth, a Practice Plus One can also point out when you seem to be thinking or acting in a way that isn’t your normal self.
A Practice Plus-One is also good preventative medicine for your practice. We generally expect businesses delivering vital services to have back-up plans in case something goes wrong. In a legal practice, much of what your clients depend on is the lawyer’s own judgment, knowledge and – ultimately – presence. It just makes sense that if something were to happen that prevents you from being present at work that your clients have someone to turn to.
In fact, I challenge you, dear readers, to take the deliberate healthy step of finding a Practice Plus One and announcing it on social media. When you do, try challenging another lawyer you know to do the same thing, just like the Ice Bucket Challenge that occurred some years ago.
The Practice Review department at the Law Society has recently come out with a new publication called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Lawyers“. It has questionnaires and templates that help you plan for events like serious illness of you or your spouse, a suspension, or even just an overdue need to take a vacation. Designating someone to take over in the event that you can’t be in the driver’s seat of your practice is an important building block to having a successful practice and a good life. Go to the website, have a read through the materials, designate your Practice Plus One, and get back to living without – or at least with less – worry.
1 If you are really keen on reading up on it, try starting with Kruger and Dunning, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1999, Vol. 77, No. 6. 1121-1134
2 Yes, this does betray a certain bias.
Glen Hickerson is a guest author for the Law Society. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Law Society of Alberta. This article first appeared in the 15th edition of Assist in Your Community Newsletter.