Category Archives: JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY, RESOURCES & SAFETY

THE POWER OF GRATITUDE – IMPROVING YOUR LIFE & LEGAL PRACTICE (17-05)

GRATITUDE

Have you ever felt down and out; like life itself was falling from you and it seemed like a major effort just to take care of the everyday mundane things?  Of course you have, it’s called being human.

No one person that I have ever encountered has been perfect (except Mike Brandt comes pretty damn close).  We all have set-backs, challenges and days where nothing seems to go right; it is a part of life and living. So today, instead of addressing a legal or evidentiary topic, I am going to share a concept with you that can literally change your outlook on life as it illuminates your path to happiness and well-being.  That one concept, among many, is gratitude.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Half of everyone reading this post is probably groaning to themselves, urgggg…. another touchy feely topic. But not so fast, the power of gratitude is much more than just a touchy feely concept. The physical and emotional benefits that flow from expressions of gratitude are well supported by science. So for all of you logic based non-believers let’s talk a little science.

The science of Gratitude

One of the main features of gratitude is that it can help you feel more connected, relaxed and optimistic. When you express gratitude some pretty amazing things happen inside your brain. For example, neurotransmitters and brain chemicals are released like dopamine, beta endorphins and the love drug oxytocin.  All of these cause you to experience greater well-being, higher self-esteem and a general sense that everything is going to be OK despite the issues at play in that moment.

When you express genuine gratitude, your system is more resilient and robust.  When in the state of being grateful your ventral vegus nerve becomes activated and your ventral vegal tone is made stronger as evidenced by your heart rate variability increasing, which has a direct impact on your cardio vascular health.  The vegus nerves are part of your parasympathetic nervous system; which are part of your Autonomic Nervous System that takes care of so many of the involuntary and critical parts of our system like beating your heart and controlling breathing. Heartfelt gratitude can activate the ventral vegus nerve, counteracting stress and anxiety and initiating a calm all over your body which promotes a greater sense of social safety.

Prevalence of Gratitude Across Cultures and Spiritual Traditions

Whether you’re into science or not, at the surface level, gratitude can be viewed as a simple tool for successful living. At its core, though, gratitude is really an approach to life or stated more boldly, it is a way of life. All spiritual traditions include gratitude among their highest virtues. For example, here is a quote attributed to Gautama Buddha:

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”

Melody Beattie wrote in her book, Codependence No More, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Gratitude and the Practice of Law

As a prior trial attorney and judge, I always tried to champion the primary importance of psychology in trial practice. Being in the proper mental state is a skill central to all successful attorneys. Gratitude opens the heart and mind, putting you in a position of patience and acceptance.  Patience, as in methodical step by step trial preparation; and acceptance, as in the ability to accept a trial verdict or judicial decision that you did not want, are both paramount in the life of a legal practitioner. If you approach each trial (or anything else in life) with a grateful attitude, you put yourself in the best possible mental state to effectively present and argue your case.

An Easy Choice

Every day when you wake up you have a fundamentally important choice to make between two possible daily mindsets:

  1. A mindset where you are grateful for the opportunity to excel in a challenging field and happy just to be involved, or
  2. A mindset of struggling and griping about every inch of gained ground, never satisfied with the outcome.

When you read those two choices, no one would consciously pick the second one. Yet when the bell rings and your day begins, many attorneys (and judges) allow themselves to revert to an adversarial mental state (choice #2). Besides the negative affect on the quality of your own life, a non grateful daily attitude also has a profound impact on how you are perceived by others, including your friends and colleagues. Of course, most of you already know which local attorneys and judges fall into that second category. Don’t be one of them.

Final Thoughts

As you return to work following the Christmas holidays, take some time to give thanks for your many blessings, regardless of where you live or practice. And then, make a concerted effort to carry that grateful attitude with you to the courthouse or wherever else you work. You will be pleasantly surprised by how such a small change in approach can make your journey more enjoyable and productive, for both yourself and those around you!

Happy New Year,

Alan F. Pendleton (Former District Court Judge)

763-498-1508; afpendleton@gmail.com

December 25, 2017

References: Dr. M. Woodruff Johnson is the former Executive Director of the Kaiser Permanente, Watts Counseling and Learning Center. He holds certifications in Accelerated Learning, Neurosensory Development and hypnotherapy, and he is a Certified NLP Master Practitioner. Dr. Johnson is also an Associate Professor and teaches graduate psychology courses at Pacific Oaks College and Ryokan College; D.R. Barton, Jr. at vantharp.com.

TEN TIPS THAT EVERY NEW ATTORNEY SHOULD KNOW (17-02)

lessons_in_law

PERSONAL UPDATE: I woke up this morning realizing that it had been 6 months since my last post. One of the drawbacks to the aging process is that time seems to pass so much faster than when we were younger. I am now a legal resident of North Scottsdale, Arizona but we will continue to spend summers and fall in Minnesota. We just completed construction on a new home way out in Minnestrista (for those of you geographically challenged) Minnestrista is a picturesque small town located on the western edge of lake Minnetonka. Now that the dust has started to settle I will hopefully get back to posting on a more regular basis. If you need to reach me I have a new email: afpendleton@gmail.com.  As for this week’s post:

Whether you work in a private law firm, city or county Attorneys office, public defenders office, or as a judicial law clerk, someone at your place of employment has responsibility for hiring and firing new attorneys.

Over my 36 year legal career I have worked in all of the above settings (except not as a public defender). I can tell you from personal experience that when management attorneys meet to discuss business, the subject often turns to common mistakes made by new attorneys. This is a topic I wish law schools would spend more time covering with their recent graduates. 

The following is a list of ten typical mistakes to avoid when you’re trying to get your legal career off to a great start.

MENTORING SUGGESTION: If you are an older more experienced attorney I encourage you to share this post with any new attorneys in your firm or office.

  1. Know your place. If you’re the newest lawyer in your firm/office, others with more seniority and experience expect a certain level of respect. Being arrogant, self-righteous, or correcting senior counsel publicly will make your opinions less favored than using a respectful and thoughtful approach. You’re expected, at least initially, to prove that you can work harder and longer hours to prove yourself. Complaining about the work load, taking long lunches, and expecting to have a hand in deciding what cases you’ll work on will appear overreaching and unappreciative. Perks will come with time and experience.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for input. Few new attorneys ever ask for input or ask how their work can be improved. This is probably because they don’t really want to receive feedback on these issues for fear of being criticized. However, it shows initiative and maturity to ask how you can improve. Also, if you want advice on how to approach a legal task, it’s often helpful to approach your supervisor early with a plan as to how you will attack the legal problem. It’s better to find out if you’re on the right or wrong track early than to waste time doing something the wrong way. The fact that you’re trying to improve is impressive in itself.
  3. Write a handwritten note. Hardly anyone thinks to write a thoughtful, handwritten note to show appreciation for a kind gesture. Before texts and emails, we actually owned pens and stationery! A nicely written note will earn you major points with both supervisors and clients. Electronic communications can seem impersonal and may get buried in the email morass of the recipient’s inbox. (this is my personal favorite!)
  4. Listen more than you talk. When you’re a new lawyer, there’s a tendency to talk too much and listen too little because you’re trying to impress clients and/or colleagues. However, a good lawyer listens to the client and their issues, concerns, and problems and then asks appropriate follow-up questions before offering legal advice. Learn to be a good listener early on in your career and your clients will appreciate you for it. When dealing with more experienced attorneys in your firm/office your rule of thumb should be “ask them questions, listen, learn from them and then thank them.”  Developing your active listening skills will also help you with negotiations (civil or criminal).
  5. Have empathy. Clients (and victims for prosecutors) are often frightened by being involved in the legal process and may feel very violated. They’re coming to you for legal advice, but showing compassion, being a good listener, and treating them with respect can earn you a client for life .  Many people don’t think that lawyers care about the outcome of the legal issue—do what you can to change this perception of lawyers and you’ll help the profession, and yourself, in the process.
  6. Learn to proofread. Read and reread everything you draft. And always even though you draft it electronically, print your legal work and review it thoroughly before signing it. Doing this helps you catch formatting errors, written mistakes, and less than stellar analysis. Keep it formal; too many young lawyers inappropriately use a casual, unprofessional tone (i.e., “the defendant acted like a Mafia Don”) and colloquialisms or slang. By submitting a technically perfect document, you can set yourself apart from others and enhance the possibilities for future successes. Judges can be especially critical of attorneys that submit sub-par filings.
  7. Get all agreements in writing. Handshake deals aren’t the way we practice law. No matter how friendly your relationship is with opposing counsel, all agreements should be confirmed in writing. For example, if opposing counsel tells you on the phone that he or she will drop a cause of action from the complaint, get it in writing so you aren’t left without recourse if he or she reneges. And if much of your confirmation writings are in email, make sure to have a system for storing these agreements or print them out for future use. This is expecially important when reaching plea deals in criminal cases.
  8. Don’t expect law clerks and Google to tell you how to practice law. Law clerks hate calls from lawyers who try to use them as a reference instead of doing their own independent research. And you don’t want to irritate the clerk. Also, be aware that a search on Google or another online search engine doesn’t replace actual legal research, and any samples you obtain through such a search should be thoroughly researched to make sure the law cited is correct, recent, and relevant. Also, when researching, always read the entire case. Don’t depend on a summary and canned holding that may not be on point with your own case. Remember, if you annoy or agitate a law clerk the judge is sure to hear about it.
  9. For private attorneys, understand what it means to provide client value. Your work, every minute of it, is ultimately billed to a client, and you should think about how the bill will look from the client’s perspective. Keep up with your timesheets on client matters on a daily basis. Your firm and the clients will benefit from your accuracy and value your efficiency. Provide detailed billing so that you can always justify your time and don’t do secretarial work that can be billed by someone else at a lower rate.
  10. Use your tech skills. Younger attorneys are usually proficient at using computer programs, social media, and other technologies. Offer to assist your firm/office with existing skills to add value to the organization while demonstrating your own value. It will take a while to develop legal skills, so why not capitalize on skills you already have in the meantime?

July 24, 2017

Alan F. Pendleton (Former District Court Judge)

afpendleton@gmail.com

Source: CEBblog, California Continuing Legal Education. Anabella Q. Bonfa, Wellman & Warren LLP, and Diane Rifkin, Rifkin Consulting.