30 December 2014

Article about Deafness and the Law starring The Last Generalist

It's been a long time since I posted but I liked this recent article about ME! And thought I would share it here: Article about Deafness and the Law starring The Last Generalist

To learn more about Cochlear Implants go here

Feel free to contact me with questions.

Happy New Year!

21 December 2010

Two Practices, One Life: Why Your Life Outside The Law Matters

My practice is important to me. I am up just about everyday at 5 AM working to build that practice. Get better at it. Take it further. It’s a solo practice in case you were wondering. No partners – and I like it that way. Yes, I practice yoga for a solid hour every morning, rain or shine, barring the usual scheduling problems of life.

You don’t need to practice yoga – that’s not the point of this blog post. But if you practice law (and if you are reading this…), you need a counterforce, an antidote, a release valve. You need some time every day that has nothing to do with law.

Some might say you need balance.

But balance is an overused term in my view, and I think it is impossible to achieve true balance if you have the drive and desire to be the best at what you do. It’s hard to be “best” and “balanced” at the same time, unless you are striving to be the best at balance. But you are a lawyer, so I’m guessing that’s not your ambition, right?

Its not balance you need but an antidote. The hours, the stress, the competition, the constant demands by everyone that you meet their needs, and the inescapable sense that too much hangs in the balance too often can make the practice of law physically, emotionally and spiritually crushing – if you let it. And it is a choice, believe it or not.

You can choose to be crushed by the overwhelming demands of the law or you can decide to take care of yourself (your senior partner won’t) and develop your antidote - your life outside your legal practice.

In athletic activities, cross-training has become a standard way of preventing injuries, burnout, and also increasing success. You need to cross-train for the law for the very same reasons. You can’t really be the best at what you do if that is all you do. Cross-training for the law means doing things that are as far away from the office, the courthouse and pro bono as possible. Sort of like weight lifting is for runners. For me this means a non-competitive activity that forces me to focus on that activity rather than ruminate on my latest challenging contract negotiation.

Lots of lawyers I know, run. I like to run too but running still lets me think about the law – it’s a problem solving tool since I actually can obsess on my client’s latest issue as the miles roll by. And since I can and do think about the law when I run, its not focused enough. Its not true cross-training. Plus its sort of competitive for me – on the running trail I always want to catch the person in front of me…

Enter yoga.

You can’t practice yoga and think about the law or anything outside the very practice you are engaged in – you will tip over in any yoga pose (asana) involving balance if you are not totally focused. Believe me, I fell over a lot when I first started practicing yoga. It’s not competitive either – unless you are in a class, where it’s easy to make it competitive – which is why I like to practice in the morning and at home most of the time. It’s just you, your yoga mat and the sunrise.

For me, yoga is an antidote, an immunization and a shot of Red Bull® all in one. An antidote because when I am stressed, the flow and focus of yoga relaxes my body and takes my mind off the law, an immunization shot because the practice helps me build physical and emotional strength, endurance and discipline so that I am less stressed to begin with on a day to day basis and find I can more easily recover from stress, and it’s a Red Bull® because I emerge from my daily morning practice with more energy and drive than I started with. And, last but not least, if you practice routinely, you’ll look great as you lose weight and tone every muscle in your body! Less stressed, stronger and looking great. It’s a three for one deal – and for any lawyer who’s short on time (all of us?), that’s great deal. Plus it improves my running so I can catch you when you pass me on the trail…

So what’s your antidote? Everyone is different; everyone will have a different answer to that question. The important thing is to have an answer, because if you don’t have an antidote, than the law, as remarkable, wonderful and rewarding a profession as it is, will likely be very, very tough on you.

It's pretty common knowledge that depression occurs four times more often with lawyers than any other profession. According to an ABA study, stress is so high in the profession that it actually impairs the ability of 20-25% of all lawyers to practice effectively. Alcoholism among lawyers (13%) is twice the average in the general US population.

In yoga, one of the key ethical principles is ahimsa, which calls for non-violence towards all living things. And the first place you must apply this ethical tenet is to yourself! A depressed, stressed out lawyer isn’t doing her clients any favors, isn’t doing his family any favors, isn’t doing her firm any favors - isn’t doing himself or those around him, anything but harm.

The antidotes are as diverse as people who practice law. I know a fellow who, with his wife, has taken up salsa (the dance not the condiment), another who is a back country skier in Colorado, another who is an ultramarathoner, another is a chess master, another is a history buff and another who writes poetry (OK, that’s me) and the list could go on and on. The point being that my antidote is just that, mine. My rules of 1) noncompetitive and 2) highly focused are also just mine. Your antidote will no doubt be different.

Don’t let yourself become a statistic. Find your antidote.

It’s a matter of life.

19 October 2010

Drive Your Own Car

I can’t tell you how often in my life I have instructed other drivers in the error of their ways from the high and mighty vantage point of my car.   From turn signals to stop signs to speeding to not speeding, others rarely drove how I would wish them to do.  “Traffic would flow so much better,” I’d think, “if people would just drive with the greater good in mind rather than their own selfish interests of just getting someplace fast.”  Certainly it seemed to me that if the greater good were as I saw it then at least I’d get someplace faster. One super-power I really, really wanted was the ability to make all four tires go flat on any transgressor’s car – oh, not right there on the highway, but sometime later when it’s parked and the flat tires would simply be an unbelievably annoying karmic payback for cutting me off.

Suffice to say other drivers rarely heeded my unspoken but strongly thought and recommended instructions. This in turn led to endless frustration for yours truly until one day  while sitting in traffic, I realized in a flash of perhaps obvious insight that I can’t change any of those other drivers – most especially when I am behind the wheel of my car. I realized that I can only drive my car.  Inner peace ensued. Now whenever anyone cuts me off, zooms by me on an icy Colorado interstate or flips me off, my mantra is “Drive Your Own Car.” I still get a little angry but I find it goes away much quicker and  best of all, I don't have that guy tailgating my thoughts for the rest of my drive.

This would seem an obvious insight and yet the incidents of road rage we hear and read about, the frustrations I hear from co-workers after the long drive in, or the general consensus that everyone else is a lousy driver would appear to indicate otherwise.

Not just in the car, I am finding that this mantra applies to my entire life – anytime I am becoming angry with what someone else says, does or doesn’t do, their opinion or lack thereof or  when I feel my pride coming to the fore, I remind myself to “Drive My Own Car.”  Because that’s all we can ever really do isn’t it?

We can only live our lives and nothing makes life harder than trying to make others live up to our expectations or failing to live up to theirs - either way, it only disappoints us and makes them angry.

So drive your own car - I guarantee you'll be happier and, as a result, those around you will be too.

But would it kill you to use your turn signals?

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

12 October 2010

Haste Makes Waste (The Tao of Law Series)

This is a series of short posts (they have to be short given how few words Lao Tzu needed to lay out the Tao) showing how the Tao te Ching can help improve your practice of law – and life.

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” (No. 15)

So often as lawyers we are called upon by our clients to ACT. And act NOW. And sometimes we must do so as when a restraining order or TRO is needed or the persistent clock of the Statute of Limitations is ticking loudly. But most often, there is no need for haste on our part or to demand the same of opposing counsel. Haste is the enemy of reason. And so no real friend to the practice of law.

The desire for speed is almost an illness in our society. From overnight packages to PDFs sent by email to teleconferences to save travel time to clients wishing their deal, their lawsuit, their negotiations to be done the day before yesterday – where yesterday used to be fast enough – we place more value on speed than accuracy, propriety, or even right decisions. Speed looks for the shortcut, the easy win, the fast buck. In the end, making a virtue of speed reduces the legitimacy of our profession.

“Haste makes waste,” my grandfather often said in his unknowing translation of Lao Tzu.

Wisdom about the right course of action, solid counsel and understanding of options rarely arises out of speed. I’m not talking about procrastination, overworked lawyers just trying not to drown, dragging out litigation as a tactical matter or delay for the sake of delay, I’m talking about prudence, careful consideration and deliberate action. Once a course of action is decided, then - BOOM! - move decisively. Often times more time on careful deliberation simply means you can act faster thereafter and it really doesn’t even take more time in total because you have marked your destination, clearly mapped out your route and so can move rapidly down your path.

If you wait for “your mud” or your client’s mud to settle before acting you might discover that there is more or less to your client’s claims or your concerns, and that knowledge can make all the difference, not only in determining your destination, but whether it is even worth the journey.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

5 Things My Son's Stay In The Hospital Taught Me About The Practice Of Law

Last week I was unexpectedly in New York City at Beth Israel Hospital for five days to be with my son who underwent emergency abdominal surgery. In the course of watching the care he received I noted a few points that seemed applicable to us lawyers.
  1. Make Sure Your Instructions Are Being Followed. Every day my son’s surgeon would come around. Let’s call him Dr. Gabe (not real name). He was knowledgeable, smart and compassionate. He’d leave orders for the folks providing the daily care to my son. “Take off the IV.” “Change to this painkiller.” Whatever. Inevitably he’d come back later in the day or the next morning and discover that the staff had ignored him. “Why do you still have that IV?” He’d say the next morning, and then storm off to make sure it got done or even do it himself. It was frustrating for him but even more frustrating for my son. I think he ended up staying in the hospital an extra day out of six because of this pattern. What instructions of yours are being ignored?
  2. Explain Why. Nothing drove my son nuts more than someone doing some medical thing to him when that person couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why it was being done. He was happy to be a good patient when he understood the reason for things. Have you explained “why” to your clients lately?
  3. Never Forget Why You Are There. A friend who is a lawyer for a major hospital chain once joked, “Rich, the practice of hospital law would be so much easier if there were no patients.” While the majority of the caregivers we dealt with were solid and compassionate, there were those who had clearly taken my friend’s joke to heart in terms of the practice of medicine. Do your associates and fellow partners understand why you are practicing law?
  4. Tell The Truth. One thing the hospital got right was not sugar coating the situation. It was serious and they told my son, me and my ex exactly what they really thought was going on. But guess what, when it turned out not to be so bad, we were so relieved and happy. When you tell someone they are likely to wake up from surgery with a colostomy bag, and they wake up and they don’t have one – great. If you don’t tell them about that possibility or down play it, and they do wake up with one, guess what... I hate it when doctors sugarcoat it. BTW, telling the truth is not the same as managing expectations; managing expectations is form of lying. What are you telling your clients?
  5. Just Do It. Sometimes the nurses or doctors or whoever would say. “Sure, we’ll do [insert procedure]. I’ll be right back.” And then they’d disappear. Sometimes for hours. When you promise something, deliver it when you promised you would. Period. No excuses. Unless, of course, your son is undergoing emergency abdominal surgery... Do you need to get back to your client about something?
BTW, my son is out of the hospital and doing fine though he won’t be doing sit-ups anytime soon!

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth