At our March 24, 2015 meeting, we presented a much needed discussion based on a 2013 New York Times op-doc titled “Great expectations,” in which journalist Florence Martin-Kessler reported on the evolved expectations of the gender gap and work-life balance among 21 of the highest recruited female attorneys from a prominent New York law firm. More than a decade after they were recognized as the anticipated rising stars among female attorneys, Martin-Kessler describes, “[W]hat I found most interesting was that their lives were often far more complex than they had predicted. Even the greatest of expectations, it seems, eventually encounter reality.” For the print article, visit: Great expectations 2013 article For the original article with quotes from the lawyers in 2001, visit: Great expectations 2001 article. To view the 7 minute video of the op-doc, visit: Great expectations.
At our meeting, we addressed the disconnect between ambition and burnout by discussing the following: What are the expectations that women lawyers place on themselves? What are the expectations that others place women lawyers? How do women lawyers internalize meeting these expectations? How do women lawyers handle facing the reality of failing to meet unreasonable expectations? What can we do as a community and individually to prevent burnout so that women stay in the game longer and guide the next generation of women lawyers with great expectations?
To address these issues, we invited local experts to join us for lunch and share their opinion. We heard from Angela Taylor, senior therapist and co-owner of Noyau Wellness Center, and Terry Bentley Hill, DWLA Board member and acclaimed advocated of mental wellness for lawyers. Taylor and Hill explained that generally, lawyers expect more of each other and more of themselves than almost any other profession. For females, this pressure is multiplied because women suffer largely from insecurities fueled by gender bias in the profession and the added pressure to rear children during a time that their careers are the most vulnerable. We usually refer to this as the “have it all” syndrome. Taylor explained that women place internal and unreasonable expectations on themselves to be perfect in every role, i.e. perfect lawyer, perfect spouse, perfect mother, perfect board member, perfect friend, perfect daughter. As females, she explained, we want to appear to be strong and impermeable, which results in a facade and unhealthy coping mechanisms to suppress the stress and emotion in order to maintain the facade. Taylor explained that eventually suppressed feelings of stress or emotion will eventually surface in the form of addiction, depression, anxiety, or a combination of these.
Hill explained that we must start addressing these issues before they become unmanageable. Unfortunately, psychological issues are not easily noticed by an untrained professional at the outset, and a lawyer suffering from addiction, depression, or anxiety has to suffer from extreme and public behavior before it triggers action by the State Bar or within the lawyer’s firm. By that point, the attorney can no longer function as a competent attorney, or is fired for poor performance.
Taylor and Hill agree that starting conversations about the topic and self-care are the best ways to prevent burnout and manage mental wellness. Taylor and Hill understand that lawyers are not encouraged or comfortable talking about personal problems to one another in order to serve as a support system. One way to show your support, Hill advised, is to remind a colleague that you are always available as a supportive friend and colleague. By offering the support, it will make it easier for a conflicted or suffering lawyer to feel comfortable to come to you in the future.
Self-care, Taylor and Hill advise are vital to your success because it helps you preserve mental stability and contentment. As lawyers, Taylor and Hill believe we tend to think of self-care as a desire instead of a need due to misconceived understanding that self-care always requires a selfish or time-consuming activity. Taylor and Hill explained that self-care is actually selfless instead of selfish because it allows you to gain the mental stability needed to support others. Further, there is not always a direct correlation between the amount of time you care for yourself and the effect it has on your psyche. You can achieve self-care with simple daily exercises. For example, Hill explained, this may include simple quick fixes such as stopping to breathe, literally, and focusing on a few deep breaths rather than the anxieties and troubles you are facing that day. Similarly, Taylor advised taking a few minutes to yourself every morning to meditate is an ideal goal for self-care. She explained that morning solitude will calm your mind, which has the potential to make your entire day calmer and more efficient.
Additionally, Taylor and Hill advised that self-awareness is key when you seek longevity and to succeed in a competitive profession. They believe that in order to remain true to yourself, you should seek to maintain close personal relationships with people outside of work. This is an important accountability tool for self-awareness purposes because if you become incapable of recognizing the symptoms of addiction, depression, or anxiety, then your loved ones will recognize them for you, call your attention to it, and help you seek the guidance you deserve.
In addition to the methods above, Taylor and Hill agree that delegating responsibilities and incorporating time-management techniques into our daily lives can help us prevent or conquer temporary feelings of being overcommitted or anxiety. In an effort to share the most effective methods of time-management and delegation, we asked attendees of the meeting to submit their favorite methods or tips. We collected the advice from our members and compiled them into a list, which is posted here and is also located under our resources tab. If you have a tip that is not listed, then we would love to add it to our list and share it with other women so that we can help each other to manage “great expectations” and thrive as a result. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any additional advice.
For more information about Angela Taylor, or to schedule an appointment for her services, visit: http://www.counselingindallas.com/angela-s-taylor.shtml
For more information about providing help for lawyers, seeking help for lawyers, or to further educate yourself on this topic, Terry Bentley Hill has provided the following resources:
*These resources are dedicated to confidential reporting.