The Upward Spiral is a powerful paperback written by the lawyer turned author, speaker and educator on the wellbeing of lawyers, Harvey Hyman J. D, who is now CEO of Lawyers’ Wellbeing Inc.
The Amazon Editorial review says this about the book and the author.
Lawyers help others but take very poor care of themselves. In their quest to max out their earning potential and afford the best material goods our economy has to offer, lawyers lead a narrow, grimly serious existence without emotional rewards. They work inhuman hours yet always feel pressured for time. Since they never stop, breathe, and relax, they are frequently tense, irritable and ready to bark. Lawyers are highly competitive, results-oriented and easily shamed by losing. They see opposing lawyers as the enemy and they substitute suspicion, cynicism and verbal abuse in place of peaceful, connected communication. This has made lawyers sick, sick of being lawyers and sick both mentally and physically. In polls of career satisfaction, more than half of all lawyers say they would quit today if they could afford it. One out of every five lawyers has major depression or alcoholism. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than all other people working full time, and twice as likely to be alcoholics. It doesn’t have to be this way. Lawyers can learn to let go of their manic pursuit of material wealth and value things like love, friendship, self-discovery, authenticity, spirituality and working with others to create something deeply meaningful. Lawyers can learn to overcome the polarizing us/them mindset which turns colleagues who deserve inclusion, respect and cooperation into enemies to be feared, mistrusted, hated and attacked. They can be taught to practice law with inspiration, enthusiasm, zest, pride and pleasure. They can learn how to practice effectively and yet still give themselves what human beings need – freedom, sunshine, fresh air, rest, ease, play, laughter, spirituality, creativity, and the pleasures of family, friendship and community. This book is a comprehensive self-help guide that can save the careers and lengthen the lives of lawyers under stress, and help them achieve the unthinkable – to feel happy, joyful, grateful to be alive.
About the Author
Harvey Hyman majored in philosophy at Yale University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1978. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center he practiced law for 25 years. From 1986 to 2007 he successfully handled plaintiff’s personal injury cases in San Francisco and Oakland. He consistently received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell signifying his peers viewed him as highly competent and ethical. In the 1990s he began representing many clients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Mr. Hyman served on the Board of the Brain Injury Association of California, wrote many articles for the Neurolaw Letter on the effects of brain injuries, and lectured to attorneys and health care providers on cooperation to help people with TBI. In 2007 Mr. Hyman experienced a severe depression with hospitalization that changed his life. Prior to depression he hadn’t acknowledged or dealt with the stress from constant work. He didn’t care for himself by engaging in vigorous exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, quality family time, meaningful community involvement, spirituality, restful leisure, play or creativity. Before depression, he was hard on himself – always demanding victory in court no matter how weak his client’s case or how strong his opponent’s, and always quick to blame and criticize himself if did not achieve all out victory. To recover from depression Mr. Hyman began daily Buddhist meditation, daily physical exercise and other habits to promote health and happiness including gratitude, forgiveness, kindness to others and self-compassion. He is now a much healthier, happier, more social and more spiritual person, who notices and appreciates what the present moment has to offer rather than ruminating obsessively about his cases. Mr. Hyman is now in touch with his heart and his feelings rather than a brain in a glass case. Meditation helped him realize that all lawyers want and deserve to be happy, yet all of them suffer from stress and emotional pain; that all of them could use compassion; and that all of them could use education on stress management, especially those with chronic anger, depression, addiction to substances or suicidal thinking from stress overload. Mr. Hyman spent two years researching and writing this book.
Harvey describes his mission in his website on his present preoccupations as follows:
There are nearly 1.2 million lawyers in the United States. Twenty percent of them suffer from Major Depression or alcoholism. This is much higher than the rates of Major Depression (6.5%) or alcoholism (10%) in society at large. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than all other persons generally employed full time. They have the highest rate of divorce among all occupational groups and are near the top of the suicide list. Surveys show that more than half of all lawyers would quit their field and try something new if not prevented from doing so by economics. As it now exists, law practice generates levels of stress, misery, mental illness and substance abuse that are both shocking and unacceptable.
More often than not, lawyers develop depression first – in response to chronic distress from the conditions of law practice – and then begin drinking to excess or using recreational drugs to “medicate” their depression. Lawyers weakened by depression and/or substance abuse need to heal. Because of the stigma associated with admitting you’re depressed, alcoholic or addicted to drugs, too many lawyers wait to seek help until after they’re charged with a disciplinary offense. This compounds their difficulties, because they must deal simultaneously with an illness that is devastating their law practice, intense psyche-ache and a State Bar prosecution that could take away their career. Their stress is heightened by the uncertainty of what will happen to them and by the need to come up with funds to pay for their state bar defense attorney at a time when their law practice is falling apart and funds are short. Sometimes they must go through the embarrassment of asking family, friends and colleagues for a loan, and the pain of being turned down.
I created Lawyers’ Wellbeing, Inc. to help the lawyers who are struggling with depression or chemical dependency to avoid this downward spiral or pull out of it before it’s too late. Through my book, blog, MCLE lectures and speaking events I will give lawyers the tools to remake their lives into an upward spiral. The tools that I teach include meditation, mindfulness, anger management, transforming the harsh inner critic to an inner colleague, nonviolent communication, attitudinal change, life-work balance, scientific principles of happiness, healthy nutrition and exercise.
Although I advocate change on an individual level to help relieve the suffering of lawyers already burdened by depression or substance abuse, I also advocate systemic change in legal culture, legal education and the hourly billing system to alter the conditions that dispose lawyers to these problems.
Behind their mask of competence, self-assurance and professional distance lawyers are not the greedy sharks the public has portrayed them to be in jokes. Rather, they are fragile, vulnerable human beings. Like the clients they serve lawyers need interpersonal satisfaction through social connection, love, friendship, admiration and appreciation; transpersonal satisfaction through articulating and pursuing a life purpose which provides genuine meaning; and a mixture of play, creativity, laughter, pleasure, happiness and joy.
I have heard time and again that nothing can be done to change the fact that law is a “tough business” and a “pressure cooker.” I have also heard time and again that lawyers have nothing to complain of, because they are consciously choosing to gain an affluent life style (with a big house, new cars, exotic family vacations and top colleges for their kids) in exchange for the daily suffering which results from having to battle the world’s most arrogant, rude, insulting, offensive and obnoxious people (other lawyers). I do not believe either statement.
Law practice is a human activity which involves thinking, communication, disagreement over positions, efforts at persuasion, bargaining and rarely a trial. It can be done in a respectful, cooperative, and peaceful manner that does not involve the high degree of tension, animosity, verbal abuse and dehumanization which is so common today and which drives the stress level of lawyers into the red zone of illness.
Law practice need not serve shallow materialism or narcissism. It can express higher ends such as creative problem solving between individuals or groups to help each have their legitimate needs met; or the release of grudges, healing through forgiveness and the making of true peace. Empirical studies by experts in positive psychology have demonstrated that the selfish pursuit of money fails to produce lasting happiness, and that the only true wealth is the psychological wealth that comes from being a friend, being positively engaged with the world and having meaning from working with others to achieve a common goal.
Based on my personal experience and my research I believe that the adoption of a meditation practice and a meditative style of law practice can be a very potent driver for positive change. A lawyer who meditates is not agitated, anxious, defensive and reactive. He is calm, observant, aware and able to take time to respond from heart and head, not just blind impulse. Too many lawyers believe they must act immediately and decisively in every situation even if this leaves no time for considered reflection following the emergence of feelings and intuitions. They are also unduly influenced by the movies and TV series which portray successful lawyers as selfish, aggressive, combative, rude, deceitful and willing to double cross anyone to get their way. This way of being does not serve their clients and it undermines their mental and physical health.
There can be no doubt that legal education must be changed to help young lawyers be less adversarial, more willing to see each other as people (not automatic enemies), less interruptive and more willing to listen attentively without judgment. Adoption of Marshall Rosenberg’s system of nonviolent communication would go a long way in improving lawyer-to-lawyer communication, because it focuses on needs and requests rather than negative judgments and coercive threats.
The present system of hourly billing must also be changed so that lawyers are not deprived of sunshine, fresh air, exercise, a social life, a family life, hobbies and healthy sleep to meet their employer’s bottom line. Reducing the total number of work hours and making those hours more flexible would be a huge help.
For many years we heard about the conspiracy of silence by physicians which referred to the fact that doctors used to refuse en masse to testify against each other in medical malpractice cases no matter how egregious and harmful the malpractice in order to protect the profession from damage awards, discipline and raises in malpractice premiums. Now we have a conspiracy of denial in which lawyers will refuse to admit they are depressed or alcoholic and seek treatment before it’s too late. All across the country lawyers are getting sued and disciplined because they kept their mood disorder or substance abuse disorder to themselves until they crossed too many lines.
I am personally in favor of promoting a culture of confidential disclosure in which impaired lawyers can seek and receive the help they need before they hurt clients and ruin their health and careers. Lawyer assistance programs in all fifty states exist to do this, but sadly they are very poorly funded. I hope to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem facing lawyers and spur the investment of more funds to help them. Ailing lawyers hurt their clients, families and society unintentionally. It makes sense for us to help them, because by doing so we help ourselves.
It is no surprise, therefore that Harvey looked for and liked Dr Yiyuan Tang’s IMBT for Stress reduction and is warmly recommending it for his lawyer clients. This is his enthusiastic blog on his finding.
The following article in the Yi Yuan website talks about Dr Yiyuan Tang and gives a good bibliography on IMBT
Dr Posner and Dr Tang are busy investigating the entirely positive effects of IMBT at the University of Oregon and we can await their findings for the benefit of all classes of professionals, including, of course, Harvey’s own kind.
More posts by this author:
- Andree-Marie Dussault on the Cell-phone and the Soul
- Ramo madhurah Sita madhuraa
- Emphasis, old style
- Mithila Museum in Japan
- Prithivi, our Mother
After R & D and technical management experience of over three decades in petroleum and organic chemical industry, have been devoting the past fifteen years to the study of Tamil and Sanskrit classics, including dharmic works and doing some serious translation work. Have been a significant contributor to the medha journal almost since its inception upto 2013 and expect to continue my association with it.