In my first couple years of practice, I recall hearing a couple of times, "oh, you're the female lawyer." And I was thinking, "wow, gee, good guess." It was frustrating to be seen as a novelty, even if very slightly, and even if the person saying it was totally unconscious that they were under some kind of 1950s patriarchal spell.
Suppose you’re a woman lawyer too. Suppose you are younger than your client. Or maybe, you’re the same approximate age or older than your client, but your client is totally unaccustomed to interacting with women in leadership or authority roles, so he’s not quite sure what to make of you.
Either way, your client is bugging out about their case, and this is challenging for you, to put it politely.
Maybe he is showing up in your office every day without an appointment, sitting in the waiting room with a petulant scowl that makes you consider coming in through the back door and hiding behind the Xerox machine. Maybe she calls every day to whine, and you feel like you’re Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” having the same conversation again and again. Maybe his mother calls you to complain that the case isn’t resolved yet. Oooh, that’s the GOAT.
You’re the one with the schooling, and possibly also the years of experience, and the know-how to analyze her situation, or explain in plain English what he is facing. But you feel ill-equipped to manage your client’s reactivity, and find it difficult to work around your client’s emotional state to convey important information to them and do your job.
Litigation of any kind is a highly charged emotional experience, especially the longer it goes on. It is, basically, varsity squad adulting. It is a lot for anybody, especially someone who does not have all-star emotional maturity, executive functioning, a solid support system and three whole foods meals per day. “Common” sense is actually rare, because it seems to be unavailable in the average day in the life of so many. Even among so-called middle-class Americans, we find a lot of economic anxiety, poor nutrition, family pain out a Steinbeck novel, and low-grade modern-life-type trauma that just makes it just damn hard to have a legal problem on top of everything else that’s going on.
Each person has inherent worthiness, even if they’re being a pain in the ass. (I know you know this already. But it is worth reminding ourselves.)
Litigation can bring out some of the most immature thoughts and feelings out of typically level-headed, responsible adults.
So, in this post I’ll be talking about people who do not qualify as disabled, and just have “garden variety” trauma and drama that doesn’t warrant an official diagnosis. We are assuming here that you have determined that they are not suffering from a diminished capacity, asking you to help them commit crimes or lie, or otherwise so horribly interfering with the representation that you have grounds to withdraw. (That is a separate subject; refer to Washington State -- or if you're not in WA, your state's -- Rules of Professional Conduct 1.14, Client with Diminished Capacity, and 1.16, Withdrawing or Terminating Representation.) They’re just…being human, freaking out, and you’re freaking out with them.
So, how to stop freaking out with them? How can you “hold space” for your client in a way that you will fulfill your ethical obligation to represent them competently and communicate? How can you do this without your client feeling so judged or shamed that they shut down and stop listening to you at the worst possible time? How can you touch the core of your client, the place where their higher wisdom is receptive to your learned advice?
First let’s review a few Rules of Professional Conduct. I cite to Washington State’s. If you practice somewhere else, of course, check your own state's rules. I won’t copy and paste all the rules here; if you want to read the full version of cited rules, and the rest of the rules, they're all right here: Washington's RPCs.
Let's start with 1.1, Competence. In addition to the basics -- study up before you take a client's life/freedom/future into your hands -- there's another benefit. When we know what we are doing, we project authority and confidence in our vibe. People can feel it, sense it, and almost smell it. Remember how you had so much memorized for the bar exam? Remember the time you over-prepared for a motion hearing and the words just flowed out of your mouth? Maybe that was as recent as this morning! A client who might doubt you because of your age, inexperience, or appearance will feel it if you know your subject matter, If you also use *good posture [*Amazon affiliate link] and practice empowering body language -- even if it is in the privacy of your apartment when you are getting ready in the morning -- it will carry through your day.
Let's also discuss RPC 1.2, Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer. Your job is to give your client professional advice that enables them to make the best decision for themselves. Sometimes people who have legal troubles have been in a reactive, passive orientation to their own lives. These are the folks who will say, "this is all up to you," the first time you convey a settlement offer. You know to gently, but firmly, tell them that you absolutely cannot make that decision for them, and that all you can do is give them advice, AND you don't have a crystal ball or a time machine. But sometimes they still want to be wishy-washy. Other clients still haven't let go of their anger at their situation, and when you get the first settlement offer, they will rant and rave and want to drop out of negotiations, even if that isn't a good idea. You are ethically obligated to abide by their wishes, and at the same time, if you can have a good relationship with this client, they may reach the best decision for themselves. Your client hired you to be the leader, to not have to "do their own brain surgery." How to be this leader? Communication.
This is where we get to RPC 1.4, Communication. This rule covers a lot, but for purposes of this post, we'll focus on the part that says the lawyer shall "explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation." The comments to RPC 1.4 flesh this out a little, but doesn't tell us precisely how to do this in the soup of stressful and uncomfortable emotions.
After you've worked on yourself (competence, good posture, confident body language) now it is time to work on holding space for your client. Holding space means you listen without judging your client, and without getting worked up too. Role Reversal is a great first step.
Role Reversal is a technique for building deep understanding and compassion for your client so that you can hold space for him.
Role Reversal is a technique borrowed from Psychodrama, a therapeutic method that uses reenactment and story. Of course, you do this exercise with co-counsel so that you don't violate client confidentiality. First you will play your client, and your co-counsel will simply listen. Stand face to face, or sit in two chairs facing each other. Your co-counsel will listen, silently, and isn't allowed to butt in until you're done. Then switch places. Your co-counsel is now playing your client. They will repeat back as much as they can remember from what you said, and now your job is to simply listen. If you find yourself wanting to ask a question of your "client," you have to switch places again and answer it yourself.
You will learn a lot this way about your own attitudes, judgments, thoughts and feelings that subtly interfere with explaining things in a way your client will hear them. The next time you interact with your client, you will sense that any barriers have softened.
The Brooke Castillo Self-Coaching Model is another technique for understanding where your own thoughts and feelings may be interfering with good client communication. You have to manage yourself before you can be an effective leader with your clients. It's a daily process.
Suppose your client reacted negatively to a settlement offer. You take what your client did or said, described as neutrally as possible, and call that the circumstance. What are YOU thinking about what they said or did? That is your thought. What do you feel when you think that thought? There's the rub. Maybe it's anger, frustration, worry, fear, disgust, you name it. Then there is something you are doing or not doing because of that emotion you are having: Are you a little snippy in the email response you fire off? Looking at social media instead of working on the brief? Are you sending desperate-sounding emails to opposing counsel who is ignoring you? Are you hiding behind the Xerox machine? Then, what is the current (or likely future) result of this kind of behavior on your end?
Once you work all that out, you might feel better immediately. Or, you might not. Either way, it's ok. If you're really stuck, and keep obsessing about what's going wrong and how it's impossible to please everyone, is to add the tag "and that's ok," or "I'm figuring this out" to whatever is going on in your brain.
For example, "my client needs to be more patient, and that's ok." Or, "my client is not going to like this offer, and I'm figuring out how to break the news to him." Just these slight modifiers will trick your brain into seeing your own solutions instead of thinking all hope is lost.
When you must convey bad news or present complex choices to your client, it will go over best if you do your OWN emotional management first -- about the client, the situation, and yourself. Being able to feel and work through all the ups and downs of litigation for yourself demonstrates palpable confidence to your client, and makes you the warm human leader in the relationship that your client needs.
If you'd like to work more in depth on rising to the leader you are meant to be, talk to me about private coaching!
Notice that the rope that says "GUEST ONLY" is open, telling you that you're allowed to take these steps.
One of the biggest mental and emotional hurdles facing many lawyers, especially new ones, is money stress.
Once upon a time, when I was less than one year from having passed the bar, I was in Sears trying to buy some cheap suits so that I would have something to wear.
Not Nordstrom. SEARS. Like, where you buy a lawn mower.
Just one suit plus one thrift store blazer in my wardrobe was not getting me by. I tried on several suits in the junior's department, you know, those polyester ones. They fit ok and looked acceptable. Most of all, they were what I believed I could afford at the time.
I picked out two that would work and stood in line. When it was my turn, the retail clerk asked me if I wanted to open a Sears credit card. Well, my parents had a Sears credit card since forever, so this was probably a smart thing to do. Right? I gave them my information, and they declined me. Multiple times. In front of everybody standing in line behind me. It was humiliating. I recall it had something to do with my income not being enough. But I was....a lawyer.
What does any girl do? I called my mom to complain. She couldn't believe it either. I had good credit. I was current on my student loans. It wasn't like I was trying to buy a house. What was the deal?
I gave up without my cheap suits and left. Then, for the next couple of years, I regularly visited the Salvation Army, hoping the my benevolent unknown twin, the rich doppelgänger, would have donated some nice stuff. I regularly found quality pieces there that fit well, and cooked up a whole story in my brain about my "rich doppelgänger" who got bored with her clothes every month and donated them.
In any event, I enjoyed my resourcefulness, but this was NOT what I thought my life as a young lawyer was going to be. And it wasn't just about the clothes. It was a lot of things that felt so far out of my control -- and were so far from what I was told they would be.
Many of us go to law school on the dazzling promise of a better life, a life with more influence and financial security than that afforded us by just a four-year degree.
For many of us, it is felt as the golden ticket out of the working class. For many others, it seems it is just our fate as members of the Gen-X or Millennial generations to need expensive higher education in order to continue the middle-class standard of living we had as kids.
So...we strive to get good grades in undergrad. We strive to get into the best law school we can afford, and do what it takes to prove ourselves worthy of remaining there. We compete for class rank, and try to get the best job someone will give us.
We keep striving, and get very used to the underlying not-enoughness as an emotional default setting.
And then as soon as we pass the bar and start working, many of us find that the do-good stuff we really want to do pays less than the evil corp stuff the other kids are doing. But we find we are spending the same money to keep up, to go to CLEs and networking events and live in the same expensive neighborhoods. Our colleagues in big law may look more fancypants but may not actually be any better off, with their larger car payments and more expensive wardrobes.
We wonder if we will ever pay off the student loan, or buy a house. We feel guilty about spending the money on a facial, or a delicious meal out, or a pair of shoes that puts a confident pep in our step. We then get into a very self-defeating thought loop where everything we do to take care of ourselves, invest in ourselves, or enjoy life becomes another count in the indictment against ourselves that we rattle off in our minds every morning, noon and night. Thoughts like:
And sometimes, these thoughts flash by really super fast before we are even fully aware of them, like stealthy product placements in movies and TV.
But the end result is a feeling of powerlessness that colors all our choices, actions, and inaction.
If, despite all the feel-good memes we like and share, our primitive brain still thinks we're screwed no matter what we do, we won't invest in ourselves.
We will buy the cheaper suit that fits weird and falls apart after one season, and carry ourselves differently when we wear it.
We will resist signing up for a personal trainer for our physical health, or a personal coach for our emotional management, and tell ourselves it is because we "can't afford it."
We'll prepare our own taxes.
We won't go to the conference where we could meet the people that could help us make our practice take off, because the hotel is too expensive.
Or we'll book a cheap Airbnb the night before a big out-of-town deposition to save money, and end up getting only three hours of sleep because it smelled awful and we had to leave and it took two hours to find a hotel. And end up NOT saving money. (Not that I've ever done that. LOL.)
And worst of all, we might take a shitty case for a client we don't like, because we're afraid the next dollar isn't coming our way. (A wise man once told me, "you're better off going fishing." He knows fishing isn't my thing, but he made his point.)
We're like, "I paid for law school, and I'm still paying for it, and that's it. I'm cut off." And every time we pass up an important opportunity to invest in ourselves or just really enjoy something simply because of money, we strengthen the self-limiting neurosynaptic pathways in the brain until they become like a four-lane freeway.
Our reptilian brain tells us that we are doing the "responsible" thing by cheap-assing it, but our evolved brain, our pre-frontal cortex, tells us that maybe this is "penny wise and pound foolish." You know -- sabotaging ourselves.
And we keep sabotaging ourselves because underlying all these responsible-sounding, "realistic" thoughts is a lack of belief in ourselves.
"Is she serious?" you may be asking yourself. And thinking: We were the first women in our family to graduate from law school. Or, perhaps even the first to graduate from college. We got good grades, passed the bar. Of course we believe in ourselves, don't we?
The truth is, if you feel like there is something you need, but you can't afford it, it is because you are not yet believing in yourself enough. You are still believing, to some degree, that the value you get out of something is not wholly within your control.
I will say this another way. Many of us who achieve great things, like graduating from law school, passing the bar, and getting a job have just assumed that reaching those milestones would create our results. That's often how it's packaged and sold to us. This is difficult for many very earnest hard workers to hear, especially because so much of life is set up that way: "get good grades, and you'll get into a good school. Get a good rank, and you'll get a good job. Etc. Etc."
They say "jump", and we ask, "how high?" And when we do that, but then are a loss as to why we aren't financially successful, or happy, or clear on what's next, we feel betrayed -- by The Man, or the Boomers, or God/the Universe, or how our law school was marketed to us.
I want to reassure you that it is human to feel betrayed, angry, stuck, scared, and all the other feels. You have followed the syllabus they handed you, the same one they handed me too, yet if you are still reading, maybe you are not where you want to be.
The good news is that you can change this.
But it will require you to think about yourself differently from the ways you have thought about yourself that got you this far.
The beliefs that made you a good student and nail your interview -- basically, beliefs about being good at meeting standards set by others -- are not the beliefs that are going to fuel actions that solve your personal, professional or financial disappointments. (Otherwise, you would have figured it out.) That's why learning these emotional and self-belief skills is ironically often hardest for women who were strong students and good test takers.
So, I'm inviting you to take the first step on that staircase by asking yourself these questions in your journal:
This is going to provide you a wealth of insight! In Part Two, I will highlight several Flower Essences that address the money, scarcity, and self-belief issues from a vibrational standpoint, best used in tandem with the thought work. Stay tuned.
If you're female, and able to read this, you probably need Pomegranate Flower Essence. Stop reading and go get some.
Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But seriously, just look at that gorgeous picture up there of a pomegranate flower just entering its luscious mama fruit phase, saying goodbye to its carefree maidenhood as a blossom, the last limp petals making no effort to hold on any longer, and the thick-skinned full fruit beginning to round out. Eventually it will have a round womb-like belly full of blood-red, health-giving juicy fruit. And when the time is ripe, some lucky chick is going to eat from the tree of knowledge and practically jump out of her knickers with all those antioxidants coursing through her veins.
The gestures of this incredible plant are so obviously connected to women's bodies, life phases, and moon cycles, that it is unsurprising that Pomegranate appears in folklore, religious texts, and art. Ancient wisdom is often a major clue to the healing properties of a flower or plant essence. (People way back when were pretty smart about things even though they didn't have the iCalendar telling them when they had to show up for meetings.)
Some folks believe that the "apple" Eve used to tempt Adam was lost in translation over the years, and was actually a pomegranate. Temptation worked the other way when Hades got Persephone all to himself for 3 months out of the year with delicious pomegranate.
Pomegranate Flower Essence is indicated for many situations and issues women face: pregnancy, obviously is one, but it works on multiple levels to address where we should put our creative efforts. Literally or figuratively, what should we "give birth to" in life, how we should balance our loyalties to ourselves and to others, and how we should balance work, family, and creative pursuits. It also broadly addresses issues of timing and seasons, because although women can "have it all" these days, many of us feel a lot of pressure to try to do it all, all at once.
Pomegranate Flower Essence has many applications.
In summary, Pomegranate essence is a good place for many women to start with Flower Essences. Sometimes when a woman doesn't know what essence to take, this one will help provide additional insight into where to go next. It is very timely with the issues at the forefront of women's conversations about roles, career, health, empowerment, and life phases. You could say we are in a very Pomegranate time.
Pomegranate Flower Essence on Amazon [affiliate link].
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
PMS and the woman lawyer. Impossible combination? Not necessarily. Let's challenge that.
First we should talk about the worst day of my life, second only to the death of my mother.
It's early March, 2006. I'm sitting in an office with my supervisor and boss and one other person in the office. They are grilling me about performance concerns. At this time, I'm a brand new attorney, admitted less than a year. And, I have severe PMS, the kind that, for about ten days every month, makes me dizzy, sleepy, fatigued, anxious, easily overwhelmed, depressed, experience physically painful food cravings that make it difficult to get through an hour of court (those of you who have had this know what it is like), and suffer embarrassing acne scabs on my face that might break open and start bleeding if I accidentally touch my face wrong.
I am earnestly trying to fix "the curse" while trying to learn how to be a lawyer. It is doubly challenging to do this as a harshly self-critical perfectionist. It is too much.
In my defense, I get my nurse practitioner on the speakerphone to try to explain "hormone imbalance" to the higher ups. They don't laugh audibly, but their tone is...mocking.
I leave that job, determined to fix this problem that threatened my career, and not be one of those people with some poorly-explained health problem that caused her job performance to suffer. I can't shake a deep shame, shame that a physical problem gets the best of me. I do not want to be one of "those" women walking around giving some lame-ass excuse.
I had been dealing with bad PMS since my late teens, and as soon as I was an adult making my own decisions, I spent quite a bit of time and money (that I didn't have much of at the time) trying to solve the problem.
Yes, as you either know yourself or can imagine, it was difficult to deal with during law school.
And, I entered the profession worried that it would remain a challenge, but hoped that the distraction of work would somehow alchemically transform me into an invincible superwoman who never had "female problems."
Much to my disappointment, it just intensified when I started working, and could no longer control my own schedule and take care of myself when I needed to.
In the several years that followed, I tried a variety of mainstream and complementary treatments and lifestyle changes to manage the condition such to where I could function, and function pretty darn well. It took years, and more money than I want to count up, but I figured it out.
PMS is a card that I was dealt in life, but my ability to deal with it today is light years better than it was in 2006. And today, I'm going to share with you how I got here.
First, the obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other kind of health professional or mental health professional. You should talk to a qualified health practitioner before trying any of this out on yourself. I provide this for informational purposes only, and hope that it empowers you to have better conversations with your health care providers.
With that out of the way, here is the Ultimate Guide.
I'm sure all of you reading this know that good nutrition is the foundation for health. Some have said that it is 80% of body composition (or maybe it was Woody Allen who said 80% of life is showing up?). But, the advice for what you should do when you have PMS varies widely: "never eat carbs!" vs. "never eat animal products!" and "never eat dairy!" vs. "eat lots of yogurt...and put it places other than your mouth..."
To make matters worse, what works for your best friend or sister might not work for you. And then you are back to demonic food cravings at that time of the month and you just dropped another $20 or whatever on some stupid diet book with lots of pretty food pictures and more bullshit. I had one nurse practitioner ask me, "what kinds of things are you craving? chocolate?" And I was like, "yeah, and other proteins, fats and carbohydrates." I was just fucking hungry and it was specific to that time of the month.
I personally tried, at different times, trying being gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, low carb, the Zone, all with promises that it would be the holy grail that would magically balance my hormones. I would feel better for a short while mostly from the placebo effect of the hope of trying something new. And then it would start to suck again.
And then I found it. I can't remember what led me there, but the nutrition protocol that works for me is Dr. Peter D'Adamo's GenoType Diet, featured in his book Change Your Genetic Destiny. The GenoType Diet can be personalized to you further with the SWAMI Xpress diet software, which is what I use. I'm really surprised more people don't know about this; it's outstanding. The premise of the GenoType Diet seems quite obvious -- our genes determine what kind of fuel burns best in our bodies, and certain markers like jaw angle, body style, and blood type (yes, blood type, stay with me) will tell you. Some humans run well on meat, some humans do better with grains, and depending on various factors, different cheeses work for different people. (Everyone should eat vegetables. No way around that, folks.)
Once I ran my SWAMI Xpress, I was astounded at the information. It was immensely validating, because it was giving me permission to eat things that I knew made me feel good and experience much milder PMS symptoms even though the CrossFit gym might disapprove. (If you hadn't caught the hint, I'm one of the types who has rice with dinner instead of steak.) And, it gave me some surprising information, like which specific cheeses to eat and which to avoid, and that turkey is better for me than chicken. My health has continued to improve over the almost six years I have been eating according to this protocol.
And the craziest part of it is that over time, I lost my taste for chocolate -- even at that time of the month. (It's not a recommended food for my type.) I can literally take it or leave it now. No willpower required. By eating what I should be eating, my desire for things that aren't great for me just gradually disappeared on their own.
My total life expenditures on supplement experimenting probably is equivalent to the GNP of a small nation somewhere. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but I've tried them all. Here's what is money well spent for me:
Evening Primrose Oil or Borage Oil. I don't even take fish oil because I don't notice anything from taking it, and I eat plenty of fish. But if I go for more than a few days without my EPO or Borage Oil, my skin punishes me. These oils contain GLA, gamma linolenic acid, an anti-inflammatory compound that has a beneficial effect on the skin and helps reduce cramping in some women. I alternate between these two, depending on what is on sale. Typically, I purchase this Borage Oil from NOW foods because it is a good value. My dose is 7 to 10 capsules per day. That is how much I need for no cramps and clear skin.
Margarite Acne Pills. "Margarite," not margaritas. (I don't think anyone recommends margaritas when you have PMS.) Margarite Acne Pills are a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula I take during certain times of year, Fall and Spring, when I find acne is more challenging. An acupuncturist who does TCM can explain to you why seasonal changes and your liver and spleen chi can cause seemingly-unrelated conditions like acne, shedding too much hair, being pissed off all the time, and feeling fatigued to flare up when seasons change. Sounds weird? TCM is a different paradigm, and I just roll with it.
"Zinc Cream for Problem Skin" by Margarite Cosmetics out of West Palm Beach, FL. And if you forget to buy your supplements (hmm...this never happens) and need to topically treat a pimple, this Zinc Cream for Problem Skin cream dries it up fast.
IPL Laser Treatments. An IPL (intense pulsed light) laser treatment for acne is basically getting out the big guns. Sites like realself.com can help you search for a provider in your area. This has helped me quite a bit off and on through the years.
Free and Easy Wanderer. On the topic of being pissed off....This was another miracle TCM discovery for me. The wonderful acupuncturist who first told me about this supplement called them "happy pills." According to TCM, it works by balancing the liver chi. Whatever -- I take it when everyone else is a moron. Oh wait, that's PMS talking. These provide welcome assistance during that time.
Quinton Hypertonic Elixir. Their website. I first heard about this on the Ben Greenfield podcast. I add it to my water after running it through a Berkey Filter. I'm not a chemist, so you can just read their website. I'll say that I notice a difference from it and no longer need to figure out all these different minerals to buy and have a dozen different supplement bottles in the cabinet. This one supplement just takes care of minerals for me. And, it makes the water taste really good, like the expensive bottled water brands that I feel guilty for buying on the rare occasion I -- gasp -- purchase a bottle of water.
Filter the damn shower water! On the topic of water quality, lots of folks' tap water contains chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system. It isn't just bad to drink them; it's horrible to breathe them in via shower steam, absorb them through the skin, and soak one's tresses in them. I use this shower filter to remove chloramines from the shower water. It was easy to install with some teflon tape and hand tightening. This is especially good for people who rent, or for other reasons don't want to install a whole house water filter.
Progesterone USP Cream. Again, I'm not a doctor and bioidentical hormones are hormones just the same, so talk to a qualified healthcare professional. For me, any synthetic hormones (like those found in birth control, even at the low doses that are supposed to be "ok" or make you better and have a life full of fun shit like they always do in pharmaceutical ads) are like throwing gasoline on a fire....they make everything far worse....some of you know exactly what I mean. I like the lavender fragrance. If lavender isn't your jam, there is an unscented version. I use it at night -- used during the day can make one very sleepy.
Magnesium Oil. Applied to the feet, it helps me get a good night sleep.
Whew! So, that is Part One. In subsequent parts, I will cover Flower Essences that address the mind-spirit aspect of PMS, the specific mindfulness practice that I think actually does something, and the thought work process that isn't just a lame affirmation (that you give up after one day because you hate trying to kid yourself. We've all been there, haven't we?)
Together, all of these strategies have made me many times healthier and happier. I look forward to posting the rest!