The quest for healthier approaches to practicing law

On several occasions this year, I have written about the Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) movement, which encourages us to think about the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic aspects of law, legal process, and legal practice.  Related to TJ are ideas and practice models such as the Collaborative Law Movement, the Holistic Law Movement, and the Comprehensive Law Movement.

Although there are differences between them, in essence they share a common goal of a more humane legal system.  And they imagine and articulate a practice of law that is less confrontational, less stressful, and less burdened with unnecessary anger and conflict.

For lawyers, law teachers, and law students who are searching for better ways, these ideas are worth contemplating and implementing.  Toward that end, several websites may be helpful.

Cutting Edge Law does the best job of bringing together these ideas under one virtual roof:

The Therapeutic Jurisprudence website, mentioned before on this blog, is a storehouse of information:

And let me put in a plug for an emerging voice in this milieu, Suffolk University law student Gretchen Duhaime, who is blending her pre-law school experience in the business world with her interests in creating healthier modes of legal practice in a new business, Practicing on Purpose, which already has started to host programs:

I’ve posted a draft of a forthcoming law review article, “Employment Law as if People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace,” which contains commentary on the practice of employment law:

Even if your interests do not run to the legal side of things, you may find these sites interesting and informative, because they help us to imagine how to transform professions that have been limited by their own dogmas and cultures.  Indeed, if lawyers are thinking in more visionary terms, imagine what the rest of the world can do!

Recipe for an Abusive Boss: Power + Low Self-Esteem

Power “paired with a lack of self-perceived competence” can lead to aggression at work, conclude professors Nathanael J. Fast (USC) and Serena Chen (UC-Berkeley), co-authors of a piece in Psychological Science, that examines “when and why” those in power may “seek to harm other people” (link here).

From the abstract of their article:

When and why do power holders seek to harm other people? The present research examined the idea that
aggression among the powerful is often the result of a threatened ego. Four studies demonstrated that individuals with power become aggressive when they feel incompetent in the domain of power. . . . Taken together, these findings suggest that (a) power paired with self-perceived incompetence leads to aggression, and (b) this aggressive response is driven by feelings of ego defensiveness.

Counseling may help

Their findings probably aren’t all that surprising to many who have experienced bullying and abusive supervision on the job.  However, the research is noteworthy in finding that boosts in self-worth can eliminate aggressive behavior, thereby raising the possibility of counseling as an effective remedial tool.


Go here for UC-Berkeley press release, containing remarks from both professors.

Dump the bully boss?

For many years, I have joined those who call upon employers to dump bullying bosses who will not, or cannot, change their ways.  Retaining abusive bosses is manifestly unfair, and even cruel, to other workers.  Oftentimes these individuals can have a devastating effect on morale and productivity.

If you don’t think a bullying boss rents too much mental space in the heads of his or her targets, think again.  Recently I talked to a woman who confessed that she regularly finds herself humming “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz in hopeful contemplation of her bullying boss’s eventual demise.

That’s why I was happy to come across this blog post from the summer by Joy Chen, a friend of this blog, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, and the founder of her own headhunting firm, who raised the question of whether to show the door to a bullying boss:

My primary message regarding that bully in your ranks is: Cut Him (or Her) Loose.  That said, I understand that . . . you may conclude that your bully brings too much benefit to cut loose, at least in the short term. It’s a recession, and revenue is revenue.

It’s a deal with the devil.  But if you have to make it, you don’t have to lose your soul – or leave your colleagues in harm’s way. Focus on gaining the benefits of the ‘achiever’ – such as his ability to bring in new business or solve technically demanding problems.  Meanwhile, remove his management responsibilities.  Reassign his direct reports and otherwise isolate him to minimize his destructiveness to the rest of the organization.  You’ll be doing your people, and yourself, a favor.

I’m especially thankful when folks in the rough-and-tumble business world suggest that firing a bullying boss may be a good move for an organization.  You see world, it’s not just liberal activist/academic types like me saying this!  Bullying is bad for everyone!

Joy’s post also confronts the dilemma of what to do when the bully is a rainmaker.  It’s an especially tough question during hard economic times.  In situations where a “deal with the devil” is deemed necessary, she’s absolutely right in recommending the removal or isolation of that individual from situations where his/her bullying behaviors have a costly impact on others.

For Joy Chen’s full post:

Retaliation claims on the rise in employment discrimination cases

The Wall Street Journal reports that retaliation claims in connection with employment discrimination lawsuits are on the rise, according to 2008 statistics released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing employment discrimination laws:

Claims including a retaliation charge rose 23% in the year ended Sept. 30, 2008, to 32,690 — more than a third of all claims filed with the agency. Claims that didn’t involve retaliation rose 12% in the same period.

. . . . EEOC officials and employment lawyers cite several reasons for the increase. Management-side attorneys say many complaints come from laid-off workers. Moreover, retaliation is often easier to prove than discrimination, particularly since a 2006 Supreme Court decision adopted a broader definition of retaliation than some courts had used.

“Retaliation is really the No. 1 risk for employers today,” says Joseph Beachboard, a management-side lawyer at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC. He says the number of lawsuits handled by his firm that include a retaliation claim jumped 21% so far this year, compared with last year.

For the complete article by WSJ reporter Cari Tuna:

When workplace bullying enters academe in a good way

Experiencing workplace bullying in academe is a bad thing, but the entry of workplace bullying into academic dialogue is a big step in the right direction.  I had an opportunity to witness the latter twice during the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a conference at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, California, a tiny storefront college devoted to social change and community activism.  I’ve been pursuing graduate studies at WISR via distance learning, and this conference was an opportunity to present some of the work I’ve been doing on workplace bullying and intellectual activism.  Overall the conference was terrific, and my presentation was greeted with an array of thoughtful, insightful comments and questions.  Many of the participants shared stories about workplace bullying drawn from their own employment experiences.

At the end of last week, I visited the main center of Empire State College — the adult learner-centered college of the State University of New York system — in Saratoga Springs, New York, for a series of meetings and events built around the 25th anniversary of the school’s graduate programs.  (I earned a master’s degree in labor and policy studies from ESC in 1999.)  From the many discussions I had with faculty and administrators, I could tell that workplace bullying registered with them as a topic worthy of attention.  My former thesis adviser told me how pleased he was to see one of his current students citing my work on workplace bullying, and I was interviewed at length on the topic for the alumni magazine.

It is noteworthy that within academic circles, the attention given to workplace bullying is bubbling up mainly from the grassroots.  Many of the leading researchers are from state colleges and regional universities, not from elite private schools. Their research often embraces, rather than avoids, practical applications. Among the graduate students who are researching and writing about workplace bullying, many have returned to academe after some time in the real world. It makes eminent sense that many are enrolled in distance learning and flexible degree programs that accommodate their busy schedules, support independent study, and encourage them to draw inspiration and insight from their own work experiences.

Advice to Young (and Not So Young) Folks Who Want to Make a Difference


(image courtesy of

Several years ago I was asked to present an award to a pioneering labor leader at the annual banquet of Americans for Democratic Action, on whose board I sit. I don’t know why I thought this, but as I started to research his background, I half expected to see a long list of jobs in different labor and political organizations.

Instead, I learned that he had served in his current position for well over a decade.

That very longevity framed my introduction at the banquet, directed especially to the college students and summer interns in attendance: If you want to make a difference, find something you care about and stick with it.

Look around you: Most of the difference makers have staying power. They are driven by heartfelt commitment and a desire to do something meaningful.

Personal experience

I’ve grown to understand this in my own life. It took me a few years to find my niche after I graduated from law school, but eventually I was drawn to workers’ rights and employment policy. Over the past ten years, workplace bullying has become my primary focal point, and the wisdom and insights I have developed are invaluable to me and hopefully useful to others.

There is no magic “minimum time.” For some, it may be a lifetime mission; for others, it may be five, ten, or twenty years. And there’s always the risk of burnout, which may be a sign that it’s time to develop better coping skills or to switch gears.

That said, I’ll take the person with the genuine commitment over someone who flits around for years almost every time. The dilettante may have a more interesting resume, but I’d bet that if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll often discover little in the way of meaningful accomplishment. Instead, you’re more likely to find a string of jobs and unrealized or unfinished projects, without much completed substance.

Beyond obvious labels

Finally, let’s recognize that difference making can occur anywhere. It’s not just in initiatives or organizations that might be labeled “social change” or “public service.” Helping to build and sustain a sound business enterprise (hopefully one that is socially conscious!) provides useful goods and services, not to mention jobs. Immersion in a craft or trade contributes to our everyday experience of living. Devoting one’s self to raising a family nurtures individual lives and contributes immeasurably to the common good. A long-term commitment to a civic, charitable, or artistic activity enlivens our communities. These things matter, big time.

This world is in serious need of difference makers. So here’s to finding one’s niche and sticking with it long enough to make that difference.

(Re)generating Bullying Among the Young (and Not So Young)

Tom Jacobs, blogging for Miller-McCune magazine, reports on a study linking adolescent bullying to inadequate parenting:

Now, a research team led by Michael Brubacher of DePaul University has found a more subtle connection between inadequate parenting and adolescent bullying. In a paper just published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, the academics coin the term “cycle of dominance.”

The phrase reflects their finding that, in transmitting bad behavior from one generation to the next, the issue isn’t strictly the use of physical force. It’s also a matter of whether the youngster grows up with a sense that conflicts can be resolved in a just, fair way.

In short, if a kid feels he’s being punished arbitrarily at home, he is more likely to engage in arbitrary punishment on the streets or in the schoolyard.

This “cycle of dominance” is not unlike what communications professor and workplace bullying researcher Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik calls the “communicative generation and regeneration of employee emotional abuse.”  According to Lutgen-Sandvik, when workplace bullying is left unaddressed by an organization, targets become more motivated to engage in retaliation, and the likelihood of further aggression or violence increases.  (See Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, “The Communicative Cycle of Employee Emotional Abuse: Generation and Regeneration of Workplace Mistreatment,” Management Communication Quarterly (2003).)

In sum, for both kids and adults, preventing situations that lead to perceptions of injustice and mistreatment is one of the best ways of stopping these behaviors from being inflicted upon others.

For Jacobs’s full post, “How to Turn Your Kid Into a Bully”:

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