Part I: What should lawyers know about psychology?

Back in the day, one year of law school was sufficient to teach me that the law and our legal systems struggle mightily with issues of psychology: Too messy, too “subjective,” too touchy-feely. As a callow young man with a lot of growing up to do, I pretty much bought into that mindset.

But let’s fast-forward a bit: Over the past dozen years or so, I have come to regard psychology as one of the most important disciplines for understanding how our laws, legal systems, and the legal profession should operate. I have eagerly aligned myself with the therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”) movement, which encourages us to seek psychologically healthy outcomes in legal matters. As political writer and lawyer Mark Satin put it in a piece praising TJ, it’s “time for the U.S. justice system to become less mechanistic and more compassionate.”

Specifics?

Beyond that general embrace, however, what should lawyers know about psychology? I don’t think it’s necessary for lawyers to head back to school to pick up a psychology or counseling degree. But I do think some concentrated study, either independently or through some type of continuing education, would be helpful. Here are three specific examples:

Criminal law — As all too many recent tragedies have confirmed, our criminal justice system often must address mental health issues of defendants. The field of psychopathology — mental disorders and injuries — can lend valuable insights to prosecutors, defense counsel, and judges.

Employment law — The best employment lawyers combine legal expertise with a sound understanding of the dynamics of the workplace. The basics of organizational psychology can help employment lawyers provide legal counseling and advice grounded in the modern realities of employee relations.

Family law and trusts & estates law — Family lawyers and trusts & estates lawyers render assistance to clients during critical junctures of their lives. Understanding the psychology of lifespan development can make these attorneys more sensitive to their clients’ needs.

Client counseling, too

And there’s client counseling in general. These skills are much more likely to be emphasized in a social work program than in a law school, but after hearing endless stories from clients about lawyers’ poor “deskside manner,” I think that at least a dose of counseling psychology would benefit attorneys as well. The bulk of law school is spent on memorizing legal rules and principles and applying them to static sets of facts, and the human side of legal practice often is badly neglected.

Next up

In Part II, I’ll offer a short list of books that may prove helpful to lawyers and law students who want to incorporate psychological insights into their work.

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Of possible interest

I’ve written two law review articles expressly built around ideas of therapeutic jurisprudence. They can be freely accessed here:

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship (University of Memphis Law Review, 2010).

Employment Law as if People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace (Florida Coastal Law Review, 2010).

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Follow-up post

For Part II of “What should lawyers know about psychology?,” a list of helpful books and other resources, go here.

Workplace bullying: Ideas for researchers and scholars

Some areas of academic research have been so picked over that there’s scant room left for investigating anything that matters; not so with workplace bullying. True, we don’t need another general study documenting that bullying at work is a problem, but there’s a lot of stuff worthy of our attention if we dig deeper.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I often present theories and hypotheses about workplace bullying that cross into the social science realm. Typically these posts synthesize and stitch together threads from existing research and emerging areas of inquiry. Because my own training is in law and public policy, I make no claim of social science research expertise. But I think I’m a pretty good connector of ideas, and I’ve been immersed in this topic for over a decade.

I’ve combed the 880+ posts here to identify 20 pieces that could plant the seeds for a future article, dissertation, thesis, or seminar paper. I hope this list will be helpful to graduate students, faculty, affiliated and independent researchers, and thesis/dissertation advisors, in fields such as psychology (clinical, social, industrial/organizational, occupational health, etc.), organizational behavior, sociology, and the humanities. Here goes:

When employees leave your organization, how do they feel about it? (2013) — How about a study asking the most important exit interview question?

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012) — No one will confuse this form of bullying with mere incivility.

Not “Set for Life”: Boomers face layoffs, discrimination, and bullying at work (2012) — Referencing Susan Sipprelle’s excellent documentary, “Set for Life,” this post raises questions about how Boomers are faring in a post-meltdown economy. Call it navel gazing for some of us, but “Boomer studies” may become an interdisciplinary category of its own.

Do “almost psychopaths” help to explain the prevalence of workplace bullying and abuse? (2012) — Commenting on the thought-provoking work of Dr. Ronald Schouten, director of the Law & Psychiatry Service at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Are some workplaces “bullying clusters”? (2012) — Positing that bullying behaviors aren’t evenly distributed among workplaces; some are magnets for mistreatment.

Workplace wellness and workplace bullying (2012) — Shouldn’t we incorporate workplace bullying into workplace wellness programs? An interesting applied research topic.

“Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work (2012) — When is it a mob, and when is it one person controlling what looks like one?

Trickle-down abuse: Workplace bullying, depression, and kids (2012) — Suggesting that workplace bullying can roll downhill, especially with single moms as targets.

Was an Illinois teacher’s suicide related to workplace bullying (2012) — We’re hearing more accounts linking workplace bullying to suicidal ideation, but we could use some hard research and analysis.

Should you confront your workplace bully? (2011) — What happens to people who confront their aggressors?

When the bullying comes from a board member (2011) — The role of board members in bullying situations is a vastly under-researched question.

Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder and workplace bullying (2011) — This blog post resonated with a lot of people who have been wrestling with their own responses to being bullied. And there’s plenty of time left until folks are talking about the DSM VI!

Erase and forget: “Unpersons” and institutional memory (2011) — I’m not an English major either, but I’d love it if an authority on Orwell applied his work to workplace bullying and organizational life in general.

Can workplace incivility ever be healthy? (2011) — I got a lot of pushback from some very smart folks at a conference when I suggested that allowing some degree of incivility may actually help to prevent situations from escalating into abusive ones, but I’m sticking to my position for now.

Female-to-female workplace bullying: Homespun theory on an imperfect storm (2011) — A real stitch-together post, drawing from various studies and theories to frame the dynamics of female-to-female bullying. There’s a lot to be explored here.

How workplace bullying bears similarities to domestic abuse (2011) — We’d all benefit from a better understanding of the similarities and differences between various forms of interpersonal abuse.

Does the Holocaust help us to comprehend targeted, malicious workplace bullying? (2011) — Given the subject matter, I wrote this very carefully, drawing from Arendt’s banality of evil thesis. Could make for a provocative social psychology seminar paper.

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector (2011) — Plenty of room for more sector and vocation-specific studies and analyses.

Understanding the bullied brain (2010) — All that fascinating neuroscience stuff.

Helping targets of workplace bullying: The need for an integrated counseling approach (2010) — Targets often need a combination of mental health, career, and legal counseling. Some real possibilities for applied research here.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill advocates prepping for January 15 State House Day

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The start of the 2013-14 session of the Massachusetts legislature is upon us, and Healthy Workplace Bill supporters here in the Bay State are preparing for a January 15 “Meet With Your Legislators Day” to formally begin our advocacy efforts.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates is delighted to join a group of organizations led by MassCOSH on Tuesday, January 15, at 12:30 p.m., during which we’ll be asking our legislators to support bills that protect worker health & safety, including the HWB. We hope you will join us! Here is the relevant info from Deb Falzoi, communications director of Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 12:30 pm

State House, Gardner Auditorium Foyer

Join the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates to encourage legislator support of critical worker health and safety/rights bills such as:

-Halting bullying in the workplace;

-Extending health and safety protections to state employees;

-Increasing burial benefits for families of fallen workers to prevent financial hardship; and,

-Ensuring basic protections for domestic workers.

The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill is now officially supported by SEIU-NAGE Local 282, Massachusetts Teachers AssociationAFSCME Local 1526, MassCOSH, and Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

Many thanks to Marcy Gelb at MassCOSH for inviting us to be a part of this!

Submitting testimony in support of the HWB

Also, for those who are interested in submitting oral or written testimony supporting the HWB, please take note:

If you live in Massachusetts and are interested in testifying at the State House (date to be determined) OR submitting written testimonial for a packet for legislators, e-mail your story to Greg Sorozan at gsorozan@nage.org NO LATER THAN Friday, January 11, 2013. Your story should be 1-2 pages.

For story examples, visit http://www.mahealthyworkplace.com/workplace/crystal.html.

When employees leave your organization, how do they feel about it?

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(Image courtesy of clipart-library.com)

If you’re looking for a quick “status check” on the culture of your workplace, ask this simple question: When employees leave the organization, how do they feel about it?

Do they leave with a good taste in their mouths? Do they feel like their period of employment was worthwhile? Might they even have some sadness over leaving because working there was a good experience? Will they say good things about the organization to friends, family, and associates?

Or, by contrast, do they feel angry, resentful, mistreated, or disappointed? And perhaps they’re mightily relieved to be out of there? Will they post negative things to social media sites that solicit anonymous feedback on workplaces? Will they trash the organization in talking to others?

Of course, circumstances behind departures vary tremendously, and not all partings are voluntary. Nevertheless, honest answers to this question reveal a lot about the psychological health and morale within any place of employment.

Some organizations do formal exit interviews, and depending on whether departing workers trust that process, the ongoing results can be revealing. Other organizations will skip soliciting feedback. Dysfunctional organizations will blithely label any unhappy current or departing employee as being “disgruntled,” an easy tag often used to dismiss the credibility of complaints or concerns.

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This post was revised in June 2019.

Popular posts from 2012

I’ve collected a dozen of the more popular 2012 posts from Minding the Workplace. Especially if you missed them the first time around, I hope you find them interesting.

1. Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (December) — “It can range from petty mind games to severe, twisted harassment and stalking. The goals are to undermine a target’s confidence, keep the target off-balance, and instill fear and paranoia.”

2. Not “Set for Life”: Boomers face layoffs, discrimination, and bullying at work (November) — “The bottom line? For many workers, the American Dream is no more. The assumption that working hard and playing by the rules would lead to a relatively comfortable retirement has been demolished.”

3. Are some workplaces “bullying clusters”? (September) — “So here’s the hypothesis: Bullying behaviors are not evenly distributed among all employers. Rather, bullying behaviors are disproportionately concentrated in a smaller number of toxic workplaces.”

4. Positive qualities of my best bosses (August) — “I’ve been giving some thought to the personal qualities of the many bosses I’ve worked for, going back to high school and extending to the present day. A handful stand out as being especially good, and I’ve come to realize that they shared a lot of positive characteristics. Here goes….”

5. Do “almost psychopaths” help to explain the prevalence of workplace bullying and abuse? (July) — “While the true psychopath may have trouble functioning in regular society, the almost psychopath often can navigate life successfully, including — perhaps especially in – the workplace.”

6. Cruelty on a school bus (June) — “A group of junior high school students from Greece School District in Rochester, NY, subject bus monitor Karen Klein to a profanity-laced stream of humiliating insults and threats.”

7. A movement emerges: Will unpaid internships disappear? (May) — “Now there’s an emerging movement against unpaid internships (especially in the private sector), and here’s evidence of its coming out party….”

8. Workplace bullying 2.0: Psychology and mental health (April) — “Of all the major disciplines relevant to studying, preventing, responding to workplace bullying, the fields of industrial/organizational psychology and its emerging sibling, occupational health psychology, rank first in terms of research and practice.”

9. Maryland teachers sue for bullying and harassment (March) — “Teachers in Silver Spring, Maryland, are suing their principal and the school board for ongoing bullying and harassment.”

10. Workplace wellness and workplace bullying (March) — “When you hear the term ’employee wellness,’ do you also think about “workplace bullying”?”

11. Burnout in the non-profit sector (February) — “Non-profit employment attracts those who are drawn to changing society for the better. . . . However, it also feeds burnout tendencies that are exacerbated during difficult times.”

12. “Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work (January) — “Let’s start with what I call puppet master bullying. In these situations, a chief aggressor’s power and influence over a group of subordinates may be sufficient to enlist their participation in mistreating a target, creating what looks and feels like a mob. . . . By contrast, genuine workplace mobbing occurs when the malicious energy is shared among the many, who proceed to go after the few.”

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