A poem for our times

Hymn for Harmony

Gently bring each newborn stranger
To a better world than this;
Let the babe be free from danger,
Surroundings free from prejudice.
Denounce the clouds of war, suspicion,
Shades of envy’s animus;
Free from frauds and superstition
Our minds held free of Erebus.
Turn our terroristic talent
Apart from hate’s tendentious view;
Invigorate the good and gallant
In every human heart and hue.
Religion’s gods do all require
In every breast humility;
Contributors to wisdom’s choir
As part of world-wide harmony.

-C.A. Marshall Jr.

***

Note: Long-time readers know that this blog is pretty short on poetry and other creative works. However, Chet Marshall, a Major Gifts Officer at Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater, recently shared with me this poem by his late father. Chet’s friendly and gracious support has helped me to reconnect with VU in a very welcomed way. I thought that his father’s poem is a wonderful response to so many of the headlines that are dominating our national and international news. 

Revisiting Dr. Karin Huffer’s “Legal Abuse Syndrome”

Some seven years ago, I wrote about Dr. Karin Huffer’s work on “legal abuse syndrome,” her label for a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “that develops in individuals assaulted by ethical violations, legal abuses, betrayals, and fraud,” generated by legal actors and systems. Since then, I’ve encountered many individuals who have become familiar with her work, either due to personal experience with the legal system or a professional interest in reforming our legal structures and the legal profession.

In the updated edition of her book, Legal Abuse Syndrome: 8 Steps for Avoiding the Traumatic Stress Caused by the Legal System (2013), Dr. Huffer — a therapist — offers a dedication to “lawyers, judges, and bureaucrats who do not abuse their positions,” but she quickly takes aim at “judges, attorneys, regulators, and others, who elect to be solely self-serving.” This includes lawyers who reportedly “knowingly exhaust their client’s resources and leave their clients vulnerable” and strike deals to preserve their professional status, as well as judges who “find for the more rich and powerful in spite of evidence.”

Huffer invokes the term “Institutionalized Abuse of Power” to characterize a legal system that may inflict a heavy price on those at the wrong end of the power spectrum. Powerfully adverse business interests buoyed by teams of attorneys can fuel lengthy, stressful, and expensive legal proceedings that sap one’s physical and emotional health, family relationships, career and employment status, and financial well being.

The road to recovery includes healing from the trauma of that experience, in addition to dealing with whatever events prompted legal process in the first place. Huffer also offers advice for those who have experienced legal abuse syndrome, her “Eight Steps to Recovery”:

  • “Debriefing”
  • “Grieving”
  • “Obsession”
  • “Blaming”
  • “Deshaming”
  • “Reframing”
  • “Empowerment”
  • “Recovery”

Uncomfortable read for lawyers and judges

A lot of lawyers and judges aren’t going to feel comfortable reading Legal Abuse Syndrome. It does not pull punches, and to some the book will come across as being overly polemical. Furthermore, those who treat clients and parties to lawsuits with respect and dignity may feel unfairly maligned by the harsh characterizations in the book.

But I would urge those folks not to take offense. Too many lawyers and judges are profoundly unaware of the emotional consequences of their actions and the system in which they work, especially the often aggressive world of litigation. Empathy for those ensnarled in legal matters can run low.

It’s also sadly the case that too many lawyers and judges don’t care that much about these emotional consequences, blithely justifying their actions on assumptions of how legal actors and systems are supposed to operate. The worst among our profession may even get a perverse satisfaction out of inflicting emotional injuries upon others.

Bullying in the legal profession

The culture of legal institutions comes into play as well. Just today, for example, the American Bar Association Journal summarized a new study finding that workplace bullying “is rampant at law firms, but many law firm leaders are reluctant to punish the offenders.” This piece by Deborah Cassens Weiss further reported that “Ninety-three percent of surveyed leaders at the nation’s top 100 law firms reported bullying at their firms” and that among “all of the surveyed firms…, the most common problem, cited by 89 percent, was bullying and lack of respect.”

Let’s consider the implications of this study. A significant share of the nation’s most prominent law firms harbor cultures of bullying and disrespect. These law firms are most likely to represent the wealthiest, most powerful business interests, and sometimes governmental interests as well. (Concededly, most also do pro bono work on behalf of impoverished individuals and underserved causes, but not in ways that directly conflict with the legal and business interests of paying clients.)

Bullying behaviors run downhill. If a culture of bullying and disrespect governs how attorneys treat one another within their own law firms, then how will their clients and opposing litigants fare when dealing with lawyers who have been schooled to think that interpersonal abuse is the norm for their profession?

Therapeutic jurisprudence to the rescue?

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of legal philosophy and practice that, in the words of co-founder David Wexler, “concentrates on the law’s impact on emotional life and psychological well-being,” is part of the solution to this state of affairs. At our recent therapeutic jurisprudence workshop at the York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, concerns over the experiences of parties in litigation with legal systems came up in multiple discussions. I consistently sense that TJ adherents are much more likely to understand how being a party to a lawsuit or complicated legal matter is often an unpleasant, stressful experience, and sometimes may become abusive.

Currently we are a long way from being able to characterize TJ as the mainstream or dominant framework for looking at the law, legal systems, and legal actors. But if we want tackle legal abuse syndrome and similar consequences of being involved in lawsuits and legal matters, then embracing TJ is a big part of the solution.

Devoted diversions

Screenshot from mlb.com

Screenshot from mlb.com

As I’ve written earlier, I’m in the midst of a research sabbatical semester, working away on a book project on workplace bullying and mobbing, as well as several other writing endeavors. While this stretch of time has been marked by one awful diversion (America’s presidential campaign), it also has brought the wonderful specter of my beloved Chicago Cubs finally playing their way into the World Series for the first time since 1945. And if they manage to win the World Series over another team historically bereft of post-season glory, the Cleveland Indians, then they will sit atop the major league baseball universe for the first time since 1908.

“Cubs fan” and “long suffering” are phrases that have been melded together in the world of sports fandom for decades. Any Cubs fan of, uh, a certain age knows that the years 1969, 1984, and 2003 signify on ongoing angst of hope followed by crushing defeat. But the current Cubs team seems to be different. It is young, supremely talented, confident, and well-managed. Making the World Series was a huge moment for Cubs fans and this team, and hopefully there is one more celebration to come. In any event, the Cubs look like serious contenders for several years to come.

For now, however, the Cubs faithful have been brought back down to earth with a Game 1 loss against a feisty Indians team. This will not be easy. And it so happens that I’m flying to Cleveland this week to visit a dear friend, and she’s an Indians fan. (This visit was planned before the baseball gods ordained this World Series matchup.) It’s probably good that I don’t have my own collection of Cubs fan clothing, as years of living in Boston and New York have taught me to be careful about proclaiming contrarian sports leanings too loudly. There’s already a “Cleveland Indians Championship Parade” event posted to Facebook, but I’m still hoping that my Cubs will rain on that parade.

Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week 2016: At the keyboard

fw-2016

This marks the annual Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week, as proclaimed by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Here in Boston, I’ve observed past Freedom Weeks by organizing various educational programs. But for this year I’m mostly at the keyboard, working on writing projects, including a co-edited, multidisciplinary, two-volume book project on workplace bullying and mobbing that I’ve mentioned here earlier. We’re looking at a publication date sometime in 2017, and with the bulk of the grunt work on our end spanning the current calendar year.

My co-editor, Dr. Maureen Duffy, is a leading authority on mobbing behaviors. She invited me to join her as a co-editor of the project after receiving an invitation from a publisher to submit a book proposal. We’ve assembled a super strong team of some two dozen chapter contributors, with a primary focus on developing an American perspective on workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse. We are adopting an Ameri-centric focus to help distinguish our project from the many other excellent multi-author volumes that take global or European perspectives.

This is pretty unglamorous work, a long slog of reading, writing, and editing drafts of book chapters. However, it is the necessary stuff of building a knowledge base about these destructive workplace behaviors. The various chapters will summarize what we know about bullying and mobbing at work, discuss best practices and potential policy solutions for responding to them, and examine how these behaviors manifest themselves in various work sectors.

Our book project joins with the work of many others who are striving to stop the scourge of abusive work environments. Hat’s off to everyone who is part of these efforts.

 

What does it mean to be “onto something”?

(Image courtesy of clipartix.com)

(Image courtesy of clipartix.com)

Say I’m at a conference, workshop, or seminar, and someone offers insights or ideas that appear to open a new door to understanding and solving challenges big or small. My usual thought bubble is, hey, you’re onto something here! And if I get a chance to share feedback during the session, that’s the gist of what I’ll say.

What does it mean to be “onto something”? Well, if you search “onto something meaning,” you’ll get several similar explanations of the term. I like this one from Oxford Living DictionariesHave an idea or information that is likely to lead to an important discovery. 

Most of the discoveries in my realm tend to be solution-based approaches to challenges facing law & public policy, workers and workplaces, and so forth. Events such as periodic workshops on workplace bullying and on therapeutic jurisprudence, the biennial Work, Stress, and Health conference, the biennial International Congress of Law and Mental Health, and the annual Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies workshop are among those that frequently prompt my “you’re onto something” responses.

For change agents in any field, and those who want to be, what does this mean? As I suggested in the close of my recent law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice), it means finding “a place where one’s networks, circles, and tribes feel right in terms of shared or compatible goals, and where one’s activities and values are largely congruent.”

As I further acknowledged, it took me until my fifties to find that place. So if you want to be a difference maker, but you haven’t found your niche yet, try to be patient and remain open to messages and opportunities. Sooner or later, you’ll be onto something.

North of the border: On transforming our laws and legal systems

Prof. David Wexler, during a workshop break, at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School

TJ co-founder David Wexler, during a workshop break, at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School

I spent Friday and Saturday participating in a workshop on therapeutic jurisprudence at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. For two days I joined in stimulating, intense discussions with a small group of professors, lawyers, mental health experts, and graduate students to discuss how we can create laws and legal systems that are more invested in psychological health and well-being.

Therapeutic jurisprudence, or “TJ,” is a school of legal philosophy and practice that “concentrates on the law’s impact on emotional life and psychological well-being,” in the words of law professor and co-founder David Wexler (pictured above). For some 30 years, TJ adherents have been creating a global network of scholars, practitioners, judges, and students. My own attraction to TJ arose out of my work on workplace bullying and my broader commitment to creating systems of employment law that embrace human dignity.

The Toronto workshop was a sequel to workshops held in 2015 and 2014 at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and in 2012 at the University of Puerto Rico School of Law in San Juan. Our purpose has been to create small gatherings of TJ-affiliated scholars, practitioners, and students to share work in progress and to solicit feedback, as well as to build the TJ community. I have elaborated on the value of small-group workshops and symposia that promote genuine interaction and the forging of ongoing connections in a short essay, “Academic Conferences: When Small is Beautiful,” which may be downloaded without charge from my Social Science Research Network page.

In essence, we are planting seeds for important changes in the legal profession and in our legal systems. These aspirations will become more ambitious during the year to come, when we launch an international, non-profit membership society that will build the therapeutic jurisprudence community and expand TJ’s scope and influence.

Here were the workshop topics:

  • “Dealing with Sexual Violence on Campus” (Carol Zeiner);
  • “What Can Design Thinking Offer TJ (and vice versa)? (Nicole Aylwin);
  • “Emotional Intelligence for Judges” (Michael Jones);
  • “Loneliness in Old Age and Ethical Considerations” (Heather Campbell);
  • “Methodologies for the study of procedural justice within the operation of TJ related courts” (Voula Marinos);
  • “Feedback-Informed Judging” (Dale Dewhurst and Ann Marie Dewhurst);
  • “Practical Demands for Access to Justice” (Dale Dewhurst);
  • “Friends of Justice” (Ann Marie Dewhurst);
  • “Evolving scientific evidence and its potential effects on individuals (as distinct from case outcomes)” (Alison Lynch);
  • “TJ, forensic mental health, and the Ontario Review Board” (Jamie Cameron and Sandy Simpson);
  • “Considering the Profound Differences between Mental Health Courts and ‘Traditional’ Involuntary Civil Commitment Courts (Michael Perlin); and,
  • “Accessible Legal Writing and TJ” (Shelley Kierstead).

I spoke on “Psychological Trauma, Neuroscience, and Narrative: Bullied Workers and the Challenge of Storytelling,” building on this blog post from September.

Special thanks go to Osgoode Hall professor Shelley Kierstead — a veteran of TJ-related events — for organizing and facilitating this workshop, and to Osgoode Hall dean Lorne Sossin for his warm welcome to the Law School.

I’m pleased to report that in addition to very full days of discussion and dialogue, we managed to get in some terrific meals and a night of karaoke. I opted for some favorites from the Gershwins, Sinatra, and Tony Bennett. Singing is good for the soul, especially after many hours spent talking about reforming our laws and legal systems!

Outside the restaurant, awaiting a final group dinner. L to R, DY with Profs. Shelley Kierstead, Michael Perlin, and David Wexler

Awaiting a final group dinner, with Profs. Shelley Kierstead, Michael Perlin, and David Wexler

Road tripping

photo-527

I understand if readers are wondering if I’ve turned this blog into a travelogue of sorts! Two weeks ago, I explained that I was spending several weeks as a visiting scholar at Valparaiso University in Indiana, my undergraduate alma mater. The main purpose of my visit was to work on a book project on workplace bullying and mobbing, and I’m happy to report that it was a productive time. I also got to catch up with friends and family in northwest Indiana. Overall it was a great visit.

On Thursday, I hop on a plane once more for a therapeutic jurisprudence workshop at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. There I’ll be joining a group of law professors and lawyers to discuss how we can create laws and legal systems that are more invested in psychological health and well-being. We’ll be sharing, among other things, ongoing plans to launch an international non-profit organization dedicated to mainstreaming a therapeutic jurisprudence perspective in our legal institutions.

All of which is leaving me a bit short on posting longer commentaries here, but suffice it to say that the work grabbing my attention is all good stuff. 

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