A few revised posts for your consideration

Dear readers, during the past year I’ve revised, tweaked, and updated several popular earlier posts to this blog. I hope you’ll find them interesting and/or useful!

The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary human need (original: July 2013 ; revised: January 2017) — “Intellectuals should help to lead, not merely react and respond. In both of my talks at this conference, I suggested that scholars should be “responsibly bold” about investigating reality and fashioning solutions to our problems. I also urged us to be “restlessly patient,” understanding that positive change can take time, while continually seeking opportunities to effect that change sooner than later.”

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (original: December 2012; revised: March 2017) — “Gaslighting often is discussed in the context of spousal and family relationships. It makes sense, then, that we see so many parallels between domestic abuse and workplace bullying. Perhaps the leap from Ingrid Bergman & Charles Boyer to The Office isn’t much of one after all.”

When the bullying comes from a board member (original: August 2011; revised: November 2017) — “‘Board bullying,’ as I call it, is one of the largely unexplored aspects of workplace bullying. I do not know how frequent it is, and I have not yet found any research literature on the topic. . . . And yet I know it is real. I suspect it is more prevalent in the non-profit sector than in the business sector, but that impression may be unduly influenced by the fact that I’ve spent much of my career and volunteer service in non-profit organizations.”

What is academic tenure? (original: August 2011; revised: December 2016) — “Tenure is under attack. Some claim that tenured professors are too coddled and privileged. Others say that in the face of rising tuition and a difficult economy, tenured and tenure-track professors are too expensive. In some cases, political and university leaders are going after tenure to diminish academic freedom in higher education.”

When “heart, will, and mind are on the same page” (original: July 2010; revised: July 2017) — “For many years, University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been urging us to seek those elusive states of flow in our lives, those experiences when ‘heart, will, and mind are on the same page.’  They may involve ‘singing in a choir, programming a computer, dancing, playing bridge, [or] reading a good book.’  In these moments, ‘what we feel, what we wish, and what we think are in harmony.'”

Infusing good core values into a new organization

With a beta version of the TJ Society’s forthcoming website, at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, Prague, in July

Readers of recent entries are likely aware that I’ve been hip deep in helping to create a new, non-profit organization, the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (“TJ Society”). From the most recent draft of our by-laws, here is what the group is about:

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is an interdisciplinary field of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; engaging in continuing professional education and public education activities; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

As I wrote earlier this month, I’m part of an all-volunteer board that is forming this organization, and I’m serving as its first chairperson. It’s a lot of work, but the broader purpose and the fellowship of a truly exceptional group of colleagues make it all worth it.

This also is an opportunity to put into practice many of the values that I have been advocating for via this blog. It means practicing inclusive, servant leadership dedicated to a cause greater than individual ambitions. It means treating others with respect and dignity. It means actually exhibiting transparency rather than simply touting it. It means avoiding unnecessary hierarchies. Above all, it means building a welcoming and difference making community. Fortunately, our board consists of individuals who walk this talk as a natural way of going about things. This is good: An organization devoted to psychologically healthy laws and legal systems should strive to operate in a psychologically healthy manner.

The TJ Society is a global organization, with a board and advisory council comprised of folks from around the world. This creates obvious communications challenges. It can mean maddening pile-ups of e-mails (many inflicted by yours truly) in attempting to work through topics that require group input, and very understandably patiences can grow weary among a group of very busy people. Additionally, available online meeting technologies such as Skype and Google hangout can’t change the scheduling realities of holding a board meeting with participants’ time zone differences ranging from six to fourteen hours! As I said, we’re fortunate to have such wonderful board members who can roll with the digital waves.

In terms of shaping my contributions to this fledgling learned society, I am fortunate to have other organizations and initiatives as role models. Over the years I have learned so much from the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, especially the leadership of co-leaders Evelin Lindner and Linda Hartling. I’ve also been inspired by the inclusive culture of the biennial Work, Stress and Health conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. I’m further grateful for the biennial International Congress on Law and Mental Health sponsored by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, which, among many other good things, allows therapeutic jurisprudence scholars and practitioners to gather and learn from each other. I hope that the TJ Society will draw from the best characteristics exhibited by these entities.

It’s too early to say whether the TJ Society will build into its culture the values that make for healthy, inclusive organizations, but I’m betting that it will happen. Embracing and practicing these values at the beginning is an important start. Yup, as we grow we’ll make some mistakes, juggle differences of opinion, and probably deal with conflicts here and there. But if the foundation is strong, we’ll do things in the right way much more often than not.

Launched in Prague: The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

With Prof. Shelley Kierstead, vice-chair, and a beta version of our forthcoming website

I’m delighted to announce the founding of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, a new, non-profit, membership-based learned association devoted to advancing therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. Our opening event was a founding meeting on Tuesday at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, held in Prague, Czech Republic. Several dozen people from around the world filled a meeting room to discuss plans for this new organization, and the combined energies created a palpable sense of enthusiasm and engagement.

From the latest draft of our by-laws, here is what the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (aka TJ Society) is about:

Therapeutic jurisprudence…is an interdisciplinary school of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

Prof. David Wexler, TJ co-founder

For several decades, the field of therapeutic jurisprudence has existed as an expanding but somewhat informal global network of law professors, judges, lawyers, psychologists and other social scientists, and law and graduate students. These efforts have manifested themselves in a growing body of research and practice, as captured in a Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog, a searchable online bibliography of TJ-related scholarship, a new TJ scholarship journal, and a social media presence on Facebook.

However, it became clear that we needed to create a point of affiliation and organization for those interested in TJ. Tuesday’s launch meeting in Prague was a public fruition of that sentiment. Among other things, we discussed the foundational work for this organization, outlined plans for the near future, and held an open discussion to develop more ideas and identify interested participants. We also honored two colleagues, law professors Amy Campbell (U. Memphis) and Kathy Cerminara (Nova Southeastern U., Florida), with the first Wexler/Winick Distinguished Service Awards, our way of thanking them for their selfless service to the TJ community. The award is named for TJ co-founders David Wexler and the late Bruce Winick.

With Profs. Amy Campbell and Kathy Cerminara, award winners

I am serving as the TJ Society’s first board chairperson, and in that role I am facilitating the organization’s early work and providing leadership for our board of trustees. Joining me as officers are vice chair Shelley Kierstead, a law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, and director Heather Ellis Cucolo, a New York attorney specializing in mental disability law. I hasten to add that all members of our board are rolling up their sleeves to help this new organization get off the ground. It is a really good and accomplished group of people, and we enjoy each other’s company and support. Here is the founding board:

  • Astrid Birgden, forensic psychologist, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, law professor, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, law professor, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo, attorney, USA (board director)
  • Martine Evans, law and criminology professor, France
  • Michael Jones, law professor and judge (ret.), USA
  • Shelley Kierstead, law professor, Canada (board vice chairperson)
  • Michael Perlin, law professor, USA
  • Pauline Spencer, magistrate judge, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, law professor, Australia
  • David Wexler, law professor, USA
  • Michel Vols, law professor, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada, law professor, USA (board chairperson).

In addition, these four distinguished individuals will be serving as permanent Honorary Presidents of the TJ Society, in recognition of their signature, core contributions to this field:

  • Peggy Hora, California state court judge (ret.) and international authority on creating solution-based courts
  • Michael Perlin, professor emeritus at the New York Law School and leading mental health & disability law expert
  • David Wexler, law professor at the University of Puerto Rico & the University of Arizona and co-founder of the TJ movement
  • The late Bruce Winick, University of Miami law professor and co-founder of the TJ movement.

We are also assembling a large and distinguished Global Advisory Council, currently with some 75 members, whose names and affiliations will be shared on our forthcoming website.

Faculty of Law building, Charles University, Prague, host for the International Congress

We have a lot of work to do this summer and early fall in order to (1) go public with the website; and (2) begin accepting memberships. We are building a website that will incorporate and link many existing TJ activities and projects, as well as add other research materials, information, and networking features. Interested individuals will be able to join the TJ Society through the website, with membership dues set at $25 US per year, except for students who may become members for free.

That work is already underway. We followed our Tuesday launch with an impromptu meeting of several board members this morning. We realize that starting up a new global organization primarily by e-mail communications and social media requires us to make the best use of our face-to-face time. We’ll be taking various work assignments with us to our various home locations. In the meantime, we’ll also spend a bit more time enjoying the sights of this beautiful old European city.

Old Town, Prague, is quite the sight

Prague: A week of learning about law and mental health

Postcard views everywhere in Prague. Here, Old Town Square.

I’m spending a week in Prague, Czech Republic, for the 35th International Congress on Law and Mental Health, sponsored and organized by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH). Among other things, today I facilitated a session to launch the formation of the new International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (more on that in my next post), and tomorrow I’m presenting a short paper on workplace bullying, mobbing, and incivility in academe as part of a panel discussion on higher education.

The IALMH’s biennial Congress is a global event, with presenters and attendees from around the world participating in dozens of panel discussions running each day for a full week. Law professors, lawyers, and judges join psychologists, psychiatrists, and those from other professional and academic disciplines to discuss important issues of law and mental health. This has become an extraordinary educational conference experience for me, full of ideas, research, and insights that fuel my understanding of the linkages between law and psychology. It also has served as a welcomed venue to share some of my work with valued colleague.

Our host institution is Charles University in Prague, one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished universities. This year’s Congress opened on Sunday with a ceremony in the Great Hall of Carolinum, a significant building in the nation’s history that dates back to the 14th century. One of my therapeutic jurisprudence colleagues, Australian magistrate judge Pauline Spencer, received a major award at this ceremony, and I’ll have more to say about her work very soon.

Great Hall of Carolinum, Charles University, Prague

Believe it or not, a lot of learning occurs at this conference. Each conference day includes four 2-hour blocks of panel discussions. Most of us attend at least 2 or 3 per day, in addition to doing our own presentations and attending assorted meetings. To help reduce the temptation to lapse into truancy, the IALMH builds into the schedule several cultural and sightseeing events. This evening’s entertainment was a lovely concert by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

One of the most validating aspects of this gathering is the widely shared understanding that human emotions should matter a lot in the making and administration of law and public policy. We’re not all nodding our heads in agreement on everything said here, but at least we start with a consensus that psychology and mental health should play prime roles in shaping our laws and legal systems. Our challenge is to persuade more of our peers in the legal profession and in policymaking positions to see things similarly.

Awaiting the orchestra in the Rudolfinum, Prague

Coming attraction: The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

Launching the TJ Society at a July conference in Prague

Steady readers of this blog may be familiar with my work in the field of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of legal philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. For nearly a decade, TJ has played a significant role in shaping how I look at law and public policy, especially as related to workplace issues.

Now I am delighted to be playing a role in forming the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ Society), a new, non-profit, learned association established to advance the field of therapeutic jurisprudence on a global scale.  The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

As of mid-June 2017, the founding trustees of the TJ Society are engaged in the following activities:

  • Planning for a panel discussion to launch and discuss the TJ Society, to be held at the July 2017 Congress on Law and Mental Health in Prague, Czech Republic, hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health;
  • Finalizing articles of incorporation and initial by-laws;
  • Creating a global advisory council of law faculty, attorneys, judges, and scholars and practitioners from complementary fields, a group that we anticipate will grow significantly over time;
  • Developing a website for the TJ Society; and,
  • Consolidating, where applicable and desired, existing TJ activities under the TJ Society rubric.

The TJ Society will be a membership organization, with annual dues set at an affordable, accessible level. During this summer, we are building the basic infrastructure of the organization. However, the following months and years will engage a lot more people and involve a lot more activities. The latter include, but are hardly limited to:

  • Inviting members of the TJ Society to form and join affinity groups based on shared subject-matter interests and geographic proximities;
  • Building our social media and web presence to offer a virtual home for members of the TJ Society and its friends; and,
  • Developing the TJ Society to support and co-sponsor TJ-related events and activities around the world.

The creation of a membership organization devoted to TJ has been a topic of discussion for several years and became more focused at a 2016 TJ workshop held at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. From there, a small group of devoted TJ adherents began establishing the groundwork for this fledgling TJ Society.

We hope to build an organization that is “flat” in nature, with a board of trustees committed to the spirit and practice of servant leadership and the fostering of a TJ community that is grounded in participation, exchange, and mutual learning. The TJ Society should not be an end in itself, but rather a conduit and steward for supporting and expanding the reach and influence of TJ, while offering a friendly and engaging “home base” for those who identify with it.

The initial members of the board of trustees are, in alphabetical order (with some additional board-related designations listed):

  • Astrid Birgden, forensic psychologist, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, law professor, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, law professor, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo, attorney, USA (board director)
  • Martine Evans, law and criminology professor, France
  • Michael Jones, law professor and judge (ret.), USA
  • Shelley Kierstead, law professor, Canada (board vice chairperson)
  • Michael Perlin, law professor, USA
  • Pauline Spencer, magistrate judge, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, law professor, Australia
  • David Wexler, law professor, USA
  • Michel Vols, law professor, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada, law professor, USA (board chairperson).

In addition, these four distinguished individuals will be serving as Honorary Presidents of the TJ Society, in recognition of their signature, core contributions to this field:

  • Peggy Hora, California state court judge (ret.) and international authority on creating solution-based courts
  • Michael Perlin, professor emeritus at the New York Law School and leading mental health & disability law expert
  • David Wexler, law professor at the University of Puerto Rico & the University of Arizona and co-founder of the TJ movement
  • The late Bruce Winick, University of Miami law professor and co-founder of the TJ movement.

***

(July 2017: This post was slightly revised to reflect new additions to the board of trustees.)

For more about therapeutic jurisprudence, click here to visit the Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog.

If you’re interested, here are links to four law review articles I’ve written that have strong TJ-oriented themes:

Human Dignity and American Employment Law — University of Richmond Law Review (2009) — Sets out the theoretical frameworks and arguments for making human dignity the centerpiece of American workplace law, including incorporating TJ principles.

Employment Law as If People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the WorkplaceFlorida Coastal Law Review (2010) — Makes the case for applying TJ to the law of the workplace.

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship — University of Memphis Law Review (2010) — Dissects the modern culture of legal scholarship and proposes TJ as a framing perspective for engaging in scholarly work.

Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest LawSouthern California Review of Law and Social Justice (2016) — Discusses how legal scholarship can shape law reform initiatives, with reflections on my work concerning workplace bullying and unpaid internships and how perspectives like TJ have informed those efforts.

Disposable workers

This is hard to fathom, but unfortunately the headline pictured above — “A maid begged for help before falling from a window in Kuwait. Her boss made a video instead.” — tells the heart of the story. Avi Selk reports for the Washington Post:

The floor looks clean in this high-rise apartment, seven stories above Kuwait City traffic. Not a smudge in sight on the picture window. On the other side of the glass, the maid is hanging on by one knuckle, screaming.

“Oh crazy, come here,” a woman says casually in Arabic, holding a camera up to the maid.

“Hold on to me! Hold on to me!” the maid yells.

Instead, the woman steps back. The maid’s grip finally slips, and she lands in a cloud of dust, many stories below.

The maid — an Ethiopian who had been working in the country for several years, according to the Kuwait Times — survived the fall. The videographer, her employer, was arrested last week on a charge of failing to help the worker.

Selk adds that more instances of domestic workers falling off of buildings have been reported. Human rights advocates are sounding alarms about this horrible incident and others against the background of a system of servitude known as kafala, whereby foreign workers surrender basic labor rights in return for work visas.

The spectrum of workplace mistreatment runs from lighter instances of intentional incivility all the way to slavery and torture. This event in Kuwait, and references to the policy of kafala, remind us that forms of abuse tending toward, and falling squarely within, the latter still exist in this world.

Enter therapeutic jurisprudence

These concerns also raise the fundamental importance of bringing dignity at work into therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), a school of legal theory and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws, legal processes, and legal institutions.

As close readers of this blog know, I have been active in the TJ movement for many years, to the point of regarding it as my primary lens for examining law and policy. In fact, I’m part of a wonderful group of law teachers, lawyers, and judges who are forming a new international, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing therapeutic jurisprudence on a global scale. We will be launching this new entity at the biennial International Congress on Law and Mental Health, to be held this year in Prague, Czech Republic.

To date, much TJ activity has been concentrated in legal areas such as mental health and disability law, criminal law, dispute resolution and the administration of justice, and family law. Laws and policies relating to work, workers, and workplaces, however, have not received as much attention. Along with other folks dedicated to advancing dignity at work, I look forward to playing an energetic role in changing that state of affairs.

You see, it’s important to remember that individual incidents of worker abuse, including this one in Kuwait, are enabled or validated by policies such as kafala, thus melding the mistreatment with the tacit approval of law. Changing laws does not necessarily change individual behavior, but it creates enforceable norms that can inform people’s decisions about how to treat others.

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.

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