Barrister Barista

photo “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”-Philo of Alexandria
In my love affair with perfectly foamed lattes, I’ve spent many happy days at Starbucks. When the children were small, my friend Laura and I would meet there every single day. I would have a latte, usually with nonfat milk, except when I went through my soy phase. Laura would have an Americana with room for cream.

The Phoenix area has a million Starbuck’s, so we would call each other (before texting was available) to coordinate which location was convenient for our meeting, based on our schedules. “I’m picking up the triplets at school early for a dental appointment,” she might say.

“I will be at the church, can we meet half way in between?” I’d respond, and for several years we accommodated each other without the slightest amount of stress.

“I need to go first today,” one of us would say once we sat down with our coffees. We poured out stressors and anxiety becoming each other’s amateur therapists. People are in disbelief that we only missed a handful of days over the course of several years, before I moved back to Iowa.

Our daily meetings grounded me during years where I was lonely because of a traveling husband, unsure  how to raise kids, and yearning for my lawyer world during a period as stay at home mom. Laura could validate my feelings, tell me the kid’s coughs needed Robitussin and being a lawyer herself, explore the injustices of the OJ Simpson case based on an analysis of the evidence.
I supplied similar support to her as she raised triplets with her busy emergency room physician husband. By the time we finished our coffee and dashed to our respective mom mobiles to get back to our duties we were poised to face life with a fresh approach.

At our favorite Starbucks, Carl was the manager. Because we were regulars, it was like meeting another friend when he was working. When he transferred locations we moved our rendezvous to his new store whenever possible.

When I was divorced from my children’s father, I was in between jobs, having given up my status as VP of a California based mediation firm to try to save a failing marriage. Post-divorce I was left having to regroup to get a job in Scottsdale, and doors were not opening.

One day at coffee, I made a spontaneous inquiry of Carl. “Carl, would you ever hire me?”

Carl was puzzled knowing I was a lawyer, but also knowing Starbucks provided medical health benefits, which I needed. The next thing I knew I was handed a green apron and a post at a new Starbucks Carl was managing in a stylish part of Scottsdale.

The people I worked with had no clue I was a lawyer. I tried to keep that fact underground, partly from embarrassment that I was underemployed, and also to avoid getting asked for legal advice. I was just “Kim,” and  I didn’t feel like I was being judged. Secretly I was “Kim, the lawyer who struggles to steam milk.”

My twenty-something coworker Maggie became my guide to the Starbuck’s world. Keeping up with a busy caffeine -seeking crowd, was not easy. Some customers were rude and impatient, some downright hateful, others were pleasant. Those who said hello, asked how I was getting along as the “newbie,” and called me by name were a joy. I was working hard, on my feet, trying to live up to Carl’s rigorous standards for a clean store, going home tired at the end of my shift, particularly on days when it had started at 5 a.m.

If I would gripe to Maggie she never engaged, but instead was always upbeat, expressing gratitude for her job. Maggie would often excuse herself abruptly for a bathroom break. I became curious as to why she would leave her work station so suddenly. Eventually I asked a coworker.

“Maggie has cancer,” he told me. “She is going through chemotherapy and leaves her post to get sick. She has to work to keep the insurance. Poor thing should be home in bed.”

I was shocked. Here I had been a prissy Scottsdale lawyer/mom who had thought I was so noble working at Starbucks. Right beside me was Maggie, struggling to survive. I eventually asked Maggie if there was anything I could do to help her. She seemed disappointed that her secret was out, and basically said “Thanks so much but I am fine. I enjoy working with you.” That was it.

The next morning when it was still dark, as I went in to open the store I saw Maggie getting off the bus. For the first time in my life, I was unable to know what to do to help someone. I decided the best thing I could do to honor her was to watch her humility up close and to learn to do something about my own ego based on her example.

A few mornings later a particularly obnoxious business woman came to the counter enraged, oblivious to the line packed tightly out the door. “You are out of cream!” she squealed. “Perhaps “you people” don’t know what it is like to be a busy executive needing to keep on your schedule! We get delayed by something that you should be taking care of!”

My initial instinct was to lash back saying: “I will have you know I am a lawyer and I doubt YOU are qualified to argue before the Supreme Court!” At the same time, I saw Maggie down the counter from me, smiling and selecting a pastry for a customer.

“I am so sorry ma’am, let me get you that cream right away,” I said instead, grabbing the decanter and filling it up. “I am sorry you were inconvenienced and I hope you have a wonderful day.”

Somehow I was able to channel what I’d learned from Maggie. And strangely, in the turn of a moment, I really did want the woman  to have a wonderful day. For all I  knew she was in a struggle of her own, unable to handle it with Maggie’s grace.

Eventually I left Starbucks and Arizona, resuming my law and mediation practice in Iowa. Leaving Laura’s friendship was devastating. I visit Arizona often and we always “do coffee” daily while I am there.

I ‘ve gone back to the Starbucks where I worked. It’s been totally remodeled. Carl is gone to stores unknown. Maggie is not there. I wonder if she is even alive.

Now, when I walk into a Starbucks  I take a  moment to look the barista in the eye, smile, make small talk and even call them by name. I do the same with the clerk at the grocery store and the cashier at the gas station. I know from my work at Starbucks that a little kindness makes all the difference.

And all of our lives, matter.

This post was originally published in 2013.  My son Clint, age 23, has started working part time as a barista at Starbucks so it reminded me of this post.  Welcome to the barista family son!

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A Divorce Lawyer’s Caution to Stay at Home Parents

Super Hero Mom

After more than 30 years as a family law attorney, I still worry about some clients as they leave my office with their divorce decrees in hand. Some are still swimming in emotion. Some have tragedy on the horizon as they walk into new relationships before they are fully healed. The clients I worry most about are those who have been stay at home parents for long periods of time during the marriage. Those clients often face the most difficult emotional and financial “hits.”

No family expects divorce, but if one parent is planning to be a stay –at-home parent there are important things to consider to avoid devastating consequences if it does happen. (Although I am beginning to see men as the stay at home in recent years, I am using “her” as the gender for the stay at home parent).

I cant’ tell you the number of times I hear, “I told her to get a job and she wouldn’t,” while the other parent responds, “He may have mentioned my going back to work but he also liked not having to deal with the house and children as well as his job. Plus there was the high cost of child care.”

To avoid crisis if divorce erupts here’s what I recommend to stay-at-home parents:

  1. Have a detailed plan. Develop a plan that includes how long a parent will stay out of the workforce before one parent moves forward with staying home with children. Smart couples have a deadline for the stay at home to return to the workforce that is re-evaluated in a focused discussion each year. Discussions about all aspects of the stay at home arrangement should take place in person, at designated times and not just in passing when emotions are running high. I like to say that all discussions should be “kitchen table” discussions when the kids are not around.
  1. Enlist a third party to assist you with the plan. Get help from a family lawyer, financial planner, counselor or family mediator at the outset, and also when tensions erupt. Difficult conversations are easy to avoid. A calm third party can facilitate a discussion that results in a clear understanding and agreement. These experienced professionals also know the impact of staying home with the children and can assist with a list of things to consider that couples overlook.
  1. Prioritize finances for both parents. Despite our fluid roles, I still see that one spouse typically handles the finances. The other spouse often delegates that task and then never pays attention.  Smart couples meet monthly to review detailed family finances. I encounter numerous divorces where one party thought there was plenty of money when it turns out the family was living on credit cards. “I tried to tell him/her we were spending too much,” is a phrase heard often in my office.
  1. Be clear that alimony won’t support your lifestyle. Stay- at- home parents often believe if they divorce the income earner will absolutely be obligated to support the parent who stayed home. This is simply false. Alimony laws are in a state of flux in many states. In the vast majority of cases the stay at home will have a short time to receive a small amount of “rehabilitative” alimony and then they are expected to get to work. There is only so much money to go around and in most families it is impossible to support two separate households on one income.
  1. Keep your skills and contacts sharp. Don’t completely unplug from the work world while staying home. Take an online course or courses, and keep your skills current. When I took time off from my law practice while my children were small I hired a sitter for a few hours and attended bar association meetings and seminars. I never said I was “offline” in my work; I simply didn’t discuss my caseload (which was virtually non-existent for a time). Once I re-entered nobody knew that I hadn’t been practicing law all along and I was able to get up to speed quickly.
  2. Fund retirements for both parents. A good financial planner can advise on how the stay  at home can save for retirement. Although all retirement earned during the marriage is usually divisible to both parties in divorce, the emotional attachment to retirement accounts by the working spouse causes conflict in many cases. Retirement funds set up for each party help diffuse emotion at the negotiation table if divorce ever comes up.
  3. Stay connected in your marriage. Child rearing years are difficult on even the strongest marriages. One spouse in the business world and one at home all day can create a gap in interests and experiences that over time can erode connection. Prioritize time as a couple and take fights seriously as a warning sign. Working on your marriage may seem like the last thing you want to do amidst the exhaustion of all your obligations, but it will be the greatest investment you will ever make.
  4. If you do face divorce, explore collaborative law.  If you have to divorce there are respectful processes that work to move both parties forward in a dignified manner.  Consult with a family lawyer  to see if you and your spouse are candidates for collaborative divorce.

Kimberly Stamatelos is a mediator and family law attorney in West Des Moines, Iowa with Stamatelos & Tollakson. She is the author of the book “The Compassionate Lawyer” available on Amazon.

 

 

Barefoot In The Grass

Let’s get this straight. There is no such thing as work/life balance.

When I hear the phrase “work/life balance” it elicits shame. I berate myself for intense and difficult spurts of work that leave me depleted, and also for vegging on the couch on a Netflix binge.

There’s a phrase that suits me better: “work life integration.” “Integration” seems more possible than “balance,” and produces a mental image of the scale swinging gently back and forth in easy flow, never tipping too far to one side or another. The swaying gives more grace for imperfection and seems more achievable than the tension of a perfectly balanced scale.imagesI’d had a rough week in my work as a lawyer. Clients were stressed, several cases arrived concurrently at court deadlines, and I was a grouchy document drafting, fire-putter-outer. I knew the scale dance was woefully out of sync.

I reached out to one of my special girlfriends, Dr. J  a wise and unconditionally supportive friend, bemoaning my need for re-calibration. Since she is also a physician she gave me a prescription. “Come to the farm and spend the day. It’s crucial for you to connect with nature.”

Her recommendation seemed underwhelming but then I took inventory. I’d been eating clean food, vigilantly engaging in my spiritual practice and getting 7-8 solid hours of sleep (sometimes falling into bed shortly after getting home from the office), but I was still out of whack. Since that usual list of de-railers was in tact, I decided to follow doctor’s orders.

I love it when God endorses a game plan as he so clearly did on the day I traveled to her farm in rural Iowa. The weather was perfect enough to put the top down on the convertible and I cranked classic rock tunes along the back roads through small Iowa towns and green fields eventually arriving at the farm.

convertible

My friend greeted me with a big hug, a glass of iced green tea, and a cozy rocking chair on the front porch with a front row seat to several hummingbird feeders in the nearby trees. We sat rocking, sipping our tea, watching and listening to an assortment of hummingbirds zipping around us. I remembered when I’d been a little girl and my grandfather had sat for hours watching birds and beckoning me, “Look Josie(his pet name for me), watch this one right here.” I’d thought he was boring, and I’d look at the bird mildly entertained never sitting very long.

That day at the farm, we sat in the quiet open spaces feeling the perfect breeze blow by, occasionally sharing things girlfriends share without interruption or distraction. At the suggestion of Dr. J’s partner “Good Dave” who was giving us girlfriend -bonding space, we strolled past the hens and baby chickens roaming in a vast corner of the farm. The rooster crowed and his voice was clear and strong and it thrilled me to experience the familiar cock-a-doodle-do happening live and in color. Dr. J often gifts me eggs these beauties lay and they taste wonderful and fresh and now I’d met the sources of this generous gift of nourishment.

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“Take off your shoes,” Dr. J instructed as we reached another area of the farm, “and run your toes all through the grass being mindful and really feeling it,” she instructed.

“The therapeutic benefit of this is tremendous,” she insisted although the skeptic in me doubted. I’ve since found that “earthing” is real, and research shows the body draws electrons from the earth benefitting heart rate, immunity, blood viscosity, the endocrine and nervous systems.

barefoot in the grass

We rocked and talked more, and eventually Good Dave left and brought us back a surprising lunch: bacon cheeseburgers and onion rings. Having my health guru there gave me permission to divert from my usual clean eating without guilt. The junk food was a reminder to not take myself so seriously that I missed the chance to have self- compassion when other areas of my life missed the mark of perfectionism. I felt my stress melting more rapidly then other go-to remedies.

golf cartAfter lunch we ventured out in what I called a “pimped out golf cart” parking next to the river deep in the woods nearby, where we simply watched the river run and listened to the water. My friend urged me to take a turn at the wheel when we got back to the farm and I did, driving all over with a stop to admire the vegetable garden. Ultimately we parked and walked to the farm pond throwing small pieces of bread into the water while groups of fish scurried to the crumbs in hopes of making a score. A bug eyed, green slimy pond frog pushed his head up out of the water striking a pose while I snapped a picture on my phone.

.frog

My trip to the farm had an incredible healing effect on my weary soul, dislodging it from it’s stuck position such that the gentle swaying back and forth of the scales was reinstated. I felt rested and whole for days after, even while dodging the demands of a high stress job. I was born and raised in Iowa and it took me until now to fully appreciate the healing effects of nature.

If only I’d sat and really watched those birds with my grandpa years ago, I might have figured it out sooner.

Our Lawyer Legacy, What Gets In The Way?

“ All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”- Steve Jobs

It’s a long day as I take my brother to cancer treatment. I sit with him as he surrenders to chemotherapy dripping into his veins, hoping that he’ll be cured.

Across town in hospice, a fellow lawyer is saying goodbye. He’s practiced law for over 40 years.

Not surprisingly, I begin to reflect on my own mortality and significance. Does my life really matter? Am I doing what I was meant to do? What will I be remembered for?

In Living Forward  the authors define legacy as “the spiritual, intellectual, relational, vocational and social capital we pass on.” As a lawyer, what gets in the way of leaving a lasting legacy ?

  1. Ego. Much of our identity is tied up in our label as “lawyer.” We joke about the reputation of lawyers but deep down we feel our title brings prestige and worthiness. My dad used to say, “People say they hate lawyers but they usually love their own lawyer.”

When we tie up our entire identity in the work we do, it limits our impact and influence in other areas of our lives. Can we let down from the public lawyer persona to be authentic? Do we keep aspects of ourselves “on the down low” because we worry if people really knew us it could be bad for business?

Question: Are you doing things that look good on paper, on the bottom line or at the firm, but that are draining you emotionally? Is there something that your heart yearns to do, but your are too afraid to undertake?

  1. Scarcity Mentality. Lawyers live in the constant shadow of the billable hour. From the moment you hit the door in the morning every minute literally counts. Time spent outside your billable events leaves more time to make up in the office. When we plan vacation we frontload hours so we aren’t so far behind when we get back, and field emails on vacation before our family awakens to go to the beach. A part of us is never far away from a timesheet.

We may believe if we don’t take every client that comes our way now, cases might not come tomorrow. We take cases without discernment and end up doing unpaid work as a result of retainers running out or a judge who won’t let us withdraw. Then we become self deprecating and frustrated for having taken the case in the first place.

Question: Do you leave your dreams at the doorstep because you feel it’s about survival instead of destiny?

  1. Constant immersion in toxicity. Every day we deal with clients with grave wounds, both physical and emotional. We handle the circumstances around life’s most devastating events. We are expected to “rescue” our clients from disasters they have often created themselves, so we think about these negative fact patterns over and over even on our supposed “off” time.

This constant immersion into the darkness of life leaves us little time to dream, reflect or connect with our interior life. A life’s desire can be lost in the fog, recast in our mind as nothing more than a whim, or tucked away as “too risky.” The failure to unplug for even short periods from the office, returning email or calls and churning cases in our heads means we are never fully present for our loved ones and the beauty of life.

Question: When is the last time you unplugged, and spent time totally away from work, for even a short period time? Are you exercising self care?

  1. Personal and financial insecurity. When we have been successful lawyers we risk prestige and prosperity by branching out. What will everyone think? How can we give up the golden handcuffs? A lawyer friend chucked his law practice and opened a gourmet spice store in a trendy part of my hometown. Lawyers flocked to his store because it was extraordinary, but also to study him as an example of uncommon courage and authenticity. Sadly, the lawyer died unexpectedly at age 46, only a short time after the store had opened.

Lawyers are often the caretakers of less productive friends or family members, sometimes even supporting others who have not made good choices with their lives or finances. They look to us as “having it all” and don’t hesitate to ask for handouts or help.

Question: What would it take to set boundaries with your money? Are the things that you acquire from wealth blocking you from taking risks to fulfill your heart’s desire? Are there people you are enabling by “helping” financially?

  1. Lack of transition planning. In my first law firm job over thirty years ago the partners took me by the macabre office of the named senior partner pointing to a dusty wooden desk telling me that is where he had dropped dead. Was that supposed to inspire me?

New lawyers claim the older lawyers aren’t moving over to make room. I recently suggested that a young lawyer ask an older lawyer to coffee, to get hints on how that lawyer had built the type of practice the young lawyer aspired to create. The older lawyer did not offer any advice and the impression was that the older lawyer was “hoarding” the work for himself.

It can be a blow to our ego when clients we introduce to younger lawyers decide to transition their work to that younger lawyer excluding us. Thoughtful transition and passing the baton can play in to insecurities and make us question our relevance.

Question: Are you sharing your wisdom and experience with younger lawyers? Are you encouraging a younger lawyer who is struggling?

As lawyers we owe it to ourselves to ask these questions at all stages of the practice, not just as we move into the final chapters of our professional careers.

Are you on target for your legacy?

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I love to coach lawyers! If you are interested in hiring me as a coach contact me: kim@compassionlegal.com

 

Lawyer Creativity: Have we buried it?

“The legal field doesn’t constrain people’s potential, but it does tend to constrain people’s way of thinking about potential.”- Michael F. Melcher lawyer/author of  The Creative Lawyer 

 One of my most devastating events of law school was my first legal writing grade.  I received it at the hand of a bright teaching assistant. (You know, a law school super star with power and privilege because of his grades and class rank.)  It was the lowest grade I had ever received in my life.

My writing style was judged too “flowy” and “creative” and not befitting of a lawyer. I was admonished to immediately and totally change my writing style or my GPA would be impacted.

 My inner perfectionist heard loud and clear and I rallied to learn legal writing but also took the message as a wound to my heart. I had loved writing my entire life, but minimized and criticized by my fellow law student I labeled my writing, along with many things I felt in law school, “unworthy.”

 Fast forward and in 2012 I launched a blog and in 2014 I self published my book, The Compassionate Lawyer.  Years of personal work had  given me the courage to reclaim lost parts of my life, including my creativity.

 Re-connecting with “creative Kim” gave me a wellspring of life. I went writing crazy, writing both spiritual and personal autobiographies,  numerous articles for professional publications, heartfelt eulogies for friends’ funerals, juicy journal entries, fun poems, and  prayers written from my soul. I have solid drafts started for two new books. The writing is pouring out, having been bottled up inside for over 30 years. By healing my creative wound I found one of the greatest joys of my life and it’s leading to a substantial contribution to my legacy.

 I am not the only one who may have suffered a blow to creativity in law school.

 I frequently train lawyers in various aspects of legal practice, and teach mediation as an adjunct at Drake Law School. I have experimented with  creative exercises in my courses and workshops with lawyers and law students.  Some creative exercises are met with success and others have flopped.  I start trainings by playing music and inviting trainees to make their name tag at an art table I’ve set up in front of the room. The table is laden with glitter glue, pinking shears, bright stickers, markers, construction paper and other assorted supplies from aisles at Michael’s.

 Panic ensues as the lawyers look around to see the quality of the art being created by others.  Self deprecating comments fly. “I’m not good at art,” and some just write their name on an index card and refuse to risk  humiliation. Recently I saw a compassionate lawyer alleviate the anxiety of  a frazzled colleague at the art table by saying, “I will help you make your name tag.”

 My own first nametag was a round circle made of pink construction paper with my name in colored marker, and five paper punch holes with some pieces of yarn woven nametagthrough it to serve as a neck tie. Pathetic.

 Since I made that tag at a wonderful training in the circle process led by Kay Pranis,  (and then borrowed her exercise for my own trainings) my creations have evolved  such that  my favorite Diane Von Furstenberg wrap sweater is now permanently affixed with purple glitter glue.

 After dancing with our eyes closed shaking colored egg maracas at a yoga conference, I purchased the eggs online and incorporated that routine into a closing circle at one of my recent collaborative law trainings.  One brave lawyer and one fun loving therapist embraced the idea and the rest of the intimidated crowd shook a flimsy wristed egg counting the minutes until the exercise was over.

 I was inspired recently to assign specific ethics rules to teams, giving them  free reign to teach the group about the rule in any manner they desired.  This exercise was embraced and teams did skits and creative dances and one group even made a rap about disclosing confidences in mediation.  The sessions resulted in lighthearted feedback and brought up great questions about the rules.

 When lawyers are encouraged to be creative the byproduct is that it spills over to their work as problem solvers for clients. When I have cases with colleagues who have embraced their creativity we end up thinking big about solutions for clients’ problems.

 Writing and designing creative workshops  energizes me and I’m sure makes me a better lawyer.  I regret letting a comment made thirty years ago from a fellow law student (who I thought must surely  be smarter than me,) derail me from finding my joy sooner.  In my work as a personal coach for lawyers,   I find many lawyers have also lost their sense of creativity. One lawyer I coach now has a plan to record some songs he wrote and he also developed a small greenhouse.

 I also look for ways to help wounded clients use creativity to heal themselves. In fact, I  recently encouraged a client to journal about the life she wants to create for herself post divorce. She’s sharing her journal with me today.

Then as her lawyer, I will help her create that life.

 

If you are interested in a no cost consultation to discuss personal coaching, contact kim@compassionlegal.com

 

Navigating Life Transitions

Compass

Compass on vintage map

Growing up in the Greek Orthodox church, the liturgical cycle always brought rhythm to my life. “Feast days” on the calendar brought great joy and celebration.  Days of great piety, increased prayer and restriction of food appeared in “fast days.” When there’s a fast,  you know that a feast day is around the corner. Likewise, as feast days wind down you know fast days are ahead. Knowing what is coming, and that cycles change and resurface, is comforting.

Like the church calendar, life is cyclical. Days seem to cruise along “on a roll” with things going well, even amazingly well. Life is exciting, inspiration is present and things  are “in the flow.”

Then, seemingly out of nowhere what worked before doesn’t seem to work anymore. Inspiration dries up. There’s a sense of drifting and there’s no clear picture of where life is going. What happened?

Unfortunately there is no calendar that shows us the date when flow will be reinstated. We may even begin to doubt it’s ever coming back. These times of “in between” are sometimes referred to as “transition.” They usually involve self-doubt, decreased motivation, lack of clarity and a sense of drifting.

Transition typically goes through the following cycle, as described in Stuck by Terry Walling:

     1. Entry. Signs of entering transition include self-doubt, lack of focus and direction, diminished confidence, confusion and restlessness. You may feel like you live on Mars and there’s a heightened conflict with yourself and others. You may feel unable to move, stuck in quicksand with no clear direction on where to go next or even what is causing the feelings of confusion.

Your role: Stay open and awake and realize you are entering transition. Some of the best personal growth will come about through transition if you recognize and welcome it. Write down your questions in a journal or share them with a trusted friend who will help you endure the difficulty without helping you short circuit it. Trust that answers will unfold if you have the courage to ride the wave.

2. Evaluation. During this phase values and life convictions start to sift through. What do you believe? Who is your real self? Evaluate your life; are you living within your value system? What is working in your life? What’s not working? What is causing you conflict and stress, and why? What does your soul tell you it needs?

Your role: This is the proving ground and where the faint of heart turn back. Spend periods of mindfulness or quiet to reflect on what brought you to transition and where you feel you are yearning to go. Spend time developing a personal values statement  and ask yourself if your life reflects alignment with your values. Sit with the discomfort, recognizing it is integral in order for breakthrough. Journaling or processing with a good coach can also help you through this phase.

3. Alignment . After this reflection something that must be given up usually rises to the top. It may be something in your character, a habit, a relationship, a job, a lifestyle, a spiritual paradigm or other things large or small. Acceptance of this need for change can be frightening, but it is critical in order to gain something more authentic and meaningful in the future. Recognition brings up other challenges such as self acceptance, fear of change, shame or guilt from past mistakes, or the ego’s denial of what you’ve uncovered.

Your role: You are at a pivotal juncture. Will you have the courage to face what you’ve uncovered or will you bury it in numbing activities or denial? Instead, can you embrace the beauty of uncovering new insights and self awareness? Can you trust that changing your life in a meaningful way will result in a new freedom and joy? Can you surrender to where life is calling you?

4. Direction. This phase produces breakthrough. It may be an “ah hah moment,” a chance meeting, something you hear in passing that hits you like it was meant for you to hear, a nugget you uncover in an unexpected way or even a dream. For some who are spiritual it may be a “supernatural natural” occurrence such that you believe you have divine direction. The transition doesn’t have an abrupt ending but the fog begins to lift.

Your role: Begin to make a game plan for next steps to apply what you’ve uncovered. Coming out of transition with the new information can be exhilarating, especially because the work in the middle of a transition will often have been painful and grueling. Be sure to make clear headed well thought out decisions and don’t respond spontaneously or emotionally. Enlist a trusted friend or skilled coach to help you think it through.

Transition isn’t a “one and done” process. Like the church calendar, it’s a process that is constantly repeating. Most of our lives will have a series of transitions. The big ones are:

“Awakening” in our 20s and 30s when we are restless and trying to decide “Who/what shall I be?”

The “Deciding Phase” in our 40s and 50s where we wonder if we are doing what we are here to do. “Am I following my purpose?”

In our late 50’s and beyond it’s the “Finishing Stage” where we reflect on our legacy. “Will my life matter when I am gone? With whom can I share my life wisdom and experience in order to enrich their lives and leave a lasting legacy?”

Within the big life transitions there are repeated smaller phases of transitions.

Since I learned about the transition cycle a few years ago, I recognize quickly when I’m entering transition. Instead of dreading it as I did in the past, I appreciate all that the process will bring. It can be difficult to endure at times, but I know that the fruits of the process are monumental, and that they will come every single time without fail. Embracing transition has changed my life.

If you are interested in exploring whether you’d like to hire me as a coach contact me: kim@compassionlawyer.com

 

 

 

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Catching the Emotional Virus

depression-is-contagious

“Peace begins with a smile.”-Mother Teresa

I believe that each of us navigates life with an ever-present stream of malaise that runs inside of us. Sometimes it’s a low trickle, and other times it rushes as a result of life’s storms that fill it to capacity.

I’m working hard to navigate internal rushing waters at the Phoenix airport, returning to Iowa after a week long Arizona visit. I’m leaving behind in Scottsdale my three children and best girlfriend and her husband. My children’s father is here as well, and we’ve spent the past week as an emotionally healthy post divorce family having some quality time together, reminiscing about a past that was simultaneously painful and exhilarating. Our time has included the seriousness of my former husband’s diagnosis with a terminal disease that is ravaging his body.

My gate to Des Moines is full of sleepy passengers, some eating gross burritos and thick crust pizza from the food stands near our gate, even though it’s only 8AM. Most are tired, flat affects, biding time before being smushed into a small plane with luggage and their souvenir cactus in a box.

I decide to grab a nonfat chai latte but Starbucks is too far of a hike, so I find my place in the reasonably short line at a nondescript coffee kiosk. I let out a deep sigh as the wellspring of emotions continues to bubble up.

I look ahead  in line to see which coffee cashier will serve me, and am immediately drawn energetically to “left cashier.” A 40-something striking African American woman with a big beautiful smile and bright eyes, she beams with light greeting each weary traveler with a vibrant “Good morning!” and pleasant small talk while making direct eye contact. “Right cashier”on the other side of the kiosk has a low grade smile and is not nearly as exuberant.

I try to jockey into position so I can end up with left cashier. I want to suck in her emotional state because I feel immediate internal calming just from studying her from my place in line.

This phenomenon of reacting to another’s emotion has been proven scientifically. It’s “emotional contagion” and studies at Yale and elsewhere confirm that every encounter we have produces an invisible impact of emotions that transmit between us. Our emotions have the power to nourish others or produce toxicity.

It’s thanks to our brain mechanisms including the amygdala and the basal areas of the brain stem that regulate reflex and automatic response. Once the physiology kicks in the path is open for the emotions to flow. My low energy crowd at the gate was bringing me down and left cashier’s glow zapped my brain into receiving a whole different emotional path.

Studies in emotional contagion prove that both good and bad feelings spread, although the research is mixed on which are more contaigous. Objective measures show those impacted by the virus of good emotions register higher in cooperation, fairness, collaboration and overall group performance. I have seen this in my work as a professional mediator, watching upbeat emotion and a positive outlook in the private meeting rooms result in more settlements.

We’ve all experienced the brain circuitry of emotional contagion; think about when someone smiles and we smile back without even thinking about it. When I train mediators, I assign the students to  make eye contact and smile at every person they encounter,  from the grocery clerk to their children and spouse,  after they leave our training day. Debriefing confirms the emotional contagion process is real, and the trainees are exhilarated by the exercise. Past trainees often tell me they still practice the exercise.

A New York study  confirms that emotions are highly contagious in our most emotionally laden relationship: marriage. Humans react most severely to negative emotions including pain, sadness, and fear. Thus, one spouse’s depression is likely to trigger a similar depression in the other spouse. This begs the question of whether a spouse who sets an intention to consistently exude positivity can counteract one who’s consistently sad.

Some of us are more susceptible to emotional contagion than others, and a good indicator is how much your mood changes when you are around strong emotion.  I identify as a happy, optimistic person but also I am an empath. Empaths are people who are hyper-sensitively tuned in to others’ emotions such that we sometimes take them in without even realizing it, often causing strong emotional swings. I’ve learned to be vigilant putting up a mental shield to negative emotions, which can be difficult in my work as a family lawyer and mediator. I also try to consistently emote positive, healthy emotions to supercharge the atmosphere around hurting clients. If I am not rested or I’m “hangry” (that ugly state of being hungry, low blood sugar and grouchy) I easily take in the low energy emotions of those around me.

Despite my attempted maneuvering, I end up in right cashier’s line. I make direct eye contact and smile: “Hi, I’m Kim how are you today?” and she smiles back saying she is doing well. I find out she is Michelle and we have a light hearted smiling exchange as she rings me up, making direct eye contact, and tells me to have a wonderful safe journey. I’m hopeful that the virus now permeates the entire coffee kiosk line and maybe even the whole airport. I sip my warm latte, noticing the malaise river is back within it’s shores. I pull my shoulders back triggering erect posture and walk purposefully to my gate. I board the plane to Iowa, off to do the work I know I am called to do.

If you are interested in coaching or mediation training contact me: kim@compassionlegal.com

 

 

 

 

The Lawyer as Peacemaker

“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”
― Aristotle

9787f890e1d1f8abc8c09826b868568dInvested in the grievance stories magnified by their lawyers, family law clients often become repeat customers. Whether through initial actions, modifications or contempt proceedings, family law practice can be steady business for the lawyer, but often leaves festering wounds for the families we represent.

Hard fought family cases can also hurt family lawyers. Our suffering clients call us non stop, email us long diatribes, even show up at our office unannounced and agitated. Fueling the fire by delivering scathing interrogatories or through biting cross-examination can wear on an advocate’s mind, body and spirit.

In response, family lawyers are starting to expand their practices to focus on peacemaking. What makes a lawyer a peacemaker?

1. They practice law with connection and authenticity. Peacemakers don’t think it makes them less of a lawyer because they refuse to heap more hurt on hurting people, especially when children are involved. They genuinely care about the well being of their clients, their colleagues and themselves and believe that peaceful problem solving approaches are healthier for everyone.

2. They use proactive early intervention. Peacemakers recognize that the parties will still have to work together even after the legal intervention, so they set a tone of healing instead of aggression from the outset of a case. Whether through mediation, collaborative law, or simply meeting with the other lawyer to discuss the case, peacemakers agree to customize a strategy that works for both clients. They look for ways to streamline the legal process instead of letting it be driven only by court deadlines.

3. They use an interdisciplinary approach to conflict. Family lawyers are expected to be lawyer, counselor, financial advisor, parenting coach, communication expert, real estate analyzer and retirement guru. Peacemakers recognize the best use of the lawyers’ time is for legal advice, drafting and interfacing with the judge. They involve specialists including therapists, child development experts, financial advisors, realtors, and social workers to assist in developing a comprehensive plan for the family. Adding these experts mean the family has a highly specialized team often providing lower overall cost for comprehensive decision making. Lawyers focus on what they do best, and minimize the stress of trying to solve all the client’s problems themselves.

4. They encourage clients to “do the right thing.” Peacemakers don’t consider it a “win” to have someone pay as little child support as possible, if it means children aren’t financially supported at the other parent’s house. They don’t automatically fight to minimize a healthy and loving parent’s time with their children, at the request of a heartbroken client. These lawyers use words like “healing” and “forgiveness” and may set up infrastructures to improve trust and teamwork between parents. They help clients write a new forward focused story of life transformation that identifies the client as the hero, not the victim of the story.

5. They model emotional intelligence. Active listening, compassion and empathy are key skills used by peacemaking lawyers. “Patience is the greatest attribute of a peacemaker,” says Dick Calkins, a longtime advocate of peacemaking law. These lawyers don’t thrive on depositions with blistering accusatory questions so their clients can see their lawyer hurt their partner. Instead, they work together respectfully and cooperatively, modeling behavior families will need in order to heal. That may include producing documents voluntarily upon request and using calm reasoned discussion instead of threats.

6. They take the long view and encourage clients to do the same. Author of the ABA bestselling book “Lawyers as Peacemakers” J. Kim Wright puts it this way: “The upheaval of divorce can be very emotional and uncomfortable. It is easy to succumb to the emotions of the moment and strike out, do some damage, hurt you because you hurt me. Reacting provides short-term satisfaction and guarantees long-term conflict.

Peacemaking focuses on the long view, aligning with long-term values and goals. What relationship do these parents want to have in five, ten, twenty years? Who goes to the first day of school? Who will celebrate the team championship with your daughter? Will you dance at your son’s wedding or boycott because your ex will be there? The long view isn’t easy, but it is the path that focuses on the well-being of your child, not the emotions of the moment.”

7. They are creative in their approach to conflict. Each case is viewed as a unique set of circumstances requiring a customized approach of creative problem solving. Lawyers are creative people, but in traditional practice they aren’t encouraged to “think outside the box.” Peacemakers unleash creative thinking without feeling intimidated in putting forth a unique idea that isn’t borrowed from the standard stipulation template.

Often, the biggest impediment for peacemaking lawyers is the other lawyer. If opposing counsel makes aggressive moves or promotes themes of “fight to win,” or “let’s let the judge decide,” it frustrates peacemaking opportunities. Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean you sing kum-by-ah and get eaten alive in litigation. It means you see the peacemaking approach as a higher calling because it results in much healthier outcomes and is more satisfying to your clients and your own soul.

A baby lawyer fully trained in peacemaking skills recently told me, “I hope for the day when a client calls asking to destroy the other side in litigation and a lawyer says, “I’m sorry, I don’t engage in that type of law, it’s not healthy for families.”

And then, they call the next person on the list and that lawyer says, “I’m sorry I don’t engage in that type of law it’s not healthy for families.” And then each lawyer down the list says the same thing so that clients understand that peacemaking and healing families is what it means to be a family lawyer.”

I may not see that total shift in the practice of family law during my lifetime. But I truly believe he will.

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Speaking the Truth, in Love

origWhoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.-Proverbs 28:23

As an attorney, my days are filled with difficult conversations. I may deliver painful news to people involving their legal matter, or speak firmly with another lawyer as I advocate for my client. Recently, I had  to have difficult conversations with three different people who had  let me down or hurt me.

The approach I try to take  in all these circumstances is to “speak the truth in love.” That  means speaking directly but with a clear motive of trying to help the person receiving the message to understand something,  and not to punish, condemn or play victim.

Failure to initiate difficult conversations leaves us feeling disappointed or resentful and keeps us from being authentic and emotionally healthy. Avoiding these conversations may instead result in passive aggressive behavior or whispering our hurts to friends leading to gossip, triangulation of relationships, and fuel for our hurt.

Here’s what I’ve learned about initiating difficult conversations:

  1. Operate from a clear head not an emotional tsunami. Emotions are a gift, but letting them drive the moment leads to disaster. Initiate tough conversations when you are well rested, calm and emotionally even. This usually requires a reasonable “pause” between whatever has occurred and the time you choose to discuss it.
  1. State what went wrong with clarity. Using “I” statements can be helpful: “I was hurt when you weren’t there for me when I needed you,” or “I got overwhelmed when I had to step in after you didn’t follow through on your commitment.” Maybe even, “I have received complaints from clients/coworkers/teammates about your work.” If your communication begins with an email, don’t turn it into a long dissertation of drama. Use succinct bullet points and keep the tone businesslike. Having an in-person discussion is best.
  1. Know your goal. Be clear on what you need to remedy the situation. You may introduce the solution by saying “Here’s what I’ d like to see happen moving forward.” Another solution might be to offer to work together to remedy the problem, troubleshoot issues or even set a time to talk in more detail.  In most instances the goal will also be to preserve or  strengthen the relationship.
  1. Stay courageous in speaking your truth despite the response you get. If the person becomes argumentative, doesn’t listen or tries to turn the conversation back on you, stay firmly in your truth. Don’t cower under, say “never mind” or otherwise retreat until the issue is fully “aired out.” Your heart may be pounding but it’s critical to stay in the discussion in a healthy way.
  1. Keep calm. People aren’t used to facing conflict square in the eye. They are more familiar with passive aggressive approaches, or cryptic accusations on Facebook. It’s easy to criticize behind a keyboard. Talking on the phone or in person can trigger anything from fidgeting to wild histrionics.  Stay calm and focused while delivering your comments with dignity and respect.

Here’s what I recommend if someone “speaks the truth in love” to you:

  1. Listen closely. A tough conversation might come out of the blue at an unexpected time. If it does, tune in as quickly as you can to be able to hear what is being said. That may be difficult to do if you feel a strong emotional reaction at the outset of the conversation.

2.  Validate feelings before you respond. “It sounds like you are  really disappointed, I  understand how you might feel that way,” or a similar statement, lets the initiator know that you “get it.” Their feelings are valid for them. Whether their position is correct is another story. Pivoting into defensiveness or attack, or telling them they should not feel the way they feel, gets you nowhere and diminishes your credibility.

  1. Don’t shut down, become angry or defensive. Because most of us have not been exposed to healthy direct conversations, we can tend to think it’s a “fight” leading us to get into “attack” mode.  The minute you take the content personally, you have lost the opportunity for growth and clarity. Your personal hurts can be triggered, creating insight for you on unhealed wounds that could use further work later. By focusing on the problem and not the people you will avoid a poor response.
  1. Let the initiator know you understand, and only then, explain your perspective. Giving your side of things out of the gate minimizes your effectiveness. State the problem as you have heard it before you begin to describe things from your point of view. Once it’s your turn, breathe throughout your explanation and speak as slowly as possible so that you can be clearly understood.
  1. Apologies are magical if they are sincere. An apology can be critical in many circumstances. You may feel you did nothing wrong, but if your action or inaction let someone down even acknowledgement of that fact is powerful. “I am so sorry my actions upset you; our friendship is important to me,” or “I apologize for misunderstanding the work assignment; I didn’t mean to let down the team.”
  1. Investigate how to move forward. Asking how to repair a situation is perhaps the most critical reaction to a difficult conversation.  The simple question, “How can I make it right?” can open the door to great resolutions and healing. Only one of the three people  took this critical step in my situations.

Speaking the truth in love can be challenging, but it  provides growth for those who aspire to live with authenticity and courage.

The Poetry of Practice- Guest Blog

John Hardy is a recent graduate of Drake University Law School, and he just finished taking the Iowa Bar Examination.  He is joining Stamatelos & Tollakson once admitted to the bar. This is his first blog, and we are honored to have a lawyer of his caliber in our firm. Welcome John!

 

JEH Portrait
A lawyer is a poet. Language is the medium of the law, and word choice matters. It matters when legislators draft the law, it matters in front of a factfinder, and it matters when a lawyer is counseling a client. Legal writing has a tradition and history, just like poetry, with technical formal requirements and stylistic conventions. A good attorney, like a good poet, is a master of the language and knows what to say and what not to say. But linguistics are only part of the job. As with poetry, being an excellent attorney also requires a deep understanding of the human condition. A good lawyer has a focused mind and an open heart, and when the two work in tandem, the practice can be a work of art.

The Human Element

The human element is the intangible needs of the parties to a legal matter and other people who are affected by it. For the most part, clients call on a lawyer when their lives are in crisis, sometimes they may even be at their rock-bottom. In order to truly serve their clients, lawyers must recognize the emotional and relational needs of their client, which means they must look beyond the facts and the law. Clients may be unable to wholly engage in the process or articulate their ultimate goals until they believe that their lawyer has invested the time and attention required to know who they are, what they’re dealing with, and, sometimes, how they are feeling. The best lawyers know that some fights are not worth fighting, even if they are winnable. A client may prefer to move on with their life and save their money.

Nuts and Bolts

It goes without saying that a successful attorney will cross every “t.” If a statute of limitations runs or the attorney fails to preserve an error, it will be of little solace that the attorney is a good listener. The primary function of the attorney is often to serve as the voice of the client within the system. In this role, attorneys’ primary function is to know the law and play by the rules on behalf of their clients. When people need a professional shoulder to cry on, they hire a therapist, not a lawyer. Of course, the lawyer may end up wearing both hats, but there is no substitute for diligent attention to the legal details. If the lawyer is an architect, designing solutions for the client, the legal nuts and bolts are the bedrock and foundation. Empathy is the interior design. If the house collapses, instantly the color scheme does not matter. Solid legal work sets the table for the client to thrive in the future.

The Poetry of Practice

The work of the best lawyers combines diligent legal work with a genuine concern for the well-being of the client. Here, everyone’s needs are met. Even the best lawyers with the best arguments can lose a case, or fall short of their client’s desired outcome. In a poetic practice, a skillful lawyer weaves together high-quality legal work, attention to the human element of the matter, and the lawyer’s own personal touch. Different attorneys can have vastly different life experiences, and their undergraduate studies can cover the spectrum from history and politics to music, art, and religion. Good lawyers draw upon their whole life experience to relate with the client as a human, and provide customized legal services to their client with wisdom.

Clients may come to the initial consultation thinking that they want to take the other party to the cleaners. The best lawyers will dig around underneath that to find out if the client understands the implications of that position, including the budget, and whether the client really wants that. Clients may have been coached by friends, family members, or anyone else, and they may have lost sight of what they really want. In a divorce with kids, for example, they may believe they want the house and six nights a week with the kids. But, in reality, maybe the mortgage payment is not affordable once the client is flying solo, and the spouse is a great parent. Maybe the client truly wants the kids to have a great relationship with both parents, and it isn’t worth fighting to reduce the spouse’s time.

Good lawyers can draw from their own experience, both as an individual and as an attorney who has been down the road before with other clients. Good lawyers can help a client to zoom out and take a holistic view of their situation and their family. Maybe the health and well-being of their children depends on having good access to both parents. And maybe there is enough money to go around and set up both parties for success, post-divorce. And maybe the long-term well-being of the children depends on seeing their parents setting a good example of mature, compassionate conflict resolution that the children can follow as they grow up.

These thoughts were inspired by a recent presentation to the Compassionate Lawyer Society at Drake University Law School by District Associate Judge Colin Witt. He opened with the reading of a poem: The House by the Side of the Road by Sam Walter Foss. The poem itself was the touchstone for concepts within his presentation, but also the choice to open with a poem, at all, served as a meaningful glimpse into who Judge Witt is, as a person. He emphasized the importance of focusing on human element in his role on the bench. This can serve as a reminder to the practicing attorney that providing excellent service to the client requires a keen understanding of the human condition. This, in turn, requires intentional and zealous self-care, so that the attorney is well-rested, healthy, and available to fully commit to listening to the client and advising and advocating for the client with integrity.

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