October 2016

When you go on a family vacation, the people you live with have the opportunity to learn more about you and how you are feeling. And so it was in Oregon a few weeks ago, that my wife noticed my anxiety level. And when she noticed it, I began to notice it, also. And after I noticed, I began looking for the source. I’m not sure that I’ve found it. But I think I have a few leads.

For one thing, I have been devouring too much election coverage — way too much of it. So, I decided to do the one thing about the election that I could actually control. I voted. With that done, the media’s coverage was fairly irrelevant to me. With my vote already cast, no infomation could possibly influence it. So, I went the next step. I unsubscribed from the New York Times and deleted the app from my devices. When I woke up the next morning, I reached for the iPad to click the app. It was no longer there. Then I noticed that there was more of it on Facebook. So, away went went the app on my phone and iPad. Then there was Twitter. Away it went.

I happened upon a TED Talk by Cal Newport. He encourages his listeners to quit social media. I had his book on my shelf and re-read the chapter on quitting social media. Then I took stock.

I tried to weigh the benefits of it. I could not think of a single case I have ever brought in by being on Facebook or Twitter. I also could not think of a single case I had won because of it. Then I tried to imagine the time I have devoted to them over the years. So, then I took a radical step. I deactivated Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Those services have beeen gone now for two days. Before that, I had not logged in for about a week. If anyone has noticed my absence, they haven’t told me. The people who have needed to talk to me, have seemed to find me.

When I am writing a brief and I hit a rough spot, I find myself reaching for the phone for that quick hit of dopamine. And I realize it is not there. And I almost immediately let out a relaxing breath.

Something else I have done. I have installed an extension on Chrome called Inbox Pause. This nifty service allows me to pause incoming mail everywhere until I log back in and unpause it. I pull in emails every day or two and process it all at once. When the email is paused, it is not available on my phone. I put more thought into emails when I return them. Or I pick up the phone and respond. When I am tempted to seek answer to a question by email, I know that there will be a delay. So, I am either okay with it or I call the person. I find myself having more meaningful interactions. If someone has noticed my new email habit, they haven’t said anything. I have found that email is sometimes an exercise in avoidance. It can be a place to avoid a topic that should be tackled at a higher bandwidth.

Here is something else I have discovered. I find emails that seem urgent. Then as I scan my inbox or call the person back, they say, “never mind. It resolved itself.” Or “never mind. I found the answer.”

Yesterday and today, I sat to write a brief. I found myself in a state of enjoyment. When I’ve reached from email, Facebook, or Twitter, they have not been there. “Oh, yeah,” I have thought to myself before getting back to work.

I need to hang out with my family more. They are very good at noticing things.

 

p.s.

I don’t consider the writing of this blog to be social media. It’s long form and offers the opportunity to reflect.

In the most recent episode of This American Life, the show includes a discussion of the amendment on the ballot to reconstitute the JQC as a creature of the legislature and with the State Bar of Georgia taken out of the appointment process altogether. If you are undecided on this amendment, the segment is worth your time.

  • The episode begins with some background on how the JQC did its business with Richard Hyde as its chief investigator. He investigated complaints thoroughly. And when he was finished, he approached the subject of his investigation with his findings. As a case in point, the show details how he confronted Judge (and now co-sponsor of the JQC bill) Johnnie Caldwell with an incriminating tape to secure his swift resignation.
  • Then the show discusses the timeline for the bill (HR1113). The resolution seemed destined to fail at first. But late in the session, the speaker made it clear that either it would pass or no other legislation would.
  • Finally, a deal was cut for a democratic representative to cross party lines and vote for it. In exchange, the house voted to create a city (!) as a favor to the representative.
  • Part of the background was a long-standing grudge held by the speaker toward the State Bar of Georgia.

The story does give the other side. In particular, it discusses how the JQC treated two judges under investigation perhaps unfairly. But finally the story poses the question of whether such a radical overhaul was necessary to fix some of the procedural problems with the JQC.

The show ends with the reporter noting that this bill and the way it came about is not democracy at its finest but is likely how democracy works. Therein lies the problem. Voters are not likely to have a clue what the JQC is or what this amendment provides. So, passage is likely. I’ve told everybody I know. And when I tell the background, I see the lightbulb turn on.

But my microphone is only so loud. And the State Bar of Georgia is to this bill as Paul Ryan is to Donald Trump. The State Bar has compromised its integrity on this one, opting not to take stand on a bill that is clearly bad for judicial ethics and which removes its say on who the commissioners are.

If there is any hope in defeating this amendment, it will come with just telling the story to as many people as possible before they vote. I suppose that the people get the government we deserve.

Recently, while listening to Sam Harris’s podcast, Waking Up, I happened upon a guide to engaging another person in debate. It comes up when he introduces his interview with philosopher Daniel Dennett. Whether you are a lawyer preparing a brief or courtroom argument or a layperson engaged in a political discussion with a friend, it is worth taking a moment to understand and give the rules a shot. The podcast episode is worth a listen. Or for a quick read, check out Maria Popova’s post on Mr. Dennett over at Brain Pickings. Also, here they are:

1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

These rules have incredible value in any critical discourse. The most important reason is that your opponent or judge will be more likely to listen to what you have to say and be persuaded when you have disarmed them. Secondly, the rules encourage collegial and professional discourse (very lacking in the American political climate right now). Third, you will sound reasonable and potentially way more credible than an opponent who goes on the attack or reconstructs your opponent in a straw man form (inexperienced advocates often cannot resist). Finally, the argument you construct after articulating your opponent’s position fairly is likely to be a better one than the one you may have made out of emotion or in the form of an attack.

I hope that you will check out the rules. And when you finish with them, check out Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.

The lawyer’s job gets more difficult in proportion to the political climate in which we practice. And I cannot imagine a more difficult one than the spectacle of an election that we are all enduring. I have been saddened, anxious, and have been tempted to grow even more cynical. I have had my intelligence insulted and have been dumbfounded. It is only a matter of time before you see some reflection of the climate unfold itself in the tone of the briefs you read or the climate of the courtroom. And it may be me or you who are lowering the bar if we are not careful.

That is, unless you choose to raise the level of discourse and the level of compassion. I personally believe that the court system is the small engine that keeps democracy going. No matter what the other branches do, there is something in our courts that connects us to an ideal that predates our young country. And through many events in my professional life, the justice system is the elastic that always seems to stretch but not break. Alas, it is far from perfect in many particular instances. But the core identity of it is something in which I place a great deal of faith.

In the weeks ahead, no matter what you see on the news, make the choice not to internalize the level of discourse you see. Reach out to a client or a client’s family with compassion. Take a colleague, particularly a colleague on the other side of a case, to lunch. Raise your professionalism in court another notch. Do great things in your practice. When you do those things, you help this part of democracy remain connected to some higher sense of purpose that appears to be eluding us in democracy’s other components.