Judicial Balance: Lessons for Law and Life

Though it seems that the 2012 election cycle has already been under way for quite a long time, the nation is in fact still the better part of a year away from choosing its leaders.

Even at this relatively early date, the contending candidates and their supporters have already had much to say about “judges.” For a time, it seemed that how to deal with judges who had made calls found disagreeable by some was the center of the debate. While judges themselves can be only peripheral participants in the arena where these questions have been at issue, in other places and on other days judges need hardly shrink from standing up for the benefits that the rule of law has conferred on the American experiment in democracy.

Still, being the subject of political agitation takes its toll on the professional and personal lives of those who have committed themselves to the cause of just and fair adjudication. This newsletter seeks to provide the men and women of the judiciary with sustenance for thinking about the career choices they and their families have made, about how to navigate difficult waters, and about the value they add to our society.

–Randall T. Shepard, Chief Justice of Indiana

Decision Fatigue
As a judge, you make countless decisions a day. Yet, the more choices that you make, the harder each one becomes for your brain. You pay a biological price, and it’s known as “decision fatigue.” The good news is that it can be managed. Please see, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” by John Tierney, The New York Times, Aug. 2011.

Who You Are and What You Do
Your ethics – the sum of your character and conduct –permeate your work. They are tested with each choice you face. Judge Bruce S. Jenkins asserts that a true professional not only knows her ethics, but knows what she is doing and why. Please see, “Professionalism and Civility,” by Judge Bruce S. Jenkins, Utah Bar Journal, March 2011.

Depression in Men
It’s as common as the common cold, yet depression is an elusive diagnosis in men. Men typically express the condition through actions rather than feelings. Unchecked, they lead lifestyles of loneliness and self-destruction. If you’re struggling, get help. Please see, “Depression in Men,” by Dr. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D, lawyerswithdepression.com.

Civility: A Knee-Jerk Reaction?
Despite an abundance of writing on civility in the legal profession, it cannot be overdone. Civility is the essence of what the legal profession aims to be; it frames our expectations of one another and makes effective resolutions possible. Renew your commitment to civility. Please see, “The Value of Civility in the Legal Profession,” by Judge Harry McCarthy, Washington State Bar News, August 2011. (scroll to page 44)

A Sensitive Issue
The public display of emotion has always been a sensitive issue: is it okay to cry around colleagues? What about during a heart-wrenching case? Perhaps it depends on the specifics of the situation, but mounting stress brings one in three lawyers to tears. Please see, “That Old Crying Feeling,” by Ronda Muir, Law People, October 2011.

Positive Psychology and the Profession
The legal profession often fosters a negative mindset. Author Paula Davis-Laack sparks a conversation about positive psychology and its power to transform the profession into one known for communication, problem-solving, and well-being. Please see, “The Science of Well-Being and the Legal Profession,” by Paula Davis-Laack, Wisconsin Lawyer, April 2010. If the above link does not work please go to http://www.wisbar.org and search for the article title.

*** MARCH 2012 ISSUE ***
One of the American Inns of Court recently sponsored a program focused on what it called “threats to the judiciary.” These ranged from examples in rambunctious political debate to media effects on trials to the personal safety of judicial officers.

One can acknowledge that such challenges are a real part of what judges experience in the course of their work, and still credibly contend that the public largely treats and views the courts and judicial officers with the respect and value that our assignment in society warrants. Most Americans see the value that the rule of law has conferred on them and on society in general and look to the courts as places where that value is sustained.

This newsletter aims to help those of us whose careers are tied to that cause to do our work with thoughtfulness about our own role. As a judge of superb caliber recently put it, “to do my best more often.” We hope Judicial Balance moves us all in that direction.

–Justices of the Indiana Supreme Court

Balance for Whom?
Whatever your views on the meaning or practicality of work/life balance, it is a major point of discussion in professional circles. Ronda Muir shares a thought-provoking article about balance, and whether it fosters an unconscious bias against women. Please see, “Invalidating Work/Life Balance?” by Ronda Muir, Law People: Better Law Practice Through Better People Management, Oct. 2011.

Get Up and Go
Law is “brain work,” yet the condition of the rest of your body significantly impacts your mental acuity. After countless hours on the bench, physical activity is crucial. Here are some surprising ways to bring more movement to your day, and to reap the benefits. Please see, “The Primitive Lawyer,” by Alan L. Edwards, Utah Bar Journal, July/August 2011.

Secondhand Blues
Depression is one of the most widespread disorders plaguing society. Evidence suggests that it is contagious, spreading by social interaction in close relationships. The most effective solution may be to improve social skills and change your way of thinking. Please see, “Secondhand Blues,” by Michael Yapko and Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today, 2009/rev. 2010.

Balance Yourself
Most of us are blessed with full, rewarding lives. And, most of us have no idea how to manage it all. Enter the “sacrifice syndrome,” where stress can turn you into someone other than yourself. How to head it off at the pass? Balance yourself. Please see, “Balance Yourself, Not Work and Life,” by Annie McKee, Huffington Post, February 2012.

Three Questions
Finding your life’s work – your calling – is a journey. It’s also a matter of perspective. Author Loren Gary shares three key questions he finds useful in considering such matters. Take a minute to ponder them and their explanations; it’s worth your time. Please see, “Three Questions to Help You Judge Your Life’s Work,” by Loren Gary, Become a Leader: Share the Wisdom, Sept. 2011.

Upward Mobility
The legal profession is tough. Absent a plan to preserve yourself, your welfare is at stake. In his book, Harvey Hyman confronts the various causes of misery for lawyers. He then describes in detail how you can create a lifetime of wellbeing, personally and professionally. Please see, The Upward Spiral – Getting Lawyers From Daily Misery to Lifetime Well-Being, by Harvey Hyman, J.D., Lawyers Wellbeing, Inc., April 2010. Review by Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Cutting Edge Law, Jan. 2011.