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6 Ways for Lawyers to Come Out From the Shadows

by Jay Reeves |

In February the groundhog looks for its shadow – but many lawyers see theirs every day.

And some lawyers can’t seem to get out from under a perpetual shadow.

Psychologists speak of the shadow self or shadow personality. It means those parts of ourselves that we don’t like very much and would prefer to keep out of public view. And so we do our best to deny, hide and suppress our darker urges and impulses.

But that doesn’t mean they go away.

Shadows emerge in behaviors like working too much, drinking too much, and buying stuff we don’t need and will get bored with in ten minutes. They manifest in acts of self-sabotage ranging from the fairly benign – such as bingeing on doughnuts after dieting for three days – to the fatally malignant – like stealing from the trust account when we can’t pay the rent.

The shadow looms when we delight in naughty gossip about a local judge or take pleasure in hearing of a rival lawyer’s misfortune. Or when we burn with envy at the news that someone other than ourselves has achieved great success.

Who knows what evil lurks in the mind of women and men? The Shadow knows.

“Having a shadow side seems to call for some kind of intervention, maybe therapy or a pill, maybe a trip to the confessional or a midnight soul confrontation,” writes Deepak Chopra in the book The Shadow Effect. “As soon as people acknowledge that they have it, they want to be rid of it.”

But that isn’t possible, Chopra says, because human nature includes an indelible streak of self-destructiveness.

The Shadow Effect was not written specifically for lawyers. But it might well have been.

After all, we are trained in law school – and required by our ethics rules – to keep secrets. Because we care about our clients, we feel bad, even guilty, when we lose a case. We become skilled at deflecting blame from ourselves – and by extension, our clients – and directing it elsewhere. Our work can be dangerously isolating.

And sometimes the shadow causes us to reach grim conclusions – the system is broken, all lawyers are crooked, the world is a mess – that we think are sweeping truths but are actually just projections of our own gloomy, burned-out selves.

But here’s the good news. There is a way out, and you don’t have to read any self-help book, run to Dr. Phil or confess your sins to Oprah. In fact, you don’t have to do anything.

  1. Become aware. Liberation begins by acknowledging that having a shadow doesn’t make us defective – it makes us human. “If you cannot see your shadow, you must go in search of it,” writes Chopra. “To have a shadow is not to be flawed, but to be complete.”
  2. Share our dark feelings. This is not easy to do. We believe that the way to be a good person – something we all want to be – is to keep the bad person that can ruin everything under wraps. But this is like banishing bad children to their rooms without supper. Eventually they will have to be let out – and they will be hungry.
  3. Forgive yourselves for not being perfect. The law can be unforgiving. It stings to lose a case or even an argument. Let it go. It’s just a job, and tomorrow will bring new cases and new arguments. Besides, there are no true defeats. There are only learning opportunities.
  4. Hang around happy, positive people. Behavior runs in groups. Our personal associations affect what we do and how we feel.
  5. Find healthy outlets for our negative impulses. Volunteering, pro bono work and serving others have been shown to be as beneficial to the giver as the recipient. Exercise, healthy food and music can work wonders. As can sitting in silence. Or simply breathing.
  6. Face the other direction. To have a shadow, there must be a source of light. Turn around and go that way.

To learn more or for professional help contact BarCares at 1-800-640-0735 (or click here), or the Lawyers Assistance Program at 1-800-720-7257 (or click here).

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. His shadow tends to emerge when his beloved South Carolina Gamecocks lose a sports contest. jay.reeves@ymail.com, phone 919-619-2441.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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