July 14, 2019

Saving Ourselves From Ourselves (Part Two): The Borg Isn’t a Personal Problem

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to serve us.
Resistance is futile.”

rhodesTo recap from last time:

Ethos is “the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community, as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.”

Like any institution, the law profession has its own ethos, manifested in expressed and unspoken beliefs and aspirations that guide our attitudes and behaviors.

What I’m calling the “Legal Borg” (c’mon, we gotta have a little fun every now and then!) is that portion of the law ethos that is responsible for the cognitive- and performance-impairing brain damage we learned about in the Killing Them Softly series, also for lawyers’ high rates of depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.

The Legal Borg is the part of our professional ethos that’s out to get us. It’s stealthy and insidious. It avoids detection not by hiding but by convincing us we’re not seeing what we’re seeing. Or that what we’re seeing isn’t worth the bother.

Take lawyer career dissatisfaction, for example: it’s been on the rise for decades; we know that personally and anecdotally, also from numerous bar association polls and university research studies. Same thing with lawyer psychological distress. The Borg’s response? To convince us — individually and collectively — that these things are a personal problem. Some people just can’t handle the stress. Too bad for them; the rest of us have work to do. If you need help, get it, it’s out there. In the meantime, we don’t like thinking or talking about it, so don’t ask, don’t tell.

Further, if we dare question whether we’re okay with that, the Borg isolates us, labels us aberrant. For example, work-life balance initiatives are all over the legal profession, in bar association initiatives such as this one through the CBA (also summarized in The Colorado Lawyer archives back in 2007 — I wonder whatever happened to it?) and in law firms such as this one (chosen at random — there were too many). Statistically, these initiatives have been largely populated by women, although that is changing. So what does the Borg do? It declares that this is primarily a “women’s issue,” or perhaps a “parents issue,” and creates “alternative” career paths for these outliers. “We’ll accommodate them, but we all know that’s not where the real action is.” So says the Borg.

As for law firms with wellness programs, that’s a California or Europe thing. Not in our house! Besides, you need to be careful with those programs — you can get in trouble if you get carried away.

And so it goes. That’s the Legal Borg working overtime to promote the perception that for everybody but an irrelevant, dissenting few, things in the profession are as they have always been, and we’re all better off that way.

It’s a strategy that’s worked for a long time, but there are signs everyday that that the Borg’s grip is weakening — enough to make you wonder if the tipping point may have already been reached. We looked at one of those signs — an ethical initiative in Ohio — last time. Consider also this description of another Ohio initiative (convened in Columbus the day after I was recently there — darn!): a confab sponsored by the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism on “Preparing the Leaders of Tomorrow’s Changing Legal Profession.”

That title may be misleading. We may not be talking about “tomorrow” anymore. The future may already be here.

More on that coming up.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on exiting the law practice appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His free ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures in leaving the law, and the lessons he learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the book title to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. It’s also available on from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Amazon, and Scribd. The collection includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article which has been featured here, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of The Colorado Lawyer article mentioned above.

You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

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  1. […] last year talking about the law profession’s cultural ethos, and how new practice models and wellness initiatives are liberating lawyers from its harmful aspects (the Legal Borg). An earlier 2014 series also […]

  2. […] last year talking about the law profession’s cultural ethos, and how new practice models and wellness initiatives are liberating lawyers from its harmful aspects (the Legal Borg). An earlier 2014 series also […]

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