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Lives Out of Control = Ethics Violation #1

Lessons Learned from Folks in Control of Their Lives

The vast majority of grievances and malpractice claims filed against attorneys are not caused by mean-spirited attorneys wanting to cause their clients harm. Rather, they are generated by professionals (attorneys and staff) who've allowed their offices, work and lives to become unprofessionally disorganized, overloaded and chronically chaotic.

Put in simpler terms, these "professionals" have lost control of their lives — or know they are about to do so! Surviving yet another day of chaos becomes the accepted norm to their brutally exhausting lifestyles. Sadly, there are still some lawyers and legal assistants who claim we aren't REAL professionals unless we are acting in this manner — YIKES!! How wrong they are! Real professionals have the courage to face and make any changes needed and the wisdom to avoid the chaos and "costs" of an out of control life and work style.

Ethics Storm Warning!
It may not be written in our Rules of Professional Conduct, but allowing our lives to continue spinning out of control exposes us to every ethical violation possible. Would you like to have an attorney or their staff members working on YOUR case when they can't even manage their own lives wisely?
Out of control attorneys and staff members say they have no time to brainstorm on how to change things much less to make needed changes. Bottom line — they suffer, everyone around them suffers and no doubt their clients suffer great paredness in the courtroom, sloppy documentation, careless clerical errors, blatant oversights, missed deadlines, and so on! And, in my opinion it is unethical to hold our shingles out as attorneys without having our "houses" in order. When we're in it up to our eyeballs and if and when things start getting out of hand again, it our DUTY to stop the whirlwind and make whatever changes are required in order for us to regain control — it's that simple! Not easy I know, but simple. Maintaining control should be our #1 polar star when it comes to actually being (vs. merely claiming to be) ethical players within our legal system.

There are countless resources in today's world to help us turn around and enhance our personal and professional lives. Also, it helps tremendously to share the journey with a partner, coworker or friend. Take advantage of the guidance and coaching of the right mentor for you and/or seek whatever professional help is appropriate.
Spend the time searching for the resources and "coaches" that are right for you and quit putting off getting started. Do it now! The future is not ours to claim — this moment is! Being in control of our lives in a smart and healthy manner is the insurance that helps ensure the best quality of our life here on earth. And, taking control over our personal and professional lives truly is the cheapest insurance around! By doing so, we will: benefit each and every day; all of our relationships in and out of the office will be healthier and more enjoyable; and our clients will be far better served (ethically and otherwise).
Below is a partial listing of ways to take control shared by genuinely contented attorneys and staff with whom I've worked. They maintain (or have reclaimed!) control over their work and lives. They are far more productive in eight hours than their spinning-out-of-control coworkers are in sixteen. Many of these people's lives were once dangerously out of control. Some suffered from depression, substance abuse or worse. All, however, found their way back and the solutions they learned were pretty simple.
What was and is difficult is making the decision that enough is enough; sticking with our "clean-up our lives" goals; and standing steadfast when the discomforts of change try to blow us back to our old (costly and destructive!) habits and systems.
Again, the lists shared below are intended merely as a starting point. Hopefully, they will help you identify areas in and out of your office that need priority attention, a little adjustment or perhaps a major "remodeling" effort on your part.

Take Control of Technology

  • Embrace it, don't fear it. Learn at least one new technology skill each month.
  • Practice thoughtful email etiquette and know the hazards and limits of email.
  • Safeguard confidentiality in cyberspace (including Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Have strong, state-of-the-art policies that you actually monitor and mandate when it comes to emails, internet use, social media, etc.
  • Backup daily, keep backups in a fireproof, safe, off-site location and ensure that the restorability of your backups is checked often!
  • Use case management software. If you're using Saas (software as a service or "cloud"), make sure you've checked that the provider is competent.
  • Maximize the value of your voicemail greetings and messages. Ask callers to define their "emergencies" in detail, state when you will return calls and thank them for calling.
  • Make your website/blogs of value to visitors instead of just serving as an electronic business card. And, if you're not going to ensure they are kept updated on a fairly regular basis, take them offline (old, neglected, incomplete websites send out the wrong messages to visitors about your attention to detail, conscientiousness , tech savy, etc.....in other words , a website waaaaay overdue for a facelift/update can do you more harm than good)
  • Take at least a one-day vacation each week from technology — no news, no e-mail, no texting, no tweeting, no voice mails, etc! After your initial withdrawal symptoms dissipate, you will love your newfound, temporary freedom.


Supervising Staff

  • Offer frequent constructive feedback and show appreciation publicly for jobs well done and criticize privately.
  • Go the distance in implementing changes needed (i.e. stick to ensuring changes happen when promised).
  • If you must talk about other employees behind their backs...make it positive! Otherwise, just SHUT UP!
  • Provide adequate, timely and appropriate training.
  • Teach or bring in trainers/mediators to help improve conflict resolution skills and offer effective communication workshops — set a good example yourself!
  • Encourage all employees to live balanced lives.
  • Keep employees informed of office events ... beat the gossip grapevine ... always!
  • Do not tolerate or allow anyone (no matter how senior or great their skills may be) to be an office bully (e.g. bad language, verbal violence, intimidation, harassment, unfair expectations)


Working for Attorneys

  • Beware of working just for a paycheck ... love what you do (most days that is!) or don't do it!
  • Avoid high schoolish gossip, cliques, etc. This includes listening to gossip — the act of listening = participation! See my blog post entitled "Workplace Gripes? Quite Complaining,Start Resolving!" lawbusinesstips.com/category/conflict-resolution/workplace
  • Dress professionally not for the cocktail hour.
  • Voice your office concerns in writing including at least two possible solutions.
  • Keep improving your skills, growing professionally … always!
  • Promptly squash bad attitude moments and make timely attitude adjustments.
  • Help others without being asked and without
    expecting credit.
  • Don't be an office bully or allow anyone to bully you!
  • Enthusiastically assume new job responsibilities.
  • Share your career goals with supervisor(s) and if they aren't interested when you do, heed that between the lines message!
  • Each quarter (at a minimum), brainstorm some ways your firm could save money, be more efficient, reduce stress, make clients happier — in other words, act/think beyond your job description — this is what true professionals do!


Smart Health Choices

  • Exercise daily in ways that are enjoyable and safe for you. Learn how to deep breathe correctly and do it often. For a quickie starter lesson in deep breathing listen to my audio at lawbusinesstips.com/resources/quick-audo-workshops/
  • Eat smart; stop when no longer hungry (vs. when you're stuffed) — how many of us do this often enough?
  • Take time to nurture your spiritual side.
  • Keep a top-ten "fun couple activities" list for you and your significant other and/or your entire family.
  • Reassess your personal and professional priorities often.
  • Make an action plan (goals, what needs to be done by whom) for the top five or more personal and professional goals.
  • Simplify all aspects of your life! Knowing how to be still or just be is an undervalued and priceless treasure.
  • Count your blessings daily instead of focusing on what you don't have or can't do.
  • Live in the "now"— instead of the past or future.


  • For animal lovers — Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan
  • Who Will Cry When you Die? Life by Robin Sharma
  • Horse Sense for People by Monty Roberts
  • The Book of Agreement (2nd Edition) by Stewart Levine
  • Spiritual/inspirational books including ones on living in the moment (e.g. Eckhart Tolle's books)
  • Humorous stories, movies, whatever !

Nancy Byerly Jones

Nancy Byerly Jones is enthusiastically and tirelessly dedicated to helping her clients build business success stories that last...and as a family law and workplace mediator, she is a passionate advocate for helping keep folks out of the courtroom and moving positively forward with their lives. Please visit her website (http://LawBusinessTips.com), on Twitter (http://Twitter.com/lawbusinesstips) or on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/nbjones). If you have any questions for Nancy, she’d enjoy hearing from you by email too: nbj@nbjconsulting.com

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Filed Under: Business Management

About the Author: Nancy Byerly Jones is enthusiastically and tirelessly dedicated to helping her clients build business success stories that last...and as a family law and workplace mediator, she is a passionate advocate for helping keep folks out of the courtroom and moving positively forward with their lives. Please visit her website (http://LawBusinessTips.com), on Twitter (http://Twitter.com/lawbusinesstips) or on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/nbjones). If you have any questions for Nancy, she’d enjoy hearing from you by email too: nbj@nbjconsulting.com

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