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Legally Speaking

Finding the Solution - Part 1

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06/01/2010 - We sometimes face life problems that can adversely affect our ability to live and work at full capacity. This is different from an inability to work and enjoy life following an accident, which is what we usually encounter at the Injury Law Firm. Issues that we are born with, or that develop over time, can equally rob us of our joy and quality of life. Over the next several months, the Injury Law Firm will bring you the stories of four attorneys who faced intense personal challenges, and overcame them to lead fulfilling lives and careers. I think the message will apply to anyone in any line of work, and at any level of responsibility. My hope is to encourage someone facing similar circumstances, and motivate them toward finding the solution.

Certain Idiosyncrasies

I always knew that I was smart. But I also knew that I had certain idiosyncrasies in regard to learning and dealing with deadlines.

I graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in the early '70s and took an associate position with a prestigious Washington firm. From day one I had trouble juggling assignments. In those areas that I enjoyed, such as depositions and hearings, I was creative and intuitive. But if an assignment was boring, or hard to get started, I'd let it linger in my in-box until I had exhausted the assigning partner's patience. I was one of the firm's "remedial troubled" associates, although I was considered bright and personable. With the negative feedback, I started doubting my skills and wondered if I chose the wrong profession. One day I asked for more meaty assignments, but the partners were at wits end, and suggested that I look for work elsewhere.

I tried starting my own law partnership, which broke up after only one year. Over the next seven years I was an associate with three different firms. In the subsequent 14 years I became a partner in four firms. During that time I continually questioned my competence, despite the fact that I had built a well-respected civil litigation practice.

The turning point came through happenstance when my seven-year-old son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). When he was put on Ritalin, I said I would take it as well to lower any stigma he felt. But I also knew that ADD was hereditary, and I recognized many of his "symptoms" in my "habits." After that initial self-diagnosis, I went to see my doctor, and I have been taking a form of Ritalin since 1995 with positive results. My dosage is small, but the difference is dramatic.

I have subsequently learned that many adults are never correctly diagnosed with ADD, and that the condition is frequently missed in childhood. Often the main symptoms are inattention and impulsivity rather than physical hyperactivity, and many children use their high intelligence and determination to mask ADD symptoms. Many high-functioning individuals with ADD see themselves as failures and feel that they are constantly letting others down. Over the years that an individual adapts to his or her ADD situation, the adaptations (both positive and negative) become part of one's personality, layered over the ADD symptoms.

Adults with ADD tend to be bored with tedious, repetitive tasks. They also frequently have trouble planning ahead and initiating organization. Procrastination is common. Their impulsivity may result in frequent job changes, troubled romantic relationships, financial problems, and a tendency to interrupt others. Often ADD leads to addictive behaviors, such as gambling and drug and alcohol abuse.

I now realize that my ADD was a negative factor in my law career from day one. Without realizing what I was doing, I was acting out many of the usual symptoms of adult ADD. Since my diagnosis, I have learned to structure my workplace to help manage my tendency to distraction. For example, I will limit taking outside direct calls to the hour before lunch and the last hour of the workday. I keep a number of calendars and use scheduling software. In managing deadlines, I've learned that I have to delegate and rely on others, as well as to accept my own limitations. The upside of my ADD is my ability to "hyper-focus" in taking depositions or in preparing briefs. I'm supported by a traditional law firm with competent partners who view me as their brilliant, slightly eccentric "pit bull." While there are still days when the siren call of the Internet distracts me from client matters, I am aware of my tendency to procrastinate, and can now hunker down and complete matters that I used to leave hanging to the last minute.

I've been at my present firm for an amazing eight years, and I'm pleased by my ability to maintain a consistent level of performance that has translated into an increase in the amount of personal satisfaction I derive from the practice of law. But, I did not get here on my own. I found resources to help me recognize and positively address my ADD. If you are experiencing similar issues in your life or career, I would encourage you to seek the help of a professional. It made all the difference for me.

This article originally appeared in Washington Lawyer magazine in May 2003, written by Lynn Phillips. It has been edited for space, and reprinted with permission.

R. Michael Shickich is the founder of the Injury Law Firm located in Casper. The focus of his practice is personal injury and wrongful death cases.

The Wyoming State Bar does not certify any lawyer as a specialist or expert. Anyone considering a lawyer should independently investigate the lawyer's credentials and ability, and not rely upon advertisements or self-proclaimed expertise.

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