Chemical Imbalance and the Law

I recently finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In the book, Sinek demonstrates how work environments impact five different chemicals in the human body: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. Endorphins mask physical pain with pleasure in times of stress or fear (the “runner’s high”). Dopamine rewards goal oriented behavior with a rush of pleasure when we complete something we set out to do. Serotonin releases feelings of pride and pleasure when we feel like people like or respect us. Oxytocin generates a sense of love, friendship, or deep contentment when we see people we like and trust. Cortisol triggers flight or fight instincts in times of high stress or danger.

Since these chemicals impact the way humans survive and interact with one another, they play an important role in work environments. High stress, competitive environments where employees feel powerless and pressured to produce big or risk losing their jobs produce unhealthy, chemically imbalanced workers. This imbalance applies to CEOs and janitors alike, regardless of perceived job pressure. (In fact, the imbalance likely impacts the janitor more if he feels powerless to change the situation.)

In jobs that emphasize short-term results over long-term relationships, workers depend on their survival chemicals: Endorphins, Dopamine, and Cortisol. This creates an environment where people live in a “flight or fight” mentality and are constantly stressed about meeting high goals and expectations. When Cortisol is released, the body shuts down “unnecessary” systems, including the immune system. This impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. However, because of Endorphins and Dopamine, it doesn’t feel like a constant barrage. It can feel good and even addicting. These chemicals, however, only mask the damage caused by stress, they don’t fix it.

Further, with work environments that foster uncertainty and anxiety come lowered levels of Serotonin and Oxytocin – meaning people feel less appreciated, content, and socially engaged at work. Where jobs are highly competitive, employees view each other as competitors instead of allies. People feel less comfortable sharing ideas, making mistakes, or collaborating on projects. This impacts not only a company’s ability to thrive, but the individual’s.

A prime example of an unhealthy business environment would be General Electric at the end of the 1980s. At the end of each year, the bottom 10% of GE managers whose divisions contributed least to the company’s share price were fired. If the bottom 10% automatically get fired and you see someone struggling, would you help them out? Probably not. You would be putting your own job at risk.

However, more than isolating employees, such environments also foster unethical behavior. When short-term goals matter above all else, things like honesty, integrity, and compliance fall to the wayside. People focus on survival, and when that behavior gets rewarded, they get a Dopamine hit and continue to behave that way. Spread out over time, this behavior leads to corruption and the eventual downfall of a company.

As an avid reader of business books that emphasize the importance of culture, Sinek’s analysis did not surprise me. It shouldn’t surprise you either. People want fulfilling jobs. Humans weren’t designed for constant, high-level stress. It is easy to recognize bad practices in a business.

Yet this stressful, high-pressure, chemically imbalanced environment reflects the very culture that is expected, even rewarded, in the legal profession.

Want to go “big law”? Think long hours and high stress loads. Want to work in criminal law? Prosecutor or defense attorney, someone’s freedom now depends on you. Want to work at a boutique firm, or even start your own law firm? Gotta make sure you make enough to pay off those heavy student loans. How do you pay those off? You take on more jobs, create a higher stress load, and keep going, going, going. For each client, you must strive for justice. Money is at stake. Freedom is at stake. Your ability, or lack of ability, impacts countless lives.

Is it any wonder the legal profession is rife with alcoholism and ranks third in suicides behind doctors and dentists?

The pressure doesn’t begin once you land your first job: it starts pre-law school. Where you work often depends on where you go to law school. The best jobs go to the best schools. Early on driven, goal-oriented people with a natural affinity for Dopamine stand out and get into the schools. Once in the school, the best employers take only the best students. This is the way of the world. You are now competing against your classmates, and because law school grades on a curve, this isn’t a place where everyone can do well. You either receive one of the scarce As, or you don’t. If there are limited As, are you going to help your classmate get one? Not if it hurts your chances. Goodbye Serotonin and Oxytocin, this is not the place for you.

Law school is 3 years. For 3 years, you can survive anything, right? You can survive finals worth 100% of your grade (STRESSSSS!) You can survive competitive classmates and high interest rates on your loans. You can survive…sure, your Cortisol is firing but your Endorphins and Dopamine tell you it is okay. And maybe it would be okay if it actually ended in 3 years, but that isn’t the way the legal profession works. In the real world, law school is child’s play. But this too will be okay, you’ve learned to cope. Probably through alcohol. Definitely through something addictive. Want to make partner in a firm? Want to save the world? Of course you do. Time to get to work. Hit me with the Dopamine.

What happens in the business world when the wrong things get incentivized? Companies become corrupt and self-destruct. Now imagine what happens when you wrongly incentive a whole profession.

Is it any wonder lawyers get a bad rap? Lawyers are stigmatized as ethic-less and money-hungry. Yet the law is designed as an adversarial system where every case comes with high stakes and in law school we are taught to deal with that pressure through isolation and alcoholism. Culturally, we’ve created a chemically imbalanced environment for the very people we entrust with justice. I am sure there are lawyers and law firms that overcome this. There might even be law schools out there seeking balance. It is still a huge problem, however, and not one that only affects those who “have a personality for the law.” Just take a look at our justice system.

I don’t know what the solution is, or if there even is one. I do know that change needs to happen and it needs to start in our law schools. 

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Moot Court!

Today I am in Oshkosh judging high school moot court! It is amazing watching these talented teenagers communicate. It is also a lot easier to be the judge than the participant – alumni status has its perks!


2017

If I had a word for 2017, it would be unexpected. At this point last year, I thought 2017 would be the year I got my wisdom teeth out, paid off my student loans, and read 200 books. I didn’t imagine much else. Well…I did get my wisdom teeth out. I paid off my student loans. I read 119 books. I also spent a summer in Idaho being a camp person (Whhhhaaattttt!) and then moved to Madison for law school. It all seems kind of crazy and impulsive, and it was. 

Yet on paper, it wasn’t. I have wanted to go to law school for 18 years. I planned to go after I paid off my student loans and naturally I applied to law school after paying them off. But…Unexpected. Picking Madison after years of planning to go anywhere but there. Unexpected. Discovering that I actually hate living in the city. Unexpected. The social isolation of law school. Unexpected. Learning I don’t love law school. Unexpected. Realizing I’m okay with that. 

This was a bumpy year for me. I’m grateful for it. I am grateful for all the uncertainty and confusion and failure. It sucked and left me drained and anxious but it forced me to grow and rely more on God. It reminds me of Romans 5:3-5. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Hope. What a wonderful word. 

Thank you to all the friends and family who kept me sane this past year ❤ I am so grateful for you all. 

Goals for next year? Read 118 books and live more gratefully. Hold me to it! 


Regency Rejects and Nothing Non-Fiction: My 1 Star Reads from 2017

My least favorite reads from 2017: 

A Civil Action by Johnathan Harr

After a semester spent discussing civil procedure, I understand why my professor assigned us this one to read. It served a purpose. My classmates almost universally loved this book; I hated it. It was over-wordy, extremely biased, and sloppy with details. For most of the book, I was ready to give it two stars and call it “excessively dull,” but the last hundred pages were too egregious to ignore. I wouldn’t accept this kind of bathos in my fiction; I fail to see why I should tolerate it in my non-fiction. 

The Ishbane Conspiracy by Randy Alcorn

Reading this book was a lot like tying a millstone around my neck and jumping into the ocean: dangerous, painful, and a waste of time. The message that comes across is  that if you avoid dating, prom dresses with a slit, and Harry Potter, you’re a good Christian who won’t let sin in. Besides carrying a dubious moral message, the book itself is awful. The writing is heavy-handed and over the top. The characters are one dimensional and boring. The climax is out of nowhere and completely dramatic. Not worth it!

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Somewhat interesting plot idea…less than thrilling results. The writing was poor and the characters annoying. The plot never really went anywhere. The villains were super predictable. The relationship between the main characters was unhealthy and concerning, full of unhealthy emotional dependence. The menfolk have no personality. Not interesting or worth the time. 

A Jury of Her Peers by Jean Hanff Korelitz

This might win Most Disappointing Read of 2017. You know what is sexy? Lawyers flirting over their ACLU cards, said no one ever. Except possibly this author. A boring legal thriller that shoots itself in the foot by creating a self-righteous, dull heroine; an annoying romance; and a story line that revolves around a giant, government conspiracy. 

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar…: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart

This is a very brief look at different philosophies. If you took a basic philosophy course, this will be old hat. I’d give it two stars for the philosophy portion and negative two for the jokes. This book was completely un-funny. The jokes are either old and well-worn or so vulgar I almost didn’t finish. 

In The Woods by Tana French

A dark mystery about missing children and murder. Unfortunately, also a story full of angst, angst, and more angst! Though it began promisingly, the book drags on and slowly kills all the things I liked about the beginning. Relationships are ruined for stupid reasons. The main character was a bore. A boring, angsty read! 

Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

 Yet another promising YA novel ruined by raging hormones. I liked that the heroine takes things in stride. She discovers she can see fairies and doesn’t wuss out. However, she mainly accomplishes this by obsessing over her love interest instead of worrying about imminent death. The writing and plot are sloppy, definitely can tell this book was an early work for Stiefvater.

A Marriage of Inconvenience by Marion Chesney

I. Hate. This. Book. So. Much. Definitely the worst read of 2017. A Regency romance about a woman who hates men and a solider forced to become her fiance. I hate this book for its awful, inaccurate use of regency slang, weird Freudian philosophy, and terrible conclusion. Just…bleh!! 

The Forrester Inheritance: A Regency Entertainment by Daisy Vivian

Miss Mariana Porter stands to inherit a great deal of money – provided she marry one of her cousins. Obviously that cousin will be the one she takes in immediate aversion for absolutely no reason. One of those one-star reads that left me feeling more amused than infuriated. The characters are one dimensional and lack basic personality. 

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

A leadership book about…leadership? The internet? Something? Vague, repetitive, and cocky without the substance to back it up. Not bad ideas necessarily but the book alienated me.

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder by Rachel McMillan

“A female Sherlock Holmes”…except not.  This book is full of weird, switching POVs and a mystery that takes backseat to a confusing insta-romance. The book is super poorly paced. Action scenes are glazed over and character “change” comes out of nowhere. Half of the book was unnecessary and the other half didn’t fit anywhere. It lacked transition entirely. There are weird footnotes that don’t fit with the story. By the end of the book, I sort of forgot what the point of the mystery was in the first place and I am still confused about the motivation of the killer and his minions. I loved the title of this book and nothing else.

 


2017 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 2

My favorite reads from 2017…continued! 

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell “looks at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often culturally determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success.” An interesting, challenging read that explores the takeaway lesson of a relatively familiar Bible story. 

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund 

A futuristic, sci-fi retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I’d give the plot about 4 stars but the characters definitely bump it up to 5.  I love the characters. The author does an amazing job capturing the spirit of the The Scarlet Pimpernel but with a gender-bender twist. The science talk occasionally bogs the story down, but it was nice to have a YA book that “makes you think” while telling the story. Politics, science, moral responsibility, right and wrong, good and bad…it is all to be found hovering at the back of the characters and their actions and decisions.

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison 

Book 1 in the Tyme series. Rapunzel retelling…starring Jack and his beanstalk. This is one of those books you have to stick with all the way through. Rapunzel starts off as a very annoying, naive, rude character who doesn’t know a map from a mother. However, her character arc is wonderful. The story is much more nuanced than most fairy tale retellings. Lovely world building and almost no romance!  

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison

Book 2 in the Tyme series. Though billed as a “Cinderella retelling,” this book breaks from the usual Cinderella mold and has very little to do with the original story. It has a bit of an Ever After High vibe going but it transcends that with really solid, interesting characters and social justice themes. (A YA novel with a couple interested in something other than each other! Hurah!) That said, if I have one complaint with this book, it would be the romance. Overall, unexpectedly enjoyable.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved. But Tessa’s return unearths buried memories and questions that don’t add up…leading back to the night of the murder. My Caveat: I’d give this book 5 stars for its genre. Not sure 5 stars compared to books overall. However, as a psychological thriller, I really enjoyed this one. It has deep, meaningful characters with twisted, broken personalities. There is no unlikely romance and there are strong, female friendships. It is creepy without being overwhelming. 

I Believe In A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Desi Lee can accomplish anything as long as she has a plan. Soccer? Student body elections? College applications? She has it down. Coming to terms with her non-existent love life, Desi decides the problem is that she hasn’t put together the right plan. And what better place to find a plan than in a K-drama? I am obsessed with K-Dramas so I loved all the references. But really, I loved this book in general. Desi could easily have been a goody-two-shoes character. Yet somehow she comes across as relatable and hilarious. While her behavior at times is downright crazy, all she had to do was reference a drama and I was totally for the plan. Why not stage a car accident or create a fake love triangle?

Loyalty and Legislative Action: A Survey of Activity by the New York State Legislature 1919-1949 by Lawrence H. Chamberlain 

This book focuses on three legislative investigations of “subversive” activities conducted by the New York legislature. While that doesn’t sound like a topic you’d want to curl up with in a rainy day, I found it surprisingly readable and interesting. What continually surprised me was how relevant the book was. Though specific examples may no longer apply, the government’s actions and arguments are only too familiar. From John Doe investigations gone horribly wrong to the overuse of (possibly illegal) warrants, the general facts sound eerily like something you would hear in the news today. 


2017 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

For those of you who don’t have time to read 119 books in 365 days (and even those of you who do), here are my favorites from this year! They all come with my recommendation. 

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by James Collins

A business book full of interesting case studies and general principles for building a successful (“great”) business. Like many books in this genre, I enjoyed it because I saw elements of Good Profit in it. Since I love Good Profit, I was bound to like this one too. Overall a bit dated but intellectually engaging and well worth the time. 

Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker

I don’t normally like poetry, but I loved this little volume of poems. Parker is cynical, depressed, and heart-sore yet so real. She is occasionally trite and sarcastic but rarely dull. Sad, beautiful poetry.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Sir Gareth Ludlow has decided it is time to marry…but on his way to propose to his childhood friend, he meets a lovely young runaway! Determined to return her to her family, he enlists the help of his erstwhile fiance. Chaos ensues. This is a fairly standard Heyer plot yet perhaps one of her better uses of it. A fun, romantic romp! 

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer

Gervase Frant returns from the wars to claim his inheritance and take over the family estate. His family accept his return with hostility. Several “accidents” later and Gervase starts to wonder…do they hate him enough to murder him? This book perhaps deserves closer to 4 stars because the mystery is quite clunky. However, Gervase is charming and Miss Morville, the leading lady, absolutely wonderful. Another charming Heyer read. 

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis 

I was twelve years of age when I chopped of my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.” So begins a charming, fun story about a girl who discovers she has magic and tries to use it to save her family’s waning fortune. Kat was a likable, spunky heroine and I loved her relationship with her sisters. The whole book kept me guessing with its twists and turns. A creative, magical adventure set in the Regency era written for middle schoolers. 

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner  

Megan Whalen Turner is seriously the best. Thick as Thieves is book 5 in the Queen’s Thief series and let me tell you, it is just as good as the others. I won’t say much more because spoilers. If you haven’t already, go pick up The Thief. It is slow at first but worth it for the end. (And the rest of the books.) Definitely one of my favorite fantasy series! 

Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson 

Sixteen-year-old Alison lives in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found. According to Alison, the body just disintegrated. But that’s impossible…right? This book particularly stuck out because I went in assuming it would be another YA fantasy and it turned out to be sci-fi. While this jarred with a lot of readers, I enjoyed the switch. The novel avoids most cliches and really nails the YA genre with its originality. 


2017 Reading Metrics

Let’s recap: 

2017 Reading Goals:

  • 170 books
  • 25 re-read books
  • Get my to-read list down from 960 to 900 (and keep it there!) 
  • Read some Greek classics and church fathers

And what actually happened? 

2017 Reading Reality:

  • 119 books
  • 12 re-reads
  • To read list: 924
  • Greek classics and church fathers: 0

…Kind of depressing, really. The last time I read so few books it was 2010. And in 2010 I wasn’t really keeping track of what I read, so I might actually have out-read myself then too. I had high expectations for this year…but then I went to camp. And then I went to law school. I guess I have an excuse!

This year I read: 40,247 pages. (Only down 1,162 pages from last year.)  The longest book was Civil Procedures: A Coursebook by Joseph Glannon (aka…my Civ Pro textbook) at 1,287 pages. The shortest book was Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker at 110 pages. My average rating was 3.2 stars. 

Keep an eye out for my annual 5 Star Favorites…coming soon!