The Abnormal Use Haunted House

As you know, we here at Abnormal Use are dedicated to the proposition that Halloween should offer merriment in conjunction with a full phantasmagorical experience. So, we thought we would share with you the work of one of our contributors who has gone above and beyond in crafting an unforgettable experience for trick-or-treaters this fateful evening. Behold and beware of these five photographs of one of the scariest homes in the Southeastern United States.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Happy Halloween From Abnormal Use!

Do you realize that we’ve done three previous Halloween posts – in 2010, 2011, and 2012 – and not once did we use an image from the Batman saga, The Long Halloween? Above, you’ll find the cover of the trade paperback, which collected the 13 individual issues published in 1996 and 1997. (For more on this fateful tale, see here.). Here’s how Wikipedia describes the plot:

Taking place during Batman’s early days of crime fighting, The Long Halloween tells the story of a mysterious killer named Holiday, who murders people on holidays, one each month. Working with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon, Batman races against the calendar as he tries to discover who Holiday is before he claims his next victim each month, while attempting to stop the crime war between two of Gotham’s most powerful families, Maroni and Falcone. This novel also acted as a main introduction for one of Batman’s most eluding foes, The Calendar Man, who knows the true identity of the Holiday killer but refuses to share this with Batman. He instead riddles and gives Batman hints from his Arkham Asylum cell. The story also ties into the events that transform Harvey Dent into Batman’s enemy, Two-Face. Enemies such as Scarecrow, The Joker, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy and The Riddler, among others, also make an appearance.

Whatever the case, we here at the Abnormal Use law blog and Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. wish you a safe and festive Halloween.

Check out our past Halloween posts here, here, and here.

The Lawyers’ Epidemic: Putting A Face On Depression

Singer-songwriter, James Taylor once wrote a song called “Down in the Hole.”  Here are some of its lyrics:

Welcome down underground, hunker down a spell.
Gets to feel like home to me though I know it looks like hell.
Down in the hole, Lord, it’s deep and the sides are steep.
And the nights are long and cold, down in the hole.
Light and love and the world above mean nothing to the mole.
Down in the hole.

James Taylor has called this song his anthem to depression.  He called it that because he has been there: down in the hole.  Taylor knew about the hole, the hole so deep, so dark, sides so steep, with no obvious way out.  He had been there. And, I have been there.  Over 20 years ago, during a time in which I had been feeling down and things had not been going my way at work, I noticed that I was not myself.  I felt down most of the time.  I had lost interest in most activities.  I was more tired and had less energy.  I had trouble thinking and concentrating at work, and I was indecisive.  I would be at work for hours on end and find myself having not accomplished anything at all.  I was more irritable and emotional, particularly at home. I experienced a change in my sleeping patterns that I had never experienced before.  I began to wake up early in the morning around 4:30, and then not be able to go back to sleep.  I thought I was going back to sleep, but I never did – and as a result, I woke up tired.

All of the things that I just mentioned are the warning signs for depression — or being down in the hole, the hole so deep, so dark, so steep, with no obvious way out.

William Styron was an American novelist best known for two controversial novels, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice.  In 1985, Styron suffered from a serious clinical depression which he would later recall in his popular memoir, Darkness Visible.  In that book, Styron talked about his descent into depression, his attempted suicide, and the triumph of recovery.  Styron described his depression this way:

The decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain.  One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.

Styron further described the madness of depression as a storm – a storm of murk.  There are the slowed-down responses, the energy throttled back close to zero.  Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped and drained. What did I do?  I got help.  Ninety percent of those with depression can be successfully treated, and I am a part of that 90 percent.  With the support of my wife and my law firm, and the help of medication, an anti-depressant, I slowly came out of the hole and back into the light.  It was not quick, and it was not easy, but slowly, I climbed out of that hole.  I could not have done it by myself.  No amount of alcohol or vacations or just pulling myself up by my bootstraps would have done it.  I needed help.

My story is not terribly dramatic.  I did not lose my job, and I was never suicidal.  I was never hospitalized, but I was sick.  I got help, and I got better.  At the time I first had the problem, I was an associate at our law firm, Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A.  About a year after experiencing this problem, and having recovered and climbed out of the hole, I became a partner in our law firm, where I continue to work today. Depression can be treated and you can recover, be successful and productive.

If you remember nothing else from this, remember these three things:

1)         Depression is a medical illness, not a personal weakness;

2)         Depression is a medical problem that can be successfully treated with medication and therapy; and

3)         If you or someone you know has a problem, get help from a medical professional.

Please remember that there is hope, and there is help.  You are not alone.

Revisiting The Lawyers’ Epidemic: How Lawyers Can Avoid The Vulnerability To Depression, Suicide, and Substance Abuse

We have previously reported on the prevalence of depression and substance abuse in the legal profession and why lawyers are vulnerable to these problems.  Let’s turn our focus now to how lawyers can avoid these problems and achieve a balanced life and fulfillment in the practice of law. In 2003, the ABA published a book, Lawyer Life – Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law, written by the Honorable Carl Horn, III, who at that time was the U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.  Judge Horn later retired from the bench and entered private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Judge Horn’s book addresses the daily problems facing lawyers and the general dissatisfaction many lawyers experience with their profession.  After a thorough examination of the profession and its various problems, including lawyers’ vulnerability to depression and substance abuse, Judge Horn set forth “12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law,” which is based on choices that the individual lawyer can make to enhance professional fulfillment.

1)         Face the Facts

By honestly and openly asking the right questions, we increase our chances toward a balanced, fulfilling professional life.  Do you feel good where you are professionally and personally, and where your life appears to be going?  Let honesty be the rule here.  We must face these facts on a regular basis if our lives are to remain balanced and on-course.  Lawyers who do not ask these kinds of questions, who fail to engage in periodic introspection, are more likely to experience what has been described as “the lingering feeling of emptiness despite material success.”

2)         Establish Clear Priorities

Judge Horn says that if we aim to live balanced lives, lines must be drawn beyond which we are not willing to go, at least not on a regular basis.  He suggests making time with your family a top priority, and to be sure your daily and weekly schedules reflect it.  Clearly, making enough money should be a priority.  However, the proper priority, in a balanced life, that should be given to making enough money, must not be a license for workaholism or what one commentator has called a money-centered world view.  If balance and happiness are among our life goals, we must be vigilant not to allow money to become an end in itself.

3)         Develop and Practice Good Time Management

Whatever time we spend on our work should be arranged for maximum productivity.  Judge Horn suggests that there are at least five areas in which many lawyers could begin to make significant progress simply by paying close attention.  These include better planning; minimizing interruptions by phone or in person; more careful scheduling and planning of meetings; mastering the paper flow; and more thoughtful and efficient delegation.  He suggests that if you live by the rule that the way to get things done right is to do it yourself, get over it.  The time and energy you alone have to give, can and will soon run out.  What you can accomplish by the thoughtful and efficient delegation to others is significantly less limited.  Anything that can be done by others, should be done by them.  Those who learn to delegate effectively, will free up many of their own hours and see their productivity significantly rise.

4)         Implement Healthy Lifestyle Practices

Judge Horn suggests that there is a positive correlation between lawyers who self-reported a sense of subjective well-being and those who engaged in certain habits or practices that are deemed “healthy.”  Those practices include regular exercise, attending religious services, personal prayer, hobbies, engaging in outdoor recreation, pleasure reading, and taking weeks of vacation.

Lawyers with other serious interests, those who successfully resist the “all work and no play” syndrome, also consider themselves the happiest.

5)         Live Beneath Your Means

The focus of Judge Horn’s comments in this section is that unless we actively struggle against it, we will find ourselves engaging in consumer spending that severely limits our ability to choose a healthier, more balanced life.

6)         Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life

How we do this is something each individual must work out.  Some get up early and work, either at home or in their offices, so they can have dinner with their families most evenings.  Others decline to carry cell phones or check email or voicemail much of the time they are away from the office.  Whatever our strategy, the core objective is the same: to establish boundaries that prevent technology from controlling our lives.

7)         Care About Character – And Conduct Yourself Accordingly

Judge Horn exhorts us to vow to do what most of us already know is right: strive to conduct ourselves honorably, which means refusing to lie, cheat or steal, however much pressure we are under, or however profitable the wrong choices may appear to be at that moment.  Do not pad your timesheets; do not tell lies to partners or clients or opposing counsel; do not misrepresent legal authority to judges; do not break your promises.  Do not do anything else that is contrary to the values that you now hold.  If we care about our character, and conduct ourselves accordingly, we will be able to sleep well at night.

8)         “Just Say No” to Some Clients

Judge Horn suggests that we should be scrupulously honest with our clients, including but not limited to, the work we choose to do and how it is billed.  We must be exceedingly careful not to cross the ethical lines and to keep a measure of professional distance, particularly where an objective third party might see our client’s conduct as deceptive.  We should strive to provide wise counsel, which often requires more of a big picture approach to problem solving and conflict resolution.  And sometimes we should “just say no” to some clients.

9)         Stay Emotionally Healthy

Judge Horn suggests that we must seek a healthy balance between our rational, cognitive sides, on the one hand, and our feelings, emotions, heart and imagination on the other.  We must pursue balance not only in how we spend the limited hours of our lives, but also between our outer and inner selves.

10)       Embrace Law as a “High Calling”

If we are to have a realistic hope of regaining professional self-confidence, Judge Horn says we must reaffirm ideals that transcend self-interest, including our individual and profession-wide commitment to the common good.  We must not allow the legal profession to become an amoral, dollar-driven business; indeed, we should not be afraid to make value-based decisions or give advice surrounded in moral conviction.  In short, if we are to find fulfillment in the practice of law, we must embrace law as a high calling.

11)       Be Generous With Your Time and Money

Judge Horn acknowledges that his primary point here is fairly selfish, that being generous with our time and money will make us feel better about our profession and our lives generally.  He notes that those who have been revered for their wisdom and empathy are often people who believed that the very purpose of life is to be of service to others.

12)       Pace Yourself for a Marathon

Striving for professional excellence is a good and worthy goal.  In sharp and important contrast, trying to achieve perfection is not.  Allen Dershowitz wrote a brief reflection which he titled “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Excellent,” in which he observed that “every book, painting, symphony or speech could be improved.  The search for perfection is illusory and has no end.”

We would do well to strive for professional excellence but be wary of any tendency we may have toward perfectionism. The challenges set forth by Judge Horn are those with which we can expect to struggle for the rest of our lives.  Thankfully, they are not impossible struggles and if we diligently take these steps, we can realistically expect to move closer to our goal of finding balance, success and fulfillment in the practice of law.

Revisiting The Lawyers’ Epidemic: Why Lawyers Are Vulnerable To Depression, Suicide, and Substance Abuse

As we have previously reported, studies show that lawyers are three times as likely to suffer from depression as members of other professions.  The rate of substance abuse among lawyers is twice that of the general population.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death among attorneys, after cancer and heart disease.  If you believe the research and studies, we must ask why lawyers are vulnerable to these problems. In a recent article at Legal Cheek, the author, WaitroseLaw, asked: “Does the way that lawyers are encouraged to think and work make them vulnerable to depression?”  The author answers the question by starting with the obvious answers which are common to many other professions, including long hours, heavy workload, and less job security.

But as the author points out, there must be something more insidious at work. First, the author reminds us that lawyers are trained, and often temperamentally inclined, to analyze and pick apart the issues.  However, we then turn that instinct inward.  As the author suggests, “while a bit of self-analysis can be healthy, brooding on your mistakes can be profoundly self-destructive.” Further, the author says that the “prevailing culture of 24/7 availability only makes matters worse.”  And then there is the unwritten expectation that lawyers should put their work and firm first.  WaitroseLaw concludes that if we are predisposed to depression anyway or suddenly face extra personal or professional pressures, “the way we’re encouraged to think and work can be a real problem.”

Some psychologists have suggested that lawyers are more prone than other professions to the dangerous disease of depression because of two personality traits: perfectionism and pessimismAs Lynn Johnson suggests, the legal profession attracts perfectionists and rewards perfectionism.  Perfectionism drives us to excel in college, in law school, and on the job.  But, perfectionism can have a dark side which can lead to a chronic feeling that “nothing is good enough.”  When we make the inevitable mistake, perfectionism magnifies the failure.

Dr. Amiram Elwork, in his work Stress Management for Lawyers, agrees that perfectionism is rewarded in both law school and the practice of law.  However, perfectionism can lead to negative thinking such as “if I don’t do it perfectly, I’m no good; it’s no use; I should just give up” or “I have to do it perfectly and I can’t quit until it’s perfect.”  Such thinking can lead to depression.

As Susan Daicoff pointed out in her article in The Complete Lawyer:

Perfectionism can also lead to an overdeveloped sense of control and responsibility so that individuals believe they are responsible for situations over which they actually do not have complete control.  If things do not turn out well, these individuals often blame themselves, they didn’t work hard enough or they weren’t sufficiently prepared or vigilant.  They then either “beat themselves up” or resolve to “work harder” next time, not acknowledging that some things are out of their control.  This erroneous belief causes a great deal of angst, which is then expressed either as depression or irritability and anger, which are really two sides of the same coin.

(See Daicoff, Susan, “Depression is Prevalent Among Lawyers – But Not Inevitable,” The Complete Lawyer, 12/2/08).

In addition to attracting perfectionists, the legal profession also attracts pessimists.  Recent studies have shown that in all graduate school programs in all professional fields except one, optimists outperform pessimists.  The one exception: law school.  Pessimism helps lawyers excel by making us skeptical of what our clients, our witnesses, opposing counsel, and judges tell us.  It helps us anticipate the worst and thus prepare for it.  However, pessimism can be bad for our health, as it can lead to stress and disillusionment, making us vulnerable to depression.

Let us hear from you.  Why do you think lawyers are vulnerable?  Do you agree with the research?  What else may be involved?

For further resources on lawyers and depression, check out, a website created by Dan Lukasik, a lawyer from Buffalo, New York.

Friday Links

Okay, let us tell you something. After three and a half years, it is getting really, really difficult to find legal themed comic books covers.  Each week, we scour the Earth – literally, we are scouring – to find an acceptable new image for Friday Links. We do this for you, our dears readers, but of late, it’s become a challenging task. So you can imagine our elation when we discovered the 1950’s comic book series, Public Defender in Action (about which we previously knew nothing). Above, you’ll see the cover of issue #7, published way, way back in 1956.  We assume that Richard Manning, the lawyer looking gentlemen with the “Richard Manning, Public Defender” is, in fact, the title character. (We wonder if he ever encountered the title character of the comic book series, Mr. District Attorney.). We will delve into this series more in the immediate future.

Over at Lawyerist, Gyi Tsakalakis asks that question of questions: “Should You Allow Comments On Your Law Blog?

The North Carolina Law Blog is now hosting “Business Development Fridays.” See here for the first edition of that series.

In his column this week, the Panic Street Lawyer talks briefly about the RIAA litigation.

Juror’s Facebook Comments “Not Prejudicial” To Defendant in Washington Med Mal Action

Another trial, another juror posting comments about same on Facebook.

This time, it’s Figueroa v. High Line Medical Center, No. 68272-5-I (Wash. Ct. App. Oct. 14, 2013), a medical malpractice case (the basic facts of which are not important to the Facebook issue). Whatever the facts, the jury found for the plaintiff, and the doctor appealed on a number of issues.

One of his points of error was jury misconduct.  The relevant portion of the opinion reads:

Dr. Ryan argues that the court erred in not granting a new trial because of alleged juror and attorney misconduct. Dr. Ryan further argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a new trial after a juror posted comments regarding the case on Facebook. A juror’s communication with a third party about a case constitutes misconduct.The trial court may grant a new trial only where such juror misconduct has prejudiced the defendant.

Here, no such prejudice was shown. The juror’s comments were limited and innocuous. They were nothing more than a description of the juror’s day interspersed with the following related comments on her jury duty:

• Spent the day in Superior Court doing my civic duty. On jury duty for next 2 weeks.

• Day 3 of jury duty. Very difficult to listen to a translator during the questioning. I can pick out some words.

• Day 4 of jury duty, off on Friday, and back to the jury on Monday. Hope to finish by noon on Thursday. It’s been interesting. Love the 1 1/2 hour lunches.

• My civic duty, jury duty ended today with a negligent claim on the doctor. This was tough to decided $s to the plaintiffs. Mentally exhausting!

While it was inappropriate for the juror to post anything on Facebook regarding the case, these comments were not prejudicial to Dr. Ryan.

(Citations and quotations omitted).

Sure, the status updates were probably harmless, and his only substantive remark referred to the verdict itself, after it had been rendered. However, it seems that the jury’s conduct was almost certainly violative of whatever instructions the judge may have given to the jurors prior to the institution of the trial. Oh, well.

“MZU SUX” License Plate – Obscene or Funny?

Does the word “sucks” have an obscene connotation?  That is a question recently addressed by a Missouri Court of Appeals.  The case stems from a personalized Missouri license plate obtained by a University of Kansas Jayhawks fan.  This license plate read “MZU SUX”  (shorthand for Mizzou Sucks), which was an obvious shot at the Jayhawks’ rival the University of Missouri.  The court of appeals held that the fan could keep the plate.

The plate’s owner obtained it in 2009 through the normal application process for obtaining a personalized state issued license plate.  However, shortly after the plate was issued, the Missouri Department of Revenue attempted to recall the plate, citing a statute that says no personalized license plate shall be obscene or profane.  The owner argued that in recent decades the term “sucks” has come to mean “subpar” and that the license plate was intended to be funny.  At an administrative hearing on the matter, the commissioners agreed and ruled that term “sucks” was not obscene. The Department of Revenue appealed the commission’s ruling to the court of appeals, which didn’t exactly answer the question of whether “sucks” was an obscene word.  Instead, it deferred to the commission’s decision on the grounds that there was an adequate basis for its ruling and that it would not substitute its own opinion for that of the commission.

The Court noted, however, that “another fact finder may have found otherwise.”

The whole case is a little silly, but I guess we can score this as a victory for free speech.  At minimum, it’s a victory for those who believe that Mizzou is “subpar.”

The case is Gettler v. Director of Revenue, No. WD 75783 (Mo. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2013).


GWB Receives DRI’s Law Firm Diversity Award

We are very pleased to announce that our firm recently received the 2013 Defense Research Institute’s Law Firm Diversity Award. Established in 2002, the DRI Law Firm Diversity Award annually recognizes a DRI member law firm that has shown exemplary progress and achievements in its diversity program.  To be considered for the award, a firm must show characteristics of a diversity strategy that is committed to the sensitivity and receptivity of diversity issues including promotion of its minority and women attorneys or volunteers within the firm. This is a wonderful honor, as only one law firm from across the entire country is recognized each year.  We owe much to our Diversity Committee and to Jennifer Johnsen, who chairs that committee, for their leadership within the firm on this issue.  Further, we owe much to our colleagues and employees for helping us to maintain a tremendous environment of openness and inclusion here at GWB.

GWB is currently comprised of 145 employees from 23 different states and five countries.  The firm’s 67 attorneys hail from every region of the country, attended 26 different undergraduate institutions, and 16 different law schools.

For more information on the firm and this award, please see our statement on our main website.

Kentucky Court Gives OK to the Melting Hair Case

We here at Abnormal Use don’t pretend to know much about hair products. We do, however, know that they shouldn’t melt your hair. A host of new plaintiffs apparently know this as well, having filed suit against Unilever alleging that the manufacturer’s hair-strengthening Keratin product did just that. Unilever moved to dismiss the suit, but a Kentucky federal court recently denied the motion. We suppose a jury will now get to decide whether our presumption was correct. The plaintiffs allege that Unilever’s Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30-Day Smoothing Kit contains harsh chemicals that burned their scalps and melted or permanently destroyed their hair. The product was advertised as “formaldehyde-free,” but the plaintiffs have some suspicion that might not have been the case. Unilever recalled the product in 2012, but multiple plaintiffs were able to purchase and use the hair kit after the recall, the suit alleges.

Certainly, we know very little of the merits of the case at this point. Not that it would absolve all liability, but we do wonder whether the hair melting occurred after the first use or whether it was the result of the entire 30-day process. It will also be interesting to see the merit behind the “permanently destroyed” allegation. If the product had worked as advertised, straightening the hair by breaking down disulfide binds in curly hair, and the user didn’t like the result, would that also be damage? If so, it seems as if this analysis could be extended to any hair product such as hair dyes when repeatedly used. Moreover, last we checked, hair grows back, so how can the damage be permanent? Clearly, we here at Abmormal Use pay close attention to hair.