Were you diagnosed with ADHD/ADD in school? Well, guess what? You probably still have ADHD/ADD, which can impact your success in the workplace. Experts estimate that about 3-5% of all students have ADHD and that anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have ADHD in adulthood. Some of these individuals will enter the legal profession.
This blog is about how legal professionals with Adult ADHD can develop strategies to succeed.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear about what we are talking about when we use the terms ADHD. According to the Mayo Clinic:
Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
There are three forms of ADHD: primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive-impulsive and combination. The term ADD refers to the primarily inattentive form of ADHD. For the purposes of this blog, ADHD will refer to all three types.
Working within the legal profession can be a rewarding endeavor, however, the profession is not without its challenges that can severely impact attorneys with ADHD as they go through their day. For instance, lawyers are sometimes called upon to review copious amounts of documents looking for a single fact or to comb through detailed Federal Regulations looking for arcane loopholes or to attend lengthy meetings that seem to serve no purpose. For a lawyer with ADHD if not treated and controlled, these tasks can seem insurmountable and the frustration can become almost unbearable. Document review and research can get put off and deadlines missed, meetings can be missed or, worse, hijacked or disrupted.
An example. Pat was a talented attorney. He was outgoing, brilliant, and creative. I believe in short meetings with a tight agenda. Pat would come to the meetings and within 5 minutes, he would have changed the topic, and we were off on some fascinating tangent that did not matter. He had hijacked my meeting.
How would I know if I have ADHD?
Well, consider the following questions and answer them honestly, after all, you can’t fool yourself:
- Do you get distracted at work? Do you have a problem staying on task?
- At other times do you hyperfocus on interesting tasks possibly spending too much time on them?
- Do you get painfully bored and restless at meetings?
- Do you wish people would just get to the bottom line?
- Do you blurt out your ideas (good, bad or indifferent) in meetings?
- Do you show up for meetings late? Or just forget to show up?
- Is your desk such a mess that you can’t easily put your hands on something you need?
- Are you disorganized?
- Do you get frustrated easily?
- Do you misplace things that you use frequently?
- Are deadlines a problem for you?
- Are you a big picture kind of person—not big on details?
- Are you a creative, thinking out of the box type of person?
- Are you a risk-taker?
Are the positive answers to any of these questions having a negative effect on your career or relationships with others? If they are, you may want to consult an ADHD medical specialist. ADHD can be treated with medication, however medication alone will not cure ADHD.
What do you mean by a negative effect on my career?
Based on my reading and having lived with people who have been diagnosed with ADHD, I have given a lot of thought to this condition. In my opinion, there is a continuum that runs from, let’s say 0 to 100 with 0 being no ADHD traits (potentially very boring) to 100 where the person is an out-of-control disorganized mess with no filters. Everyone falls somewhere on this continuum. There is a point on the continuum where a person’s ADHD traits start to negatively impact their lives. That point is different for everyone because of personality, environment, individual coping skills, intelligence, and other factors, but once that point is passed, bad things start to happen. If this sounds familiar, then it’s a good time to seek some help. Some people can get through school without ever passing that point and then they run smack into it once they hit the workplace—or a new job. For others, you may have answered positively to some of the questions, but you don’t think that ADHD is negatively impacting your life. That’s great! However, keep in mind the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”. Your ADHD may be manageable now, but life has a funny way of changing things up on us. Being prepared and practicing the following strategies will help you stay at the top of your game.
Strategies for Success
First, a cautionary tale
Ashley graduated law school, got a job in a well-respected personal injury firm, and she was an instant success. She loved the excitement of her high volume practice, going to court every day, meeting with clients, handling a variety of cases, going to trial, taking depositions and arguing motions. In addition, she had a great secretary, Deb, who kept her organized by controlling her calendar and who made sure that she had everything she needed to take to court all set up for her every morning. One day, Ashley’s poise in court caught the eye of a partner from a small boutique firm, who recruited her to join his firm doing complex commercial litigation. She found her assignments tedious and struggled to stay attentive. She procrastinated in starting projects she knew were boring and then as the deadline approached she rushed to get it done, made impossible demands of support staff and melted down when they could not meet her demands or she missed the deadlines entirely. The final work product often had a rushed quality to it glossing over details or disorganized. Moreover, she found that her out-of-box thinking and spontaneity was not valued and, in fact was a detriment.
This first strategy: Job Selection.
When Ashley started out, she was in a position that was well-suited to her strengths. Her first job involved a high volume practice that did not require a high degree of attention to detail. The rapid pace of the practice was stimulating, so Ashley never had the chance to get bored. Trial work is the risk-taker’s ultimate thrill and her ability to hyper-focus would make her a formidable opponent. All of this kept Ashley mentally engaged with her work. Equally as important, Ashley had a workplace support system in her secretary Deb, who was attentive to the details that kept Ashley on time and prepared.
What do the experts say you should consider in choosing the right position?
Pick something you love to do or care about. If you love sports, maybe sports law is for you. If you thrive on speaking to an audience and interacting with others maybe teaching is for you or being a lobbyist.
Consider your passions and what you do best. Look for something that will play to the strengths of the ADHD mind.
What do you mean “the strengths of the ADHD mind?
- Yes, ADHD has its positive attributes.
- People who have ADHD:
- Love a variety of tasks and can thrive on change
- Like working at a fast pace with short-term assignments
- Engaging and fun to be with
- Show compassion and empathy
- Are creative, outside of the box thinkers
- Have high energy levels
- Get to the bottom line quickly
- Can hyperfocus
- React quickly in emergencies
If you look at the positive attributes, you can see they line up pretty well with the traits that make excellent litigators/trial lawyers, politicians, teachers, journalists and software developers.
You have a job you love, but you’re still having problems. There are coping strategies you can employ because you will have to make changes in how you work and relate to others—which leads to my next strategy.
The Second Strategy: Software
Find the right software for you to help you keep track of your calendar, projects and deadlines and use it religiously. I use Asana, but it might not be the best solution for you. Many experts recommend Wunderlist, as well. There are many articles on the internet recommending various assistive software solutions for people with ADHD.
The Third Strategy: Build a Team
One of the things that made Ashley successful in her first position was her assistant Deb. Having a team gives you the support you need to let your talents shine. If you are in a position to recruit and hire your own team, hire to your weakness.
For example, when I was a team leader, my Director didn’t like my writing so I hired a team of the best writers I could find. I figured that I had the trial skills and they had the writing skills and that together, we’d be great. Three of us worked together successfully for almost 30 years with our complementary strengths and weaknesses making us better together than separately.
If you aren’t in a position to hire your team, you can build an informal team of your own. If you have found a member of the support staff who has strong organizational skills and works well with you, you may be able to negotiate for that person’s assistance along the lines of what Deb did for Ashley in the vignette above. Don’t be afraid to use your workplace network to develop your support team.
Managers have tools to assist you
As a manager, it can be challenging and sometimes frustrating to have ADHD staff. I had several employees who either were ADHD or acted as if they were. I found a couple of strategies that worked:
- Listening to their work-related issues and engaging in problem-solving
- Restructuring the work to assign tasks that they enjoyed and excelled at
- Re-assigning offices to place them in a quieter location
- Giving them opportunities to engage in creative problem solving
- Taking bigger assignments and chunking them down into smaller ones with tight deadlines
- Recognizing a job well done
I started as an in-house coach and saw that coaching can help the professional with ADHD develop strategies that work and are sustainable. In coaching, the client identifies his own developmental goals and partners with a coach to identify strategies and the actions to take to reach those goals. The coach supports the client in the journey, discusses lessons learned along the way and holds the client accountable for taking the agreed upon actions.
If you think coaching could help you, set up a free introductory call by clicking the button below.