ADHD and the Overwhelming Legal Argument
by Rosemary Hollinger
Several years ago, when I was still spending most of my time keeping our financial markets safe, I received a 158-page White Paper from our opposing counsel arguing that the government agency I worked for shouldn’t charge his client. He filed it several days after his second extension expired. Under the Regulations, the page limit was 20 pages. He had not requested additional pages. I knew the higher-ups were inundated and would not read past page 25, so I called him to share that information with him and give him another chance to resubmit his White Paper. When I delivered the message, he was frustrated and angry. I remember suggesting that he make his three best arguments, make them well, and drop the rest. He told me all of his arguments were of equal merit and he simply could not do what I suggested.
Now, as I look back on that occurrence, I see the classic signs of a lawyer with ADHD. He was confronted with a novel and complex legal issue. My guess is that he didn’t start working on it immediately because procrastination is usually the first response to an overwhelming project. Then, he started to research it. I believe he got into a rut and over-researched the issue and lost sight of the time—hence the two extensions. Ultimately, he came up with a few interesting arguments and several novel ones as well in a document no one was likely to read from beginning to end. When given the chance to reduce the size of his White Paper to his three best arguments, he was unable to do that. In this case, overwhelm made him ineffective.
What could he have done differently?
- To get out of the procrastination, he could have employed a strategy where he took the smallest possible step to get started within days of receiving notice of the proposed charges. In his case, that could have been speaking with co-defense counsel to see what arguments they would raise or identifying one or two legal issues to research.
- Once he started to experience overwhelm because there were too many issues, he could have leaned on his team to help him rank the arguments.
- Once the best arguments were agreed upon, he could have divided the arguments and delegated writing sections of the White Paper to his associates with the instructions to write a response that met the page limit within the allotted time.
A good coach can help attorneys identify criteria that can be applied to differentiate between intellectually interesting options and strong legal arguments. Many excellent trial lawyers find non-lawyers are sometimes better at seeing what is truly important over another lawyer. However, there are times our arguments are so complex or technical that only another lawyer can help. This is one of the reasons Partner Up, with its ADHD coaches who have practiced law, can help attorneys separate the important from the novel and interesting, set priorities, and respect the parameters of our profession.
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Partner Up’s Newest Coach
Even Monez, ADHD Coach with Partner Up
Evan is a licensed member of the Washington Bar Association with a J.D. from the University of Texas and LLM in Taxation from the University of Washington. Evan practiced in estate planning, probate, and tax law at a prestigious Seattle law firm for several years. She then worked for a wealth management firm before finding her calling as an ADHD coach and starting Monez ADHD Coaching. Evan continues to practice law as a volunteer at the King County Bar Association Neighborhood Legal Clinic. Learn more about her ADHD journey in the following article.
The Isolation of Overwhelm for ADHD Associates
by Evan Monez
I was diagnosed with ADHD while practicing law as an associate attorney at a prominent Seattle law firm. I managed to graduate with Distinction from the University of Virginia, get a JD from the University of Texas, and an LLM in Taxation from the University of Washington despite my undiagnosed ADHD. I did this by leveraging my strengths well-suited to learning and relying on extremely flawed and unhealthy, but effective, coping mechanisms like A LOT of all-nighters.
When I launched into practicing law, my ADHD and anxiety went into overdrive, and those coping mechanisms failed. I found myself frequently paralyzed on where to start my projects. I was unable to prioritize or manage time well. I got so far behind that the time pressure was constant and no longer effective. With the help of a therapist, I finally figured out I had ADHD, which explained so much. So many of my life experiences made sense the more I learned about it beyond the stereotypes.
While learning about my diagnosis was helpful, in the early days of starting to understand myself better, I was still extremely overwhelmed and burnt out. My firm didn’t know anything about ADHD or how to help me, and I didn’t know what to ask for. I was also TERRIFIED for anyone to find out how far behind I really was. Over my lifetime, I became an expert at masking my executive function weaknesses and then pulling things together at the last minute.
I didn’t feel like I had the support or safety at work to be honest about how overwhelmed I was and ask for help. I didn’t know how to dig out of it, and I didn’t know any other attorneys who were open about having ADHD to talk to. It was extremely isolating. I tapped into social media networks with ADHD adults and realized I was not uniquely broken or flawed. A lot of people have brains like mine. What I needed was an ADHD coach!
One of the most valuable things a coach can provide is a nonjudgmental space for clients to process their experiences and know they will be received without judgment. For ADHD attorneys, that means someone who can help them work through their overwhelm paralysis, identify priorities, and find strategies that are effective for their unique brains without having to hold back for fear they will be misunderstood, judged, or otherwise hurt their career by being honest about how much they are struggling.
Experiencing the power of ADHD coaching sent me on the path to becoming a coach myself. I discovered coaching is uniquely suited to my strengths and is something of a calling for me. As a coach, I’m passionate about helping attorneys with ADHD work through challenges and find strategies so they can stay in law if that is their desire, or make choices about what they would prefer to be doing, rather than being forced into those choices by overwhelm and burnout.
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For Parents with ADHD
I realize that some of our readers are parents. I asked Julie Kliers, a colleague of mine, to share her thoughts on parenting and overwhelm.
Julie Kliers, ADHD Coach
Julie is a certified coach, trained at the ADD Coach Academy, and received her BFA from Boston University. She provides ADHD coaching services to parents, teens, and adults in the area of executive functioning. Julie is deeply passionate about working with individuals who want to better understand themselves and learn to create ways to move forward in their lives. To request a free consultation, email Julie at Julie@jadhdcoach.com or visit her website.
Survival Tips for Overwhelmed Parents
by Julie Kliers
However, ADHD has its challenges such as not being able to follow through, be on time, or be organized, which can lead to not only being hard on ourselves, it can create chaos in our lives. It was especially challenging when I became a mom with three kids, and my “to-do lists” felt endless. I love sharing these seven strategies that helped me beat my feelings of overwhelm, and take control of my life.
- Fun first. Start the day by doing something you enjoy. This creates interest, which is an important way to stimulate the ADHD brain. Positive thoughts create endorphins that engage our brains and create forward momentum. We were taught to get the things we don’t like out of the way first, but really the opposite is true.
- Break it down. Do a brain dump of everything you have on your plate, so it is out of your brain and on paper. Grab your calendar and assign a home for only 1-2 tasks each day. Block it off. If a conflict arises, move it to a different day. Breaking it into chunks makes it feel more manageable, and knowing that each task has a home gives you more peace of mind.
- Give yourself permission to focus. It is okay to stay focused on that one task. Keep a post-it note handy that says, I’m working on this now. And a second one that says, I will be ok. Our outlier brains are always tempted to add more things for us to do, thinking they will just take a minute, but multitasking doesn’t work, it just creates more chaos.
- Get help. You don’t have to do it alone. Getting support is extremely energizing. Who can you enlist? Teamwork and brainstorming can be fun and social. Body doubling is when someone sits in the same room as you while you work. Just having a body there has been proven to be really motivating.
- Reframe self-talk. Instead of being focused on the fact that you never follow through, zero in on the parts you did do. Focus on the journey and the things learned along the way, even if it wasn’t finished. Paying attention to the positives are the thoughts that help you move forward.
- Celebrate success. We need to work hard to remind ourselves of the positives by keeping a success diary, or progress journal so we see the evidence of it. Counteracting negative stories changes the chemicals that are coming into our brains, and alters our neural pathways.
- Self-care. Are you getting the sleep, nutrition, and exercise you need to function at your best? We are so busy attending to the needs of our family. Create a checklist to remind yourself to take care of you. It can make a big difference in your energy level and overall state of mind.
What are you willing to try? I look forward to hearing your results!
Are you wanting to know more about overwhelm and ADHD? Take a look at the article “How to Reduce Overwhelm with an ADHD Brain” for more strategies.
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