Category: Narrative

Legal communicationNarrativeResilienceSelf-careWork-life balance

Hygge for lawyers

Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” “coziness of the soul,” and the “absence of annoyance,” to “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,” “cozy togetherness,” and … “cocoa by candlelight.”

Hygge is an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life—or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company—or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.

Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (2017)

In my last post of 2017, here’s something I’ve wanted to do all year: write about “hygge.”

The quote above from The Little Book of Hygge gives a good sense of what it is; it’s also claimed as the reason the Danish people are apparently the happiest in Europe. It’s the opposite of self-help trends such as “eating clean,” according to The Little Book of Hygge’s publisher:

Hygge is about embracing things—enjoying cake, not checking work emails all weekend, spending time with friends and family. It’s about the simple, small pleasures that make life great, which perhaps sometimes pass us by.

For some, the holiday season is a time to embrace the hygge with family and friends. NPR has this article on how to host a hygge holiday party.

But the hygge experience does not have to be limited to a holiday respite. I had a really rough first semester in law school, and one saving grace was the hygge qualities of the rental house I shared with three roommates. We had lots of nooks with comfy seating, pillows and throw blankets, lamps all around with soft lighting, a friendly cat, tons of mugs for always-brewing coffee and tea, shared meals, and good conversation whenever you wanted, but no obligation to talk. While my perception of the 1L law-school environment got worse and worse, I was able to take comfort in our cozy home and the people in it. Looking back, the first semester of law school just totally sucked, and everything got better from there. I’m grateful to my roommates—now lifelong friends—who made the environment that helped so much during that initial low point.

Away from home, aspects of hygge can make an office more supportive. The Little Book of Hygge suggests maintaining a small office garden, adding a sofa rather than just office chairs, starting a Friday office potluck tradition, and—in a perfect world (that’s an editorial comment by me) even bringing your dog to work. One of the happiest lawyers I know started his own firm and does just that, pretty much every day.

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This is not my dog, but I stopped and had a hygge moment with him.

So having a “hyggelig” environment can help any lawyer with the behind-the-scenes wellness. Beth Padgett of South Carolina Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers program wrote about hygge for lawyers in the March 2017 issue of the S.C. bar publication (page 9 here):

Many people find the work of improving their mental or emotional health (or even their attitude) to be daunting for a host of reasons. Hygge seems to be a simple and nonthreatening way to create some change.

Note: For those who struggle during the holidays, here and here are some suggestions on supporting them.

 

Legal communicationLegal writingNarrativeProfessional identity

Lawyers as heroes

Some clients are heroes—or plausibly can be portrayed as heroes in legal briefs. The lawyers remain in the background, telling the story without inserting themselves into it.

Another type of legal writing I study and teach is legal blogging. What I’ve noticed in reading lots and lots of legal blogs is that some lawyers portray themselves as heroes. More than scattering in a few personal pronouns for personal interest, sometimes I see lawyers telling a story with themselves as protagonist, fighting a particular battle or war for years.

This type of blogging narrative tends to crop up in areas where the lawyer represents individuals against the government or large well-organized business sectors. Two areas that come immediately to mind are criminal defense and immigration.

My practice background was in commercial litigation and intellectual property. It was certainly nice to help clients solve problems and navigate disputes. I did help small businesses fend off David-v-Goliath-like situations. I did work with people who cared very much about what happened to them. But at the end of the day, it was business litigation. All of these clients had other things they could do if their very worst outcome happened in whatever lawsuit they faced.

That background made it hard for me to truly get it when lawyers blogged as though they were heroes in an epic struggle. It seemed like there was a lot more lawyer than client in some of these blogs. Why is their own battle and their own story so important that they could explicitly put themselves at the center of it? I suspected a power imbalance, letting the lawyer subordinate the client’s story to the lawyer’s. I suspected ego.

The events of this weekend with the Executive Order on immigration helped me understand.

Lawyers swarmed the airports with their laptops, drafting habeas motions:

Stories of the clients were told, but only those we could actually see:

Many were literally locked in the so-called green room at Customs. Unable to communicate. Prevented from seeing a lawyer. Prevented from knowing that lawyers were outside trying to represent them. Told that the person to talk to about what was happening was President T.

The lawyers doing the work didn’t stop and tweet #habeasselfie or whatever. But someone took their picture. They were portrayed on Twitter and elsewhere as heroes.

And that helped me understand how such a lawyer would, eventually, in reflecting on their work, naturally tell a story in which they are the hero.

The clients are certainly heroic and bear the real burden of all of this. But they’re locked away and unseen, perhaps un-seeable. The lawyer works basically alone. (Maybe lawyers got such a reputation boost from this weekend not only because of the actual exigency and work, but because the photos showed them working so openly in teams bound by ethics and purpose.)

If the lawyer’s work is successful, the client emerges from the maws of the state. At that point, the client resumes their own heroic journey. But the lawyer has a story to tell too.

With this weekend’s airport images of lawyers at their laptops, holding signs offering legal help, and standing up to agents claiming “orders” prevented lawyers from seeing detainees, we got a glimpse of how a lawyer’s day-to-day experience may lead to a heroic narrative—and how that narrative can in fact be justified.

For more on telling the client’s story as a heroic journey, see Ruth Anne Robbins, Harry Potter, Ruby Slippers, and Merlin: Telling the Client’s Story Using the Characters and Paradigm of the Archetypal Hero’s Journey (Seattle U. L. Rev. 2006).