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Certifiably Young

December 7, 2017 by pgd1

It has been said that we live in a culture that exalts youth and minimizes older people. While this is true, it is inconsistent with the way I look at aging.  It has been my pleasure and privilege to get to know some older people who are truly remarkable.

I was interested to hear about Donald Spero.1  Born in 1931, he received his J.D. in 1962 and practiced in Chicago for 33 years.  In 1995, Mr. Spero came to Florida and passed the Florida Bar Exam.  He was 64.  He wrote an article for The Florida Bar Journal in 2014 when he was 83.

A prolific author, he has authored over 40 articles and more than one book, all while practicing as a mediator with the Florida Mediation Group.  He became Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law in 2001.  This a process whereby the applicant must pass a test and be recommended by lawyers and judges.  To maintain his certification, Mr. Spero obtained 75hours of CLE credit in Labor and Employment Law.  He was recertified in 2016.

“I enjoy writing.”  Spero explains. “I love the law.”  He remarked that he admires Justice Ginsburg, and the vigorous schedule she keeps.  “She’s very impressive,” he quipped, “but she’s also two years younger than me.”

At age 86, Donald Spero has been married to Patricia for 53 years.  They live in North Palm Beach where Mr. Spero continues to practice, write, arbitrate labor and employment matters and work on his recertification application.  “When I recertify in 2021, I will be 90 years old.”

In the time he has been given, Mr. Spero has accomplished much.  He provides a model for those who wish to remain professionally active as they grow older.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Parts of this blog were taken from:  The Capstone, News and resources for board certified attorneys and those seeking certification, Volume 1, No. 1, Fall 2017

Mindful Lawyering

September 14, 2017 by pgd1

An important skill that develops through mindfulness practice is learning to discern between thoughts that are useful and warrant our attention, and those that are unhelpful, yet absorb our attention.

Scott Rogers, M.S., J.D., is a nationally recognized leader in the area of mindfulness in law and founded and directs the University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program where he teaches mindful ethics, mindful leadership, and mindfulness in law.  In a recent article, he quoted Attorney Douglas Chermak, a longtime mindfulness practitioner, as follows:

In practicing mindfulness, we work on cultivating the capacity to be simply aware of our thoughts and mental activity — just knowing that the thoughts are happening, without getting fixated on their content or needing to figure them out.  By practicing sitting, breathing, and watching our thoughts, we begin to see that at some level we don’t really have any control over them.  They just come and go, on their own.  By spending time observing this process, we develop greater mastery over momentary activity of the mind and are less likely to feel hostage to our thoughts.

. . . Through mindfulness practice, you become aware that thoughts are arising and continuing to surface, but instead of tackling them, you maintain awareness on the breath and notice the thoughts, and other mental activity, as they come and go.

I recommend setting aside some time each day to practice the kind of breath awareness exercise I mentioned above.  In time, you’ll more fully appreciate that you are in charge, rather than the problem being in charge of you.1

The practice of mindfulness can be a great help to anyone, especially members of the legal profession.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Portions of this blog were taken from: Rogers, Scott.  “The Mindful Lawyer”.  The Florida Bar News. Sept 1, 2017.  Retrieved from:

Lawyer Well-Being

September 7, 2017 by pgd1

If you really want to be a good lawyer, you must be a healthy lawyer – and that includes mental health.  An already struggling legal profession is at a tipping point, and steps need to be taken now to address lawyers’ well-being.

A 72-page report released August 14 – initiated by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers – outlines recommendations for taking action.1

Using data from 2016 research, here’s a snapshot of the lives of too many lawyers:

  • Between 21 and 36 percent of practicing lawyers qualify as problem drinkers.
  • Approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.
  • Difficulties for lawyers include suicide, social alienation, work addiction, sleep deprivation, job dissatisfaction, complaints of work-life conflict, and incivility.
  • There’s a documented “narrowing of values so that profit predominates,” accompanied   by a negative public perception.

The studies reflect that the majority of lawyers and law students do not have a mental health or substance use disorder.  But that does not mean that they’re thriving.  Many lawyers experience a ‘profound ambivalence’ about their work, and different sectors of the profession vary in their levels of satisfaction and well-being.

Acting for the benefit of lawyers who are functioning below their ability and for those suffering due to substance use and mental-health disorders, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being urges our profession’s leaders to act.

It is a great privilege to practice law.  However, problems in the profession exist.  I see the issuance of this report as a move in the right direction.  Awareness of the problems lawyers encounter will lead to solutions.  As in most of life, transparency assists the process of problem solving.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken from:  Pudlow, Jan.  “Report:  Lawyer’s wellness falls short.”  The Florida Bar News.  September 1, 2017.  Retrieved from:

The Importance of Intuition: Going with Your Gut

August 31, 2017 by pgd1

Intuition can make you a much more effective decision maker.

The main alternative to the intuition-based approach is rational thinking.  The rational decision making process relies mostly on logic and quantitative analysis.

Nearly every individual can recall a time when he or she felt propelled by an inner sense of knowing, an unabating sense of intuition which leads us in the right direction in times of uncertainty.

Sophy Burnham, author of the bestselling book “Art of Intuition”, articulately describes this phenomenon as “a knowing without knowing,” separate from thinking, logic or analysis.

Scientists have spent endless decades attempting to decode the secrets of the intuitive mind.  Their findings?  When it comes to decision-making, going with your gut often leads to more favorable outcomes than protracted, logical reasoning does.

Researchers have identified two diametric “operating systems” that invariably influence human functioning.  The first system is defined by a “quick, instinctual and often subconscious way of operating.”  This process of reasoning is controlled by our right brain and other areas of the cerebellum, referred to as the limbic and reptilian aspects of the brain.

The second system, however, is defined by a “slower, more analytical and conscious way of operating.”  Intuition is an innate part of System 1, which explains why these rapid sensations arise so suddenly from our instincts.  Nobel laureate, Princeton University professor of psychology and acclaimed author Daniel Kahneman explores the nature of insight derived from this interaction even further in his bestselling book “Thinking Fast and Slow”.

According to the results acquired from countless studies, researchers have realized that decisions prompted by System 1 reactions often result in more favorable outcomes than those ascertained by System 2.1

Also, according to Arianna Huffington, author of the seminal self-improvement book “Thrive”, mindfulness can be a great mode of strengthening one’s intuition.  When we are mindful, we can tap into the signals our body is sending us in any given moment.

As a person who works professionally to help people solve their problems, I have found that intuition and the practice of mindfulness are powerful tools.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Portions of this blog were taken from:  Williams, Alexa, “The Importance of going with your gut: why intuition trumps logic”.  Collegiate Times. April 30, 2017.  Retrieved from:

Poetic Justice

July 13, 2017 by pgd1

Bob Dylan’s pointed and versatile lyrics are cited in judicial opinions and have earned him a Nobel Prize for literature.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia loved opera, but he also had a soft spot for Bob Dylan.  In a 2010 dissent, for instance, he chastised the majority for refusing to answer key questions in a case about sexually explicit text messages because technology was evolving so fast.

“‘The-times-they-are-a-changin’ is a feeble excuse for disregard of duty,” he wrote.

Justice Scalia was in good company.  Mr. Dylan has long been the most cited songwriter in judicial opinions, says Alex B. Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and the author of a 2012 study, “The Freewheelin’ Judiciary: A Bob Dylan Anthology,” published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal.1

It was a 2008 dissent from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., that really opened the floodgates, Professor Long says. “Judges’ inclination to go to Dylan has actually increased in the past few years, probably as a result of Roberts’ dissent in that case,” he said.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Roberts quoted Dylan as follows:  “When you got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

In an interview of the Chief Justice on Feb. 3 2016, Dean John F. O’Brien of New England Law, Boston, probed the matter, starting with a general question. “What was your objective in quoting Bob Dylan?” Chief Justice Roberts, a little defensively, said there was a place for a bit of levity and license in legal writing. “An intelligent layperson appreciates Bob Dylan’s poetry, if not his music,” he said. “It was, after all, in a dissent, so you have a little bit more leeway there.”

“Bob Dylan captured the whole notion behind standing,” he added. “In that case, the party didn’t have anything at stake in the case and had nothing to lose, and the case should have been thrown out on that basis.”

Legal writing forms a unique aspect of literature that is enriched by the lyrics of Bob Dylan.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken, in part, from the writings of Adam Liptak, including “How Does It Feel, Chief Justice Roberts, to Hone a Dylan Quote?”  The New York Times.  February 22, 2016.

The Truth About Lies

June 1, 2017 by pgd1

Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.

The ubiquity of lying was first documented systematically by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The researchers found that the subjects lied on average one or two times a day.

“Lying is so easy compared to other ways of gaining power,” notes Sissela Bok, an ethicist at Harvard University who’s one of the most prominent thinkers on the subject. “It’s much easier to lie in order to get somebody’s money or wealth than to hit them over the head or rob a bank.”

There appears to be no agreement among psychiatrists about the relationship between mental health and lying, even though people with certain psychiatric disorders seem to exhibit specific lying behaviors. Sociopathic individuals—those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder—tend to tell manipulative lies, while narcissists may tell falsehoods to boost their image.

Researchers have shown that we are especially prone to accepting lies that affirm our worldview. Debunking them does not demolish their power, because people assess the evidence presented to them through a framework of preexisting beliefs and prejudices, says George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California, Berkeley. “If a fact comes in that doesn’t fit into your frame, you’ll either not notice it, or ignore it, or ridicule it, or be puzzled by it—or attack it if it’s threatening.”

Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1This blog contains excerpts from Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit,  Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways, June 2017 National Geographic  retrieved from

How to Help a Mentally Ill Person Who Stops Taking Medication

May 18, 2017 by pgd1

One recurring problem that I observe in the practice of family law is when a person who suffers from mental illness stops taking medication.  With this problem in mind, I began to search for solutions.  This is what I found:

  1. About one-third of people with schizophrenia say that they stay on medicine primarily because other people think it’s important.  For them, the influence of other people, rather than believing the medication is needed, is the key factor that promotes compliance.
  2. Persuasion is better than coercion.  Forcing someone to take medication by threats is, at best, a temporary solution that is best left for acute (emergency) situations.  It is better to try to find a way to persuade a person to take medication.
  3. Families should be genuinely sympathetic about the side effect problems and the distress they can cause.  Ignoring the side effect complaints won’t make them go away; indifference may make a person feel neglected or misunderstood.
  4. Prescribing clinicians frequently do not often detect or ask about noncompliance and are not always good at recognizing when patients stop their medication.  They may not recognize noncompliance until the person becomes psychotic and starts reacting to hallucinations.  Therefore, you cannot rely solely on a doctor’s assessment of the situation.  Nonetheless, if possible, it is important to maintain routine contact with the doctor to discuss, among other things, compliance issues.
  5. When someone relapses, it may be very hard to tell whether the biggest problem is that the medicine doesn’t work well enough (nonresponse) or the person is not taking the medication (noncompliance). It is very important to clarify the true cause of relapse because nonresponse to medicine would be handled very differently than noncompliance.1

The failure of individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to take prescribed medications can often leads to relapse of symptoms, re-hospitalizations, and homelessness.  It is important to have an awareness of the problem of mentally ill people who tend to stop taking medication.  We should apply these strategies to help these valued members of our society.

by Patrick Gafney

by Patrick Gafney

1 Weiden, Dr. Peter. “How to help someone who stops taking their medicines”.  Retrieved from:

Secrets and Their Implications

May 4, 2017 by pgd1

Keeping a secret is hard.  As a matter of professional ethics, lawyers are required to keep a client’s confidences.  These confidential communications can be understood as secrets.

In a recent study, Michael Slepian of Columbia University, addressed the question of just how much of a burden it is to possess a secret.

The researchers discovered that people reported pondering their secrets privately about twice as often as they chose to conceal them from others.

It was this private pondering, rather the actual possession of a secret, that seemed crucial to health and well being.

Those who thought little about their secrets had well being scores higher than those who thought about their secrets a lot.1

From this research one might conclude that keeping secrets is not so hard–but thinking about them is.  As lawyers, we might pause to ponder what we think about.

It is important to remember that happiness does not depend on who we are or what we have.  It solely depends on what we think.2

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog contains excerpts from “Weighing on the Soul”. The Economist. April 22, 2017.

2 Siddhartha Gautama, aka The Buddha.

It’s Not About the Money

April 27, 2017 by pgd1

For decades, Stephen Bright has worked to provide the quality of legal representation to the powerless and impoverished that only the wealthiest clients could afford.  All the while, he has done so on a shoestring, forsaking the riches his profession could bring.

Bright is one of only a few lawyers who can say they’ve won all their arguments before the nation’s highest court.  In his three prior cases, justices overturned death sentences because of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.

Bright embodies the best the legal system has to offer, Atlanta lawyer Ed Garland said.

“He represents unselfishness, humility and deep personal love and caring for the least of those in our society,” Garland said.  “I’ve been with him in courtrooms where he was courageous and magnificently effective.  I’ve been with him in jails where he showed individual defendants the greatest of human compassion.”

Bright said he’s never regretted missing out on the lavish income he could command, given his credentials and expertise.  “I’ve never had any interest in making a lot of money,” he said.

There was never much to earn at the Southern Center.  Fifteen years ago, Bright and every other lawyer there made $30,000 a year.  Two years ago, Bright took in $38,000.  He also teaches at some of this country’s most prestigious law schools.  His pay for teaching at law schools?  It went to the Southern Center, not into his pockets.

In 1998, the American Bar Association presented its prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award to Bright.  Attending the gala were high-profile lawyers in tailored wool, designer dresses and splashy jewelry.  Bright showed up in a bargain-rack suit he’d bought in Pascagoula, Miss.

And this week, Bright will argue his fourth case before the U.S. Supreme Court, this time on behalf of Alabama death-row inmate James McWilliams.

Stephen Bright is a unique individual, who’s example stands in sharp contrast to prevailing views regarding lawyers.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken from:  Rankin, Bill.  April 20, 2017.  “This low-paid Atlanta lawyer is one of the best”.  Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Buck v. Bell: An Embarrassment in American Jurisprudence

April 6, 2017 by pgd1

“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the worst Supreme Court decisions in history, according to journalist Adam Cohen, was the 1927 decision upholding a state’s right to forcibly sterilize a person considered unfit to procreate – unfit because they were deemed to be mentally deficient.  That decision is part of a larger chapter of American history in which the eugenics movement was behind preventing so-called mentally deficient people from procreating through not allowing them to marry, sterilizing them and segregating them in special colonies.

The Nazis borrowed some ideas from American eugenicists.  The eugenics movement also influenced the 1924 Immigration Act, which was designed in part to keep out Italians and Eastern European Jews.  Adam Cohen’s book titled Imbeciles is about the eugenics movement in the early 20th century and the Supreme Court case legalizing sterilization.

The word eugenics was actually coined by Francis Galton, who was a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, and it derived from Darwinian ideas.  The eugenicists looked at evolution and survival of the fittest as Darwin was describing it. They believed they could help nature along if they could just plan who reproduces and who doesn’t reproduce.

In Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s right to sterilize.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision upholding forced sterilization.  In this one case, Holmes wrote not only that Carrie Buck should be sterilized, that the Virginia law was constitutional, but he urged America to do more eugenic sterilization.  As outrageous as this may sound, this case has never been overturned, and is still being used.

The court had an opportunity to overturn it in a 1942 case challenging the Oklahoma sterilization law and they specifically chose not to.  They struck down the Oklahoma law but on very narrow grounds.  In 2001, a sterilization was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals – one step below the Supreme Court – citing Buck v. Bell.1

According to Adam Cohen, even 3500 years ago, humanity understood that the highest goal of law should be to make sure that the strong do not harm the weak.  It is remarkable that Buck v. Bell could happen in a civilized society.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog has been taken from the transcript of “Fresh Air”.  March 24, 2017.  Retrieved from:

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