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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: April 2024


Eric York Drogin


  • There is a sense of natural authority that attaches to maturity.
  • A phenomenon called Approach-Avoidance Conflict can work in favor of attorneys in gaining and working with clients. 
Maturity Prosicky

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“Maturity” is one of those statuses to which we often aspire … but not, perhaps, without an accompanying—if initially muted—sense of dread.

It’s somewhat similar in that way to “continuance,” a term that at first inspires in counsel a visceral sense of warmth, paired with a self-indulgent willingness to put off for a good many tomorrows what one would just as soon not do today. 

“Agreed, Your Honor.  [Three words that almost never fail.]  While we’re ready to move forward right now, we recognize as a matter of fundamental fairness our obligation to ensure that everyone is afforded the same opportunity to be prepared.  [Too much?]  The week of May the 14th?  I believe most of us here are in trial on another matter, is that right?  [Actually, we were ready to accept a plea on that one later this morning; I guess we’ll stall for a few more days.]  How about the week of July the—I’m sorry, scratch that.  [You’re the only judge in this Circuit who listens to me at all, and I think you’re on vacation then.]  The week of October the 22nd?  I can move some things around, if that week works for co-counsel as well.  Counselor?  [Read my mind, read my mind, read my—Yes!  That reminds me, we really should come up with a “safe word” for these moments.]  Thank you, Your Honor.” 

Then, slowly, co-counsel and I morph into Ben and Elaine during the final scene in The Graduate.  What seemed like a terrific idea just moments earlier is already being second-guessed.  Just how many other court appearances have we already committed to making in October?  Shouldn’t we have consulted the client about kicking this can that far down the road?  Are we really going to be able to charge the client twice for preparing the same case?  Even when we do get to bill for our time, time isn’t always on our side.

There is a sense of natural authority that attaches to maturity. Well-heeled clients gravitate toward lawyers with a track record—lawyers with enough accumulated wisdom to recognize, for example, that it’s never a good idea to run in heels.  On the other hand, sometimes the shoe is on the other foot.  Like the insurance guru in the popular Farmers Insurance commercial, we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two, but we also run the risk of our zealous advocacy being undercut by a mounting sense of been there, done that.  

Psychologists have a term for this sense of being attracted and repelled by a single phenomenon:
“approach-avoidance conflict.”  According to Dr. Robin Aupperle in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, persons experiencing this conflict “must integrate a variety of information concerning the value of potential rewards and punishments, and the likelihood and magnitude of those potential outcomes.”  Does this sound a lot like, well, lawyering?  I can’t seem to make up my mind. 

Wellness journalist Cindy Lamothe reminds us that consistently opting for the “avoidance” side of the ledger—which for lawyers can result, among other things, in an appalling lack of business—“leads to pent-up frustration and a greater sense of loneliness that can build up over time,” and that at least one scientific study indicates that “bottling up our emotions can increase the risk of premature death, including death from cancer.”

Along the same lines, Dr. Elizabeth Scott, an expert on matters concerning emotional well-being advises us that while “avoidance coping” constitutes “a maladaptive form of coping in which a person changes their behavior to avoid thinking about, feeling, or doing difficult things,” its counterpart “approach coping” is a technique that “addresses a problem directly as a means to alleviate stress,” involving such measures as “talking through problems that are causing stress in your relationship, reframing a situation to recognize the positives rather than only focusing on the negatives, or budgeting more carefully to minimize financial stress.”

One particularly persistent myth related to maturity is that notion that chronological aging leads inexorably to precipitous cognitive decline. Dr. Michael Ramscar of Tübingen University asserts that in fact “older adults’ changing performance reflects memory search demands, which escalate as experience grows,” such that “older adults’ performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information processing, and not cognitive decline.” 

According to Dr. Thomas Hills of the University of Warwick , “the tides are changing in our understanding of old age,” and “the research suggests that the older person will know things when the younger person simply has no idea,” leading some social scientists to conclude that “youth has the benefit of speed and flexibility, but age has the benefit of wisdom and guile … and slowness,”  putting us in mind of the race between the tortoise and the hare, with the caveat that judges, for example, may not set such a premium on “slowness.”

Maturity intersects handily with guidance proffered by the “National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being” (the “Task Force”), an entity “conceptualized and initiated by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC), and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL)” and made up of several other “participating entities” from within and without the American Bar Association. 

The Task Force has identified six pillars or “dimensions” that combine to “make up full well-being for lawyers,” one of which is the “Spiritual” dimension, expressed by “developing a sense of meaningfulness and purpose in all aspects of life." It would be as serious a mistake to assume that all older lawyers are by nature more religiously adherent, for example, as it would to assume that they’re all missing a step or two due to brain atrophy. There is, however, a contemplativeness borne of and nurtured by experience that lends itself to a greater recognition of what it means to “represent” in all traditional and modern senses of the term.

This article was originally published by the Kentucky Bar Association.