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Sybil Procedure: Shaking off Grinchiness

Sybil Dunlop//December 23, 2016//

Sybil Procedure: Shaking off Grinchiness

Sybil Dunlop//December 23, 2016//

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The holidays can be an intense time to practice law. On the eve of any holiday or long weekend, I feel a heightened urgency, as folks struggle to get motions filed, deals concluded, or extensions granted before airplanes take off.  Some attorneys even use the opportunity strategically to file a surprise motion or letter with the court. It frequently reminds me of that scene in “Mission: Impossible” when the villains struggle to email the CIA NOC list before they hit the Chunnel.

But even beyond the pressure to get crucial business done before doors close, there are other holiday-time stresses. What to get assistants and staff for the holidays? How to ensure that we have an office holiday party that is both safe and fun? How can I stop eating all of the free cookies in the kitchen? Must I acknowledge an e-card? Can’t I just pretend it got stuck in my spam filter? I never wanted to be one of those people who ended up feeling more stress than joy around the holiday season, but I felt that sensation creeping up on me this year.

That’s why I decided to focus this month’s column on gratitude.

Happiness guru (and former Supreme Court law clerk) Gretchen Rubin has detailed the ways in which gratitude “raises people’s life satisfaction, improves health, increases energy, reduces troublesome thoughts, and promotes good sleep.” And, as if that wasn’t enough, other studies suggest that gratitude generates social capital by making us nicer, more trusting, more social, and more appreciative (the studies in question actually purport to show that participants who were 10 percent more grateful than average had 17.5 percent more social capital—a conclusion which contemplates that we can measure both gratitude and social capital. Feel free to express suspicion on both fronts). Finally, research indicates that gratitude boosts our career by helping us network, increasing our decision-making capabilities, increasing our productivity, and helping us get mentors and protégées.

The benefits of gratitude are lovely any time of year, but particularly welcome over the holiday season where I deliberately aim to increase my sense of happiness and lower my stress. I also want to avoid being labeled a Grinch. So what am I grateful for?  Let me count the ways.

I am grateful to practice law in this legal community.

As a summer law clerk at a big firm in Washington, D.C., I had the distinct feeling that no one cared if I grew or if I shrank. But, from my first days in Minnesota, I knew this place was different. I clerked for a judge who introduced me to everyone that we encountered in the skyway.  I worked for partners who did the same. And our bar’s care for the next generation is reflected, not just in the individual actions of so many, but also in the programming provided by our bar associations and Minnesota CLE. We host annual CLEs aimed at welcoming new lawyers into our profession. Our federal judiciary conducts lunches with new attorneys to answer their questions about practice. And the HCBA has an entire section dedicated to new lawyers. I am grateful that our legal community cares about the future.

And of course they do—our bar is a genuinely amazing group of people who can be both honorable adversaries and effective comrades. When I attend FBA lunches, the HCBA Judges Social, or the Law Day dinner, I have a great time conversing with this group. (And when I attend the FBA Dinner Dance, I have a great time dancing with this group.) This past year, I have dished with you about the law, politics, poetry, art, music, and dogs. I am interested in what this group has to say, and I always learn something. I am also confident that, when I am on the other side of the aisle, us Minnesotans will act with civility and demonstrate mutual respect.

I am grateful to practice in a community with brilliant and thoughtful judges. We hear about (and sometimes experience) the frustration that comes from practicing before judges who are not both brilliant and thoughtful. Friends report, with horror, stories about local counsel who asked whether we could add a pretty attorney to our line-up so that the judge could enjoy some eye candy or even just judges who are so overwhelmed that they can’t schedule oral argument and resolve everything on the papers. And don’t get me started on Wisconsin. I am grateful to practice in a community that has selected its best and brightest to resolve our legal disputes. Even when I disagree with the outcome, I trust that I am receiving a thoughtful, reasoned decision from a diligent individual who thought long and hard about the right outcome. Our strong judiciary inspires my faith in our judicial system. And for that I am grateful.

There’s more of course. I am grateful to practice law with my wonderful colleagues at Greene Espel. I am grateful for an amazing spouse whose support enables my practice. I am grateful for my beautiful daughter—I hope to teach her that happiness comes from identifying work that is personally fulfilling, meaningful, and fun. I am grateful to live in a stable democracy, for the roof over my head, my full stomach, my health, and so much more.

In writing this piece, I have shaken off the holiday blues. My cup of happiness is full again; worries about cookies and e-cards are detritus compared to all of this. The gratitude scientists, of course, suggest that I stick with this. They–in fact–recommend a daily gratitude journal (five minutes of gratitude each day) to ensure the benefits of gratitude stick. Can I stick with it? Let’s make it a New Year’s resolution.

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