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Lawyers Journal

Minor thefts can jeopardize your practice

Lawyers' concerns
This column offers mental-health and wellness-related information to the Massachusetts legal community. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers bases the column on questions frequently asked by its clients and the help-line callers. The information is general in nature and not meant for treatment.
Q:Recently admitted to the bar, I am a first-year associate at a small firm. Within the last month I've realized that I am seriously jeopardizing my future by engaging in what I have been telling myself are "minor" thefts outside the office. I really can't explain why I do this. I have nothing to gain by it, and everything to lose. I don't need or could easily afford these items. I'm very anxious about this but can't seem to stop myself. What can I do?

A:You don't mention whether this is new, long-term, or a re-emergence of past behavior. Regardless, the fact that you now recognize and question what you are doing is a very positive step. These actions are clearly self-sabotaging and you are indeed putting your career at risk.

Many behaviors, such as yours, are perplexing and confusing, because they are often rooted in unconscious (out-of-awareness) motives and feelings, for example, anger at feeling stuck in a career choice, feeling undeserving of success, fear of failure and humiliation. There are many other possible sources. The nature of a lawyer's work culture may not tend to promote self-reflection. A therapist can facilitate the process of taking a closer look at thoughts and feelings you may have ignored and which contribute to your actions.

An important function of psychotherapy is to increase awareness of the unconscious thoughts and feelings that manifest in seemingly irrational or harmful behaviors. While a therapist cannot tell you the answers, your enhanced self-understanding permits the exercise of choice and greater control over one's own behavior.

LCL's role here would be to assess the situation with you and, most likely, help find you a well-matched clinical resource. With assistance and support, you can break the cycle and feel more in charge of your behavior.

Questions for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers may be mailed to LCL, 59 Temple Place, Suite 1106, Boston, MA 02111, e-mailed to [e-mail email], or called in to (617) 482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence.

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