A Lawyer Tells His ADHD Story

"I knew that I was smart. But I had idiosyncrasies in regard to meeting deadlines."

Success on the Job, Part 2

In the years following my diagnosis, I have made remarkable changes that have greatly improved my ability to function as a lawyer. I no longer dread preparing answers to interrogatories, and I no longer put off tasks that I previously avoided. My dealings with my partners and staff are much more cordial.

I listen more and don't feel the impulsive need to interrupt. I can plan ahead and work toward filing deadlines without making a looming deadline into a looming crisis. I can do simple things that were once impossible, like sit through a partners' meeting without squirming or stirring up a controversy by insisting on some minor point.

I now realize that my ADD was a negative factor in my law career from day one. Without realizing it, I was acting out many of the usual symptoms of adult ADD. On the standard questionnaires used to diagnose ADD tendencies, I always score very high. I'm still easily distracted and I still seek high levels of (healthy) stimulation. While intuitive and creative, I have trouble following through on tasks. I multitask to the extreme, and am still easily bored, but now I know how to channel my energies.

Working It Out

I have learned to structure my workplace to help manage my tendency to distraction. For example, I will limit taking outside direct calls to the hour before lunch and the last hour of the work day. I keep a number of calendars and use scheduling software. In managing deadlines, I've learned that I have to rely on others as well as to accept my own limitations. I frequently remind myself of the old adage: The wiser I get, the more I realize how little I know.

Learning that I have adult ADD has been a huge help, because knowledge is power, and I now have the power to anticipate my reaction to certain situations and to seek expert assistance. Rather than feeling a compulsive need to know it all and do it all myself, I've learned to delegate to others. The upside of my ADD is my ability to hyperfocus when taking depositions or preparing briefs. So I try to use my creativity wisely rather than impulsively.

I am a plaintiff's attorney, which fulfills my need for excitement, yet I'm supported by a traditional law firm, with competent partners who view me as their brilliant, slightly eccentric "pit bull." While there are still days when the siren call of the Internet distracts me from client matters, I am aware of my tendency to procrastinate, and can now hunker down and complete matters that I used to leave hanging until the last minute.

My 30 years in private practice have shown me that I am not alone with my learning disability. Regardless of the work setting, there are resources available to help attorneys recognize and address their ADD or other learning issues. Skilled counseling is readily available.

Mercifully, my years of uneven performance have been relegated to the past. I've been at my present firm for an amazing eight years, and I'm pleased by my ability to maintain a level of performance that has increased the amount of personal satisfaction I derive from the practice of law.

Excerpted with permission from "Finding the Solution, " by Lynn Phillips, from Washington Lawyer, May 2003.

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TAGS: Organization Tips for ADD Adults, Focus at Work, Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis, ADHD Time Management

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