The Legal Toolkit
Understanding Loneliness During COVID-19
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm with your host Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hi everybody. Welcome to another episode of the award-winning Legal Toolkit Podcast here on the Legal Talk Network.
If you are looking for the remote control, I can’t find mine either, I will be of no help there. If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first time listener, welcome home. And if you are Cam Newton, who has just signed with the New England Patriots, get ready to listen to some really boring press conferences this year.
As always, I am your show host Jared Correia and in addition to casting this pod, I am the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management consulting services for law firms, Bar Associations and legal vendors. Check us out at redcavelegal.com.
I am also the COO of Gideon Software, Inc. which offers chatbot software built specifically for law firms. Find out more at www.gideon.legal.
But here on Legal Toolkit, which is a podcast you are listening to right now, we provide you with a new tool each episode to add to your own Legal Toolkit so your practices will become more and more like best practices.
So in this episode we are going to talk about how to deal with isolation and loneliness, which is about as timely a topic as you are going to find out there right about now. We are recording this prior to July 4th weekend and everybody is staying at home. Really interesting times we live in, right?
But before I introduce today’s guest let me take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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Okay, now that we are all set there, my guest today is J.W. Freiberg; I am going to call him Terry. He is the author of the new book ‘Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation’. Terry holds a PhD from UCLA and a JD from Harvard Law School. A former assistant professor of sociology at Boston University, he has served for more than 30 years as general counsel to more than a dozen of Boston’s mental health and social service agencies.
So Terry, thanks for coming on the show today.
J.W. Freiberg: My pleasure indeed.
Jared Correia: I assume your July 4th plans are a little bit stilted this year as well, just like everybody else’s. You are staying home I am assuming.
J.W. Freiberg: Just as you described.
Jared Correia: Right. So first of all, let me tell you, I got the press kit for your new book, which we are going to talk about in a second and may I say, very sweet photo with the bowtie. You can really pull that off and not a lot of people can do that, so congratulations to you.
J.W. Freiberg: Oh, if we had time I could tell you a couple of bowties stories.
Jared Correia: Can you give me a single bowtie story. I would love to hear one?
J.W. Freiberg: All right. I was sitting at counsel table defense side on a litigation jury trial matter and there was one witness who was deadly to my client, and I had a very low chair, so I was low compared to the desk, and this ancient desk in this ancient courtroom. My elbows were on the desk and I started fiddling with my tie and the next thing I knew I undid it and retied it in my idiosyncratic way in super slow motion.
And at the end the judge took a break and said there would be cross-examination after the break and on the way out of the courtroom the bailiff said to me good move counselor, the four women on the jury never heard a word that witness said.
Jared Correia: Well played. See, I knew that would come in handy, that’s like a superpower. Very nice.
All right, let’s move from bowtie stories to talking about your book. So you have got a new book called ‘Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone’, but this is actually part of a loneliness trilogy, right? So can you talk to me a little bit about why you started writing these books in the first place and like how your latest book is the capper for what you have done to this point?
J.W. Freiberg: Sure. So when I came out of law school I floated to a great big Boston firm and did some years there and got trained; it was called Hale and Dorr; it’s gone now, it’s WilmerHale.
And then I got a chance, an offer if I went to a smaller firm with more modest fee structure to be general counsel to The Home for Little Wanderers; it was actually the largest and the oldest in the whole country of children’s social service agency, and I did that. And before I knew it I became Boston’s psych lawyer because I had the double degrees.
And so the interesting part of the work that I did, besides leases and loans from banks and all that sort of paperwork, the interesting stuff was clinicians called me up for legal consultation over 30 years and that kept growing as they tried to comply with more and more regulations. And so when answering their questions I heard stories and those are the stories that form my database now that I write from.
And then what happened was there were more and more reports of loneliness, as loneliness came upon the scene and made itself felt in the presentation that clients said to these mental health clinicians, along with other issues, but loneliness was one of the growing issues.
Jared Correia: Yeah. And I love the title of your book, because it I think perfectly describes like a modern society in which you feel like you are surrounded by a bunch of people all the time, yet everybody feels a little bit more lonely.
So one thing that I think is interesting is that you define loneliness in like a very specific way, which is different from the standard definition. So could you dive into that a little bit?
J.W. Freiberg: Sure. For me loneliness is a sensation like hunger or thirst or fear, it comes from the parietal lobe of the brain. We share that with lots of other mammals, for example, the cetaceans, the sea mammals are a lot like us, family-based, small pod, herd animals. And we feel lonely, we feel hungry before we think about being lonely or think about what I am going to get for dinner. There are sensations that come up to your consciousness from another part of your brain and that has enormous implications for clinical work that you do with people.
It’s more like dealing with trauma victims than it is like dealing with a narcissistic personality disorder, just in case you know anyone who has that problem.
Jared Correia: I do not. I have never been compared to a whale before, but that’s kind of cool. I feel like I am kind of more like an orca now than I was five minutes ago. So that’s a really interesting place to start and I want to return to that question of like how this is affected by the brain in a second, but one of the things I want to talk to you about is like the role of technology and how that plays in society today, like especially now that everybody is quarantined, like I know my kids are on screens more than they ever have before. So how does technology contribute to loneliness in a modern society?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, I think it contributes in two very different, even contradictory ways. On one hand, we have very powerful tests for loneliness; it’s called the UCLA Loneliness Scale. So with great validity and reliability we can measure whether or not people are connected in a healthy way to others in their lives. And we know that the loneliest quintile of our population is Generation Z and the Millennials, so the 18-year-olds to the 38-year-olds score more lonely than the rest of us, even than senior citizens, and they have got their face in those machines all day long, so that could be playing a role there.
On the other side of the coin, Zoom and FaceTime and other technical capacity to see who you are talking to is enormously helpful through this, because when we see people, we are able to use our mirroring skills. So when we listen to people, this is as mammals again, they do it too. When you startle a mammal, like a deer and he looks at you, or a squirrel, they look at you, trying to reckon your intentions, are you a predator or are you just passing through, that’s called mirroring and that’s something that you need to have your eyes do for you pretty much.
So being a grandparent I can assure you one of the great tragedies of this time is one can’t visit one’s grandchildren so easily and the capacity to see them on FaceTime is extraordinary because it really allows the bond to play its role and the mirroring capacity to take place.
Jared Correia: That’s interesting. Let me say one of the great tragedies of our time is that my grandparents can — our grandparents cannot watch my children, so I feel your pain on the other side of it.
That’s interesting though that you mentioned like the mirroring in the videos, because I think like a lot of people have that Zoom fatigue now, right, they don’t want to be on video conferences all day, but it sounds like you say that that’s better than a phone call just because you can see people?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, it’s huge for especially family things. I am very big, just even theoretically, on the role that family plays in people’s lives, in children’s lives especially. It takes two points to define a line and two generations to define a lineage. So it’s through the grandparents that children learn about their roots and their family background and traditions and that’s a hugely important psychological basis. It’s the mooring that a boat has to the mooring buoy.
Jared Correia: All right. Well, let’s hope all those grandparents get to see their grandkids very soon. And on that note, let’s take a break in the show here. We have reached the end of the first part of the episode and let me draw your attention now to some words from our sponsors and then we will come back again for part two.
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Jared Correia: All right, thanks for coming back. I have returned from a quick Dunkin run. I mentioned that because we have got two Massachusetts guys on the podcast, right? So let’s get back to our conversation with Terry Freiberg. We are talking about loneliness in modern society.
Terry, so you mentioned this before and I think this part of it is a really interesting component, like can you talk a little bit more about the role that the brain plays in terms of why we feel lonely, how we feel lonely, how we stop feeling lonely?
J.W. Freiberg: Absolutely. So just as other animals train their young, birds, we just had house wrens living in our plant outside and it was fun to watch the whole cycle; they flew off yesterday. So they were busy training the little fledglings how to fly. Humans train their children how to connect, how to love. And what happens is during the parental cuddling, so how many — you mentioned you have children, just think how many kisses, how many hugs, how many reassurances have you given, literally hundreds of thousands each of you, and what you are doing is — and we now understand the biophysiology inside the brain of what’s going on.
We understand what happens in a dog’s brain when you teach it to roll over and then you give them a treat for learning the trick. There is a neural pathway being formed between stimulus response and reward, and that happens inside the brain.
So when we are busy nurturing children, hugging them, kissing them, soothing their wounds, reading to them, reassuring them that nighttime is okay, we are actually forming the neural pathways that they will then turn around and use to go out into the world and learn to make their own relationships. So that’s phase one.
Phase two and this is what’s worrisome about people being locked at home is they, especially if we can’t reopen schools in the fall, which I think is sort of an unknown at this point, so now children have to go out and use those skills and all of that free time play, on the play field, in the hallways, talking to their non-sibling peers is where children hone their skills at forming and keeping connection, learning how to become a friend, learning how to be admitted in a group, learning how to deal with rejection; remember that in high school, big lesson.
Jared Correia: I was rejected once or twice.
J.W. Freiberg: Yeah, we all were. Learning how to deal with — how to identify and deal with a local bully, all of those skills are being interrupted by children not being able to be out of the house interacting in free time with other non-sibling children.
Jared Correia: And I am really glad you mention that, because I do think that is one of the undercurrents that’s not being covered related to the pandemic is like all these kids are at home, they are getting no socialization whatsoever, and I think that’s especially troublesome for like only children who don’t even have siblings to engage with.
So I am going to return to that question in the third part of the podcast because I want to talk a little bit more about that, but like one thing I think is interesting is I want to talk a little bit about your lawyer background now. So the way you write these books, you utilize what you call case stories, right?
J.W. Freiberg: Right.
Jared Correia: Which I think is almost like a very lawyerly thing to say, right? So why did you choose to use that method to write these books in the first place and in addition to that, could you briefly go over like one of the case stories you use in your book so we could get an example of how that works?
J.W. Freiberg: Sure. Well, when I was professor before I was got to go to law school to become a lawyer, I wrote a couple of books which must have been read by 600 people each or something, because they were very —
Jared Correia: Right over six.
J.W. Freiberg: Yeah, they were so specialized, you had to be interested in it, subtopic of them, of a dusty corner of another topic.
Jared Correia: Right.
J.W. Freiberg: In contrast, everybody loves a good story, from children to high intellectuals, everybody will sit down and listen to a good story. And it really has worked. These books are widely read and a lot of commentary on a lot of these shows trying to be helpful in understanding these issues, and it was just an idea to communicate in a more open and egalitarian way, you don’t need to be a scholar to read these books on loneliness, you did need to be one to read the former two.
Jared Correia: Right. No, that’s really helpful, and I think you’re right, like this sounds to me like the ending of Game of Thrones, right? Everybody likes a real good story. Well, let me ask you this. We’re producing a podcast for lawyers, right? So as a lawyer, like generic lawyer out there, what the lawyers need to learn or know about chronically lonely clients and how to deal with them? Because it sounds like that’s an issue that’s only growing in scope.
J.W. Freiberg: It is growing in scope. Loneliness, the word is only from the year — about the year 1800. There was no loneliness in traditional society. People lived in little communities, little villages, little ethnic communities of cities, everybody knew everybody inside these small communities, there was no social space to grow lonely and so in the big city no family around you to speak of that you are indeed for the first time in human history alone.
So it is a new phenomenon and it’s been growing exponentially. In 1990, 20% of people reported themselves of being seriously, what I call chronically lonely, by 2010 as 30 years later we’re at 35%. So more than one in three people will now identify and test out on the UCLA Loneliness Scale as really seriously divorced and separated from others. They don’t have anybody to telephone, no one calls them, they have no one to care about and no one cares about them.
Jared Correia: That’s pretty sad and that’s the highest level of the lonely, the scale I would imagine chronically lonely, right?
J.W. Freiberg: Right, right.
Jared Correia: So as a lawyer if you have to deal with someone like this what are some of the tactics that you could use, like it sounds to me like if you are a lawyer with a chronically lonely client, you may be the only person or one of a few people that they have any kind of communication with whatsoever.
J.W. Freiberg: Well, I tried to write about that recently. I think it is in psychology today and the point of the article was, look, there are two kinds of lawyers if you like, there are transaction lawyers who deal on one transaction.
Jared Correia: Yep.
J.W. Freiberg: Can you help me sell my house? So you’re only going to be talking to that client about matters to do with a real estate transaction. Fair enough. But if you’re the family lawyer, if you have an ongoing relationship or if you’re counsel to a corporation or the equivalent, or you have an ongoing linkage, then you might think about keeping your eye out for loneliness just as you do for say alcoholism, and you might say to someone if you’re their ongoing lawyer, can we sit down and talk, Lou, I think you’re drinking a little much these days. I’m hearing things that sound like the company is getting in trouble because you’re not showing up. Can we talk about that?
Jared Correia: Yeah, yeah.
J.W. Freiberg: You might keep your eye. If you have that kind of legal relationship you might think about bringing it up just as you would a gambling problem or an absentee problem or an alcohol problem.
Jared Correia: Right, that makes a lot of sense and I think you’re right to break it out between the two types of lawyers that are out there.
This has been a really fascinating discussion for me, but we’re going to take a quick break, so you can listen to some more words from our sponsors, but then come back for the next and last segment of the show.
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Jared Correia: All right, so thanks for staying with us. I never left. Now let’s continue our conversation with Terry Freiberg who has been telling us what it means to be lonely in 2020. So let’s find out some more.
So the last question I asked you is about like how lawyers can deal with chronically lonely clients, so it’s kind of flipped out a little bit. So as you probably know like lawyers have traditionally struggled with loneliness in number of ways and often times they self-medicate, right, like lawyers experienced higher incidences of alcoholism and suicides than in general population. So why do you think it is that lawyers in particular get lonely, self-medicate and how can that be addressed by attorneys, by society?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, I think so I mentioned that I started in a monster firm.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
J.W. Freiberg: Hundreds of lawyers and young lawyers there were doing 3,000 hour a year, billing 3,000 hours. I was lucky enough to be older, having had a previous career and had a wife and a baby and a mortgage and a life outside of school. But people get very involved and you could put as much time in as you’ve got, as you can generate, but it’s not a healthy thing to do.
And I think that the most useful thing I could say to you is that on the website that’s designed around the books, called thelonelinessbooks.com, if you navigate the website, there’s some buttons that lead you to some papers I write, and in one of them I describe how you can take yourself, the UCLA Loneliness Test. So it’s 20 questions, it doesn’t take any time at all to answer. They are simple questions, they read like how often do you feel alone or how often do you feel that you have a lot in common with the people around you.
So there’s 20 questions straightforward but very well designed and when you’re done answering those 20 questions which you answer on a scale of one through four, never through often, you’ll have a real picture of whether you’re connected to a bunch of people or whether you’re really feeling disconnected.
Jared Correia: Oh, it’s interesting so 20 question tests, so folks get time to do that, so it’s a good place to test that out and see where you fall on the scale.
So one thing we’ve talked about kind of anecdotally throughout this broadcast, is like the enduring pandemic that everybody is going through, which doesn’t necessarily have an end in sight. We talked a little bit about how that affects children but generally as somebody who studied this for a long time like what are your thoughts currently about the fact that most people are essentially locked up at home, right? How is that going to increase loneliness, how is that going to affect people now and moving forward, do have any thoughts on that?
J.W. Freiberg: I do and let me just break it down by three age groups.
Jared Correia: Sure.
J.W. Freiberg: I think we talked about children and just worried about lack of free play time when they work out their connection skills. So let’s talk about seniors and their inability to see their grandchildren. In my view grandparents are very important in the lives of their grandchildren. It takes two points to define a line but two generations to define a lineage.
So that’s how children get connected beyond their parents to their past and find their roots, which is extremely important for psychological health. Even with the best of adoptions the overall statistics indicated the lack of roots that adopted children have play their role in adult mental health, even in the best of adoptions.
So that’s one issue, and of course, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sadder picture than parents locked up in these senior centers with middle-aged children looking through the window as illness comes the way of their parents.
Jared Correia: Yeah, yeah that’s really hard, I am sure.
J.W. Freiberg: Mainly remember for all of human society, it was always a multi-generation. The only reason we pay for senior care on one hand and childcare on the other is because they separated the grandparents from the grandchildren who they raised for the entire history of humanity. They didn’t pay those bills because they had the built-in system for loving care.
Jared Correia: Right.
J.W. Freiberg: And then I think also with working adults, the third group if you like, there are two kinds. There are those who are lonely, and remember, for those of us fortunate enough to have significant relationships that are nurturing and soothing to us, the small relationships of everyday life, the friendly hello from the coffee salesperson who you always stand in front of so you can share that little moment.
Jared Correia: Right.
J.W. Freiberg: We all have a set of those. For those of us fortunate enough to have significant relationships, that’s icing on top of the cake, but for chronically lonely people or people who live alone, so that’s about 33% of us, those relationships that’s all they have, are those everyday life, polite, friendly momentary smile sharing and so on. Imagine, now those are gone.
So you have to imagine that there are about a-third of the people in this country sit home and there’s not a chance they’re going to get a phone call other than those annoying advertising calls. There’s not a chance and they have no one to call. So for them the loss of everyday interaction in society is enormous, but it’s important for all of us.
Jared Correia: Right. All right, so we’ve dealt with some heavy topics today. So I want to ask you one last question, I want to make it a fun one, right? Let’s end on a high note.
So I was reading that you almost got disbarred for playing Don Quixote, could you talk to me about that? This may even top the bow tie story. I’m interested to hear how this goes.
J.W. Freiberg: Okay. Well, so my wife and I lived in a neighborhood, they had no bakery worth buying bread at, and all of a sudden this little French bakery opened, it was gorgeous beautiful bread, it was just too good to be true. And the two adjoining shops, one became a great little coffee shop and the other one a children’s store. So suddenly there was life and energy and the line outside was animated and everybody was excited about waiting and when you got inside, was this beautiful shop where they made the bread in the back two-thirds and the retail shop was in the front-thirds so you can see the bread making going on. Fabulous.
Three months into this heavenly situation the bread quality deteriorated awfully. It turned out, it got good again then it got bad again, then it got good again, and finally thickheaded me understood by looking at the big sunglasses that the master baker wore when the bread was awful, she’s being abused at home. This is battered wife.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
J.W. Freiberg: And she must cry in the batter when she’s hurting because the bread is salty and crustless and no fun.
So then I decided Don Quixote was, I didn’t have a client and I couldn’t — there is a thing called maintenance, right? I couldn’t grow up and make myself for a lawyer.
Jared Correia: Right.
J.W. Freiberg: So I finally got to the point where I put the wonderful private eye who works for my firm on the case to figure out what was up and he did a little surveillance and came back, yep, that’s a locked-in battered wife. She returns home on the exact same train every night, never goes out other than going back to work the next day.
So then I got involved trying to be helpful behind the scenes, and as good luck would have it, it sort of worked out, but I don’t know if you ever knew Judge Sheila McGovern who was a Chief Justice.
Jared Correia: Yeah, name rings a bell, yeah go ahead.
J.W. Freiberg: She was at Probate and Family Court, Chief Justice in Middlesex and just a wonderful — well, whose career had been in childcare kind of things before that.
Jared Correia: Right.
J.W. Freiberg: So when she found out that I was busy working in the world with no law case to support my efforts or sending out my private eye, there was a moment there where she was wondering whether she should report me over to the board of Bar overseers, but in the end it all works out really well and we were able to get that lady out of the house.
Jared Correia: Oh good.
J.W. Freiberg: And there was another fun aspect to the story which I’ll leave people to find in the read.
Jared Correia: All right. Check it out in the reading. So you helped somebody and you got your good bread back. I’d say that’s a positive outcome. And speaking of outcomes, we’ve reached the end of yet another episode of The Legal Toolkit podcast.
This was the one where we talked about loneliness and we’ve been chatting with Terry Freiberg, author of ‘Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation’.
Now I will be back on future shows with further insights into my soul, the Soul of America what’s left of it and the Legal Market.
If you’re feeling nostalgic from my dulcet tones; however, you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at legaltalknetwork.com.
So thanks again to Terry Freiberg for making an appearance as my guest today.
Terry, can you tell everybody how they can find out more about you and about your books?
J.W. Freiberg: Sure. thelonelinessbooks.com; thelonelinessbooks.com will take you to a website which has dozens of talks.
I’ve done like this references to the books, reviews of the books. Everything you could possibly want on the topic.
Jared Correia: Awesome. Check that out thelonelinessbooks.com, and thanks again to my guest today Terry Freiberg.
Finally, thanks to all of you out there for listening. This has been The Legal Toolkit Podcast. Lonely Runs Both Ways.
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