Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Conquer Catastrophe" Course on June 10, 2011

On Friday, June 10, 2011, from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute will present a course entitled "Conquer Catastrophe: Reviving Professionally and Healing Personally".  I am a course planner and a presenter.  The subject?  Recovery by lawyers from a personal catastrophe.

The PBI's website lists the course description through a Table of Contents of the course manual.  It is priced very reasonably, since this presentation is a service to the Bar.

I constructed a separate website for the course, also entitled "Conquer Catastrophe", which offers information and resources on the subject matter, but not the written materials for the course.

As a course planner, I submitted a course explanation to be included in the materials, which I reproduce below. 

This course is very unusual and highly personal, but relevant.  The presenters' backgrounds are deep and varied.  We will all learn from each other.

The course will be presented just one-time, live in the Harrisburg area, broadcast simultaneously to ten other locations in Pennsylvania, on Friday, June 10, 2011, from 9:00 AM until 4:30 PM. Of the six hours of continuing legal education, one hour will qualify for the ethics requirements.

Afterwards, the course will become available from PBI in audio format, with the printed materials; and it could be ordered online.  The companion website will remain available publicly, free.
Conquer Catastrophe:
Course Overview through Twenty Questions
By Neil E. Hendershot, Esq.
"I am not concerned that you have fallen.
I am concerned that you arise."
-- Abraham Lincoln (Lawyer & 16th US President)

          “So You're Going to Present . . .”, published in 2004 by the Association for Continuing Legal Education, is a booklet that guides legal course planners and speakers in preparing a "high quality learning-focused presentation."
          For the construction of this unusual and quite customized PBI course, I answered that booklet’s questions (Chapter 2, pp. 8-9), which reflect the purpose and setting of the course, and suggest what participants might learn:
1.  What are the issues that have given rise to dealing with this topic?
          My personal experiences and past searches for resources highlighted a lack of concentrated information targeted towards lawyers who are affected by a personal catastrophic event.  I sought guidance for such a “patient-professional” (my term for a lawyer whacked by a sudden debilitating illness, accident, or event) to revive professionally and heal personally for a continued productive life.  This course is our attempt to assemble such information.
2.  Is there a specific event or series of events that precipitated the concern about this topic?
          My personal experiences in 1999 with a burst appendix and life-saving internal surgery, and again in 2009 with a broken neck and reconstructive spinal surgery, together with recoveries from those unforeseen, catastrophic events, were my primary motivation to plan this course.  However, current national events, including the increasing number of brain and spinal injuries suffered by our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also the shooting of Representative Gifford in Arizona, highlight the need for rehabilitation and retraining for productive lives.
3.  Are there new changes?  e.g., new legislation, regulations, or case law?
          Pennsylvania state laws regarding disability have not changed significantly, recently.  However, there are pending reports to the Legislature regarding both Powers of Attorney (Chapter 56 of the Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code) and Guardianship (Chapter 55).  The proposed improvements mainly affect procedures and formalities, not substantive rights.  These evolving financial and personal management arrangements will be referenced.
          Furthermore, the existing federal laws and systems providing benefits to disabled persons likely will be changing due to long-term fiscal constraints, but that is a political process only now gaining momentum.  We will reference the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid systems.
          On the other hand, the Veterans Administration and the armed services are more receptive towards long-term treatment of brain injuries for injured military personnel.
4.  What are the new issues related to these changes that need to be addressed?
          For the patient-professional, applicable legal areas include disability insurance coverage, medical insurance coverage, government benefits, increasing accountability as a professional under malpractice insurance and ethical rules, and tort reform. 
          Also, the business and legal environments have constricted economically so that responding to recovering patient-professionals can be more difficult.
5.  How do these issues affect practice?
          A lawyer struck with an injury, illness, or traumatic event must develop a personal approach to maintain a position or a practice, even while reduced in capability.  This is a complex, demanding process.  It can be conducted successfully if the patient-professional tenaciously pursues a vision of recovery and resumption -- or at least reorientation into productive activity.
6.  Given these issues, what possible content could be focused on?
          Those topics are set forth in the course agenda.
7.  What are the areas of content that may need to be addressed through continuing education?  Are the issues being addressed in other ways as well?
          This course is distinctive and wide-ranging.  These topics are addressed by other disciplines s and in other settings than those involving lawyers.  For example, the University of Maryland’s Shock & Trauma Center and many major medical centers, hold educational seminars. Its Trauma Survivors Network provides information and support to members and their families.
          Some health care insurers offer case management and wellness programs.
          Specific causes of personal catastrophe are addressed by non-profit organizations, such as the American Heart Association (for heart and stroke), the Christopher Reeves Foundation (for spinal injuries), the American Cancer Society (for all forms of cancer), and the American Lung Association (for breathing diseases), among thousands that educate and advocate.
          Social networking collects people of similar interests, commitments, or experiences, who share resources and offer encouragement.
8.  If this is a part of several presentations, how does this presentation fit with what else is being presented?
          This is a one-time course.  However, I hope that other professions, such as accountants and physicians, might develop similar informational resources.
9.  How do other lawyers see this issue? What do they think they need to learn?  How open are they to learning and changing in this area of practice?
          This is the point of the suggested opening exercise for the audience and their sharing of stories.
10.  What is the likely range of perspectives about this issue?
          Lawyers are a hardy, highly intelligent, ego-driven, self-reliant, competitive group.  Lawyers may find the threat of disability or reduced capability difficult to consider. 
          Also, lawyers are driven by thought processes involving time management, rationality, advocacy, and judgment. These characteristics and expectations could be at odds with admissions of performance disability, lack of control, uncertainty as to outcome, extended recuperation, and dependency upon others.
          As to the views of individuals affected by a personal catastrophe, a few speakers will relay their experiences, and others’ stories can be accessed online on the website of the University of Maryland’s Shock & Trauma Center.
11.  What does this audience assume to be true about this issue?  Are these assumptions valid?
          I will ask questions about audience assumptions at the beginning of the course.  The presentations will test whether those assumptions are valid.
12.  What are the hot concerns?  Why?
          The "hottest" concerns would be lawyer performance, fulfillment of ethical obligations, and practice maintenance.  Those are survival issues.  Other issues may seem less immediate, but must be addressed long-term for resumption of a legal practice and emotional stability.  However, all elements are intertwined.
13.  What is the nature of the skill or knowledge gap for this audience in relation to this aspect of the law or legal practice?
          The knowledge and skills required to address recovery from a personal catastrophe are not taught in law school and are not developed in professional work except by observation.  Lawyers are trained in problem-solving and in advocacy instead.  These abilities can be applied to personal situations and challenges.  Lawyers can acquire the skills and knowledge to accomplish a revived work role and healthy personal life.  Much knowledge, however, derives from other fields, such as healthcare systems, psychology/psychiatry, neuroscience and other medical specialties, physical therapy, and even religion/spirituality.  This is the knowledge gap we address in this course.
14.  What is the cause of the gap?
          Limited personal experience, specialization in the law, unpredictability as to a particular future situation, avoidance of negative thinking, focus on day-to-day demands, and a presumption that “it will not happen to me”.
15.  What is the impact of the gap in knowledge or skill on individual practitioners and their clients?
          The gap in knowledge, together with the imposition of disability or debilitation, can result in failure by an attorney to fulfill basic professional and office requirements.  Such insufficiencies can result in lost clients, missed deadlines, insufficient efforts, minimal revenue, personal hopelessness, long-term depression, altered reputation, and possible malpractice, even disbarment.
16.  What are the likely similarities and differences between me and this audience in relation to my view of the topic, my knowledge, skill, and experience?
          My view evolved through two experiences.  I faced challenges to “conquer catastrophe” by being injured by illness in 1999 and by accident in 2009.  I worked through recoveries, with mixed effectiveness.  Those in the audience may not have experienced such catastrophes, or may have coped better or worse than me.  Some may face debilitating illnesses that may prevent return to prior functioning, and some may face degenerative diseases that constantly redefine functioning at a lower level. My views developed in conjunction with the reactions of family, co-workers, and friends.
17.  Will this topic likely appeal to general practitioners, or to lawyers who specialize in this practice area?
          This is not a course for lawyers to develop a proficiency in professional catastrophe remediation -- that field already is known as "personal injury" or “medical malpractice” law.  Instead, this course is intended to inform and guide a lawyer, or that lawyer's family, co-workers, or friends, in constructively and progressively addressing a personal catastrophic event, so that the lawyer can revive a legal practice/position, and heal personally.
18.  What will the audience be doing before and after my presentation?
          Likely, go right back into their current circumstances – normal work, personal recovery, interpersonal support of another, or provider services.  I hope that each participant will be more knowledgeable and positive about the processes and adjustments following a personal catastrophe.
19.  How large is this audience likely to be?
          As large as it needs to be, for those who have been affected.  Others, who now are oblivious to the offering of this course, will access it in the future when a personal catastrophe occurs.
20.  What is the facility like?  What limitations does it have in relation to my being seen and heard by the audience?  What audio and visual equipment is available?
           This is a live presentation at PBI’s headquarters in the Harrisburg area.  This course will be conducted one-time, simultaneously broadcast by audio/video to remote locations in Pennsylvania, and recorded for future audio replay, perhaps over the Internet.