Liz Vennum is hilarious and compassionate and crushing it as a law firm owner with ADHD. Her vulnerability and her (gentle but persistent and swift) kicks in my ass have inspired me and—in many ways—are responsible for helping me get over my own imposter syndrome and perfectionism to launch this podcast and the website that goes with it.
As the Managing Attorney at Vennum PLLC in North Carolina, Liz opens up about her life as a mom with ADHD, a business owner, a spouse, and a bleeding heart.
We talk about growing up as a girl with undiagnosed ADHD (inattentive, not hyperactive), Facebook groups, ADHD in the workplace, why JDHDs make great litigators, and Liz's approach to people and talent and management and serving her clients.
Learn More about Liz Vennum
Two Quotes from Liz Vennum
“It was just a relief at that point. Like, ‘Oh. Thank God. This is why.' This is why I always think ‘Well, you could be first in your class if you tried a little harder. You could keep your stuff organized if you were just more disciplined… Just to be able to let that GO…”
“We all had these two things in common: We were lawyer moms and we had ADHD. So the other moms who have coordinated birthday parties for their well-dressed children in matching socks, they just don't understand about the rest of our lives.”
- Law Mamas Facebook Group
- Law Moms Focus Facebook Group (for law moms with ADHD)
- ADDitude Magazine
- Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande
- David Seah
- Manager READMEs (blog post) (video)
- Good Boss, Bad Boss, by Robert Sutton
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Oh, nobody ever accused me of having ADHD. I thought—I mean even pretty much up until I was diagnosed—I thought it was like a halfway-imaginary label for hyperactive little boys…Liz Vennum
Marshall Lichty: Hey there, it's Marshall and I'm a lawyer and I've got ADHD. Welcome to JDHD, a podcast for lawyers with ADHD. I'm so thankful you're here and I'm really excited about our episode today with a woman who cracks me up. She is hilarious and kind. For me, she's been personally motivating and you know, also just a great supporter and encourager. She's an entrepreneur. She has her own firm. Throughout law school and her life, she has been a creator and a starter of things. And she is one of the people who came to me so early on in my journey with JDHD and has been a really a motivating factor for me. People like Liz are people who I want to shine in the world. She has ADHD, she is out about her ADHD, and she has had her struggles with it that she will share with you.
Marshall Lichty: But I'll tell you that behind those struggles, when I talked to her and hear about her and hear her passion and her energy and her creativity, I know that people like Liz make our profession better. Her firm, her existence, the way that she supports people, her team, her clients. And when I think about how JDHD can be in the world, it is for people like Liz. She's a lawyer and a practitioner in North Carolina with an incredible resume with big firm stuff. And a you know, a Fake forest law degree in some Vanderbilt undergrad. She's been an active in the bar and associations through law school and her lawyering career. She's organized legal clinics. She's submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court and has spoken and she started a Facebook group for ADHD lawyer moms. And I am so thankful for her vulnerability and the way that she has really just helped me feel like JDHD is important. So I'm excited for this interview with Liz Vennum, the first ADHD lawyer—other than me—that we've had on the podcast. She is blazing new territory and I hope you will hear in her voice all of the things that I love about her. Liz Vennum.
Marshall Lichty: Liz Vennum, welcome to the JDHD podcast. I am really excited to have you here.
Liz Vennum: I'm excited to be here.
Marshall Lichty: One of my favorite things about you right out of the gate is that you have an incredible ability to tell stories that resonate with me, right in my soul. You share anecdotes and I'm like, “Ope… She is me. She's my spirit animal.”
Liz Vennum: I think that's an ADHD thing, though?
Marshall Lichty: It might be! So, it turns out you have ADHD, huh?
Liz Vennum: I do. Yeah.
Marshall Lichty: But you didn't always… Tell me about growing up as an undiagnosed ADHD kid.
Liz Vennum: Well, so I think I did always, it's not something that you suddenly develop, right? It's, it was with me always, but I just, I wasn't diagnosed until I was in law school. I was a single mother in law school with a two -ear old. And so I think I had some coping skills that got me through elementary school and high school and college, but they weren't up to the level of law school. And life—fortunately or unfortunately—has only gotten more complicated since then. So that's when I have needed to start learning different coping mechanisms.
Marshall Lichty: My goodness. A single mother in law school with a two year old.
Liz Vennum: Well, to give my son credit, he's really good. I couldn't do it with my daughter. She's, she's, well, she's wonderful in her own special way. But my son was the only kid in the world I could have done this with. He would come to class with me during snow days and wear his little headphones and just sit there.
Marshall Lichty: Come on. All right. Well, so before you are in law school with a two-year old who's listening to headphones in a snow storm (not “in” a snow storm, but at a time consistent with snow storming). What was it like before? Were you a hyper kid bouncing off all the walls when you were in kindergarten?
Liz Vennum: Oh, heck no. No, I wish, I wish I had the hyper activity. I'm a very chill, low energy person, but I, I guess I would be obsessive with things. For example, embarrassingly, I was really into Hanson fanfiction in middle school.
Marshall Lichty: You STOP.
New Speaker: No, I had two best friends and so like, you know, there's three Hanson brothers, so we were each going to marry one. And so every night I would write a new chapter of our Hanson fan fiction.
Marshall Lichty: How many chapters were written?
Liz Vennum: One of us still has them, but I won't say who.
Marshall Lichty: Who was yours??
Liz Vennum: I don't want to, I just… Isaac. But let's move on. Anyway, the fact that I was so committed to that and actually like made it happen every single night. It's sort of an ADHD thing. Single-minded, getting so into something that was a positive use, I guess, of my omnifocus ability.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. What did it look like in school? I mean, I assume because you're not bouncing off the walls, that teachers weren't saying, “Wow, that Liz, she's you know, she's really struggling…”
Liz Vennum: Oh, nobody, nobody ever accused me of having ADHD. I thought, I mean, even pretty much up until I was diagnosed, I thought it was like a halfway imaginary label for hyperactive little boys. And then part of me would think, no, you're an intelligent adult. You know, that mental illness is not a choice and people have this. But still there's a stigma that, Oh, it's parents need to better discipline their children, whatever. But no, I mean, I, I was very rule following. I sat in my seat. I was afraid of getting in trouble. I never, I was never the hyper kid in school.
Marshall Lichty: Did you perform well? Were you good at school?
New Speaker: I wasn't the best to be honest. I, I was good, but I was never the best. And that always killed me cause I'm a perfectionist. I was always an A student, but it wasn't good enough. Interesting.
Marshall Lichty: That's totally consistent. And it was that true all the way up through high school?
Liz Vennum: Yeah. I mean, I got a B in high school and I was really upset about it.
Marshall Lichty: A? Singular B?
Liz Vennum: Yeah it was, but it was in a math, a math. And so I feel like, you know, maths are hard.
Marshall Lichty: So what you said to me was “I wasn't the best at school.” What you meant was… you were kindof the best at school. Yeah?
Liz Vennum: I mean I was, I was good at school because I could figure out the way that the teachers would ask the questions. I sort of understood what kind of answers they wanted and how to learn and what's going to be on the test and what's not. I've always had a good instinct for that or learned that. So yeah, I got, it wasn't, I didn't have to try very hard to get decent grades. I did have to try hard to stay awake in class.
Marshall Lichty: Yes. I have, I have told a story elsewhere of before I was diagnosed, when I was in law school, I had a law school professor who is, you know, he's a giant in the, in the field, in the profession. He's well-regarded everywhere. He also has this monotonous voice and a style of teaching that was brutal to me and I wasn't getting enough sleep and I fell asleep in his class virtually every day until one day when my head literally hit the desk. And then I stopped going to class because I was mortified.
Liz Vennum: Well I had a college professor where I would fall, always fall asleep in his class and so he started bringing chocolate covered espresso beans to class and when I would mod off, he would throw them at me. That was a nice way of doing it.
Marshall Lichty: I didn't think that was how chocolate covered espresso beans kept people awake, but it turns out that it's a very, very effective way.
Liz Vennum: It would have been effective if I could catch them.
Marshall Lichty: All right. So you're a smart kid. You are kind of what we know now is sort of the avatar for a young girl with inattentive-type ADHD. So you're a rule follower, you're performing well in school and you have some perfectionism. You have these really high expectations. You maybe have a problem sleeping in school, but for the most part you are cruising. Right? Okay. So you go to undergrad…
Liz Vennum: I mean to be honest, I was kind of a party person in undergrad so I don't have a lot of memories, but I had got the Dean's list a couple semesters. Things were pretty good.
Marshall Lichty: So, were you killing it again?
Liz Vennum: Undergrad, it's definitely, yeah, it was definitely harder than high school and I had to up my game a whole lot, especially when I thought I was some writing genius. I was really good at English and then I got to college and the professors were like, yeah, that's a B, B plus. So I had to relearn how to write, which I had to relearn again in law school. But yeah, for the most part college was, I could try hard enough to get it done.
Marshall Lichty: Did you, did you find any cracks in the armor or maybe, maybe tell me a little bit about when you started to feel cracks in the armor.
Liz Vennum: I'm in my ADHD armor. Well, I've never been able to be an organized person. I was always doing things at the last minute and I thought that was just a self-discipline problem. I thought, well, if you would just get better organized, you wouldn't be, you know, studying the night before the test you, wouldn't be doing your project the night before it is due. That's so undisciplined of you… And now I know that that's part of it is like get in good discipline, but also part of it is ADHD and it's not a lack of discipline. It's a lack of coping skills to keep that from happening.
Marshall Lichty: So you've got this procrastination thing. You've got this perfectionism thing. You've got waiting to the last minute. What was the trigger that you knew you needed to actually start doing the work on it?
Liz Vennum: Do the work on ADHD or do the work?
Marshall Lichty: On a project.
Liz Vennum: That it was due the next day. And most of the time I could pull it off and get a good grade. But there was one time a couple of times where, you know, I crashed and burned and I thought okay now I've learned my lesson. Definitely not gonna wait until the night before again. But I did.
Marshall Lichty: That experience is resonant with me too. I assume there were some all nighters built in there?
Liz Vennum: Yeah. I don't even, I don't know if I ever had to stay up literally the entire night until law school. But there were definitely some late nighters in college.
Marshall Lichty: Between undergrad and law school, you had a real job of some sort?
Liz Vennum: Yes, I did.
Marshall Lichty: What was that like? Still not diagnosed?
Liz Vennum: Yeah, I had a couple of different jobs and it's crazy. I didn't actually, now that I was diagnosed with ADHD, I can go back and see why different jobs were not a good fit for me because of my ADHD. So I worked, I worked in a daycare because I love kids and I didn't know what else do with my life. And then I worked at an ad agency because it was an interesting thing. And then I worked at a construction company as a secretary. So when you apply for the bar, at least in North Carolina, you have to confirm that you've never been fired from a job and if you had, you have to explain why. And I was fired from a lot of jobs and so I had to go back and think and I called. It was the ad agency. I didn't remember why I got fired and I thought they fired me for no reason. And I was so sad about it. But when I called him and I said, Hey, I'm applying for law school, he was like, well Liz, you were one of the smartest people that ever worked for us and you kept doing these dumb things. He said one time there was a check that you needed to take to the bank, but you put it in the mail and we couldn't, we couldn't keep you. So that was why I got fired.
Marshall Lichty: And that wasn't… it turns out that guy wasn't alone in deciding that you maybe had some parts of you that merited firing.
Liz Vennum: Right? Well, yeah, and the daycare, I just didn't like being told what to do. It was a wonderful place to work and they were great. They cared about the kids. I learned a lot, actually. I'm a better daycare parent because I've worked in a daycare. But we had to make 3D art one day because the state inspectors were coming and that was one of the learning… I don't know. To get ranked high, you have to do different kinds of learning and 3D art was one of them. Well, that day I just didn't, didn't want to make 3D art and it was sort of like, this is a very basic thing. Why didn't you just do this very basic thing? And so that one wasn't, I think I actually resigned from that one, but I mean, let's be honest, it wasn't doing super hot.
Marshall Lichty: All right. So I want to move to law school. And really what I want to move to is there's a moment in your life when ADHD comes into the picture. Tell me.
Liz Vennum: When I couldn't read. I couldn't read. I've always been an English nerd. And then I remember specifically trying to read my contracts book and just looking at the page over and over and over. Why can't I read this? The information is very dense. It's complex. It's hard for anybody, but I knew that it shouldn't be too hard for me because I got into law school. So what's the problem? Well, it was that and I hadn't been in school in a really long time, so I knew it would be hard adjusting to like “sit still, pay attention,” but it was nigh-on impossible. So I think I had, I had a friend who has ADHD and some of the things he talked about, I was like, well that's kind of me too, but I'm not as wacky as you. So maybe I'm not ADHD. Turns out I am and I'm also wacky but different ways I guess.
Marshall Lichty: So how did you go from, I'm having a hard time reading this and it turns out school is hard to you know, chatter with friend and potentially you know, I mean for me one of the hurdles in learning about ADHD is even really knowing it's a thing. And then where do you go? Like, what do you even do once you start having this little inkling in the back of your head that maybe I have ADHD. Did you trot off to a neuropsychologist right away and book an appointment and get diagnosed?
Liz Vennum: Well, I already saw the psychiatrist at my law school on campus for depression. So I had a relationship with her and it was something that she had asked me before was about ADHD, but I was definitely not, I just shot… I was like, no, that's not my problem. I'm just too anxious and blah, blah, blah, whatever. I'm too tired. And then when my friend, who went to the same doctor, because there was only one on campus, was talking about problems he had and how they were related to ADHD, I started to think, okay, it's not just like hyperactive kindergartners who can't sit down. There's, Oh, I could… maybe that's why I'm having trouble reading.
Marshall Lichty: So how was the process of that meeting and getting the diagnosis and what tell me about how you felt afterwards.
Liz Vennum: It was really hard. She had me take a test. Then I had to think, well, I don't even remember what the typical questions. Like, do you easily get distracted? And I kept thinking, “well, if I tried harder, I wouldn't. If I were more disciplined, I, that wouldn't be true.” So taking the judgment out of it, which is, I mean, so I've dealt with depression and I have family members with depression and different struggles. So it's never a judgmental thing and I would never judge someone for having diabetes and needing insulin. So why am I putting all these judgments on myself for having a condition that needs treatment?
Marshall Lichty: So did you psychologist looks you in the eye and says, “Hey Liz, I've got some news for you. This is a thing.” Tell me about what you, you know, what you did not, was this the first year of law school for you?
Liz Vennum: Yes, I think. I think it was, yes. Okay. So you're saying what, what how did it go?
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, I mean literally like what happened, right? You're in an appointment with someone and they say you have ADHD. Where, where did it go from there? What happened after that?
Liz Vennum: Well, I kind of figured it out before that cause I had spent a lot of time on the Googles, but during, around that time trying to figure out what it was. And so it was just a relief at that point. Like, Oh, thank God, this is why. This is why I always think, well, you could be first in your class if you tried a little harder. Well, you could keep your stuff organized if you were just more disciplined just to be able to let that go. Not that it hasn't come back to life most many times, but to let that go and think, Oh, this is why some things are really hard for me.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. And give some context. And I always like this idea that I'm not looking for an excuse. I don't need to excuse myself. But I would really benefit from a little bit of context and a little bit of an explanation for why that pattern kept reoccurring or why that thing sort of shook out the way that it did. And for me that was the biggest part. It was literally just being able to look at stuff that I used to hold in this deep, deep shame box inside and say, okay, it's going to take a long time to make the shame box go away completely. But at least I have a new lens to look at those things through. And that for me was a, was a big relief too. Yeah. So that word relief really you know, really resonates for me.
Liz Vennum: Well, yeah, for sure. Because like inside the shame box were things I couldn't do and my only tool was “try harder.” Literally my only tool. But I knew I was doing my best anyways. So it was basically I had just given up on being able to do things.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. That I think that encapsulates it perfectly for me too. I just need to work harder and then you actually, then you actually work harder and it still isn't getting done. Or actually there's a decent amount of evidence that it can get worse. Right. So if you're sleeping too little or now you're skipping lunch because you're working too much, or now you're, you know, making these choices that are actually giving you less margin and less space for error. By working harder, you're actually making it even less likely that you'll be able to stay focused or prioritize or start something on time or keep your thoughts organized or your desk or your calendar or whatever. And it's this sort of, it has the potential anyway to be a spiral. That really just needs the exact opposite. A recognition that trying harder isn't working and I can try the hardest of all time and it isn't going to change this, so I need to look at it through a different lens.
Liz Vennum: Right. Absolutely.
Marshall Lichty: I've done my Google work on you and I, I know that you are sort of, you know, objectively, a rock star from Wake Forest University School of Law, right? You organized a legal clinic to help people get their healthcare power of attorney squared away. You revised an entirely dead chapter of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice. You organized brown bag events to help local lawyers network with and meet students and mentor them. You were in Women in Law, Advocates for Justice, American Constitutional Society, OUTlaw, all of these things in law school—with a kid, just diagnosed. So I know that your're objectively, a rock star, so you take that that diagnosis and you do what? Are, are those rock star elements of your resume the function of you just being pumped full of medications?
Liz Vennum: No, I didn't do any of those my first year because… I was lost. But I think those were the results of finding out that I can do amazing good when I focus on what I want to do and then focusing on it, I guess. Letting myself obsess about the things I care about and get involved to a level that other people would. I mean, I discovered a secret about all those different groups and stuff is that people talk about them but nobody actually wants to do work for them. Did you help? Just be on the board… To show up, to organize the meetings? And it's not actually hard. You could just do it and then people are really happy and grateful and it brings people together. So that was really a really enriching part of my law school life was being able to be involved.
Marshall Lichty: Well, and that seems like a theme and we'll talk about more about the business that you're building right now later. But it seems that your entrepreneurial spirit and your willingness to be the one who takes the mantle and does the work and engages the people and builds the community that's been consistent across all of these experiences. And, and I think that's, that's one of the things I love about ADHD is that I think folks who can get enthusiastic and can get energetic and can get creative about the way that we're approaching the things we're involved in is something that's just absolutely missing from a lot of places, particularly in the law. And so I love, you know, I love that work. That's a really neat set of things that you've spent a bunch of time and energy on. And I like to think, and I'm, I guess that's a question. How much of that do you think is unique to people who have ADHD and being able to approach these things and try new things and be excited and energized by new and interesting things?
Liz Vennum: Do you think it might have to do with our, like slight social awkwardness to where we don't realize…? Like I just go ahead and say something and I then I realize later that perhaps I should not have said that. So I think part of it is I just do something and then later someone thinks, Oh my God, you did that. And then I'm like, wait, that's not a thing? I can't just go start my own group?
Marshall Lichty: Right. I mean, that's the impulsivity at work, right? You haven't, you didn't take the time to think of all the reasons that you shouldn't. You just did it.
Liz Vennum: I was a stay at home mom before law school with my son and I joined a mom's group in town and it wasn't really a great fit. They were nice, but they weren't my people. So then I started a “green” moms group for like the organic crunchy people—which I was one of and I wish I still were—and it turned into a huge thing and there were like a hundred people there by the time that I left the town and everybody in there would've started the group cause they wanted the group. But it just took somebody who was like, Oh, here's how you start a group. Oh, you sign up for meetup? It's 30 bucks.
Marshall Lichty: It also isn't the first group that you've started. And, in fact you know, there's one that's particularly topical for this podcast. Tell me about your Facebook group.
Liz Vennum: Oh, my ADHD moms' group? So there's this Facebook group for moms who are lawyers called Law Moms. And there's like 50,000 women in it. Like basically every lawyer mom is probably a member or on the wait list. And it's not a wait list for a snobby reason. It's just that you actually have to get verified. They have to look you up and make sure you're a lawyer and make sure you have kids. Yeah, so it's a great group. It's really supportive. Everyone should apply. If you're a mom and you're a lawyer.
Marshall Lichty: What's the name of the group?
New Speaker: Law Mamas.
Marshall Lichty: So we'll include a link to that in the show notes so you can join Liz and 50,000 other law moms.
Liz Vennum: Yeah. It might take a while to get approved, but just because they really do look you up. So anyways, in that group, I posted a couple of different things about ADHD. I think one of them was, has anyone ever worked with an ADHD coach? This was when I was working at a firm and I kept thinking, I need to get my, I need to get better organized, but I need someone who understands how my ADHD brain works. So I posted about that. And then there are certain same people kept commenting over and over again about ADHD. And so we had all these, we had these two things in common, right? We were lawyer moms and we had ADHD. And so the other moms who have like the color-coordinated birthday parties for their well-dressed children in matching socks, they don't understand about the rest of life.
Liz Vennum: So I started a group—and it's not an offshoot or subgroup cause that's not permitted by the admins—but it was a lot of the same people. It's moms who have ADHD who are lawyers and it's been immensely helpful because their people understand that your kids don't have matching socks or you don't post your perfect bento box, Etsy lunch or not Etsy, a Pinterest lunch that you made for your kids. You talk about how, Oh, I'm so glad that my kid's lunch is on auto pay for it. I don't have to think about it.
Marshall Lichty: Great productivity tip by the way. If you are listening, figuring out whether or not your school district has to auto pay for the lunch situation? My God, that's magical.
Liz Vennum: But then like when you get a new credit card and it doesn't auto pay, you feel like the worst parent ever. Cause you get these emails…
Marshall Lichty: And it takes you three weeks to update it. Meanwhile, your kid is going deep into debt and you know so, but well first of all, tell me the name of the mom/lawyer/ADHD group so I can drop it in the show notes.
Liz Vennum: Oh, it's a pun. It's Law Moms Focus Group, I think. And I'll give you the link for the show notes, but it's Law Moms Focus Group. It's a joke. We can't focus.
Marshall Lichty: Right? Yeah. One of the things that I've learned about the ADHD ecosystem is that we love our puns and we are creative, but I think the puns have pretty much run their course. Including myself. I'm totally guilty of this too. So I want to talk about your firm and your life. I want to talk about being a mom and being an ADHD mom and running your own firm and being an entrepreneur and all of those things. But before I do, I want to talk a little bit about your business because your business is relatively topical. In addition to being a business lawyer, startup lawyer, helping folks with forming businesses and doing other business related law things, you are an employment lawyer and I guess I'm really interested in, because I know you have developed an interest in this, what is the… tell me about the landscape for people who have ADHD in the workplace.
Liz Vennum: So, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to accommodate disabilities, right? That makes sense. And everyone can understand, Oh, you need to wheelchair ramp, you know, if you're in a wheelchair or you might need an ergonomic chair if you had a back problem. Disabilities that are physical are easier for employers to understand and accommodate: great, I'll buy you the chair. Sure. You need an anti-glare thing for your monitor. But they're also required to accommodate emotional and mental health disabilities, which is a lot harder for people to understand. I think as a society we've made great strides but still people think mental health issues are… Try harder or be normal. And perhaps ADHD is on the fringe. Perhaps I think employers are accommodating for depression perhaps or, or other mental struggles. But then when it comes to ADHD, it's still like, well… Try harder because even, I know Marshall, you and I had talked about this, the ADDitude magazine, which is a great resource for people with ADHD, when it talks about employment, their best advice is like, probably don't tell your boss you know, don't ask for accommodations.
Marshall Lichty: And I'm sorry to interrupt. But that like that is not just ADDitude. I mean ADDitude certainly, but it is elsewhere too, right? The podcastosphere, the blogosphere, the bookosphere, the employment lawosphere, everybody's ecosystem is saying this is the kind of condition or disability or whatever we're calling it is the kind that still carries so much stigma that saying it out loud can actually be a really big problem for you either explicitly or because of some simmering narrative about what it means that you have ADHD and it's impact on your ability to get work or get clients or whatever.
Liz Vennum: Absolutely. And it's, it's awful. You wouldn't say, don't, you know, don't tell your boss about your cancer. I mean, it is true that in the workplace there are bosses who discriminate and who are bad, but I'd like to think that if there were a better understanding around mental health, he's like, Oh, ADHD doesn't mean that John's going to be late to work every day. It just means that I need to talk to John about how he can get his work done best. And that's what an accommodation is. It's not a, you get to do an easier job or you don't have responsibilities. It's just what do you need to get from, like by myself, I'm 75% but I need to get 100% done. What can we do to close that gap?
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. So I'm really interested in that and I'm interested in a couple of angles on it. One of the angles is we'll talk about what you would do if you took ADDitude magazine's advice. Second, but let's say, let's say you do want to come out about your ADHD and go to an employer and say, Hey, I need some accommodations. What does that look like? What are some of the accommodations that make sense for folks with ADHD in the workplace?
Liz Vennum: Well, it depends on what you need and what you do. So I would suggest, make sure you understand specifically what you need before you go into it. Technically you don't have to with other disabilities, you just present the the struggles and it's supposed to be a collaborative back and forth with the employer to come up with the solution here. I would suggest going the extra mile because: a. ) we're ADHD, we're going to do it anyway; and b.) it sort of helps them understand what you're asking of them. So think if you get distracted really easily… I know at my old work people would have conversations and it was in an old building and it would echo and you could hear things. And so it was hard for me to focus if I'm like, Ooh, what are they talking about over there?
Liz Vennum: And so close your door when you're doing deep work, when you need to focus and people know you're not being antisocial, it's just that Hey, Susie is working on something. Just something as simple as that. Or if you need to have noise canceling headphones or you need to turn off your notifications, that could be really difficult. Sometimes employers, you have to be on messenger and you have to respond to your email and you have all this other stuff. And then I would not get anything done if all these notifications were popping up. So if you say, Hey, I'm going to respond to my emails at eight at 12 and at three between then come knock on my door if it's an emergency, something like that. So identify first what you need and then have a plan.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, I think there is so much power in knowing the things that are hardest for you. And I think…
Liz Vennum: Self awareness!
Marshall Lichty: Right? I mean you said the word that I am dancing around, right? Because self-awareness is a thing that we can be very good at. But usually our judgment is off about it, right? So my self awareness is it tends to be through this dark lens of you know, I'm kind of a goof up. I kind of goofed things up. I kind of you know, I messed that up. I always mess things up, blah, blah, blah. That's sort of what my wife calls the “itty bitty shitty committee.” Right? It's the internal dialogue about how bad at stuff I am. So it might be that I'm self-aware ish, but it's probably not completely accurate. And you could be, you know, people who have ADHD can also be wrong on the other end of the spectrum, which is I am really good at this thing. I haven't even seen my blind spot about this thing. And that can be really difficult, particularly if you haven't been diagnosed or haven't spent much time thinking about what your symptoms are, thinking about the executive functions, or where your challenges are. So that is great advice is to spend some time and energy figuring out what those strengths and weaknesses are. Because regardless of whether you tell an employer or don't, that is really the key to building an environment that makes sense for you.
Liz Vennum: Well, and one way. So when you were talking about the whole, I suck, I suck, I suck… That's a good time to figure out what your weaknesses are. So one thing I struggled with a lot and now I don't, cause I figured out a hack was I would file things and forget to attach exhibits to them, which is, it was a stupid, stupid mistake. Fortunately it was fixable, but I kept doing it and I would just think, Oh my God, I can't believe you did this again. This is so embarrassing. Why are you always doing this? Okay, that's not a great helpful thing to say. It happened. Let's think about how it happened. Was I doing something else while I was getting this ready to file? Do I have a checklist before I file things? Just having a checklist is how I solve that.
Marshall Lichty: I talked with a productivity expert—I think his episode will come live after yours does, but—a guy named David Seah, who I think is a fascinating guy. He calls himself an investigative designer. And one of the things that he says is that checklists in general are, you know, these oppressive tyrannical tools except for when they're used in a way like THAT, right? Like these are the things that you have to do every single time. Do it. So like you know, the Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande, do these things in the operating room or do these things as an airline pilot or do these things as you're about to serve and file a document. That is a great, that's great checklist fodder. But having a list as long as your arm that you are overwhelmed by and can't start —a “to do” list—you can't get started on that thing. Can be a different kind of problem. And one that actually, in David Seah's words, really is tyrannical and oppressive.
Liz Vennum: For sure. Yeah, I definitely have that issue too. I'll make a to do list that'll be three pages long and in everyday like people say, Oh you should bullet journal cause then the next thing you move it over. I'm like …Let's just not do that.
Marshall Lichty: So here's where I'd like to go if you don't mind: we spent some time on employment law. There's a lot more there and I would encourage anybody on the planet who's interested in talking more about this with Liz or anybody else. You know, to head to either the Facebook group for Law Moms or Liz's Facebook group for Law Moms with ADHD or the JDHD website or wherever you want to be in a community of people who are interested in talking about these things. Because I think there's a strategic element and there's a legal element there. And I'm thinking about how you work in your workplace with ADHD is important. And I think I want to move to something else because for you anyway, being someone who has ADHD isn't something that you have to tell anyone. And that's because you're a solopreneur and you have your own shop, your own thing. Tell me about Vennum Law… Not so much what you do, but how you do it in a way that your ADHD is controlled and powerful as opposed to uncontrolled and difficult.
Liz Vennum: I find people to help me. I, I don't try to do it by myself because I do it myself and try harder is not successful.
Marshall Lichty: But “delegate” is sometimes not helpful either because we tend to be bad at that. So tell me how you delegate to other people.
Liz Vennum: I was really lucky. I found an assistant who's amazing and understands me well and so she can sort of interpret what I am saying most of the time. So finding people who supplement your weaknesses is the most crucial thing I can say possibly. Find people and I would say you have to tell them you have ADHD or at least tell them, Hey, I'm going to forget things. Hey, I might be late. It doesn't mean I don't care. Make sure they understand why you're doing these things and then why it's so important for them to be rock solid on those things. That way, you know, if we have different weaknesses than we, we feel, then we try to think of my analogy. It's not like a basket, right? It's like it holds water cause the weaves, I'm doing a motion with my hands to show the basket weave and you can't see it. But you fill in the gaps. That's what I mean. You fill in the gaps. They have different weaknesses.
Marshall Lichty: I had the most fun doing when I was with Lawyerist.com more formally was I got to write a post about Manager READMEs, which is this concept—we won't go into it, but broadly speaking, it's about writing a document just like a coder or a technologist or a software developer might write a “readme” about a piece of software. Managers write READMEs that basically say here's a user's manual to working with me. And I not only did I write the post, but I got to write my own README. And it was really fun and interesting. And when I gave it to the people that reported to me it was really useful because I, there was this level of self awareness to say, listen, this is stuff that I'm really not good at. It doesn't mean I don't like you. It doesn't mean I'm ignoring you. It means that I'm hung up on it and if you could remind me or if we could manage it differently next time or whatever, or at least address it those are things that can make our relationship better over time. And so the idea of a manager README might be a fun one to think about, but obviously you're on your own, so you're not writing a manager README really, you know, other than picking a great assistant,
Liz Vennum: Well, I have, I have people Marshall! I'm not all on my own. No, it's so funny that you brought that up because I actually just finished reading Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert Sutton and it talks, one thing you mentioned about being a good boss is letting people know how you operate. And I think I do that informally, but I, I mean for some reason it seemed a little egotistical to me to make it like a user's manual cause it's like, Hey everybody, I'm super important, but it also could be helpful. And I've been fortunate. The people I work for have picked up on that. I had a summer intern who was amazing. Well they were both amazing, but Sophia, she, one day I had to get something done and my ADHD was just in full swing and I was not having it. I was like doing some Amazon shopping and she came up next to my desk and she would not leave and she was like, sign this, do this. And I mean other bosses might've gotten mad, but I really appreciated that she knew exactly what I needed to do and that she understood that I wouldn't be mad like that. I would that I was okay for her to do that.
Marshall Lichty: I love that. Yeah. I love that. The manager README rabbit hole on Google is kind of fun and most of the time what you see is,
Liz Vennum: Is it like the, when the rockstars make lists for the green room, the orange M&Ms?
Marshall Lichty: Yes, but in a much more sort of adorable way, right? The people who do this are people who are trying to be, you know, servant leaders who are thinking about their people first. They're, you know, the, the perspective that they usually come from is not like, Hey, I'm going to yell at you a bunch and that means it's time to get your shit done. They're like sometimes I yell and it's because I'm frustrated and I have a complicated life and whatever. And so I really like them because it's this empathetic servant leadership-y set of writing that I think you'll find much, you know, unlike a rock star who wants only green M&Ms… it really is about somebody who has been elevated to a position and they they know that with that comes this what sort of worship, you know, it's lonely at the top, maybe a, I'm on approachable, maybe a, it's impossible for us to really know each other because you think I'm your boss and I will fire you. And so creating some language around that and even having a document, I posted mine, you know, on the internet for the whole world to see. And you know, writing that thing requires some self awareness. It's a roadmap for how people can work with you. And I, I really love the concept, whether you do it and share it is really kind of secondary. But the exercise of knowing oneself and sharing it with the people around you is, this is a really powerful to all my judgment.
Liz Vennum: For sure. I think even it's something that I wish I had had at previous jobs because there's very much trying to like read the tea leaves of like, Oh, he slammed the door. I think he's in a bad mood of don't ask him about different, you know, or the boss isn't here today. We don't know what's going on. It's a mystery. In the book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, there's this that he tells a story about how a woman got promoted to the CEO. She wore a certain type of scarf and the next day everyone and all the women in the office were wearing that scarf and it's sort of like, Oh wow, I didn't realize that I w that this is what happens. Right.
Marshall Lichty: I'm the kind of people whose wardrobes, you know, matter to other people.
Liz Vennum: Yeah. It's a weird thought. I mean, it is, I mean, when you think about you pay someone's salary without you, they wouldn't have a job right now then yeah, it is power. And so I take that like, to me that's a huge responsibility and I love being a boss so far and I love creating a workplace that you're allowed to have faults. Let's just be up front about them and figure out what to do. I love that's, I've really enjoyed that. And I think hopefully it's a great place to work. I know I like it here.
Marshall Lichty: Well one of the things that I can see—obviously I've never worked there—but one of the things that I can see in sort of your approach to people and talent and relationships is you have a an alumni page on your website, which is sort of still keeping the bios of people who used to be with you but aren't anymore. It's almost like an homage to the people who have left and saying, you know, you are not here but you are here and we're thankful for you. And that that says a lot about community. It says a lot about supporting people. It's a lot about remembering people and I love that part of your website.
Liz Vennum: No, that's, it was really important to me because I've worked other places where you get an email, Susan Jones is no longer with the firm. Good luck Susan. What happened to Susan?? I want to know, I'm scared cause it could happen to me and all the hard work that Susan did. You know, you go through the the server and you find all these documents made by Susan and you're like, wow, whatever happened to Susan. Well, I mean I don't have a huge alumni page cause I'm a recently new firm, but the people on there did great things that helped me get to where we are. And so those people are still part of us. Not to be too sentimental, but I mean I still stay in touch with them and I value the work that they did, so I don't ever want it to be sort of a slam the door type thing. If you move on. Great. Congratulations. Let's be friends.
Marshall Lichty: I love it. Tell me about some of the other things that you do running a firm that help you manage some things that might otherwise be a challenge for people with ADHD.
Liz Vennum: We don't start until noon on Mondays because… Why? Why try? Honestly like we're not getting anything done. It's torture. I mean I have, I have two kids and I've been in and we have weekends where we spend time together and I'm like, I need an extra time to recover without my kids after the weekend. So that's why we don't start til 12 and I don't, I think it's a great rule.
Marshall Lichty: Do you share it with your clients?
Liz Vennum: I mean that says on the website that we don't open till 12. So if you call we won't answer.
Marshall Lichty: I love it. I love it. What else?
Liz Vennum: But the converse of that is that I do, I'm more than happy to work around the clock if somebody needs something. I mean, for some reason I guess it's my personality is I draw people who are procrastinators or who, Oh, I got this thing in the mail about a lawsuit and it's due tomorrow. Great. Call me. We're going to get this done. I'll stay up all night, I'll get it done. I'm good at that. And not a lot of other people can do that for you. They'll call and they'll say, wow, sorry buddy. That was, you know, should have called me a month ago. And so yeah, you can't call me before 12 on Monday, but you can, you may, I might be able to help you with something that takes all night Tuesday.
Marshall Lichty: Setting boundaries can be really tough for folks with ADHD. And it sounds like you've voluntarily set a boundary around your Monday mornings, but you've also removed boundaries in other parts of your practice. And have you, do you struggle with the balance between the boundaries that you have in place and enforce and the ones that either are there but aren't enforced or really aren't there at all?
Liz Vennum: Oh, for sure. I mean, I'm a really a bleeding heart. Like I care about everybody and I want to help everybody. And so I am learning the hard way that you can't, you can't help everybody. You can work around the clock for some people and it's just, you know, if the case has bad facts, the case has bad facts and let's just, let's take a realistic approach instead of like, you know, this is going to be a hard one, but we're fighting hard now. Let's be honest, like this is not, let's not take this, let's not take this. What's a good analogy? I was going to say, take this horse to the race track, but let's just not, you know, let's not even try because this is hard and it's not going to work. Or what I, the approach I prefer, it's just like, Hey, it's going to cost you this amount of money and you're still going to lose.
Liz Vennum: Are you okay with that? And most people will say no. The ones who say yes, don't even mean it. But give them a couple of days… So I do have a difficult time with that though, with what, what stuff is worth working through the night for and what stuff can we tell tomorrow because you know, if you're a client, you've got one case and one case only usually. And it's important. It's on your mind all the time. I mean, I've been on the other side, I've been a client before. It's the only thing you think about all the time. It's so much money that you're spending and it's all you can think about. And so when you call the lawyer and they're in some other meeting, like what? Whose case are you working on? Right. How dare you not think this is as important as I do.
Liz Vennum: And it's, it's important to remember that, that it's not that you're not as important, it's just that let's look at what has to absolutely be done today and what can wait. And I'm still, I mean, I don't have that figured out. I'm still definitely working on it, but it's something I'm trying, you know, I'm trying to work on and trying to improve as I go and trying to set realistic expectations with clients. If you people say don't respond to emails right away or else your clients will start “expecting that.” Well, I, I know my clients, some of them need a response right away and other ones they don't. So yeah,
Marshall Lichty: I, I like some of the ideas around time blocking that help you set those boundaries a little bit too. Right? So one of the, one of the tools, it's actually kind of a combination of tools that I really, really like and has worked well for me. And it's made me much, much more productive is time blocking. So using my calendar and very proactively and preemptively writing down what I'm hoping to get done during a day and when, and literally like during this hour I'm going to do X, Y, and Z. What I now do is I have a couple of blocks for answering email and I have a couple of blocks for answering phone calls and if you want to talk to me, you need to book in through a scheduling tool to talk to me during those times. And it could be off-putting, but packaged the right way,
Marshall Lichty: I think it works really well, which is listen, the way that I, the way that I'm most productive, the way that I provide the most value to the world is being able to do deep work and think hard and work through challenging problems and write things that are important or persuasive or whatever. And I know that when I get pulled out of that work I get bad. And it might not be your case that I'm working on when a phone call or an email comes in, but I want to make sure that when it is your case that I'm working on that I'm in it all the way. So help me work through this and book through when you have a a phone call that you want to have. It also lets you get some notes, right. What's your issue? What's the question you're trying to answer so that when you actually get on that phone call, it's not 15 minutes of background and another 30 minutes of sort of, Oh yeah, I'm not sure about that.
Marshall Lichty: I'm going to have to look that up. I'll send you a memo, I'll do whatever. You've got the question beforehand. You do the research beforehand and you can deliver it during the phone call, Bing, bang, boom. And everybody's moving on. And so thinking about ways to keep your productivity up while serving client needs, particularly as a solo or a small firm lawyer. But this is true for everybody. Is critically important. There's data out there that says every time you're interrupted, it takes 23 minutes to get back into flow.
Liz Vennum: I think it is 23 days.
Marshall Lichty: Amen. Amen. Right.
Liz Vennum: Yeah. You're very right about the time blocking and my assistant, Shelly, she'll block my time, but then I have to actually follow up.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. Just to be clear, I hope it doesn't sound like I'm an expert because I don't want to portray the idea that I have killed this problem. I haven't at all.
Liz Vennum: Because it's like there's, Ooh, here's a bright, shiny emergency. Let's work on that. Yeah.
Marshall Lichty: Right.
Liz Vennum: It's a, it's a process. And I think empowering other people at my firm to talk to clients, to answer non-legal questions is important. It's not about, Oh, you can only ask the attorney. No. If it is about your bill, they probably can help you. They probably can help you better than I can.
Liz Vennum: So making sure that they feel comfortable and equipped to do that takes that, you know, it takes that off my plate. Yeah.
Marshall Lichty: So we try to take a, a sort of unrelentingly positive approach to ADHD and the belief that it's a superpower and that there are strengths to be derived from it. And I will stay true to that. However, I will also share that you have on occasion made me laugh out loud with a text message or an email. Finish this sentence if you would. “So I'm sitting outside the dentist's office on the curb…”
Liz Vennum: “And I'm too embarrassed to go wait inside cause I locked my keys in the car and I'm waiting for the locksmith.”
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. And others. I, I mean that is, you are all of us. And there are parts of this condition that I think really are super powerful. Our empathy, our enthusiasm, our creativity, our entrepreneurial-ism, our ability to handle stress in you know, stressful situations. You know, I think all of those things are great. And, sometimes you're embarrassed to go back into the waiting room where it would be more comfortable to wait after you've locked yourself out of your car again.
Marshall Lichty: I also love the idea of the ADHD tax, which I had kind of heard before, but now I literally created a document on which I am keeping track of the ADHD balance sheet. So sometimes I write down this was a net positive, this was a net negative. And I'm just trying to see if my ADHD tax is outstripping my ability to earn ADHD revenue and
Liz Vennum: I don't keep track. But what Marshall is talking about is when I told him when I got locked out of my car, I had to call the locksmith and it was like 79 bucks and I couldn't be mad about it, but I just consider it a tax on ADHD. People like this is my tax like if you do something stupid and it costs money tax on stupid. So this was, that's part of a tax on ADHD. It's like the money that I spend on post-its. So you actually tally it, Marshall?
Marshall Lichty: I've started to, and it occurred to me that no business, no operation, no organization only keeps track of the debits, right? Most, most organizations also keep track of the revenue. And I, I'm interested in the experiment of whether or not there is revenue from ADHD. And really part of the entire underlying philosophy of this podcast is that there is revenue and that it is going to vastly outstrip the ADHD tax. But it wouldn't kill me to start keeping some data so that I can, you know, so that I can prove it.
Liz Vennum: Actually, when you were talking about before the podcast positive things from ADHD, I remember this time when I was a new associate and we were trying to figure out whether we could pierce the corporate veil on this person. And I was looking at his Instagram and I spent literally all night going through this person's Instagram, looking through every single picture. But they were, he was using corporate vehicles and you know, I made the connection, but I had to go through about five, 600 Instagram pictures to do it. And I'm like, no one else would have done that. There's not an associate in the world, I think who would've gone through this person's Instagram. But I did it. And look what I got. I don't know. And it ended up settling before. Of course, obviously the case settled before we needed my information, but I would want that lawyer on my side. I would want the person who's going to go looking for the details.
Marshall Lichty: You are damn right and hyper-focusing on it and you know, chasing it all the way down. I I love that. That is a great, great story. And that one for sure goes on the ADHD revenue line. So you know, when you start your ledger, start keeping track of it. Alright. I've got two questions for you. Do you consider yourself a pessimist or a bit of an optimist? Half full, half empty sort.
Liz Vennum: I'm an optimist. I believe it's, the glass is all full. You just can't see it yet.
Marshall Lichty: All right, well then I'm going to start with the the, the question that is less exciting. If you had a magic wand and you could wave it around, what is the one part, the one feature of ADHD, yours or in general that you wish you could you know, just disappear out of everyone. What does that, what does that each or that you would want to wave a magic wand and right now never more will anyone deal with it?
Liz Vennum: Mm. Messiness. I would love to be organized perfectly. I know where things are, but it doesn't look great.
Marshall Lichty: Flip the script. Your same magic wand, different incantation. What's the one feature of your ADHD or someone else's that you wish everyone in the entire universe had?
Liz Vennum: Sense of humor. I think ADHD people don't take themselves too seriously cause we can't. And so if other people could understand that would be great.
Marshall Lichty: I love it. I love it. Liz, I am so thankful that we had a chance to talk today. Like I said, you've brought some light to my life and not just when it's self-deprecating, but when you, when you share your struggles but your challenges, when I get to look at your website and see the kind of business you're building, when I get to hear you tell stories about the kinds of people you've helped and how and how you really put your ADHD to work to be, to, to enhance what you already are, which is a builder of communities, someone who starts things, someone who impulsively and pathologically creates new things and brings people in to join you there. I'm just so thankful to have you around and to have you on the podcast to share your story with folks.
Liz Vennum: Well, I'm really happy to be here, Marshall. Thank you.
Marshall Lichty: Well, if you want to talk to Liz about employment law or ADHD or anybody else or the weather in North Carolina today or anything else, the best way to find her is on her website. And of course we will leave that in the show notes. We will put it elsewhere including out onto the social and you'll be able to find Liz there and elsewhere. Liz, thank you so very, very much. And we'll look forward to talking to you again.
Marshall Lichty: And that is Liz Vennum. She's just such a wonderful contribution to the world and I'm so fortunate that she came on and shared all of her bits and goodies with us on the JDHD. Liz, thank you.
Marshall Lichty: And if you are like Liz, if any of what she said resonated with you, stick around. We're going to be talking to more people like Liz. We're going to be creating an ADHD mastermind group for lawyers with ADHD. We have resources and tools popping up on the website every day and I'm working on some CLEs and some other opportunities for folks to engage with the JDHD. Meanwhile, I would love it if you would subscribe to my free 10-day email course, check out https://TheJDHD/course and sign up. And for 10 days, I will send you some emails and you'll learn a little bit about ADHD. Hopefully get curious about it. If you already have ADHD and you're a lawyer and you have some tips or advice, or you want to come on the podcast, chat with me, and if you don't, or if you don't know, or if you're only curious, let's dive in. Reach out. It only gets better with education and with knowledge and with help. Let's make ADHD easier. This law thing, it's hard enough. We'll see you next week.