Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law


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Friday’s Weekly Gratitude Post – October 12, 2012

As I posted last week, I intend to post a list of things I am grateful for weekly. This is my first post and this week was a rocky one.  A lot of deadline pressure at the office, a broken a/c unit, preparation of my 2011 tax return, and well just way to much to do and not much time.   Doesn’t sound like there was much to be grateful for but in reality there were many things to be grateful for so here is a list:

My marriage – my husband celebrated 15 years of marriage on the 11th.  It is great to look back and think of how far we have come together and what a good friendship and marriage we have.

Volunteer activities –  I attended my first South West Ohio Mental Health Advocacy Coalition meeting.  It was my first meeting and I was the only attorney there.  It is interesting to view the issue of mental health with non attorneys it gives me perspective on the issues from a sociological perspective. And it is nice to try to find ways to bridge the divide between the legal community and the mental health community.

My partners and co-workers They help me stay balanced and are there to listen when I am having a bad days.  All lawyers need support.  One of the great things about being in a law firm is that you can find someone to commiserate with, to run something by or to share a funny story with.  Stress can be managed better with help.  It is something the legal community forgets.  We all have similar stresses and issues no one is an island.

Mental Health days – Today, I stayed home and took what I call a mental health day. The reasons were many but the core of my issue was need peace, quiet and calm to get a few things that were behind done. So, I stayed home used remote access and motored through a lot of work.  I called it a mental health day because I could spend the day with my cats, focusing on a few specific tasks and not get overwhelmed by work accumulating in my office.  I am always grateful for having a busy law practice, for having clients that depend on and value my work, but sometimes you have to change the scenery to be productive.   This means working when and where you can best focus.

Some great things to be grateful for.  A good week, a welcome celebration of my marriage and a less chaotic end to the week.  Now I am ready for a weekend of fun and relaxation.

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Defining Attorney Well-Being

What is well-being?  Is it about physical health, diet, exercise, mental health and/or spirituality?  Does the idea that we as lawyers are in the business of using our brain in the service of our clients, justice or to make a living make a difference in how we define well-being in the legal community?  Our brain is surely our greatest resource.  All attorneys should be interested in taking care of their number one resource.   So, the question is how do we best take care of ourselves?  How do we have a well brain and body which support us as we take care of the problems of others and maneuver in the legal arena?

Is health and well-being an appropriate goal for lawyers?  Or, does our profession accept that stress, depression and substance abuse are the risks we take when we make a career in the Law.   To me it seems we lose sense of ourselves and our center because of the stress and pressure.  These are real issues. Issues which, if you start to pause and observe, are so present that it is as if we are in a pressure cooker every day.  The reality is that every lawyer is prone to the effects of too much work, too much stress and too much self criticism.  How these problems manifest in our body, brain and mind is the essence of the challenges we face in being balanced humans who happen to practice law for a living?

We have all either experienced for ourselves or been exposed to co workers, friends and or opposing counsel who seems to be a little bit stressed, suffering from depression, overly emotional, sleeping too little, working longer hours without getting any more done or just sitting at a desk not focusing and trying to figure out just where to start as the work just seems to pile up above our heads.  These are inherent issues with the practice law and are treated by many as a part of the job.   I personally have experience many of stress signals.

The adversarial nature of the practice of law and the natural competitive tendencies of those of the profession only increase the pressure.  Some of the things that annoy us on a daily basis can be method to measure the stress level we have.  Pressure can come at you from different angles, finances, clients and just be in a adversarial relationship with others.

The excuse most people who practice law make is that “things have always been this way”.  People must look like, walk like and talk like the mirror image of older lawyers or they are branded difficult or eccentric.  Many attorneys find themselves in solo practice because they can’t or won’t deal with the law firm life and culture or because they feel more in control relying solely on themselves.  Even those of us who practice in a typical law firm setting can still feel isolated and alone when our suggestions for change are rejected or by the culture which allows for little individuality.

So, what is the answer?  Is there room for change in our profession?  For many, change is exciting but most lawyers are not fans of the concept.  However, when I discuss the idea of health and well-being with them they get the importance and are interested.  Combined this with the stunning statistics of the prevalence of anxiety and depression it seems like a no brainer, we should educate ourselves about the our body, brain and mind.  We must protect our most valuable assets to preserve our ability to continue to represent our clients, support our families and relate to one another in a professional matter.  It is essential to care for our most important resources because the other alternative is no alternative at all.  There are far too many people who leave the practice of law, face disciplinary issues or worse yet have substance abuse or mental health issues.  Health and Well-being is possible, but it takes commitment and vigilance by those of us who care about their fellow attorneys and by each individual attorney who wishes to protect their ability to continue their legal career.

Well-being comes from within.  No matter the information we present for benefit of others or how many self help articles or books you read you must make the decision to find your own sense of balance. Simply put, our sense of well-being is personal.  My sense of balance and my well-being is not the same as that of others.  Thus, the most important purpose of the Health and Well-being Committee is to provide information for people about health and well-being.   Simply stated the legal profession needs a base knowledge that conveys the message that a) attorneys need not suffer stress, anxiety or depression alone; b) stress/anxiety is not an unchangeable fact of life; c) you can change your reaction to your stressors and improve your mental and physical health; and d) there is life outside the law and to have one means you become a better more effective attorney.