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Why Wellness Should Be a Prescription for All Lawyers | DRI

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[author: Brendan P. Hall]*

It is no secret that the legal profession can be a relatively stressful and complicated one. With cases to be won, deals to be closed, and clients to be assuaged, health consequences may follow if lawyers do not take precautions.

Since the dog days of the pandemic, I have chaired Harris Beach PLLC’s Wellness Committee. I also now co-chair the DRI Young Lawyers Wellness Subcommittee. That experience, combined with practicing as a litigation attorney in New York City, has taught me some important lessons on how to manage stress to reap rewards, better performance, and dare I say, happiness! Without further ado, the following is my case for why wellness should be a prescription for all lawyers and even beyond the legal profession.

Statistics: A relatively dim picture.

Statistics about faltering lawyer health are abundant, particularly from the American Bar Association:

• About 67 percent of female and 49 percent of male survey respondents reported moderate or severe stress (ABA);
• 71 percent of lawyers suffer from anxiety and about 38 percent suffer from depression (law.com);
• Lawyers who reported high stress levels were 22 times more likely to experience thoughts of suicide than lawyers with low stress (Healthcare).

The list could continue. Suffice it to say that the numbers are staggering. They are generally well-known, although rarely talked about—brushed under the rug, even.

And they are more than just statistics. The underlying stress and health complications are a key reason you may have dealt with irritable, irrational, and hostile lawyers. Or worse.

Solutions: They exist!

All is not lost. Notice that, fortunately, a majority of lawyers do not struggle with depression. Healthy and affable lawyers do exist.

Despite the pervasive issues, solutions are attainable. Better yet, almost all are free. This list is by no means exhaustive. Wellness is multi-faceted. Thus, this list is a starting point to help alleviate stress and foster a healthier profession.

1. Effective law practice management

At risk of stating the obvious, every lawyer should first ensure that they are not stretched too thin. All of the exercise and meditation in the world cannot fix issues like unbearable workloads and domineering clients and colleagues. So, at the outset, swim upstream to solve problems before they become exacerbated. For example, say “no.” Set boundaries. Delegate. Maintain an efficient calendar. Of course, this is easier said than done in a capitalistic society and ambitious profession that strives to be a meritocracy, but it is worth raising and addressing. Less can actually be more!

2. Exercise

With that said, a practicing lawyer will inevitably face challenges. A case may go to trial. A deal may need to close imminently. A potential client might want to see a pitch deck that does not yet exist. When those situations arise, take it from longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia: “Exercise is the single biggest elixir for brain health.” Or take it from life coach Tony Robbins: “Emotion is created by motion.”

The benefits are seemingly-endless, even in small doses of exercise, particularly for reducing stress and boosting memory and thinking skills. In terms of time, 150 minutes per week, assuming proper output, is a reasonable goal. Perhaps a memorable lawyer and former First Lady put it best: “Let’s move!”

3. Meditation

A good lawyer should have strong analytical skills and sharp attention to detail. With that in mind, consider incorporating an enjoyable practice that can enhance memory and attention. Meditation also reduces stress, improves sleep, and more. Unsure where to get started? Calm is well-regarded. My personal favorite is Peloton, particularly with Aditi Shah. Also, YouTube! As with exercise, meditation is something that can create benefits in mere minutes. Namaste.

4. Forest bathing

Yes, that’s right! Called shinrin-yoku in Japanese, getting out in nature has significant health benefits. Covered by Time, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and more, if you are looking to reduce stress, improve your mood, increase your creativity, sleep better, and increase your energy levels, then take a stroll in your local park. Or consider upping the ante with a state or national park. The effects are so wonderful that Canadian doctors are actually prescribing national parks passes (hello, Banff!). Regardless, surround yourself in nature, wherever it may be, and reap the rewards.

5. Sharpen the saw

While all of the above naturally help us to recharge and live better, actual time away from work can help us reset and be more productive (gasp!). Abraham Lincoln may or may not have said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Let’s eradicate notions of not recharging and boasting about professional feats of endurance. To be clear, I advocate for working hard and effectively, exceeding expectations, and serving dutifully. But in the name of enhanced productivity, it should not only be advisable, but mandatory and quantifiable, to take time to disconnect and recharge. Perhaps even consider a digital detox. As a memorable high school philosopher once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Bottom line: Wellness should be a prescription for all lawyers.

Overall, if every lawyer implements these practices, the profession can become healthier, happier, and more efficient. The disorganized and ineffective behavior by some may be alleviated and reduced; possibly eradicated altogether in individual cases. That is why wellness should be a prescription for all.

* Harris Beach PLLC

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