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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Be Well to Do Well

Here it is, the last day of deer hunting for many of us in Minnesota and it is an absolutely beautiful day in the woods in the northern part of the state.  The sun is out, there is not a cloud in the sky, and the wind is not blowing.  No threat of snow or rain.  It is calm and quiet—it is breathtaking.  Now everyone reading is asking, where is he going from here, is he going to tell us about the nice buck that is approaching his stand?  While in any other year that would be where my article would lead, this year, unfortunately, I was not able to spend any time whatsoever hunting.  So this year I just want to share with you the scene I was describing and the utter peacefulness, the relaxing calm of the environment.  Reflection is where I’m going; relaxation is what I want everyone in our profession to consciously and seriously consider.

Stress & Complexity

We as lawyers, litigators, negotiators, and judges live and work in a very stressful and for the most part complicated profession.  One might ask why that is, only to have 10,000 different factors to evaluate in finding the answer.  Let’s admit it: the practice of law by its very nature can be stressful.  One can do a quick internet search and find a number of different surveys indicating that the suicide rate for lawyers is not too far below the suicide rate for dentists or physicians.  I should have spoken with Joan Bibelhausen (executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, our lawyer assistance program) before writing this article. But I can assure you that she has statistics that show a high correlation between membership in our profession and problems with alcohol and drugs.  Joan could also provide information regarding the mental health issues that are starting to plague our profession.

With this in mind, consider where I started: with a calm and relaxing environment, where one is able to reflect.  This is very important to our profession as a whole.  We need to take the steps necessary to take care of ourselves as individuals so as individuals we can take the steps necessary to take care of our profession. This is an easy statement to make, yes. Is it easy to get everybody on board with the concept? Maybe. Is it easy to have everyone follow through with the prescription? Probably not.

The practice of law is fundamentally devoted to the idea, “Let’s make everything fair and right.”  By practicing law, lawyers are trying to help someone make their situation right; and to do so one has to feel that their client has been wronged.  This takes a mindset of caring and compassion together with passion to strive to be right and to do whatever it takes to reach this goal.  Now if we as professionals were able to limit ourselves to one single client, we might have all the time necessary to do what’s right and reach our goal for our client—and still have time to take care of our own needs, such as relaxation and reflection.  Unfortunately we all live in the real world where we have a multitude of clients and with that a multitude of goals for our clients.  This, by its nature, limits the amount of time we can provide to each client, and as the work and the demands of work expand, sometimes we take time we should be spending on ourselves and put it back into our profession.  This is why while it’s not very hard to get everyone on board with the idea of taking time, having everyone follow through is much more difficult.

Taking Time

We probably all agree that it is necessary for us to take some time for ourselves. But I’m confident a good number of members of our profession would also say there are not enough hours in the week to do the work that clients expect and still have time to take care of themselves.  Every lawyer needs to make a conscious decision to take some time for him or herself (and you notice I am not talking of “family time”).  Use that personal time to do whatever activity allows you to relax and reflect.  Taking my own advice, every single year I consciously take the first three weekends in November and spend my time in a deer stand.  The environment naturally allows me time to relax and reflect.  Every single summer I consciously allow myself a week of quiet time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and a week at Voyageurs National Park.

Now I am not suggesting that everyone follow in my footsteps and become “one” with “Mother Nature.”  I know that immersion in nature is not what makes some people relax. For those, my challenge to you is to find an activity that helps you relax and reflect.  Whatever your pleasure, take the time you need for yourself.  Once you have done that, if you are still so inclined, then come back and tell me that my concept of “me time” was a bunch of baloney.  Our profession deserves the best and you owe it to yourselves: take some time for you.

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Robert F. Enger

Bob was president of the Minnesota State Bar Association from 2012-2013. A son of northern Minnesota, he serves as Supervising Attorney for Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, based in Bemidji, and is the first legal services attorney to serve as MSBA President.