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

Taking Care of Ourselves

Last month I wrote about a bar association spread too thin and the need to focus the MSBA to meet the challenges of a fast-changing legal profession.  The same could be said of our members, many of whom find themselves spread too thin in these challenging economic times.  And thanks to advances in technology—iPhones, iPads, Skype, and email—clients have instant access to lawyers and expect instant responses to their inquiries.  This new environment is particularly challenging for lawyers who tend to be perfectionists used to sweating the small stuff.  The result?  Lawyers’ physical and mental health suffers.  The practice of law, however, is a long-term commitment more akin to a marathon than a sprint.  Like any endurance event, the practice requires that you train for it both physically and mentally to better serve your clients.

Too Busy To Exercise?

Chris Crowley is a retired New York litigator and coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers Younger Next Year and Younger Next Year for Women.  The core message of his books is pretty simple: do “some hard but important stuff” and you can reduce normal American aging—loss of strength, sore joints, lousy balance—by 70 percent.  And you can eliminate 50 percent of all illness and injury.  To get these results, however, you need to do a few things.  You have to “exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.” You must stop “eating crap.”  And, perhaps most importantly, you need to “care” about and “connect” with others.  Not surprisingly, lawyers seem to need this message more than most.

The trouble is that most lawyers don’t think they have the time to exercise.  We all know that exercise is good for you.  It helps maintain cardiovascular health, burns calories, and reduces stress. And yet those New Year’s resolutions come and go.  It’s true that regular exercise is challenging when you have demanding clients or young children under foot.  Keep in mind, however, that you don’t need to work out 25 hours a week to get in shape.  Thirty minutes a day makes a big impact.  Start out slow.  Find an activity that you like.  Stick with it.

And don’t forget that there are small things, repeated frequently, that can really help improve one’s health.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Get up from your desk and walk to lunch.  In fact, just get up from your desk.  The New York Times reported in April about several studies linking the physical act of sitting itself to a number of very bad health effects.

There are many attorneys who do manage to exercise on a regular basis and they—and their clients—are better for it. At the Fix Studio where I exercise Tuesday and Thursday mornings the classes are filled with lawyers from large law firms, solo practices, corporations, and county attorney and public defender offices.  Come to think of it, lawyers are easily the best-represented group in class (RCBA President and fellow criminal defense lawyer, Tom Plunkett, is also a regular attendee).  What each of these people has learned is that taking the time to exercise actually gives them more time in terms of energy, optimism, and effectiveness at work.  Some of the most effective, successful and busiest people find the time to exercise.  Heck, our own President Obama works out most days and has a mean jump shot to prove it.  Michelle Obama has made it a priority as First Lady to stress the importance of good eating habits to kids.  She also has pipes which are the envy of thousands of women, including my spouse.

 Caring for Mind & Body

Crowley’s book is not just about exercise.  I consider his best message to be about the need to “connect and commit” to one another.  Studies show the importance of human interaction and what happens when we become isolated or stressed out at our jobs.  It is well-documented that lawyers, judges, and law students experience higher rates of addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling) and mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder) than many other professions.  Left untreated these illnesses can wreak havoc on one’s professional skills, ethical values, and physical health.  We potentially harm not only ourselves but also our clients, the profession, and loved ones.

Fortunately, help is just a phone call away.  Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers has been providing free, confidential assistance for Minnesota lawyers, judges, and law students and their families for years.  Led by its tireless executive director, Joan Bibelhausen, LCL currently offers help to those affected by alcohol, drugs and other addictions, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, stress, and other life-related problems.  One of LCL’s newer (and timely) support groups addresses “lawyers in transition” and is aimed at the practitioner who is laid off, dissatisfied with his or her current job, or making decisions about whether to retire or slow down. In the current economic climate this is a group that many of our members could benefit from.

Before we can help our clients, serve the bar association or change the world, we must take care of ourselves—both physically and mentally.  During the upcoming bar year I hope to promote good health among our members at every opportunity.

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Richard H. Kyle Jr.

Richard H. Kyle Jr. was the 2014-15 president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. A shareholder with Fredrikson & Byron PA in Minneapolis, he is a criminal defense lawyer who has practiced law in both solo and large firm settings since being admitted to the Minnesota Bar in 1990.