On November 29, 2011, an article was published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal (Legal) Newspaper that I wrote that had the caption, "The 'real' check-up: Is your lifestyle making you unhappy?" The article was about lawyers and law firms that take end-of-the-year assessments of their business-related matters, but pay little or no attention to their individual or collective personal-related issues. The full article appears below:
At the end (or beginning) of each year, lawyers and Law Firms typically take an end-of-the-year (or New Year) assessment of the past year and/or make a “Wish List” of their desired accomplishments for the next new year.
This assessment typically focuses on business-related items such as clients gained and sought, matters concluded and pending, cases won and lost, partner/associate/staff additions and reductions, technological changes, professional accomplishments, and (most importantly) accounting, finances, partner compensation packages, bonuses, employee benefit packages, etc.
Those lawyers and law firms that do this type of reflection will often incur serious time, effort and expense. But rarely, even for those that undertake such effort and take it seriously, little or no time is spent on taking stock of the lawyer’s personal needs, individually or collectively.
Too many in our profession are over-worked, over-whelmed, overweight, smoke, drink to excess, over-medicated, get no exercise, are continually stressed, have no fun (outside of their work, assuming work can be considered as having “fun”) – – and “unhappy” in their work and/or life. Numerous articles and books have been written on this condition of our profession.
Frequently a lawyer will only address such personal issues when they get a “wake up call” after having an ulcer, stroke, heart attack cancer or other such debilitating medical condition. Only then, if then, will they start to look at, and address their own personal needs.
Or, worse yet, because of their abuse of alcohol or drugs — which they use to mask personal issues (many of which may relate to their work as lawyers) — it is only after having been remanded to “The Other Bar” after State Bar Disciplinary action – or the loss of their license altogether – will they “wake up” and take corrective action.
This condition, particularly here in California, is so unfortunate and unnecessary. In this State that generally prides itself on “healthy living” – we have access to facilities and amenities necessary to afford one a healthy lifestyle – – in addition to a successful work environment.
There are a number of actions a lawyer can do to take care of and improve their personal well-being. Let me name just a few:
Wellness programs: There are many places in California that offer executive physicals. These include the Scripts Center for Executive Health in LaJolla and the California Health and Longevity Institute in Westlake Village. These Centers offer tests and programs focused on health. Why wait until you get a “wake up call” before assessing your physical condition?
Physical exercise: You have the time for daily physical exercise, you just need to make the time. There are plenty of gyms, small yoga centers and personal training studios here. Take advantage of having access to them. Just as your clients need (and receive) your legal assistance, it is perfectly okay (and recommended) that you hire a personal trainer to guide you through a fitness routine.
Proper nutrition: It’s easy during the holiday season, and throughout the year, to over indulge in food that is bad for your health. Working all day at your desk is not an excuse for skipping a meal or grabbing a frozen meal from the freezer. Prepare fresh meals in advance if you know that you will be stuck at the office all day.
Take a break: Take a break from a steady stream of stressful work. Go for a walk outside, take a trip to a local coffee shop, visit someone on the floor, or just walk up and down the hallway, if that is the best you can do. But, in any event, get away from your desk and relax (if possible) for a few minutes.
There is the story of a Law Professor who stood before his Senior graduating class with some items in front of him. When class began, he picked up a large empty jar and proceeded to fill it to the top with golf balls. He then asked the class if the jar was full. They all agreed that it was.
The Professor then picked up a handful of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar, and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the class again if the jar was full. They all agreed that it was.
The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured that into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
"Now," said the Professor as the laughter subsided, I want you to recognize that this jar represents your “life.” The golf balls represent the important things in your life – – your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions – – and, if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full."
"The pebbles represent the other things that matter such as your job, your house and your car."
"The sand represents everything else – – the small stuff."
"If you put the sand into the jar first, he commented, there would be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner."
"There will always be time to do those things in the office that one does way past 7:00 p.m. or on Saturday's and Sunday's."
"Take care of the 'golf ball items' first. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
I come in contact with many lawyers who need to hear (and learn) the morale of this story. They have attained all of the monetary and material rewards one could possibly hope for as a lawyer. They have earned all the money they (and their family) could ever want or need. Their “toys” are the envy of others. Yet, they are not good to themselves, and they are not “happy.”
One of the reasons for this is that they do not spend much, if any, time taking care of themselves. They take good care of their clients’ needs, but not their own.
The “good news” is that if they just spent a portion of the time that they give to their clients on their own personal needs, things would be considerably different and much improved. You would think that lawyers would be smart enough to know this.
JEROME M. BAME, Esq., Coach-Mentor-Confidant to Lawyers, 10061 Talbert Avenue, Suite 200, Fountain Valley, California 92708, Telephone: 714-962-4477, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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