DAYL President’s Page

10 Tips for Lawyers to Stay Healthy

May 2018

There are so many great and rewarding things about the practice of law. An unfortunate part of our profession, though, is that lawyers suffer from addiction and experience mental health issues at a much higher rate than non-lawyers. The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) reports that 11 percent of lawyers have suicidal thoughts at some point in their career, 19 percent of lawyers demonstrate signs of anxiety, 28 percent of lawyers struggle with depression, and an alarming 32 percent of lawyers 30 years old or younger have a drinking problem. A fairly recent ABA study revealed that young lawyers are most at risk of substance abuse (to read more on the study, visit: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/young_lawyers_most_at_risk_substance_abuse_study_says/).

We all understand, to some extent, how these problems develop for lawyers. The practice of law is stressful; often, the stakes are high and lawyers are under tremendous pressure to bill and to win. I am not a mental health expert and I will admit to having experienced some of these issues personally, but here are my top 10 tips to try to stay healthy while practicing law.

  1. Find a professional cheerleader/confidant who will celebrate you when things are going well and who you can talk to when things are not going so well. In my experience, lawyers can become depressed when they don’t have perspective. They’re focused too much on a recent loss or they are in the midst of a big case that is consuming all of their time and energy. Having other lawyers to remind you that you are a good lawyer and all good lawyers lose sometimes or that there is an end in sight to the long stretch of billable hours you’re putting in will help you maintain perspective.
  1. Surround yourself with non-lawyers occasionally. I love lawyers, but sometimes we are a little too much. Not categorically, but when we congregate, we tend to speak in legal jargon, talk about our cases non-stop, and brag/complain about how busy we are. I think it’s important to have friends or family in your life who do not live their lives as lawyers and to spend time with those folks whenever you can. Doing so will also help you maintain perspective.
  1. Participate in bar organizations. As President of DAYL, I have to say this, right? But honestly, my very non-statistically supported impression is that the lawyers I know who are involved in bar organizations are happier than those who are not. In my estimation, I think this is because being involved in an organization like DAYL (or many of the other wonderful bar groups we have in Dallas) brings you together with other lawyers to do good for the bar or for the community at large. In other words, it helps you see good in lawyers, and I think that’s important when most of our day is spent in adversarial situations with lawyers.
  1. Get good sleep. My mother always said “everything looks better after a good night’s sleep.” It sounds simplistic, but there is truth to it. This one means mastering time management because, obviously, it takes time to sleep. Try to prioritize what you have to do in a day and shut it off when you have accomplished the high priority items. Try reading a book before bed to clear your mind and put your cell phone as far away from your bed as possible.
  1. Have an outlet. Whether it’s working out, spending time with your family, singing or playing a musical instrument; find something that you enjoy that has absolutely nothing to do with the practice of law. If you do nothing but work, you will get burned out. Investing time outside of work will help you achieve longevity in your career and will help you stay well-rounded.
  1. Learn to say “no.” I will admit to being especially terrible at this, but between work and DAYL commitments, a toddler at home, a non-lawyer husband, and some non-legal volunteer work, I need to get better. Gemma Galeoto, an amazing young lawyer and one of my cheerleaders (see 1 above), recently said something to me that changed the way I think about this. She challenged me, when someone asks me to do something, to think about how I would feel about doing it if I had to do it right then. It’s very easy to say yes and add something to your calendar for the future, but if you force yourself to think presently about whether you want to do it, you can be honest with yourself about whether it’s something you want to say “yes” to or not.
  1. Don’t procrastinate. Some people do their best work under pressure, but I have found that I am the most stressed when I have let a big project linger on my to do list and suddenly the due date is imminent. Sometimes you cannot avoid a time crunch, but when you can, try to get started early and give yourself plenty of time to get things done.
  1. Take a vacation. This one sounds obvious. Getting out of the office and going somewhere to relax is a no-brainer. But, how often are we “on vacation” yet still answering emails from our phones or even working remotely on our laptops? I know it is idyllic and sometimes not a reality in a client-driven industry, but to the extent possible, try to take one vacation each year and truly be on vacation. The only time that has happened successfully for me was on my honeymoon, but I think if I did a better job of planning ahead by shifting deadlines and letting clients and the attorneys I work with know that I will be unavailable, I might have better luck. I’ll report back after I go on vacation this summer.
  1. Keep a Rock Star File. Keeping a Rock Star File in which you place emails from the client thanking you for a job well done, court orders or verdicts that go in your client’s favor, and notes about awards or commendations you have received will be useful in at least two ways. First, it will help you realize you are not a failure. There are going to be times in your career when you fail. Scary, I know, but that’s just the nature of the profession we are in. In those situations, you’re going to feel like you always fail, when that’s just not true. Having a Rock Star File to peruse will remind you of that. Second, when it’s time to write your personal evaluation or to prepare for your annual review, you won’t have to scratch your head to think about things you can brag about.
  1. Get help, if you need it. If you are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, make use of the resources available to you. TLAP is available 24/7 and is a great place to start. You can read more about the resources available through TLAP at https://www.tlaphelps.org/ and you can call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527. If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can also call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

 

Good, Better, Best,
Jennifer Ryback