Attorney Wellness and the Practice of Law.
Recently I spoke at a seminar sponsored by the Disability Advocacy Section of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice on the topic of attorney wellness and the practice of law. All attorneys know practicing law is a high stress profession. Nonetheless, when I made a list for this seminar of the kinds of stress I experience on a regular basis, the size of the list surprised me.
Examples of Stress. Here is a condensed version of the List.
* operating a business and managing employees.
* the constant need for new cases and generating revenue.
* being a skilled advocate with expertise in the relevant law.
* having multiple cases heard in a short span of time.
* dealing with difficult opposing counsel.
* dealing with difficult judges.
* dealing with angry clients.
* dealing with mentally impaired clients who are anxious, hysterical, obsessive compulsive, or all of the above.
* working hard on a case for years, doing everything right, then not getting paid.
* losing a case.
* trying to balance work demands with family responsibilities.
Adverse Health Effects. As I prepared for this presentation, I was not surprised to find that chronic stress has many serious adverse effects on our health. For example, research on the effects of chronic stress has found:
* it increases atherosclerosis in the arteries.
* it increases blood pressure which damages arteries, which reduces blood flow, which can cause a heart attack.
* it reduces the functioning of the immune system making us more vulnerable to many illnesses.
* it deceases neural connections in the brain which decreases memory function.
* it kills brain cells!
* it causes brains to shrink!
* it decreases dopamine binding in the brain, which decreases feelings of pleasure, which puts us at greater risk of depression.
* it affects how bodies distribute fat, which causes more fat to be distributed around the mid section, which has adverse health consequences.
* it damages chromosomes
This is just a small sampling of the research that is out there.
Helpful Resources. A wonderful article on the physiological effects of stress can be found at https://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/march7/sapolskysr-030707.html
National Geographic produced an outstanding documentary with extensive help from Dr. Robert Sapolsky titled Stress: Portrait of a Killer. See https://www.amazon.com/National-Geographic-Stress-Portrait-Killer/dp/B001D7T460#customerReviews
What’s All the Buzz About. NC State Bar Journal, Summer 2016, Robynn Moraites. See http://www.nclap.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Whats-All-the-Buzz-About.pdf.
How lawyers can avoid burnout and debilitating anxiety. ABA Journal, 7/1/15, Leslie A. Gordon. See http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/how_lawyers_can_avoid_burnout_and_debilitating_anxiety.
One purpose of my presentation was to discuss effective stress management techniques such as exercise, diet, and meditation. If you would like to learn more, the entire manuscript can be found at Attorney Wellness Manuscript.
A Positive Thought. In closing, I want to end on a positive note. After 38 years of practicing law I still love being a lawyer. I love people bringing their problems to me and trying to solve them. The decision to go to law school was the best decision I ever made.
Yes, being a lawyer is high stress. But, the Practice of Law offers each of us a priceless opportunity
to lend a helping hand where one is desperately needed,
to offer compassion where there is suffering;
to offer hope where there is despair,
to offer kindness where there is sadness,
and, often we succeed in lessening the suffering of another.
Acknowledgment. I want to acknowledge the valuable assistance provided by Robynn Moraites, Executive Director of the NC Lawyers Assistance Program. NC LAP has a tremendous amount of useful information on Attorney Wellness and the Practice of Law on its web site (http://www.nclap.org/) and I have used this information in several sections of the manuscript.