An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s an old adage to be sure, but there’s often a very good reason such sayings are still used – there’s truth to them. Just as with physical health, maintaining mental and emotional health works best with prevention, not curing ailments and then working even harder to prevent recurrence. This is particularly true for lawyers, who are drawn into stress-filled environments right from the beginning of their careers. Some of the obvious stressors: working long hours, achieving billable-hour goals, generating clients, and addressing clients’ emotional and mental challenges that add baggage to their legal problems.
Instead of introducing practices to help promote mental and emotional health, many lawyers simply shrug off the stressors because they’re just part of the way law practice has always been and always will be. Too often, though, shrugging off the stressors leads lawyers to use bad behavior toward staff and others, such as foul language and explosive anger. They may also self-medicate with Wisconsin’s favorite personal lubricant, alcohol, and other drugs to cope with the creeping anxiety and depression that this stressful legal environment brings on. A continuing pandemic hasn’t made any of this better, as we still must juggle to keep ourselves and loved ones as safe as possible, even with the reopening of courts (and schools), getting through the backlog of trials, or hustling to generate business. And there is the reality that we may still get sick, fall behind in our work, and deal with possible long-term health effects in the game of Covid-19 Russian roulette.
So now you are asking, what is this spoonful of sugar, this so-called ounce of prevention? I can only remind you that incremental changes build on each other and tend to last. For me, my ounce of prevention was swimming at the senior complex warm pool, slowly building up my muscles and regularly beginning my day talking to some inspiring elders. When that abruptly went away, my old bike in the garage called to me that it just might be the solution. I started out slowly and awkwardly, of course, unlike the real cyclists who sped by me on Madison’s bike paths. But somehow, I moved through that first season taking the hills faster and easier. The change of the seasons and having sandhill cranes, turkeys, deer, bunnies, and even squirrels for company along the way made each day better. And when April came this year, it felt great to get back on my bike; I’ll be staying on it until the snow flies.
Your ounce of prevention might be reading to or playing silly games with your children, tending to your garden, or playing disc golf with your dog (my son’s favorite). Build in letting go of the lawyer and focusing on your emotional and mental health. You need these inner resources to help cut through the stressors and be the best lawyer you can be. And I promise, this preventive medicine will taste great.
If you need help coping with the stressors in your life, turn to the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program.
WisLAP Can Help!
The Wisconsin Lawyers’ Assistance Program (WisLAP) offers confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families who are suffering from alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, and other issues that affect their well-being and law practice.
WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255); suicidepreventionlifeline.org
» Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 4 (October 2021).