The best risk management advice I will ever have to offer is simply this: Never minimize the importance taking care of yourself. I know it sounds simple, yet so many seem to struggle with it over the long-term. I really do believe that taking this advice to heart can not only make a world of difference in every lawyer’s personal and professional life, it can also be an effective risk management tool.
Understand that stress-related physical and mental health issues, a variety of addictions, and even mental illness (particularly depression) are significant problems within the legal profession. Speaking personally, I believe these kinds of problems arise, in no small part, due to lawyers struggling with prioritizing taking care of themselves. For example, during more than a few law firm risk visits with lawyers over the years, I have had one or more employees ask me to talk with a lawyer hoping that this would help him or her learn to say “no” so that his or her workload might finally drop to a more reasonable level. These employees were always concerned about a lawyer’s overall well-being in light of an unreasonably heavy workload that was self-inflicted. In other visits, I have had lawyer spouses, who were employed at their spouses’ firms, ask me to let their husband or wife know that their risk manager recommends they take a vacation now and again. In every one of these visits, someone was simply concerned about what might happen if the lawyer they cared about didn’t start to prioritize self-care. Of course, from my perspective as a risk manager, situations like these are also prone to creating opportunities for a malpractice misstep to occur.
I once spent some time on the phone with a solo lawyer who had reached a point where he could no longer make any decisions. He was calling to let me know that a claim might be coming because a critical filing deadline was only hours away and he could do no more. In short, he had reached a point where indecisiveness and immobility simply took over and he could go no further. Shortly after that call, he literally walked out of his office and never returned. Sadly, situations of immobility are not as uncommon as you might think.
Hopefully, it’s becoming clear. It’s all about wellness; and a failure to prioritize wellness in one’s personal and professional life can allow all kinds of unintended risks to come into play. Stress, burnout, indecisiveness, apathy, forgetfulness, and/or a loss of the personal and emotional support systems are examples that come immediately to mind.
If you count yourself as one of the many who struggle with prioritizing self-care, take whatever time you need to finally ask and answer the question, “what does the notion of taking care of yourself mean to me?” It might mean learning to prepare and eat healthier foods or committing to setting aside time to exercise three or four times a week. It might mean finding ways to leave work issues at the office so that when you have time with your family and friends you are able to fully invest in them. After all, if such relationships are never nurtured, there may come a time when they are no longer there. Perhaps it will mean the time has come to start taking an annual vacation, to prioritize setting aside some quiet time each week for reflection and rest, or to pursue a personal interest. For example, cooking is one of the things that I need to do in order to turn off the noise and get to a different place in my head. I find comfort in and am able to relax in a busy kitchen. Even better, this physical space has become a special place for my wife and I to talk and just enjoy being in each other’s company.
Obviously, no one can answer this question for you. You are your own individual with our own unique interests, needs, and desires. All I can say is the benefits of doing so are worth the effort it will take because following through with your answer will help you develop and maintain wellness in both your personal and professional life. To be sure, I’m speaking as one who strongly believes that wellness is a good thing. And while I’ll readily admit that my own wellness efforts remain a work in progress; my hope is something here will help you come to believe the same and perhaps motivate you to take whatever steps are necessary to get you started on your own wellness journey.