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Are you 'fit to practice?'

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Sharon McGoff made a confession at the annual conference of the Indiana State Bar Association. “I have made every health and fitness sin imaginable,” she told her audience.

As a law student in the 1980s, she mixed stress with convenience: She smoked three packs a day, and fast food was her friend with a steady diet of McDonald’s and Taco Bell. “That’s how I survived,” she said.

Her conversion came later in law school when she resolved to run a mini-marathon. The first time she trained on campus, “I ran a quarter of a mile and thought I was going to die,” she said. She quipped that at least she was near the hospitals and someone might pick her up.
 

Survival_Willis_Steven-15col.jpg Krieg DeVault LLP patent attorney J. Stephen Wills recently had a treadmill desk installed in his Indianapolis office. He said he walks six to seven miles a day and has in return seen his blood pressure drop and his energy level rise. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

She committed to improve her health, completed the race, got a boost of confidence, a well of energy, and is still reaping the benefits. The self-described “reformed litigator” is now the personal trainer behind Fit 4 Life Coaching in Indianapolis, whose clients include law firms.

“We have a responsibility to be well,” she said during a panel discussion in which the ISBA’s “Workplace Survival Guide” debuted.

The guide is the product of the bar’s Young Lawyers Section in conjunction with the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program. “Communication is a

key to this effort,” said Bloomington attorney Holly Harvey, an associate with Bunger & Robertson.

Unhealthy bunch

“Lawyers are generally not healthy,” Harvey said. The work is stressful and often requires sitting all day. She said statistics show attorneys are likelier to suffer from depression and are more prone to substance abuse than the population at large. She estimated that based on statistical averages, 300 to 400 Indiana lawyers likely have addiction issues.

She pointed to a study that found 32 percent of law school students suffer from depression by spring of their first year. “That’s not good,” she said.

Harvey acknowledged a common concern among panelists that proponents of attorney wellness frequently are preaching to the choir: Those most likely to receive the message are those who already are taking steps to be healthy.

But that’s not always so. Bose McKinney & Evans LLP attorney Daniel McInerny got the message and began to spread it after a doctor’s warning a few years back that he needed to stop smoking or look forward to relying on oxygen tanks.

“Lawyers spend so much of their time trying to help other people they sometimes don’t take care of themselves,” McInerny said.

He became active in the ISBA Wellness Committee after making several lifestyle changes, starting with eating breakfast and building up an exercise regimen. “My wife and kids were members of the Y, and I kind of shook my head and said, ‘I don’t have time for that,’” McInerny said.

“I realized you need to make time,” he added. “It’s a simple matter of blocking off time and doing it.”

But McGoff acknowledged that concern over billable hours leaves some attorneys reluctant. Devoting time to work out or even time to meditate or relax can cut into the bottom line. But even at work, she said, there are opportunities to improve health in the office.

Stretching and exercising in place can have physical and mental benefits, McGoff said. “Just get some movement into your day,” she said, suggesting the simple act of standing is a step toward better health.

Krieg DeVault LLP patent attorney J. Stephen Wills took McGoff’s advice a few steps further. Working with her through the firm, he had a treadmill desk installed in his office. It took convincing firm managers, he said, because they were concerned about potential noise and vibration. “You can’t just set up any treadmill and attach it to the desk,” he said.

Wills bought a setup on Amazon.com that cost about $1,500 and is tailored for offices. The treadmill is cushioned so that no vibrations transfer to the attached desk, and the pace is restricted to about 4 mph. “You can’t even hear the thing,” he said. “It’s so far from an issue, it isn’t even close.”

Wills said he spends about five hours a day on the treadmill, which works out to walking six to seven miles. Unless he’s got multiple technical drawings to spread out before him, there’s little he can’t get done either standing up or walking on the treadmill.

He hasn’t lost what he calls his “sedentary desk weight” yet, but he has realized other health benefits.

“My blood pressure came down quite a bit in a month or two,” Wills said. “My energy levels are a lot better, especially in the afternoon.”

Guide to handling stress

In addition to sections on wellness and good health, the Workplace Survival Guide includes chapters entitled, “Becoming and Being a Professional” and “Noticing and Responding to Red Flags.” It offers detailed guidance on everything from healthy food choices to spotting signs of chemical dependency.

Panelist Terry Harrell, executive director of JLAP, said the guide offers important outreach for the state agency, which is confidential and accepts referrals on a preventive basis as well as intervening when an attorney gets into trouble.

“The most common problems we see are depression and substance abuse, and the growing one is cognitive impairment in older lawyers” among voluntary referrals, Harrell said.

Watching for warning signs is important, she said, “because we’re all pretty good at covering up.”

Stress is part of being an attorney, Harrell said, and that’s why she included in the guide sections on resiliency and “stress-hardiness.” Research shows that in extremely stressful situations, about a third of people thrive and adapt, and the attributes of those people can be cultivated. She harkened back to motherly advice that she said still holds true: “You need to eat your broccoli, and you need to change your attitude.”

But Hoosier attorneys also are victims of their environment, as the guide points out Indiana is near the top in the nation in smoking and obesity rates.

“The (Indiana attorney) label carries a double-whammy of wellness burdens,” the guide says.

Mentoring and wellness

Along with offering tips for healthier living, the Workplace Survival Guide takes a more holistic look at attorney wellness, broaching such subjects as mentoring as a way to improve self-esteem while helping younger colleagues. Attorneys who serve as mentors not only pass on important experience, but the process helps them reflect on their own careers and can lead them to refresh their perspective on the practice.

Magistrate Judge Tim Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana said the ISBA Mentor Match program in which he participates aligns people who want to serve as mentors with young attorneys who are looking for professional insight. The program is free and gives new lawyers and their mentors CLE credit. Forms for the program are available on the ISBA’s website.

“It’s amazing how easy they make it to be a mentor,” Baker said.

Katie Boren, a law clerk to Court of Appeals Judge Ezra Friedlander, was the beneficiary of Baker’s experience. She said she learned plenty in law school, but not where the courthouse was or the procedure for filing an appearance. She also didn’t know the players, and it was stressful trying to navigate the legal profession without guidance.

“It can feel a little daunting to become a part of this community” Boren said. “It’s nice to have someone help bridge that gap for you.”•
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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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