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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. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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