I am always running, whether I am running from deposition to deposition, courtroom to courtroom, or kid’s sporting event to other kid’s sporting event. It seems like I am always running. As a practicing attorney, I am sure you feel the same way quite often. Because we are always running from obligation to obligation, you may find little time for yourself and to decompress. However, in order to be the husband, father and lawyer I want to be, I have to find time to run. And I don’t mean from obligation to obligation, but to actually run.
I am not fast, and I refer to myself as a plodder. I don’t run to win races. But I run. And the reason I run is because it gives me the time to recharge, clear my brain and decompress. As I write this column, a day after running at least a half marathon for the fifth consecutive weekend (I am training for a full marathon in April), I am sitting in my office on a Sunday feeling invigorated by the challenges of my profession and my hobby.
Without an outlet, the practice of law can consume you. It can cause sleepless nights, stress, anxiety, and addiction. We have all seen the studies linking the practice of law to mental health issues and addiction. For example, the 2016 study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, found 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers and, when focused solely on the volume and frequency of alcohol consumed, more than one in three practicing attorneys are problem drinkers. In addition, the same study found 28 percent of licensed, employed attorneys struggle with some level of depression and 19 percent demonstrate some sort of anxiety. More troubling, in my opinion, is the fact that the study found attorneys in the first 10 years of practice exhibit the highest incidence of these problems.
Lawyers’ mental well-being has become such an important topic that the American Bar Association has adopted a mental health CLE requirement in its Model Rules. Moreover, some states require lawyers to participate in mandatory mental health CLEs. In 2018, the Indiana State Bar Association House of Delegates voted in favor of a resolution to amend the Indiana Rules of Court to add one hour of mental health and substance abuse programming every three years. It is awaiting approval by the Indiana Supreme Court.
Recognizing the importance of practicing lawyers’ mental health, we all need to ensure that we help our colleagues who we see having potential mental health issues. But first we must take care of ourselves. And the way I take care of myself is to run. I am in no way saying that just because I run, I don’t lose sleep worrying about cases or have anxiety about whether I am doing what is right for my clients. I do. But having an outlet, such as running, gives me time to physically and mentally recharge, so that I can refocus my efforts on my practice.
I would encourage each of you, whether you are struggling with work-life balance or you feel you are in a good place, to regularly consider this question: What am I doing away from the practice that gives me the time and ability to refocus and recharge? Whether it is running or some other form of exercise, donating your time to a philanthropic cause, or spending time traveling with family or friends, find something that you can do that can help your mental health and well-being. If you cannot find it, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are great organizations in Indiana to help lawyers in need of assistance with mental health issues, with the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program leading the way. Your partners and fellow lawyers with whom you practice can also be great sources of assistance.
People often ask me why I run. There are many reasons, including the challenge of running the distances I run, the health benefits running provides, and the ability to make friends who share my desire to run. However, one of the most important, if not the most important, is because it gives me the outlet to refocus and recharge that allows me to be a better lawyer. It allows me to get away from the stress of a case, the stress of clients, and the stress of running a business for a short period of time and think about something else. Then, post-run, with the satisfaction of another run behind me, I can get back to running from courthouse to deposition to family obligation with a clear mind. I encourage you all to find that activity for yourself.•
• R. Jeffrey Lowe is a partner in New Albany office of Kightlinger & Gray and is a member of the DTCI Board of Directors. Opinions expressed are those of the author.