Optimising Lawyers Health out of the Dark Side of Law

Lawyer Wellness and the Dark Side of Law

The pressure to succeed in a high-functioning profession like law can throw your personal wellness into a sort of dark tunnel. Perhaps what lawyers should be told when they pass the bar is “welcome to the dark side, we’ve been expecting you.” Luckily, there are ways that lawyers can find their way out, with the right kind of light. 

Many lawyers have been crushed by the dark side of law. In fact, lawyer wellness, on average, is so poor that lawyers rank fourth in suicide rates by profession, according to CNN.

The truth cannot be ignored any longer. Personally, I burned out and saw many of my colleagues burn out as well. The only way our profession can work to make it better is by confronting the dark side. In my case, I knew there had to be a way to bring light to the dark side of law and make it better, which is what drove me to become a life coach for lawyers.

Life Coach for Lawyers


Why such a ‘dark’ side? The answer is: Intense career-induced stress. When my own practice pushed me hard against the wall, I did something radical so I would not break; I decided to step away from my legal practice and step into a wellness quest to become the coach I wish I had when I was practicing law. 

I knew there had to be a way to bring light to the dark side of law and make it better, even though it was bold and risky to leave behind a prestigious career. I went on a journey that encouraged me to become a wellness coach. Now, I help design and implement bespoke programmes that help lawyers who face the same health impacting struggles that lawyers tend to face in the profession. Contact me online to set up a chat with me if you are interested in receiving the coaching I wish I had while I was a lawyer!

Optimising Lawyers' Health out of the Dark Side of Law | Charlene Gisele

Why is Personal Wellness for Lawyers So Hard? Every Profession Has Health Challenges

The world is not perfect, and neither is any job. The health issues that lawyers face are neither new nor unique to them, but what is unique is the frequency and susceptibility. Considering that self-sufficiency is a professional obsession, lawyers are less inclined than others to seek help, especially when it comes to mental health.

The most common profession-induced health issues lawyers struggle with include:

Excessively Sedentary Lifestyle

Movement is incredibly important to both physical and mental health and is one of the most powerful tools to slow down the negative effects of ageing. Sadly, lawyers’ work is often bound to the desktop and tends to reinforce a sedentary lifestyle, both in the short and long run. This can be very dangerous as it sets off a cascade of negative biological effects. Long stressful hours in front of a computer screen erodes one’s mental sharpness. Where long workdays become long work weeks, and long work weeks blend into months, brain performance can deteriorate.

Some of the major issues with extended screen time and sedentary sessions are:

  • Poor posture and sedentary behaviour
  • Chronic back, neck and shoulder pain
  • Poor nutritional choices
  • Lack of proper breaks or healthy food
  • Chronic stress and anxiety
  • Metabolic diseases (diabetes, excess weight, high blood pressure).

Law is a high-pressure field and combined with lack of regular cardio training that gets to the heart. A study in Nepal showed that nearly 19% of lawyers have challenges with physical activity, with 70% of them being previously unaware of their situation.

Poor Sleep and Excessive Exposure to Artificial Lights

Most clients suffer from chronic stress and elevated cortisol (stress hormone), which negatively impacts sleep. Sleep is essential for lawyer wellness, health, and performance – health can’t be optimal if your sleep quality is poor. Poor sleep can disrupt the overall metabolism, which can lead to weight gain and poor digestion and nutrient absorption. Optimal sleep, on the other hand, improves mental health, promotes weight loss, and wards off metabolic diseases. 

Lawyers spend most of their day indoors, in front of a screen, and under fluorescent light. This type of light is known as blue light, a potent disrupter of the hormones regulating our circadian rhythm. The average office worker will spend almost 1,700 hours a year in front of a computer screen, according to a poll conducted by ACCUVUE in 2018. Due to the fact that most workers now work from home, it is likely this number is much higher, and also does not include out of hours and mobile screen time. Spending this much time in front of a screen defies human biology, and it is starting to impact our eye health. Including red light therapy into daily work schedules is a cutting-edge way to help offset the negative effects long screen time is having on our eye health.

Light exposure plays a vital role in affecting the biological pathways that impact your sharpness of mind. Light to the brain is a key signal of when you should be awake or asleep. Most of us spend hours and hours in front of or under blue light, and that can seriously impact the biological signals our brains need to function and age optimally. Chronic exposure to blue light means the biological pathways needed for mental rest and recovery are not being activated optimally.

Many of the clients and lawyers I work with suffer from headaches, dry eyes, migraines, and these are remedied only a few weeks into my programme thanks to the biohacking tools I recommend.

Frequent ‘Social Drinking’

Alcohol has a relaxing effect, and most people will reach for their favourite bottle to help them forget about their problems. Now imagine when in addition to personal problems, your job requires you to handle other people’s problems?

The Journal of Addiction Medicine reveals that 21% of United States lawyers struggle with alcoholism. Some estimates even suggest that as many as one in three lawyers are “problem drinkers.” The desire to quickly relieve the enormous stress they face contributes significantly to “the professional legal disease.”

Alcoholism is one of the key disorders that the American Bar Association highlights in its mental health awareness campaign. Each state in America also offers a lawyer assistance program to support those in the legal profession facing mental health and substance abuse problems.

In the UK, LawCare provides fantastic support for lawyers.

Problem Drinking--Lawyers' Health | Charlene Gisele

Substance Abuse

Stress is a progressive chronic disease for lawyers because intense deadlines are a constant noose around lawyers’ necks. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on these deadlines. It’s a lot of pressure!

 Other than alcohol, many lawyers tend to abuse substances like nicotine, stimulants, Valium, or sleeping pills to find a sense of relief. Substance abuse issues even begin as early as law school, with more and more studies, like this one from the Postgraduate Medical Journal, revealing the extent of substance abuse in the legal profession.

The problem starts well before lawyers enter the legal profession. According to the American Addition Centers, one in five lawyers who say they have a substance abuse problem report that it began while they were in law school. Part of the problem is the stigma. Up to 72% of law students who reported substance abuse felt that they would be more likely to be admitted to the bar if they did not seek help or admit their issues.

Further, the working conditions in the legal profession leads to a higher likelihood of a co-occurring disorder, such as depression, stress and anxiety. Sixty percent of attorneys receiving substance abuse treatment also had a co-occurring disorder. 

Anxiety

The legal profession is one of the most competitive fields. Aside from this, the law is intrinsically competitive, and many times adversarial. In litigation and transaction proceedings, lawyers have to ‘fight’ each other, not only for their client’s sake, but also to safeguard their professional prestige. There is always one winner, and every lawyer wants to be that one.

In addition to this, lawyers have to be extremely careful to ‘cover themselves’ when involved in any case. The ease of bringing up malpractice claims, especially out of spite is something they have to protect themselves against. Additionally, there is always the ‘Murphy’s law’ to contend with in the life of a lawyer. The anxiety that anything can go wrong and WILL go wrong affects their quality of life. Nineteen percent of lawyers show signs of an anxiety disorder, which is one of the most pressing issues relating to the mental health of lawyers. Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring disorders to substance abuse – in fact, 19% of lawyers receiving substance abuse treatment also have anxiety. It’s critical to get anxiety under control to help curb the impulses that may lead to longer-term mental health conditions.

The dark side of law | Wellness and Practice| Charlene Gisele

Depression

Sometimes, for lawyers, it can seem as though there is nowhere to turn. At work, your head feels like it’s in a hydraulic press, and then outside of work, your profession is stigmatized and distrusted. Lawyers are often the butt of jokes, but beyond that, they are often unfairly believed to be dishonest. Because lawyers tend to earn high incomes, society cannot always understand what drives lawyers to suffer such poor mental health.

Remember what I said about lawyers ranking fourth in suicide rates by profession? Lawyers are the most depressed occupational group in the United States and are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. Similarly, 28% of lawyers receiving substance abuse treatment are also diagnosed with depression. This means that depression is heavily linked to many other adverse health consequences.

So, in spite of what wealth some may accumulate, no amount of money can compensate for the stress and pressure of moving ahead in a legal career. Even when at the zenith, the pressure remains. And, because of the ‘fix-it’ attitude and self-sufficiency of the profession, most don’t seek help, and many end up becoming another sad statistic. There are also well-grounded fears of being considered ‘unfit for practice,’ which may prevent lawyers from seeking help.

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

A study in the Psychology, Crime, and Law Journal states that “lawyers who’re exposed to trauma in their practice are 2.62 times more likely to meet the probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnostic criteria than their unexposed colleagues.” Working on traumatic issues, like criminal lawyers often do, can be traumatic in itself, especially when visual evidence of gruesome crimes are considered.

However, there is an incredible stigma around mental health in law that even symptoms of PTSD are often ignored. Criminal lawyers are especially prone to this devastating condition, and many lawyers simply fail to seek the help they need.

Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma is an indirect experience of trauma and distress. This type of trauma is more common than most people think. I remember how emotionally invested I came to be in some of my clients’ cases and lives. What affected them, affected me. It is impossible to be 100% detached from 100% of cases, lawyers are not robots, after all. Additionally, research from Maguire and Bryce’s shows that vicarious trauma greatly contributes to disrupting beliefs about trust, intimacy, control, safety, and esteem

Let’s Make it Better! Optimising Personal Wellness of Lawyers


On the upside, more and more firms and organisations are addressing the toll that legal practice has on practicing lawyers. Management is beginning to recognize that these interventions need to happen on the institutional scale to address the root causes of these disorders, such as a competitive, draining, and toxic work culture.

Thankfully, organisations such as the American Bar Association (ABA) have been actively working dismantle the stigma, especially related to mental health.  The ABA provides useful resources, which tend to mirror the strategies found in the corporate wellness section of my blog.

Optimsing Lawyers' Health | Charlene Gisele

Customised Solutions

The solutions addressing mental helath are never one-size-fits-all. Each person and law firm is unique from the and needs a tailored approach. My wellness packages include comprehensive strategies to address the overall wellbeing of lawyers. These strategies leverage biohacking techniques to optimise lawyers’ health and wellness. Most of my clients (individuals and organisations) are immersed in the high-functioning world of law, so no matter how high-pressure or busy your job is, there is a solution for you.

A healthier lawyer is a better lawyer. This is something many young lawyers neglect when they first start practicing. By developing healthy habits early on, the goal is to put lawyers in a better position to optimise their health and improve their performance.

There are solutions to help you keep doing the extraordinary work you do as a lawyer while looking after your health. With the right method and blueprint, you can have it all – the thriving career in law and outstanding health.

What to Expect in a Lawyer Wellness Workshop

As a law firm wellness coach, some of the healthy habits included in my workshops, seminars, and coaching programme are:

  • Sleep optimisation and recovery
  • Mindfulness, breathwork and mindset
  • Movement and exercise
  • Nutrition choices and eating habits
  • Mental and metabolic health optimisation
  • Awareness of the environment (light, air, water, indoors vs outdoors)

By teaching breathwork, meditation, and other flexible tools, these workshops are designed to teach you methods to relax, stay mindful, and disconnect from work when needed. They are flexible and quick tools that fit easily in your busy schedule.

 

Contact a Lawyer Wellness Coach

 

Always remember that it’s okay to ask for help. It does not make you less qualified to practice the law. Instead, it reflects your self-sincerity and inner strength. These programs are designed to be flexible and “meet you where you are.” If you’d like to know more about my VIP individual coaching or firm-wide workshops and events, check here. You can also subscribe to my life optimisation newsletter so you never miss an opportunity to improve your quality of life! If you would like to reach me directly, and find out how a lawyer wellness coach can help you with your specific challenges, you can contact me online to set up a consultation.

 

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