Burnout culture

My legal life: Charlene Gisele, wellness consultant

As Seen, Featured, and Published in The Law Society

Wellness Consultant By Charlene Gisele, Former practising solicitor and now a corporate wellness consultant
There were a couple of major events that contributed to the kickstarting of my second career as a wellness adviser. My father, my role model and the reason I became a lawyer, had a work stress-driven stroke and heart attack, which shattered my rose-tinted glasses. After years of consistent stress and burning the candle at both ends, I realised I had burned out myself. These two health-related events were pivotal in my decision to become a wellness adviser and coach. I only wish I had had one when I was a lawyer, to work in a healthier way.
Realising that I had to change my career was incredibly tough. Being a lawyer was all I had ever known and wanted to be. It was my dream from an early age. I had worked incredibly hard to study law at Cambridge and achieved my goal of working with some of the biggest law firms in the world, so it felt as though I was giving it all up and going back to square one. There were so many times where I wanted to stop and go back to what I knew best – even friends and colleagues were sceptical about my new path. But I am so glad I pushed through the boundaries of my comfort levels.
I work as a health and wellness optimisation adviser and consultant in the legal industry, working directly with partners and associates in the industry across the UK and US. I design bespoke and innovative solutions in the form of workshops, one-on-one coaching sessions and firm-wide programmes that optimise physical and cognitive performance, so lawyers can have it all – a thriving legal career and optimised health.
Many firms have realised that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ health programme is no longer sufficient for their teams, so I help these firms create highly personalised, engaging and effective solutions. Health optimisation encompasses nutrition and food habits, physical movement, sleep patterns, stress management and more. Only then can I truly glean the status of each individual’s health and create a programme that works for them.

'Lawyers, from trainees to partners, see their peers pulling all-nighters with very few breaks during the day. This fosters an unhealthy culture of working hard without ‘rest and recovery’ buffers'

I have found that health and wellbeing is abused and taken for granted across the legal spectrum.
There is a culture of working long and hard across the board, leading to large numbers of lawyers being pushed to breaking point.
Lawyers, from trainees to partners, see their peers pulling all-nighters with very few breaks during the day.
This fosters an unhealthy culture of working hard without ‘reset and recovery’ buffers, and signals that lawyers’ mental and physical health comes second – until something goes wrong. It is telling that most of my clients come to me only after a ‘significant event’, health diagnosis or ‘health scare’, either involving themselves or a close colleague. Only then does it become a catalyst for change – prevention rather than cure should always be the priority.
Most of the lawyers I have worked with suffer from anxiety, chronic stress and elevated cortisol (stress hormones), which then negatively impacts on their sleep.
Other pain points I see among all lawyers include a sedentary lifestyle created by being desk-bound for long hours. Poor posture, migraines, headaches and chronic back and neck/shoulder pain are also common complaints. Firms have a responsibility for their employees’ health. The firm-subsidised gym membership is not enough – a culture of wellness needs to be embedded at the heart of a firm.
I found working as a lawyer very stressful but perhaps it was also a reflection of my personality
– I took things to heart and found it challenging not to be emotionally invested in all my cases.

It simply got to the point where the volume and intensity of work just was not sustainable. However, I see that this trait now serves me well as it has become my secret ingredient when working with clients on looking after their health and wellness.
Despite the stressful hours, I loved my legal years and would actually do it all over again in order to be where I am today!
I loved the bouncing of ideas and working through challenges, and, most of all, the sense of teamwork during all those intense late nights – they really helped me get through those tough times.

As Seen, Featured, and Published in The Law Society

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