Much has been written about succeeding in law school, but not as much has been said about remaining healthy and sane while succeeding. Having just finished my first law school exams this past December, I thought it beneficial to engage in much needed reflection on study habits and things that worked and did not work for me in my last semester. In recalling and pondering my previous exam and study strategies and the effectiveness thereof, what stuck me most was the considerable physiological and physical toll that the stress of exams had on my body. Coincidentally, I recently stumbled upon an old blog post from Adam Letourneau, which reminded me and should remind all of us that it makes no sense to sacrifice health for wealth now in order to spend my wealth to regain my health in future. Health is wealth and whatever stress-reducing routine we practice now as students will be much more easily carried forward when we are lawyers. Although he writes from the perspective of an established lawyer, his tips are attributable to the life of a law student and many of them have worked for me personally in times past:
Lately, I have been pushing hard, trying to make everything work at the firm, trying to become accredited as a mediator and arbitrator, trying to keep my publishing house on track (we just signed 3 new authors), and coping with having four children. At work , we are trying to focus our practice towards 2 or 3 areas, rather than being a general practice. It’s really paying off, especially as we forge strong relationships with business partners. We are also opening up a mediation/arbitration/coaching centre in our law office, and that is really exciting. The world is my oyster, so to speak.
However, all of this takes its toll. I went out for supper a couple weeks ago with some classmates. They seemed genuinely tired of the lawyer life. Long hours, high demands, boredom, difficulty with senior lawyers, etc. My demands are not quite the same. I do have stress, the requirement of a steep learning curve, high customer service expectations, and the challenge of keeping a full staff.
I thought I would comment on how I cope with the stress.
I work as little as possible. For me, that means a 40-50 hour work week, usually closer to the former. I learned early on in my practice that anything more for me, personally, brings with it too high a cost, to health, to mind and to my relationships. When I am at work, I try to work really hard, really fast, and really smart.
I manage my time like a freak! Every morning, I review my week’s goals (which I set out on Monday morning). I review my daily affirmations (I have 7 goals that I repeat to myself 3 times each day). I then do up my daily task list, reviewing the previous day’s list and accomplishments. I then prioritize that list. Then, I set aside some time to check and respond to emails, to return phone messages, and to get updates or update my staff. Once I am satisfied that the day is set out properly, I start to attack my list. I try to avoid interruptions, using my staff to screen calls, mail, faxes, etc. I try not to move down the list until the top priority items are completed. If I think that an item is just not going to happen, I make a note on my list, and then move on. I review the list at the end of each day (giving myself a grade out of 5), and then try to leave work at work.
I treat staff like gold, or at least the best that I can. Only my wife is more important to my success when compared to my legal assistants/paralegals. They make my world go round. I offer bonusses, flexibility, encouragement, and I share my thoughts, feelings and expectations with them as much as possible.
I do yoga. My wife is a yoga instructor, so that is a huge bonus. I attend her class once as week, and try to incorporate stretching, and some meditation throughout the week.
I sleep! Hardly ever less than 7 hours per night. More often closer to 8. I should try to get to bed earlier, but it’s hard with kids.
I exercise. At least 3 times a week, I hit the gym, strap on the running shoes, or do some other form of rigorous activity.
I practice my faith. I go to church regularly. I volunteer regularly. I read uplifting articles, books, and scriptures regularly. I read scriptures and pray with my family every day. I meditate on the larger picture often, praying at least three times each day.
I eat really well. My wife is a fantastic cook. Different members of our family have different food sensitivites or allergies, so we don’t eat much wheat, milk or sugar. My kids can’t eat sugar, so I eat less as a result. We eat a lot of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. We eat few saturated fats or “other” foods. We all take our vitamins each day.
I am a very motivated person, not unlike most in the legal profession. Please don’t think that my comments above are meant to make me look like like a perfected being. I am by no means near perfection. These things have developed over time. I have failed at each of them on many occassions. However, my intention is to master these things so that I can maintain my health, my career, my sanity, and my family over the next 2-3 decades. My friends do often ask me how I accomplish so much with so many challenges and so little time. It is through this formation of habits, through an attempt towards self-mastery, that I find the energy, the drive, and the love for my life.
The above habits may be beneficial to you as you prepare for law school, as you push your way through law school, or as you establish yourself as a lawyer. I wish you the best of luck.
If there is something that you do to help you cope, please let all of us know. We can all stand to learn something new, positive and helpful.