On Well-being

Lawyer loneliness: Facing and fighting 'No. 1 public health issue'

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Shasta Nelson

Shasta Nelson: “The lonelier we are, the more wear and tear our bodies experience as a result of any stress in our lives.” Photograph courtesy of girfriendcircles.com

Examples of small activities that can be implemented fairly easily include taking a walk around the block, meeting a friend for lunch, walking to the coffee shop, calling a friend you haven’t spoken with in a while, talking with people you encounter during the day such as the grocery store cashier, and smiling at someone you pass while walking on the street.

Omar Ha-Redeye from Fleet Street Law in Toronto keeps loneliness at bay by varying his work, “including public speaking, attending conferencesand teaching at university. This nontraditional approach to practice helps mitigate against some of the isolation as a sole attorney.”

Foley makes a point to stay involved in groups where she can interact with opposing counsel in a nonaggressive manner. “From that involvement I am allowed to walk through real-world scenarios and see both sides. The interaction is generally more relaxed.” Attending bar functions also helps Foley break up the day. She says, “I will also attend any court function or bankruptcy CLE offered in the area—not necessarily to obtain more knowledge but to have a chance to interact with others, if only for a brief moment.”

WHAT FIRMS CAN DO

Law firms can focus on building relationships within the firm to facilitate more connection. This is undoubtedly challenging given the constant pressure to bill more hours. However, Fry says she thinks genuine connection with co-workers is critical not only for building the most productive teams but also to help cultivate purpose and meaning within the firm.

Fostering a culture of mentorship and regular, constructive feedback can help build those bonds. The value of feedback, mentoring and building relationships is often overlooked because they infringe on billable time. However, research heavily supports the role all of these activities play in increasing productivity and collegiality, and decreasing loneliness and isolation.

WHEN TO GET HELP

Some signs that loneliness and isolation have become problematic include not being able to focus on tasks, lack of communication with clientsor being unable to meet deadlines. Other signs include anger, irritability, negative thinking, hopelessness, sadness and the inability to enjoy activities that would typically bring great joy.

Fry suggests seeking help if you feel this way consistently for two to three weeks. She adds, “While seeking help is often seen as a weakness in the legal community, I prefer to think of seeing a professional as a strength—an opportunity to grow, learn about yourself and ultimatelyfeel more empowered.”

Perlmutter says these problems are difficult to deal with in any event, but particularly so when faced alone. We need support from friends and trusted colleagues to get us through such difficult times. Foley shares these words of wisdom, which are important for lawyers to remember:We must put ourselves first, and sometimes that means reaching out and asking for help. Nowhere in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct does it require that we sacrifice our health and well-being to zealously represent our clients. We must take care of ourselves before we may effectively take care of others.

Visit jeenacho.com/wellbeing for a guided meditation on working with feelings of loneliness.


Jeena Cho consults with Am Law 200 firms, focusing on strategies for stress management, resiliency training, mindfulness and meditation. She is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer and practices bankruptcy law with her husband at the JC Law Group in San Francisco.

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