Wound Up? Wind Down

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Before Amanda S. Amert goes to trial, she takes care of her dirty laundry, literally.

The Chicago litigation associate knows from experience that once a trial gets going, it’s often difficult to get to the dry cleaner. So before opening statements, she always makes sure she’s got a supply of clean suits at the ready.

From big deals to long trials, associates often bear the brunt of the grunt work, meaning many double-digit days. It’s not impossible to stay fit, focused or freshly dressed, they say. It just requires some strategizing.

First Things First

When Amert is in trial, for example, she gets up earlier so she can work out before heading to the courthouse. And she always carries around a few Balance bars because she never knows when she’ll be able to eat or what will be available when she does.

“It’s really a matter of figuring out which things you need for yourself,” she explains. “For some people, the extra hour of sleep might be more important than working out.”

But whatever works, have a plan and stick to it, advises Karen Kaplowitz, a former employment litigator who now focuses on business development consulting in Princeton, N.J. Given the stress of being in trial, it’s not the time to develop a new routine, she says. The first trial, she adds, is often the hardest, in terms of how it affects you physically.

Kaplowitz gives physical activity high marks, even if a workout is limited to 10 minutes. “If you are in the habit of getting your brain going and your body going by some type of exercise, then just doing a shortened version of it gets you going,” she adds. “Do something–even if it’s only a little bit–and do it every day.”

Charlotte L. Wager, a Chicago partner who practices with Amert, agrees. When she’s in trial, Wager might walk to the courthouse from her office, rather than taking a cab.

“It’s important to sometimes be able to walk away from the stress, even if that means a quick stroll around the block,” Wager says. “You’re more valuable to the team when you’re thinking clearly and less stressed.”

And if you’re trying a case out of town, Wager says, bring tennis shoes and a bathing suit, in case your hotel has a pool and a gym.

“You never know when you’re going to have 45 minutes to spare, and it makes a huge difference if you can get some physical activity,” she says.

Next Task: Relax

After you’ve kept your energy up during the day, how do you wind down at night? Wine and a hot bath might do the trick for some, while others might need something more, like meditation.

“I don’t think it’s widely done in the profession; it seems like here on the West Coast the people who initially have been interested in it are folks in family law practice because they’re looking for a more collaborative approach,” says Dennis M. Warren, a health care lawyer in Sacramento, Calif., who also teaches meditation.

For sleepless nights–and stressful days–he advises a breathing technique called thoracic breathing, which helps the body obtain more oxygen.

“Under stress, our breath just stops, so you’re only breathing with the upper third of your lungs, and the breath literally doesn’t get down and fill up the lungs,” Warren says. “If you can open up and breathe deeply, it changes the blood chemistry.”

According to Warren, associates tend to blame the stress they feel during trial on judges, partners and opposing counsel. Instead, he advises young lawyers to look deeper.

“Those aren’t the real issues; they’re just circumstances,” he adds. “The real issue is how you’re relating to it. If what you have is an anxious, fearful perspective, that’s what you’re going to get.”

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