President’s Message – April/May 2017
You have to learn to pace yourself
You’re just like everybody else
You’ve only had to run so far
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with
This President’s Message is tardy. I apologize. It was on my To Do list, but it fell to the bottom. I know I am not the only PCBA member who often feels pulled in a dozen directions at the same time, with the sense that I am just spinning my wheels trying to keep juggling all the balls in the air. PRESSURE.
I have learned that April, coincidentally, is Stress Awareness Month. Recognized since 1992, each April, health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. We also see various tornado and severe weather drills at this time each spring, to try to prepare us for the possibility of a natural disaster. But what prepares us to deal with the PRESSURE of the practice of law?
While I’m sure each occupation has its stressors, we know all too well the mounting pressure we face in our practice, whether private practice, in house, government, or elsewhere. The demand for faster, less costly legal advice, coupled with the blessing and curse of technology that allows us to be connected and accessible 24/7 sends thousands of lawyers each year into a tailspin of stress and pressure. Add in family, health, community stressors and even the uncertainty of our national security and changes in politics and government—it’s a recipe for disaster that no April tornado drill or disaster preparedness training can touch.
It is no surprise to scan the Iowa Supreme Court’s disciplinary decisions and find that many lawyers who find themselves in front of the Grievance Commission have succumbed to the pressure and sought solace in controlled substances, only deepening the downward spiral. The ABA reports that more than 50% of all disciplinary cases involve impaired lawyers. Lawyers abuse alcohol at a 50-80% higher rate than the general population.
Although we often refer to ourselves as “attorneys and counselors,” I am not proclaiming to be one who can expertly help my fellow lawyers deal with such pressure. Sure, there are the usual tips that seem to be window dressing and overly obvious:
- Avoid controllable stressors
- Plan major lifestyle changes
- Realize your limitations
- Improve communication
- Share your thoughts
- Develop a positive attitude
- Reward yourself
- Eat and sleep well
You may find yourself saying—as I do—“yeah, those sound great, but if I had time to do these things, I’d have time to get all those things done that are causing me the stress in the first place!”
However, in addition to the support that you may have at your own firms, places of worship, or amongst friends and family, there are terrific resources available right here in Polk County.
More and more lawyers are launching solo practices in Polk County. The PCBA has formed the Small Firm/Solo Practice committee to identify needs and interests unique to solo and small firm practices. Please consider reaching out to this committee if it fits your practice.
The Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program is a confidential resource that has, for 25 years, helped lawyers, judges, law students deal with not only substance abuse issues, but also depression and other stressors. Director Hugh Grady has “been there and done that” and is available. Call (800) 243-1533 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has a dedicated webpage addressing stress, which identifies numerous resources to assist lawyers coping with stress: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/stress.html.
Obviously, this list of resources is not exhaustive. I write on this topic now to simply provide some solace to my colleagues who may feel overwhelmed at times. Our occupation truly has us often bouncing between the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. For me, I thought the week couldn’t possibly get worse after losing a trial, dealing with draining personal matters, and trying to balance work and four kids’ needs. But alas, I learn I get to experience my first root canal.
But here you are in the ninth
Two men out and three men on
Nowhere to look but inside
Where we all respond to
Billy Joel – Pressure
Please remember that you never have to face the pressure alone. Even lawyers can ask for help.