Exercise Can Make You a Better Lawyer
Some people might think there isn’t enough time in the day to be both a serious lawyer and a serious athlete. I disagree. In fact, I think some of the skills athletes must develop can actually improve and enhance a lawyer’s abilities, too — which makes it well worth your time.
My health is very important to me. I try to eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Being a competitive person (a good trait for a trial lawyer), going to the gym isn’t enough for me. I like to challenge myself by running marathons, competing in triathlons, and doing centuries (100-mile rides) on my bike. These activities help me stay balanced under the incredible stress of being a plaintiff’s trial lawyer and they improve my life.
I wasn’t always so healthy. Six months before I turned 40, I was overweight, stressed, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, wasn’t sleeping well, and on my way to a diabetes diagnosis. I knew I needed to do something to make a meaningful, positive change in my life. I started exercising and riding my bike. Then I started working with a dietitian to learn how to eat properly. My body doesn’t give me much room for error — that is why I’m so focused on my health and physical fitness.
How can taking care of your physical health help you take better care of your clients? Here are a few examples:
They’re healthier, mentally and physically. I was surprised to see firsthand that becoming healthier and fitter actually made me better in my practice. I no longer have difficulty sleeping. I breathe better, feel better, and have more mental energy and physical stamina to tackle things at the office. I know lawyers who don’t take care of themselves and are in poor health as a result. Their bodies hurt, they don’t feel good, and they lack energy. They take lots of medicine and spend a lot of time at the doctor. As a result, I expect that there are times when they really aren’t at their best to serve their clients. Their clients may not realize this, but in little ways, at the very least, their cases suffer.
They know how to balance stress. Practicing law is a stressful business. The stress increases for lawyers like me who represent injured people, sue insurance companies and big corporations, and try their clients’ cases before skeptical juries. Although we can’t guarantee an outcome, we always feel responsible and we always want to do our very best job for the client, regardless of the difficulties of the case. As a result, we internalize a lot of the stress and it eats at us. When you feel that way, you don’t do your best work or think critically, creatively, or clearly. I feel this stress, too, but I try to balance it with a lot of physical activity. Sometimes my best thinking on a case is done while I’m exercising. When I’m out of the office and moving my body, my brain frees up to think better, analyze a case or a problem, and think of creative solutions.
They manage their time wisely. I do a lot of legal malpractice work (i.e., I sue lawyers who make mistakes that harm their clients). One of the common denominators of the people I sue is that they aren’t very good at managing their time. They aren’t well organized, don’t have good systems in place in their office, or they let important deadlines and details slip by. Sometimes those deadlines are so crucial that it results in the termination of their clients’ rights to obtain justice and recover for the losses they have suffered. As an athlete and a lawyer, I have to manage my time carefully. My clients and their cases always come first. In order to get my training and workouts in, I plan my day to get the most out of every minute. I prioritize the things I need to do each day and constantly watch the deadlines on cases to make sure that I get things done on time.
They understand their clients (and what’s important to them). Some lawyers take all comers. You know them — the ones who advertise on TV or the sides of buses. They promise miracles and tell you about the money they got for other clients. The lawyer is happy to meet a client for a consultation, but that may be the last time they actually see their lawyer, because their paralegal and staff will be handling the rest of the case. These lawyers work in what we call “volume firms.” They often settle cases for less than they are worth because it is easier and because, when you have hundreds of cases, the net effect is pretty good. At my firm, we only work on the cases we choose, for people we like and on causes that we feel passionate about. We work closely with our clients and really get to know them. As a result, we know what the case means to them; we understand about the losses they suffered and how this affects them. Many of our clients have been injured on bicycles or while running or walking. I’m a cyclist and a runner and I walk to work every day, so I know about the dangers cyclists and pedestrians face each day. Because I understand them, I am better able to represent them.
They are passionate about something besides the law. Clients want you to be passionate about their case. We’ve all encountered people who lack passion in their lives. It appears that nothing makes them happy or engages them — not their families, hobbies, friends, or work. I am passionate about a lot of things: my clients, justice, equality, health, and physical fitness. I am by no means the fastest or fittest athlete, but I always give it my best. I am motivated by crossing the finish line and getting a medal. It’s the same with my clients and their cases. When I am thinking critically about cases, plotting strategy, and helping to change the course of their case, I get excited. I am passionate about winning their cases, getting the best results for them, obtaining justice, and leaving them in a better position than when they hired me. Wouldn’t you want a passionate lawyer? Your clients do, too.