As lawyers, we constantly strive to be enthusiastic advocates for our clients. But how many of us put the same level of commitment into being enthusiastic advocates for ourselves?
How many of us carve out the time in our pressured days to exercise? Exercise produces a positive outflow of energy that profoundly impacts our health, our self image, the quality of our work, our personal and professional relationships, and even our thoughts and moods.
Lawyers face constant, overflowing workloads and demanding deadlines, and often put exercise at the bottom of their lengthy daily to-do lists. This choice can dramatically impact a lawyer’s life in negative ways, including a decreased energy level, weight gain, depression and other negative health-related issues.1
The good news is — it’s 2008! If you are not incorporating exercise into your life, you have an opportunity right now to make a fresh start and a better choice. In writing this article, I discovered that lawyers take a very individualized approach to exercise. What would work best for you?
I went to college on a tennis scholarship. But, in immersing myself in my first year of law school studies, I gained 15 pounds due to my unaccustomed lack of exercise. That 15 pounds pretty much stayed with me throughout law school, the bar exam and my first few years of practice. Law always seemed more important than exercise. There always seemed to be an excuse. I tended to be sick a lot; sometimes depressed and negative; often unhappy with myself because I knew I wasn’t operating at my highest level.
Now, I have been practicing law for 20 years and there are no more excuses. I run my own full-time law practice and I exercise six days a week. I do cardio and weightlifting at my gym, play tennis, practice yoga and Pilates, and occasionally bike and run. The 15 pounds are gone. I am rarely sick, generally happy and positive, and secure in the knowledge that I am operating at a high level.
How do I do it? First, about the middle of each month, I put every single workout for the following month into my calendar. That way, exercise is not a “to-do item” — it’s a calendar event. I work out either in the morning (gym workout) or during the day (Pilates and tennis). My assistant knows that my calendar is blocked and does not schedule conflicting client appointments.
Second, I maintain a home office. I choose not to meet with clients on two of the five workdays. On those days, I can take a break to exercise during the day without the need to spend additional time getting “gussied up” to meet with a client or be presentable for an office.
Third, I often work on the weekends to make up for the time I spend exercising during the week. To me, that weekend time is a small price to pay to take a break every day to do something fun and which helps me feel youthful, energetic, fit and happy.
Fourth, I create a foundation that supports me in my choice to exercise. Specifically, I generally get eight hours of sleep a night. Given a choice of beverages during the day, I pick water over coffee or sodas. At lunch, I generally pick a salad over a hamburger and fries. Simple choices, but they make a big impact in creating a foundation for exercise.
That’s me. What do other lawyers do? Some lawyers enjoy team sports. Geoffrey Burg, a Seattle attorney, runs his own full-time law practice. He’s also a hockey player.
“Frankly, the last thing I want to do after working hours is sit in another meeting talking about things,” he says. “I much prefer getting out on the ice and making my heart race — in a way not related to stress.”
Unexpectedly, his ice skating turned into rainmaking. At a young-lawyer seminar years ago, a marketing speaker encouraged her audience to do things they were passionate about, not just what looked good on paper. “That way,” Burg recalls, she said “people will see the best in you and feel comfortable referring you business. I have been fortunate in that [hockey] has allowed me to meet and get to know people who now feel confident in referring me business.”
Some attorneys focus on the outdoors. Ruth Nielsen, a litigation attorney and principal of the Nielsen Law Office in Seattle, focuses on backcountry skiing and snow camping. Although backcountry skiing is strenuous, she says she would “rather stay in shape by ‘doing’ the activity than by going to a gym, which I hate.” She combines summer backpacking and hiking as a “nice transition to backcountry skiing in the winter. Just staying active helps with having the energy to go to the mountains.”
Nielsen’s practice, she says, “is actually uniquely tied to my recreational passions. I do defense work for clients involved in outdoor recreation — and my primary clients are ski areas and ski schools. If I tell my clients that I’m going skiing, they totally understand.”
“Morning warriors,” such as Sandra Perkins, an estate planning and probate attorney in Seattle, exercise prior to coming into the office. Perkins makes a daily commitment to her health. “I run a couple of miles or swim 30 minutes nearly every day before work (and most weekend days too),” she says. “My only ‘secret’ is doing it early in the day before other commitments interfere. I never schedule breakfast meetings, so this works for me.”
Stuart Heller, a Seattle business attorney, trains for marathons prior to starting his daily work routine. “I run in the morning before work four days a week (usually 30 to 40 minutes per day),” he says, “and do longer runs (one to three hours) Saturday and Sunday.”
Other attorneys, such as Brian Geoghegan, a principal in the Bellevue trademark and copyright practice of GeoMark, schedule their exercise routines in the evening. Geoghegan is an avid tennis player with a 3.5 rating and a regimented playing schedule: Wednesdays — practice with men’s team and a coach; Thursdays — doubles; Saturdays — mixed doubles; Sundays — “mixed team practice with a coach.” Throw in regularly scheduled United States Tennis Association matches between Friday night and Sunday night and you have the “regular weekly things that are permanently on my calendar,” he says. Geoghegan also recently moved his law practice to Bellevue to be closer to his tennis club in Kirkland.
Lori Rath, of Rath Law & Mediation in Seattle, works out during the day. Her regular routine for the past two years has included an indoor cycling class near her office. “Thankfully, I have a very flexible schedule as a solo practitioner and a non-litigator,” she says. “There are many days when I don’t feel like I have the time to leave my office and go to class, or I don’t feel like making the effort, but I usually do it anyway, and I’m never sorry. It gives me a lot of energy, and is a great stress reliever and mind clearer.”
Some lawyers incorporate exercise into their commutes. Joanna Roth, a Seattle solo practitioner, bikes to work in Fremont from her home on Phinney Ridge. “I spend at least an hour on my bike on a typical workday with meetings/errands away from my office,” she says. Miles Yanick, a litigator with Savitt & Bruce, LLP in downtown Seattle, and a marathoner, also fits his sport into his commute. He’ll also run at night to fit it into his busy daily litigation routine and parenting schedule.
Over time, if you are committed to incorporating exercise into your day, the intensity, type and timing of your workouts will become an individualized reflection of your personality. It’s a matter of trial and error to discover what works best for your life. It’s time, in 2008, to choose to become an enthusiastic advocate for the most deserving person in your contacts list — yourself!
Stacey L. Romberg, attorney at law, when not exercising, practices in the areas of small business law, estate planning and probate. She may be contacted at www.staceyromberg.com.
1 See Seattle PI, May 9, 2005, Bob Condor, “Starting strong: Tune up your engines 18 to 34 year olds,” quoting Dr. Doug Paauw, a primary-care internist at the University of Washington, “Studies indicate exercise is an effective way to eliminate mild depression.”
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Reprinted from January 2008, King County Bar Association Bulletin, by Stacey Romberg