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The Importance of Prioritizing You

This post reiterates some good old fashioned, plain Jane, down to earth advice that is simply this: don’t forget to take care of yourself. It sounds simple, and we all have heard it from parents, friends, colleagues, kids, and perhaps most often from a significant other. My travel experiences these past fourteen years have underscored the importance of this advice and my wife continues to remind me of it every time I head back out. She seems particularly concerned that I get out of hotels to enjoy some sun. Seems I get a little sullen without enough sun and fresh air. Perhaps so. I’ll keep at it. 

I really do believe that taking this advice to heart can make a world of difference in our lives and also be an effective risk management tool. During risk visits over the years, I have had employees ask me to talk with an attorney about helping her learn to say “no” so that her workload might finally drop to a reasonable level. The staff at these various firms was always concerned about an attorney’s overall well-being due to the unreasonably heavy workload that was self-inflicted. I have also had a number of attorney spouses ask me to let their attorney husband or wife know that from my perspective (as a risk manager) taking a vacation is a good thing. Please understand and remember that stress-related physical health issues, addictions, and even mental illness (particularly depression) are significant problems within the legal profession and I truly believe that such health issues arise, in no small part, due to an attorney forgetting to prioritize the taking care of one’s self.

I have spent time on the phone with an attorney who was unable to make a decision and thus unable to work any further on a matter that had a deadline only hours away. His personal stress level had reached a point where indecisiveness and immobility were the eventual outcome. He simply could go no further and he literally walked out of his office later that day and has never returned. Unfortunately, this response of immobility is not uncommon. At ALPS, we have handled our fair share of malpractice claims that arose due to the fallout of unaddressed high levels of attorney stress and often these claims do resolve with a loss payout. 

Absent a proper balance between our personal and professional lives, all kinds of risks potentially come into play to include stress, burnout, indecisiveness, apathy, forgetfulness, and/or a loss of the various types of personal and emotional support systems upon which we rely to function effectively. Any one or combination of these risks can easily create a situation that is ripe for attorney negligence or worse.

So then, what does “taking care of one’s self” mean? For me, it means eating right and trying to find time to exercise three or four times a week. It means doing what I can to leave work issues at the office so that when I have time with my family I can fully invest in them. I have come to learn the importance of not jeopardizing my relationships with any of my most valued and effective support systems.

Taking care of self also means taking a vacation now and again, at least once a year. It means finding some quiet time for reflection and rest, as well as time to pursue personal interests. Cooking is one of the things that I need to do in order to stay sharp, to stay balanced, as it allows me to get to a different place in my head. I find comfort and am able to relax in a busy kitchen and this physical space has become a special place for my wife and I to talk and just be together.

I am unable to tell you how to best find balance in your own life. We are all individuals with our own unique interests, needs, and desires. I can tell you that the benefits are worth the effort that it will take. Not only will you reduce your exposure to a malpractice claim, but I also believe that it will help keep both your personal and professional life meaningful and fulfilling. Neither side will weigh heavily on the other because both aspects will be in balance and that’s the goal. It is so easy for work to override personal needs. Try not to let that happen by remembering to take some time for you.

Comments for The Importance of Prioritizing You


Name: Christopher G. Hill
Time: Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thanks for the thoughts Mark. It has taken me almost 2 years as a solo to get it through my head that I can leave the office and take a break. I have been more productive since this "insight"

Thanks again

Name: Harry Bell
Time: Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great commentary Mark. I love being able to have sucha great staff and team of people it allows me time to get away and decompress. All Attys need to do so. I like seeing my attorneys and staff also enjoy their time away.

Name: Stephanie Breck
Time: Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hey Mark - thanks for your post. I didn't know this blog existed until today (it was likely your title that caught my attention) but I can see I am going to enjoy reading a lot of the past posts. My husband and I own our own firm and learning to balance stress with self-care has been a real test for us. Finally, we are beginning to see how best to arrange each of our individual schedules. We don't HAVE to be here at the same times, all the time. In fact, I do quite a bit of my work in the early morning hours, at home, and come to the office only a few days a week. He, on the other hand, finds that he is far more productive in the office. Like cooking does for you, being in my home and "puttering" (as well as spending time with our six year old son during the summer months) gives me a sense of peace, one that I can carry over into my work life. I'm no longer stressing about what's not getting done at work when I am puttering and I don't stress about what's not getting done at home when I am working. I feel very grateful to have the ability to be so flexible with my schedule and know that not everybody can do it but still, I think that folks can definitely hit a healthy balance if they put themselves, their families and their health first, above all other demands. I am a far better lawyer for it. Thanks much - look forward to reading more of the posts.

Name: Leslie Ann Grove
Time: Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thanks, Mark. I just went back and read this one again. Really appreciated it being there, when you wrote it, and now.

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