In the words of one of the world’s most iconic movie characters of all time, “…it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” – Rocky Balboa.[i]
I always say that most important life lessons can be learned from Rocky Balboa. While I am not a boxer, I am a trial lawyer. I am also married to another trial lawyer, I am a mom, and I am a runner. So, sometimes I feel like a boxer. I have been practicing as a trial lawyer in Florida since 2005, and since I started practicing and moved into a managing position, I have seen many colleagues and associate struggle with stress, anxiety, and burnout. I read countless articles discussing challenges with mental and physical health in the legal community. And often, it seems that there are more articles discussing our problems than potential solutions.
Recent Studies in Attorney Well-Being
Being a lawyer, a paralegal, a claims representative, or anyone working in the legal profession is hard. Recent studies show that, in terms of our well-being, we need to make some changes in our profession. A 2016 study sponsored by the American Bar Association and published in Forbes shows 21-36% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers; 28% of lawyers claimed to suffer from some level of depression and 19% of practicing attorneys reported struggling with anxiety.[ii] The study revealed lawyers in private practice struggled with these issues more.[iii]
In addition, the survey showed that, for some individuals, the problems started in law school.[iv] A more recent study which Thompson Reuters published in April 2023 revealed similar results. This study revealed that 66% of attorneys claimed their profession had been detrimental to their mental health.[v] In addition, 46% reported that they had considered leaving the profession due to stress and burnout.[vi]
Overall, it seems that many studies conducted in the legal community reveal a number of problems. Not many publications discuss solutions. So how can we do better?
Lessons Learned from Road Running
Building Mental Toughness
By its nature, the legal profession is adversarial, which is one of the reasons that so many of us struggle with depression, anxiety, and burnout. And while it is important that we pay attention to managing the size of our workloads and avoiding burnout, I wanted to offer a few tips on building mental toughness, as studies consistently show building mental toughness leads to improved mental health and happiness.
I first started running in high school and college. As a runner, I like to say I am good, but not great. I am not generally an overall race winner; but I will occasionally win the “masters.” I often place in my age group. I like to say, “I am fast for a middle-aged lawyer.”
Even though I am not “elite” by any stretch, training for and running community races has taught me lessons I have used to become a better, happier trial lawyer. Knowing that I can do hard things helps me get through even the roughest of workdays. In addition, every trial is kind of like a road race depending on the facts, how long it is, and how high the stakes are.
My family recently signed up for and completed the “Black Bear Double” in Townsend, TN. It is a 5K evening race followed by a morning half marathon with a 728-foot elevation gain. Looking at the elevation map for this race, it was easy to feel overwhelmed. It looked like the Richter scale for a pretty significant earthquake!
At first, I was seriously questioning our choice to sign up for this race. So, what did we do? I did a little extra research on the course and tracked down some photos and video – they looked way less intimidating.
Next, we made a plan to take it mile by mile and run for feel. For this particular race, we decided not to set a specific time goal but decided our goal was to finish strong depending on the conditions. At the end of the day, my husband, son, and I came in at 1:52:20 – not a half marathon PR for my husband and I, but we all finished in the top 8% of all runners, and my son won his division. Taking the race one hill at a time and focusing on having fun lead us to a great outcome.
Road racing teaches us many valuable lessons that we can translate into trial work, including: –
- Plan and prepare for what you can control;
- Take challenges one by one; and
- Learn how to adapt for the conditions.
Finding a Community
The legal community could also learn from the running community in terms of fellowship and support. At the Smoky Mountain half marathon – and in just about all of our races – we have had the opportunity to meet and talk to many new and interesting people from diverse backgrounds. Runners tend to be very supportive of each other – even complete strangers. It’s a great feeling to bust through a finish line with a group of complete strangers cheering for you! In the legal community, we should be a little more generous with our cheers and congratulations. It is important we all celebrate our accomplishments together. When times are tough, it is important we remind our colleagues that we can do hard things.
Tyson & Mendes is Walking the Walk
The studies on lawyer mental health issues reveal attorneys in private practice struggle with mental health challenges even more than attorneys working for the government or in in-house positions. At Tyson & Mendes, the firm offers opportunities for its employees to build resilience and to feel a sense of community.
In October, Tyson & Mendes is sponsored its Florida employees in the Jacksonville BKS corporate run. The firm encouraged everyone to train for the race and walk or run it. We all celebrated our accomplishment after the run.
The firm has hosted summer events outside of the office. In addition, the firm is rolling out new associate training programs allowing our young professionals to get to know each other outside of their day-to-day case work.
The legal community needs to do better, and I am happy to be part of a firm that supports wellness and community. Law firms have historically not made efforts to support their people. But at Tyson & Mendes, I think we would agree with Rocky Balboa: “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”[vii]
To the lawyers and law firms out there – we can do better; and we can feel better.
[i] Sylvester Stallone et al., Rocky Balboa (2006).
[ii] Paula Davis, “Lawyer Well-Being: Creating A Movement To Improve The Legal Profession,” Forbes, (Aug. 15, 2017), https://www.forbes.com/sites/pauladavislaack/2017/08/15/lawyer-well-being-creating-a-movement-to-improve-the-legal-profession/?sh=2bf885044d1e
[v] Karen Sloan, “Stress and overwork linked to lawyers’ suicidal thoughts, study says,” Reuters, (Feb. 14, 2023), https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/stress-overwork-linked-lawyers-suicidal-thoughts-study-says-2023-02-13/#:~:text=Among%20the%20lawyers%20who%20reported,due%20to%20stress%20or%20burnout.
[vii] Sylvester Stallone et al., Rocky IV (1985).