Family & Work

We know from our interview with neuroscientist Geoff Bird that sleep is one of the keys to high performance. He discusses the effect on work and personal life that are guaranteed to disturb those lawyers who pride themselves on working into the small hours. Talks on sleep, however, are a sign that the legal sector, notorious for long and unsocial hours, is facing up to questions of mental wellbeing.

In 2013 The Sleep Council surveyed over 5000 adults in the UK and found that 70% sleep for less than seven hours a night with more than a quarter experiencing poor quality sleep on a regular basis. By 2017, The Sleep Council found that those figures had increased further, with more than a third now reporting poor quality sleep on a regular basis.

So, whether you are sleeping poorly on a regular or occasional basis, we could all stand to increase the amount and quality of sleep to increase performance. 

Here are some practical tips:

Treat the issue not the symptoms

The first thing to look at, says Dr Lindsay Browning, sleep expert at Trouble Sleeping, is whether your issues stem from a medical problem. This may be undiagnosed, so it is important to consider whether lack of sleep is the problem or the symptom.

There is diagnostic criteria for insomnia (such as regularly over a period of several months being awake for more than 30 minutes, taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep or being awake more than 30 minutes before you would usually get up). While the NHS says that better sleeping habits will improve most cases, it is still worth considering whether insomnia is being caused by a medical issue such as depression, sleep apnoea (where you stop breathing which wakes you up), a bad back or perhaps stress or trauma. 

It may also be worth considering requesting a blood test, as insomnia can be a symptom of magnesium deficiency.

Can you help your natural cycles?

To sleep, we need to be relaxed and calm. The hormones serotonin, oxytocin and melatonin are essential to our daily cycle, or circadian rhythm (our internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle that repeats roughly every 24 hours).

We sleep in cycles and wake between them and have to learn to link the cycles. Most people will be unaware of the waking between the cycles as we only remember them once we’ve been awake for two minutes or more.

Melatonin (the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) is like a starter pistol, Dr Browning says. A surge of melatonin will tell your body that it is ready to go to sleep. Our bodies are designed such that the surge will come around 8/10 hours after we’ve received the max dose of sunshine. Most people produce all the melatonin they need, so unless you are jetlagged taking additional melatonin will not help.

Our best sleeping conditions are when it is dark and not too hot. 16-18C is ideal. Body temperature peaks in the evening and drops as we sleep. Professor Geoff Bird told us that most people’s bedrooms are too light and too warm for good sleep.

Try the following and see whether it helps:

  • Get outside at lunchtime. If we are in an office all day we need to stop our bodies from getting out of sync. 
  • If you can’t get outside, try a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lightbox – but only use it between 11am-1pm. 
  • Make your bedroom darker and colder.
  • Encourage your body temperature to rise and then drop with a warm bath.
  • Dr Browning suggests ensuring you are not hungry before bed, recommending oat biscuits, porridge or warm milk. Milk and milk products have the added benefit that they contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan.

Is something or someone else keeping you awake? 

For some, sleep is elusive. For others, part of the issue is either things keeping us awake, or waking us up during the night. Is there anything you can do to reduce the impact of the following?

Screens

Smartphones, TV, computer games; they are all designed to be addictive and absorbing, excellent at keeping the mind awake, reducing the amount of time we sleep or preventing us from dropping off at all.

Ariana Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and author of the book The Sleep Revolution: transforming your life one night at a time suggests no electronic devices starting 30 minutes before bedtime and even advocates relocating your charging station to another room.

“I started setting ground rules, such as turning off my devices,” says Huffington on how she turned around her sleep habits.

Caring responsibilities – children & elderly relatives

Is there anything you can do about children that are waking you up at night? Young babies and children, of course, do just wake up but things to consider if you have school-aged children include:

  • The amount of sleep a school-aged child needs peaks at 9/10 years old. 6-13-year-olds need 9-11 hours, 3-5-year-olds need 10-13. Teenagers are of course a different matter entirely.
  • Based on the amount of sleep they need, consider current bedtimes and rising times. Do you need to update them?
  • Look at bed habits e.g. stopping TV before sleeping, milk, routines, etc.

As we get older, we need less sleep and it is normal to wake up between cycles as the gaps get longer. We may need to accept that elderly relatives will sleep more during the day, less at night and think about ensuring we have respite time away to catch up on sleep if at all possible.

Hormone cycles and the menopause

The rising and falling levels of the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle (estrogen and progesterone) can affect the ability to fall and stay asleep, and, annoyingly influence the quality of sleep. 

Rising estrogen levels in days 1-14 can give you an energy boost but also mean worse sleep, then rising progesterone after ovulation in days 14 onwards can make you very tired. A few days before your period starts, around days 26ish of a 28-day-cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels drop rapidly and many women report trouble sleeping. 

By tracking your cycle, you should be able to predict when you need to do less and spend more time resting, which can help combat these issues.

The menopause brings hot flushes which disturb the sleep. If you are used to sleeping well the sudden problems with sleeping can be concerning. The more you worry and try to sleep, the more anxiety hormones rises which leads to more difficulty falling asleep. “Sleep is the only thing you can’t succeed at by trying harder,” says Dr Browning, which can make it very frustrating.

Other practical tips to try

  • Get rid of your fitbit and stop analysing data
  • Swap your Smartphone for an alarm clock, preferably one where you can switch off the lighted time, so you can’t lie there and watch the minutes tick past
  • See if you can change how you feel about sleep

Scientifically Dr Browning says how we feel when we wake up is only related to where in the sleep cycle we woke. After around 20 minutes, no matter how we felt when we woke, we should feel ok. However, if you tell yourself you had a bad (or good) night’s sleep, this can affect how your mind thinks you slept.

  • Drink water

Contrary to some advice, being well hydrated actually helps us sleep, says Dr Browning. Some people recommend not drinking after 3pm but Dr Browning says that “typically the need to [pass urine] won’t wake you up but when you wake up the body automatically scans the body and you realise you need the loo. It is actually usually something else that wakes you up”.

  • Reduce caffeine/alcohol in the afternoon and evening.

Caffeine has a six-hour half-life (which means half of the caffeine you consumed will still be in your body six hours later). Caffeine stops the body from being able to tell how tired it is. Alcohol is a sedative so sleep comes but is disrupted.

  • Lavender in the bath, or sprayed on your pillow
  • Meditate or journal to reduce stress/ worries which wake up the brain when you lie down to try and sleep.
  • Read or listen to calming music or whale/ocean sounds
  • Try the Sleep with Me podcast for bedtime stories for adults
  • Use the Twilight App for any essential bedtime phone use
  • Change the bed and have clean sheets and ironed pillow-cases.

Lastly, if you really cannot sleep, get up and do something useful. Do not spend hours actively trying to sleep as this is counter-productive and you will end up associating your bed with a place of stress and anxiety, perpetuating the cycle.

Do you have any other tips to share?

Note: Dr Lindsay Browning is a chartered psychologist and neuroscientist with a doctorate from the University of Oxford where she investigated the relationship between worry and insomnia. She is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, a member of the British Sleep Society and a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Making Work, Work

Physical fitness and wellbeing usually does not rank very high in lawyer priorities. As previously mentioned in a piece on the London Fire Brigade, lawyering is mostly an intellectual endeavour which involves sitting for lengthy periods. As long as they feel fit enough to do their job (sitting for long hours), lawyers tend to view their physical health as perfectly adequate, ignoring the long-term poor health effects of a sedentary desk job. Sedentary behaviours are a known risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and early death.

How do you change your habits around to improve your physical health? How do you fit exercise in your family life, juggling kids and work? The good news is, you don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to get started…

Start Small

If you think that any type of physical activity under one hour is not worth it, think again. More and more research shows it’s quality, not quantity, that counts. In a busy schedule, any exercise is better than no exercise, whether you work from home or at the office.

  • Take walk-and-talk or arrange ‘standing meetings’ and conference calls – rather than sitting in a meeting room.
  • Walk to client meetings or court appointments.
  • At lunchtime, make a habit to go out and walk around your neighbourhood for at least 20 minutes. Set a timer on your phone or check your watch and keep walking. At Obelisk Support, Naz, Tech Support Analyst, takes a daily walk in the neighborhood to unplug and stay fit. She has inspired quite a few to follow suit, like Katie and Debbie.
  • Do five sit-ups in the morning before you get dressed.
  • Do 30 minutes of yoga while your child is taking a nap. For inspiration, YogaGlo runs subscription-based online classes and Yoga with Adrienne provides free YouTube tutorials.
  • Stretch while listening to a song or soothing radio station such as Classic FM.
  • Download short fitness routines on YouTube. Jessica Smith TV and PopSugar Fitness provide 10-minute solutions.
  • When going to work, get off the train or tube a few stops early and run or walk from there.
  • Walk the stairs, skip elevators and escalators.

Rise & Shine

Many lawyers find it easier to fit in any physical exercise before breakfast or work, as it makes them feel great for the rest of the day and boosts their metabolism. If they can refrain from checking their phones and messages before working out, they’re more likely to just get up and exercise rather than start scrolling down long to-do lists. Here are a few ideas to spice up your mornings.

Cycle to Work

If you work at an office in the city and can plan your route along cycling lanes, riding a bicycle to work is one of the best ways to workout without realising it.Plus, you need to get to work anyway – you might as well make your work commute 100% beneficial to your physical health. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it also helps improve pollution in the city and you get to enjoy open skies year-round.

Whether you are a Strava cyclist or a casual user of self-service bicycles, cycling increases your cardiovascular fitness and decreases stress levels. Check existing Cycling Superhighways to navigate London streets via safe and fast cycling lanes. Sophie, Obelisk Support‘s Operations Manager, cycles over 20K per day to get to work, using a combination of city streets and cycling superhighways.

Navy Seal Challenge

Hardcore lawyers might want to try the Navy Seal 4.30am challenge, which assumingly, help you get a jump on the day when nobody else is awake yet, giving you the opportunity to do things that you need to get done selfishly for yourself, such as working out. It might not feel good at 4.30am when you get up, but – by the time 7am rolls around, and you’ve already worked out, already got some work done, and you’ve still got some time to say goodbye to your kids before they go to school – you’ll feel totally in control of your life.

Of course, the tradeoff is going to sleep early at night and as this video shows, it’s probably the hardest part.

Morning Swim Routine

If you can’t stomach waking up at 4.30am, try going to pre-breakfast gym or swim classes. Laure, Marketing Manager at Obelisk Support, is an avid open water swimmer. She swims between 3 and 10K a week, all before work. Swimming helps her keep a bad lower back in check and open water swimming boosts her immune system year round, keeping seasonal allergies and winter colds at bay.

Her swim routine includes

  • Two weekly masters swim classes from 6.30 to 7.30am (before breakfast and school),
  • One to three open water swims between school drop-off and work, and
  • One or two weekend open water swims (before breakfast).

If you have a swimming pool near you that opens before 6.30am, try to plan on being there at opening time for 30 minutes three times a week to relax your muscles and stretch with your swimming stroke of choice.

Workout with Project Awesome

In London, Bristol and Edinburgh, Project Awesome is a community of people who offer “free, fun, badass workouts in your city,” kickstarting your day the awesome way. Yes, they’re early birds and they meet at 6.30am. Yes, they’re city folks and understand that healthy habits set you up in the right direction for the day. Also, they’re friendly and tend to join group events to motivate you going the extra mile.

Follow them on Twitter (here for London, here for Edinburgh, here for Bristol) for updates on future meet-ups and be ready for some serious silliness.

 

Night Bird Habits

If your kids think that sleeping is overrated, or your lunch hour is not an option because you’re on flexible schedules, then exercising after work and after dinner are great options too. Here are a few ideas.

  • Sign up for adult dance classes in the evening, preferably with a partner or friend to make it more fun.
  • Go on a 4 to 5K run after work with your kids as they ride their bikes (kills two stones in one go, your fitness and your kids’).
  • Go for a walk around the block with a friendly neighbour after dinner, which takes care of your social and exercise needs.
  • In London, GoodGym organises evening runs with a charitable purpose, running to help out older people with one-off practical tasks that they are no longer able to do on their own.
  • If the weather or circumstances don’t cooperate, try Leslie Sansone Walking at Home YouTube videos to … walk at home.

Fit Lawyers on Social Media

Some corporate lawyers have thousands of social media followers and it’s not necessarily for their legal skills. Check out the following for fitness inspiration:

When the work week is over, you can enjoy your weekend and take a rest. Or, if you feel like indulging, go out for a morning run, a walk outdoors and exercise some more!

 

Making Work, WorkObelisk In Action

As part of our Wednesday Live series at Obelisk Support, we hosted Graham Ellis, Assistant Commissioner at the London Fire Brigade, and Verona Clarke, Station Manager, Special Operations Group at the London Fire Brigade. Both shared precious insights on how their teams anticipate and react to crisis situations.

The population of London is estimated at 8.8 million spread out over 607 square miles, with 300 languages spoken and in 2016, welcomed 31.5 million visitors. To keep all these people safe, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the busiest fire department in the UK and one of the busiest in the world, operating with a yearly budget of £382 million. No law firm, however big, can claim to watch the back of that many clients with so many shifting parameters. But as we deal with our own daily ‘firefights’, here are 6 leadership lessons all lawyers will be able to relate to…

#1 Prepare For the Impossible

The London Fire Brigade’s norm is to prepare for the unexpected.

In a toxic paradox, firefighters have to learn to adapt in difficult situations in real time and with ever-decreasing staff and resources. By far their best weapon to avert risk is prevention. As part of its fire prevention campaign, the LFB carries out 80,000 home fire safety visits every year. Since 9/11, the LFB has created an Urban Search & Rescue team that covers victims of urban catastrophes. There is a plan for the event of a meteorite falling on Earth. As you can see, the LFB makes its set of responses very flexible but preparation without communication would be pointless.

The Legal Angle

As GDPR recently showed, you can never be ready for every scenario but you can certainly have response mechanisms that kick in when emergency strikes. In fact, lawyers have long played a key role in helping clients to understand and mitigate risk which means that they’ve had to adapt over time to keep up with the evolution of risks. A recent study showed that over 80% of lawyers said that risks are formally reviewed at least every six months. Is 6 months enough? Is your law firm even doing that?

From cyber security to industry compliance or legal exposure, a good risk management policy starts with an audit. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you can’t set up preventive measures and that’s step 1 of managing any type of risk (also less expensive and stressful than dealing with a bad situation). Read these 5 Steps to Legal Risk Management and start planning for your legal meteorite. Then you can move on with your communication strategy – because risk management is a business-wide concern.

#2 Cooperate with Other Teams

The LFB wouldn’t be able to do its job without other agencies such as the police, government agencies or even the public. How do you alert the LFB to an act of terror if you’re witnessing one or seeing something that’s off? The LFB’s primary response to disasters is prevention via public awareness campaigns and relies on the cooperation of other parties to be efficient.

In the case of an emergency, who you gonna call?

999. Write it down, just in case. It’s the UK number for emergencies. Please call it before filming to stream live on Facebook or Twitter.

The Legal Angle

It used to be that legal teams operated as stand-alone satellites in big companies, checking in at senior level and dealing with documents that were mysterious and scary to all other departments. Today, legal departments are often part of their company’s business strategy and understand what they need to do to get deals done.

#3 Embrace Diversity in Your Teams

At the end of the 1980s, the LFB employed 9,000 people, including 20 women and 80 BAME. As of 2018, the numbers have significantly shifted. The LFB employs 4,611 people, including 333 women and 606 BAME. That’s one fifth of the workforce today versus less than 1%. The LFB is working on a recruitment campaign to improve their diversity numbers and to offer not only flexible work options, but to retain minority and female staff by rethinking the promotion process. Recognising that they are a public-facing agency, the LFB strives to improve their diversity numbers both in offices and in operational teams.

By having greater diversity in their teams, the LFB gets a collective of opinions that helps them get stronger and communicate better in a modern world.  They need to engage with communities whose first language might not be English. Verona Clarke of the LFB does a lot of presentations at schools to show that the LFB represents the community, that women can be firefighters too. In her words, “the LFB needs the best of the best but it also needs diversity, the multilingual people who look and feel like everyone else.” That is true diversity.

Listen to Verona Clarke explain what it means to be seen and be in her job.

The Legal Angle

In many ways, the London Fire Brigade is way ahead of the legal profession on this aspect. The Attic and Obelisk Support stands in favour of diversity and regularly denounce how the legal industry has a major diversity issue. As the Solicitors Regulation Authority reports, women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms and 47% of the UK workforce but in 2017, women made up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners or in the largest firms (50 plus partners), only 29% of partners are female. That’s only one aspect of the progress that needs to happen in the legal profession, with gender pay gaps in law firms at an all-time high, lack of diversity in executive boards and unequal rights for LGBTQ lawyers.

How do you make things better?

First, believe in diversity and inclusion. Firms that offer an inclusive environment for a diverse mix for employees stand to innovate, grow and outperform the competition. Businesses with a healthy balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, while those with employees from a good mix of ethnic backgrounds are 35% more likely, claims research by McKinsey & Co. You can start by taking 5 steps to empower women in law and by listening to the voice of those missing in your organisation. Since diversity is good for business, why wait?

#4 Take Care of Your Physical Health

A lot of firefighters’ time is done training, responding to emergencies and learning standard operating procedures to stay safe. However, they operate in particularly dangerous places and it’s impossible for them to avoid compromising their physical health. Indeed, firefighters are 200% more likely than the average population to contract types of cancer and they work in a lot of environments that they cannot control with hazardous materials.

That said, the physical training of firefighters is one of the most demanding in the world and if you want to get an idea of the strength and fitness tests, WorkingMums has an interesting piece on whether a career in the London Fire Brigade is for you.

The Legal Angle

That brings us to lawyers, whose only physical test is being able to operate a computer. Safe to say, the two biggest threats to the physical health of lawyers are chairs and take-out meals. For one, sitting for lengthy periods is terrible for your body. Aches and pains are the least of your problems — sitting too much can lead to an early death. You face a higher risk of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more, even if you work out regularly.

On the nutrition front, things aren’t all pink either. A 2016 study sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation surveying nearly 13,000 currently practicing attorneys found that 21-36% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers. As reported on The Attic in Why Lawyers Should Take a Proper Healthy Lunch Break, the legal industry is one of the worst culprits for late in the day take-out food orders at the office, with a huge 81% of orders placed at dinner time and an average order time of 8:44pm. Neither poor nutrition nor the lack of exercise contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Currently, fit lawyers like The Lean Lawyer, Backwards Guy or David Jones are the exception but they are an inspiration too and the legal profession needs more of them so we all get off our chairs and get our heart pumping. As Nike says, just do it!

#5 Take Care of Your Mental Health

The other part of firefighters’ health is mental health and the post-workshop Q&A discussed the notion of resilience. For many firefighters, resilience is making do with a bad situation. Elina Grigoriou of Grigoriou Interiors, who was in the audience, expressed resilience as “bringing your head above water, not standing above water.” She wondered what Graham Ellis did to keep his own teams resilient.

After seeing the response of colleagues to trauma over many years, Graham Ellis recalled the Soho pub bombing. Some of the people who were the most badly affected then were not the younger recruits but the ones who had seen it all before and had years of emergency preparedness. In modern days, fewer people are exposed to more and more traumatic events, the last drop goes into the bucket and the bucket starts to overflow.

Mental resilience for firefighters is training for disasters, follow-up public inquests, debriefing and follow-up actions. In the 1980s, Ann Willmott built an Advisory and Counseling Team for the LFB that was groundbreaking and involved working with psychologists. Dany Cotton, LFB Commissioner, was at the Grenfell Tower Fire and saw first-hand the horrors and acts of selflessness that firefighters experienced. She went live on ITV to say that “it’s all right not to be all right,” which was the truth, plain and simple. These firefighters will never be the same, with many seeking professional help for their mental health.

The Legal Angle

As explained on The Attic by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare in Lawyers – Your Mental Health and Wellbeing Matter!, lawyers have higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress compared to other professions. It is the culture of the well-known poor work/life balance, the long hours and presenteeism, the competitive environment, the fear of failure and the driven and perfectionist personalities that can be drawn to law. All of this contributes to an environment that can make some people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.

Mental health is a very important and unspoken part of the life of legal professionals that’s still taboo in many firms. If you’re not feeling right, you need to get professional help right now. Don’t delay and don’t underestimate how it could impact your life. Don’t wait until a drop makes the bucket overflow.

#6 Invest in Tech and Infrastructure

When Graham started working at the London Fire Brigade in 1983, firefighters wore rubber Wellington boots, yellow plastic trousers, heavy woolen tuniques and gardening gloves.

Protective equipment in 2018 is a far cry from 1980s standards and includes a full array of digital communications to assist with live interventions.

The Legal Angle

Likewise in the 1980s, lawyers worked with paper and pen, didn’t have computers, let alone mobile phones, and faxed 100-page long documents to clients for signature. Their biggest security risk was probably a fire destroying client files and firm archives and secretaries did all their admin tasks.

Today’s lawyers have become independent professionals who can work remotely with digital communication tools, people who rely on technology like everyone else and who have warmed to the idea of legaltech solutions such as smart contracts or artificial intelligence. It’s not Silicon Valley-level tech engagement just yet, but lawyers have definitely caught up with the 21st century and are working hard to get up to speed with their techie counterparts.

About Graham Ellis

As Assistant Commissioner, Graham also heads up London Fire Brigade’s Special Operations Group and London Resilience Team, responsible for the preparations, training, response and recovery to a range of natural and terrorist related threats, and for overseeing fire service operations across the Greater London area.

About Verona Clarke

Verona Clarke is an Operational Station Manager, Special Operations Group at the London Fire Brigade, she is responsible for the brigades response to large scale events such as New Years Eve Celebrations, London Marathon and many other events. Verona is a frequent speaker at schools and a diversity champion at the London Fire Brigade.

Making Work, Work

Guest post by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. 

Mental health issues range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life, to serious long-term conditions. It can be easy to dismiss mental health problems as something that happen to other people, but research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience them each year. And yes, the legal community is no exception.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.

This definition places wellbeing at its heart.

So…

What Do We Mean by Wellbeing?

It means different things to different people but, it’s about how we feel, how we think, our relationships, and how we find meaning and purpose in our lives.

About 50% of our wellbeing is influenced by our genes, 10% is about our upbringing and external circumstances such as our health, work or financial situation, but crucially about 40% is influenced by our choices and attitudes – how we approach relationships, our values and our sense of purpose.

This means we can take positive steps to influence our wellbeing.  There has been considerable research into the science of wellbeing and this gives us an opportunity to use this evidence to make better choices to increase wellbeing in our personal lives, homes, schools, workplaces and communities.

How to Improve Your Wellbeing

There are five simple steps we can take to improve our wellbeing:

  • Connect –  with the people around us, our  family, friends, colleagues
  • Be active – finding time for exercise or enjoyable hobbies
  • Keep learning – new skills can boost confidence
  • Give to others – just a simple kind word to someone or volunteering your time  can improve your wellbeing
  • Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you

In a professional context, wellbeing matters because it brings a number of benefits: greater self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination, positive relationships with colleagues, better physical and mental health, greater motivation, greater creativity, and more productive work.

Wellbeing & Lawyers

It is known from research in the USA that lawyers have higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress compared to other professions. Why is this? It’s not that lawyers are genetically predisposed to poorer wellbeing than other people, there is something about the about the culture and practice of law that can have an impact. It is the culture of the well-known poor work/life balance, the long hours and presenteeism, the competitive environment, the fear of failure and the driven and perfectionist personalities that can be drawn to law. All of this contributes to an environment that can make some people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.

Lawyers are expected to cope with the demands of the job, and fear that not coping will be seen as a sign of weakness. They can find it difficult to acknowledge that they may need support and talk openly about mental health in the workplace.

At LawCare, the charity that supports and promotes mental health and wellbeing throughout the legal community in the UK, we know that talking is an important first step in changing the way we think and act about mental health. We want to get the legal community talking about mental health.

Since we were founded in 1997 we have helped thousands of people in the legal community manage the day to day pressures of working in the law. But we want to support lawyers to do more than just survive in the legal workplace we want them to thrive.

Wellbeing & Resilience

Resilience is an important factor in the workplace. Resilience is the ability to resist or bounce back from adversity, and in any workplace there will be people who thrive on challenges and difficulties, while others will find it hard to cope with unexpected change or problems. If someone finds it hard to forge ahead when things go wrong, the good news is that we can all learn how to develop our resilience.

Highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in times of constant change. Most importantly, they expect to bounce back, and feel confident that they will. That expectation is closely linked to a general sense of optimism, and finding the positive aspects in most situations is a skill that can be evolved. The right mental attitude to cope, and even flourish, when the going gets tough, can be developed.

10 Tips to Build Resilience:

  • Learn to see challenges, mistakes and failures as valuable learning experiences
  • Give yoursef a pat on the back when things go well. Be kind and forgive ourselves when things go wrong
  • Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Challenge them, and ask whether they are true or realistic
  • Use humour to defuse and downplay difficulties. We can laugh at ourselves and situations
  • Be flexible. Recognise that nothing stays the same, especially in the workplace
  • Take care of physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. When our physical self is in good shape, we are less fragile
  • Take time off work, use holiday entitlements and take breaks during the working day
  • Recognise that a bad situation is usually temporary
  • Build a support network. Make time for friends and family who offer encouragement and strength. Consult supportive work colleagues
  • Don’t extrapolate one bad situation into another unrelated situation. We can’t be good at everything; recognise areas of strength

Attitude and perspective are fundamental to building resilience. Paying attention to strengths and how to develop them, learning to accept that things won’t always go well, and focusing on what is working rather than what’s not, are all key.

How Things Can Change

We need to come together as a legal community to raise awareness and understanding of mental health, in order to create healthier and more supportive working environments for lawyers. Although attitudes are changing, the fact remains that many people feel unable to raise mental health problems at work, and we need to do something about this.

Organisations are only as strong as their people and a healthy and productive workforce where staff feel valued and supported, will be more committed to the organisation’s goals and perform better in their jobs. Mental health matters.  

About LawCare

LawCare is the charity that supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community throughout the UK and Ireland. Our support spans the entire legal life – from student to training, through to practice and retirement.

We understand life in the law. If people need someone to talk to, they can call us on our free, independent, and confidential helpline. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers, all of whom have experience of working in the legal sector.  We offer empathetic support for work, emotional, health and financial problems, and we signpost callers to specialist support where appropriate. Call us on 0800 279 6888 365 days a year, or visit our website www.lawcare.org.uk.

About Elizabeth Rimmer

Elizabeth Rimmer started her working life as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. She has been managing and developing charities in the mental health sector for over fifteen years, and joined LawCare as Chief Executive in 2014.

Making Work, Work

Studies show that lawyers are particularly susceptible to unhealthy lifestyle choices and stress, but this lawyer who runs bucks that trend. Loren Zitomersky, known as Backwards Guy on Twitter and Facebook, has an athletic record that would put to shame most extremely fit people. From 1,426-mile bicycle rides to yearly marathons and an Ironman, he never stops.

At Obelisk Support, we support a healthy lifestyle in the legal profession and are in awe of Loren’s achievements. The best part is that he’s doing all this for charity, to raise awareness about epilepsy. The Attic caught up with this lawyer, who runs before work, less than a month before his next goal – to run all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon backwards (yes, literally backwards running) and attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon ever run backwards (3 hours, 43 minutes, 39 seconds – about an 8:30 min/mile average pace).

Hold on to your hat.

First, Tell Us What Do You Do in Your Day Job?

I’m a motion picture production attorney at Disney.  I work in the live-action motion picture production group and advise producers and Disney executives on legal matters pertaining to Disney movies.  I essentially act as the general counsel on the movies.  Most of my time is taken up negotiating and drafting talent (actors, writers, producers, directors) agreements, but my job encompasses a lot.  The most recent movie that I was the production attorney on that has been released was the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”

How Important is Fitness to Your Life?

VERY important.  I’ve ran 7 marathons, completed an Ironman and done many triathlons.

How and When Did you Start Running Backwards?

I’ve been raising money and awareness for epilepsy for 20 years (over $300,000 raised to date), and I had told myself that if I qualified for the Boston Marathon, I would do something big for my fundraising and awareness campaign for the Boston Marathon.  I qualified at the Mounts 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura, California with a time of 3:00:14 last June.  I stumbled upon the record for the fastest marathon ever run backwards (3:43:39 – about an 8:30 min/mile average pace) and I thought I could beat that time and raise a ton of money and awareness for epilepsy at the same time.

How Do You Combine Training with Work?

Being a lawyer who runs is difficult.  I have been waking up super early in the morning and getting my backwards runs done early so that my day is clear for work, but it definitely is a juggling act.  My employer Disney has been very supportive of what I am doing.

Tell us about Epilepsy and the Boston Marathon

One in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime, which is a crazy statistic.  The reason most people don’t know that epilepsy is so common is because no one talks about it.  People are afraid to talk about it.  They’re afraid of being judged, losing their job, losing their driver’s license and/or having a stigma attached to them.  I’m trying to change that and talk as much as I can to bring epilepsy out in the open.

How Can People Support You?

People can visit BostonBackwards.com to learn more and make a donation if they feel inclined (hopefully!).  Also, I just launched a challenge called “26 Steps Backwards to End Epilepsy,” and I’m super excited about it!  More info is on my website at bostonbackwards.com/26steps.

Words of fitness advice to other lawyers?

Always have a passion outside of work.  I think that is very important.

Bio

Loren Zitomersky was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, attending UCLA for undergrad and then later Pepperdine Law School in Malibu.  He is a motion picture production attorney at the Walt Disney Studios. He has two brothers, loving parents and a very supportive wife, Rose. In his free time, he runs backwards.

Making Work, Work

Does it come as any surprise that lawyers are skipping on a healthy lunch? Or that when it comes to business food orders, almost half in the legal industry are placed after 8pm?

According to research on our lunch habits by flexible office and workspace platform Workthere,  the average lawyer take less than half an hour for lunch. Meanwhile, online food delivery company Deliveroo found that the legal industry is one of the worst culprits for late in the day orders, with a huge 81% of orders placed at dinner time and an average order time of 8:44pm.

It’s no secret that taking a break has never been part of the everyday vocabulary of lawyers, but there are many reasons why we need to start placing higher importance on taking a proper, quality lunch break and stepping away from our desk during the working day. A healthy lunch needs to be so much more than grabbing a quick bite to eat, particularly if you are likely to be working into the evening.

Reasons to Take a Healthy Lunch Break

#1 Productivity

It is completely counter-productive to believe that working through lunch will help us get more work done. Presenteeism only makes us poorer workers. Yes, you will clock that extra hour at your desk, but forgoing a proper break will affect your productivity for the rest of the hours that you work. Our brains are simply not designed to focus on the same thing for hours on end, so stepping away from the desk is vital to refocus and work more effectively. Sticking to a scheduled lunch break will also help you to better plan your day and improve overall time management.

#2 Socialising

Taking an hour for lunch with colleagues helps you to bond outside of the immediate pressures of work tasks, helping to create better communication and improve the team dynamic. It also helps you to feel more supported and included in the office, making you happier in your job.

#3 Physical Health

Our sedentary lifestyles are creating a health crisis. Sitting all day, every day not only makes us lethargic and more likely to gain unhealthy levels of fat, but can also lead to more serious long term physical health problems. Your lunch break is an opportunity to stretch your legs, go for a walk or run or make use of the gym.

If you work remotely, lunch is a great opportunity to step away from your desk and be active outside. Take a brisk 20-minute walk, eat a healthy lunch and get back to work refreshed. You also need to give your eyes a rest from the screen and small print to reduce the risk of straining them.

#4 Mental Health

The importance of taking proper time for lunch is as important for mental health as it is physical. Rushing through a quick lunch while clock watching creates more stress, as well as being bad for digestive health. To combat stress and help our minds function effectively, we must step away from our environment of work altogether. Take the time to go outside and turn attention to anything other than work. Just the simple act of enjoying your food without distraction will help boost your mood and help to avoid burnout.

Tips For a Healthy Lunch at Work

Trying to fit a convenient meal into our working day can be a challenge and it often leaves us stuck in a bit of a food rut. When you simply can’t get away from the office, there are plenty of ways to ensure that what you eat will sustain your energy and provide enough variety to boost your mood.

#1 Try New Foods

Deliveroo’s study found 42% of those surveyed were eating repetitive meals for lunch as a habit, while over a third said they eat the same thing because it’s fairly healthy and they are trying to stay trim. Variety is the spice of life, so to avoid falling into bad habits with our lunch breaks it is very important to have a meal you genuinely look forward to during the working day!

#2 Use Food Delivery Services

These days, we have many more options to order healthy lunch food thanks to online delivery services and snack box subscriptions to keep you going through day. As well as being able to order from your favourite organic restaurant, there are also diet plan services such as Detox Kitchen if you’re being particularly disciplined about your health. Delivery services also have options for business and group orders to save money and encourage the culture of a shared lunch break.

#3 Meal Prep for the Week

When bringing food from home, it helps to plan ahead for the week to avoid falling back into bad habits. Preparing and storing food for the week also saves you time day to day, leading to better organisation all round. Invest in compartmented lunch boxes to keep foodstuffs in optimum condition.

#4 Eat Foods Good for Concentration and Energy

Some examples of good ‘brain food’ include:

  • Oily fish or salmon
  • Green vegetables e.g. spinach, broccoli
  • Olive oil
  • Blueberries
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Legumes, including beans and pulses
  • Beetroot
  • Avocado
  • Egg yolks
  • …and don’t forget to hydrate!

The Deliveroo survey interestingly found professionals overwhelmingly prefer Japanese and Italian food at work over all others. Both types of cuisine are packed full of nutritious and healthy ingredients like the ones above, which can keep your body fuelled through a busy workday. Here are some easy to make recipe ideas to give you some inspiration:

Matcha-Poached Salmon Noodle Bowls

Avocado and Tuna Salad

Lemony Chickpea Bruschetta

Yellow Squash Linguine with Shrimp and Asparagus

What do you do for lunch? Are you guilty of any bad habits and how have you tried to change them? We’d love to hear your tips for a fulfilling healthy lunch break!