How can we properly support and guide our clients if we don’t take care of ourselves first?

by Darlene Tonelli, October 11, 2018.

This is reason #1 why it matters to make sure our practice of law is the right one for us. It’s the “put the oxygen mask on ourselves first before saving someone else” concept. If you’re struggling to breathe or struggling in general, it’s hard to help others. So why do we not ask ourselves this question more often – how can we help others if we can’t help ourselves?

My journey

I have observed that I do my best legal work when I am not overly stressed, feeling a good level of balance in delivering on obligations inside and outside the office, and leading a relatively healthy lifestyle. This is not rocket science.

So why do we not ask ourselves this question more often – how can we help others if we can’t help ourselves?

But there are other tools to be employed that don’t require a complete lifestyle revamp. Here are two examples:

1) Margin – a neighbor who is a schoolteacher and parent taught me the concept of building in “margin” to my day. In her case, it takes the form of a 10 minute walk around the block listening to music before picking up the kids from school. In mine, it involves taking 5 minutes to decompress before or after a stressful call, during which time I promise myself I will be silent (and try not work on my mental to-do list…).

2) Oscillation – In the “High Performance” episode of the Lawyer Life Podcast, we introduced the concepts of oscillation (ensuring a healthy balance real-time throughout the day between high stress and low stress situations) and visualization (i.e. seeing yourself walking calmly through the door at the end of the workweek to greet your family). Each of these helps create an ongoing sense of balance that is useful for perfectionist lawyers – instead of it being about getting that exact balance where magically everything is done perfectly, it’s about staying in a productive and healthy zone where you can be present for everyone who needs you. (We first learned about this concept via a Tignum corporate training session – https://www.tignum.com).

The key is to figure out what works for you to get into the best possible mindset to help your clients.

The key is to figure out what works for you to get into the best possible mindset to help your clients.

In the book Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover, he looks at how to get the best out of professional athletes. Tim Grover is an interesting person to learn from, as he coached top basketball players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

When talking about how to get the best out of other players on a team, he says, “the only way you can light other people on fire is to be lit yourself, from the inside.” He sees his mission as figuring out how to light people up that way so they can help other people accomplish great things as a team.

I love this. And isn’t it true for lawyers and our clients?? Aren’t we all on the same team trying to achieve results?

To me, it’s an issue if you are bringing your B-game to your client because you can’t stand your job. Or you can’t stand your clients. Or you don’t take the time to do the things you need to do to be your best self. All clients deserve to call a lawyer who is dedicated to solving their problem and excited to work on it. It doesn’t mean we don’t have bad days, or need support from our broader “team” at times and during difficult periods in our lives outside the office, but it means we’re doing our best to be in the game and trying to win it rather than wishing we were somewhere else.

If we make these small steps (like building in margin) a daily area of focus, and prioritize them the way we prioritize (for example) responding quickly to important emails, we will get them done – and everyone who depends on us will benefit.

Coming up: Reason #2 – “Rigid thinking provides a limited set of answers.”

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