In August of 2017, a report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being was issued in the legal community, under the title of The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations For Positive Change. The first line in the second paragraph states, “to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer.” As an attorney, it was not lost on me that we lawyers tend to sacrifice our own health in ways that we would never sacrifice anything else (especially our law practice). Several years ago, I took on the personal task of trying to change this for at least one lawyer—me. More recently, I have tried to take that mission more broadly, to encourage other attorneys (and professionals in general) to simply get in better shape. I was excited to see what I thought was an opportunity to directly advocate physical fitness in the legal profession, not as a secondary issue, but maybe even as a professional responsibility.
“to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer.”
So, it was with some disappointment that, as I read the report, I found that it focused mostly on issues of substance abuse and mental health, and said relatively little about physical fitness. Yes, substance abuse and mental health struggles are clearly a serious problem and should be addressed. For example, Studies found that the following:
Between 21 and 36 percent qualify as problem drinkers, and that approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.
This, of course, needs attention. In fact, most state bar organizations have had member assistance programs for such issues for decades now. But what about actual physical fitness? Isn’t there more to being a “healthy lawyer” than substance abuse and mental health? Of course.
Here is one way to look at the other aspects of “health” and how they affect the legal profession. Lawyers have higher overweight and obesity rates than most professionals, although we are no worse than the general public—approximately 70%. But, that number is clearly MUCH higher than the rates of alcoholism and mental health issues in our profession. And, there is good science behind the assumption being physically unfit adds significantly to those struggles as well.
But being overweight or obese doesn’t directly affect our ability to represent our clients, correct? Well, maybe not. But it does significantly increase (like, in the 80% range on many of these), the rate at which a person may experience any of the following health issues:
▪ All-causes of death (mortality)
▪ High blood pressure (Hypertension)
▪ High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
▪ Type 2 diabetes
▪ Coronary heart disease
▪ Gallbladder disease
▪ Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
▪ Sleep apnea and breathing problems
▪ Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
▪ Low quality of life
▪ Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders4,5
▪ Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning6
Honestly, I am not sure if being more physically fit makes us better lawyers. But, being healthier and feeling better about ourselves might help. More importantly, I don’t want anyone, including my colleagues, suffering unnecessarily from the things on that list, and think we should do what we can to decrease that risk.
So, while we are focusing on the serious issues of substance abuse and mental health among lawyers, I believe we should feel free, as a profession, to target overall fitness just as vigorously.