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Many years ago, primarily as a result of the stress of my law practice in a 100-lawyer firm, I was rushed to the hospital emergency room after a severe bronchial attack. From that experience I learned that clients and law partners are indeed considerate of one’s health and could/would be understanding and considerate of my health needs. I vowed never again to have life be a part of my work, but instead to have work be a part of my life. Obviously, a sick lawyer — or a dead lawyer for that matter — is ineffective, even useless. This is especially true for the sole practitioner or small-firm attorney. After my bronchial attack, the associates working in my practice area and my partners stepped in and handled my work; files progressed fairly naturally. The sole practitioner or small-firm lawyer, however, generally does not have this support system. As a result, staying healthy is critical. If one is not healthy, not only do existing files suffer (and clients, no matter how understanding, eventually do want their work handled), but a lawyer is unable to develop new business. For many years, I have made health one of my key marketing and practice tools. Not only is prevention of serious illness a goal, but maintenance of an everyday healthy disposition is vitally important. Relieving stress and staying healthy make one more effective, and, surprisingly, taking care of oneself is not as difficult as it seems. Discipline is important: Once you set some health rules and routines in place, you must stick to them, except in the case of a client emergency. Simple things like proper diet and sleep can produce great results. The rules and routines one sets should be for day-to-day (e.g., taking vitamins) as well as “big picture” (e.g., taking vacations) health concerns. With this in mind, following is a list of some of my health marketing rules and routines: � Eat three well-balanced meals each day. Breakfast is important. Focus on foods that provide energy and (especially with lunch) will not put you to sleep. For energy, don’t be afraid to eat snacks during the day; however, avoid junk food. And, stay away from too many meals at fast-food restaurants. � Try alternatives to coffee. Water, lots of it, works wonders. Avoid alcohol at business lunches and dinners; if you are at a big client lunch or dinner, let the client do the drinking, while you remain sharp and focused (and healthy). � Don’t always eat lunch at your desk. If you must eat a fast, working lunch, take your work and go to the nearest sandwich shop; at least you get out of the office. If you can’t get away from the office, eat in the lunchroom or in a conference room for a change of scenery; and try not working or reading law-related materials while you eat — read the comics or a good book or stare out the window. � If you have not done so already, talk to a professional about taking daily vitamins to supplement your diet and to help you maintain a strong body that can deal with the stressfulness of your practice. � Get enough sleep. Five hours of sleep a night is not enough, even if you are able to function on that much sleep; try for six or seven hours. The body must have time to recuperate and rejuvenate and maintain its strength. � Take a short “nap” during the day. I try to take one or two 10- or 15-minute rests during each day. I lie on the floor of my office on my back, arms at my side, and bottom half of my legs (from the knees down) up on a chair. Hold all calls, lock your door, and, if you need to, put a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Set an alarm if need be. These little rests do wonders for my stamina and disposition. � Work in blocks of 50 or 60 minutes. Someone once told me that the mind can handle only an intense 50 minutes of lawyering at a time; when that time has passed, she suggested, take a few-minute break: Run up and down a few flights of stairs; go outside for a breath of fresh air; sit quietly somewhere private, etc. Again, this helps rejuvenation, stamina and disposition. � Obviously, don’t work all the time. The work will always be there the next day; and, remember, clients are understanding of your health needs. Break up your routine: if possible: “sleep in” one morning or leave the office early; go to a museum in the middle of a workday; take a day off during the work week. In the end, your increased effectiveness will more than make up for the “down time.” As far as leaving work early, or arriving late in the morning, I have found that leaving early to go do something relaxing, in fact, puts much more stress on me. It seems that most of the day I anxiously focus on “having to” leave early and lose the benefits of leaving. Generally for me, taking a couple of hours off first thing in the morning — before I arrive and am engulfed by the day’s activities at the office — is much more relaxing and beneficial. � Take vacations. This is one of the hardest aspects of the good health program, especially for the sole practitioner. It is not necessary to take a two-week vacation; try taking four days off (including a weekend) several times during the year. However, even four-day holidays are not always enough — you need that “long” respite of at least six or seven days. Also, do not continually call the office or your voice mail while you are away; a vacation should be time off. � Do not just practice the art of recreation; practice relaxation as well. This is one area that requires the most discipline and determination — and yields the most benefit. Much of our down time is spent in activities that often tax the body and mind as much as work. Recreation is wonderful and has definite benefits for the body. However, leaving work in the middle of the day to rush to the gym and do a quick 30 minutes on the treadmill and 30 minutes of weight lifting, or coming into work an hour and a half later in the morning so you can play a vigorous, competitive game of tennis, or taking the day off to drive a few hours to then spend eight hours skiing is not relaxation. � Although it is difficult for many lawyers to slow down their bodies and brains enough to relax, the benefits are worth it. Yoga, meditation and getting a weekly professional massage are great examples of relaxation. Taking a quiet walk or sitting quietly in a park are more “everyday” types of relaxing. Reading, watching television, and going to the movies are not forms of relaxation. Relaxation should allow the mind and body to shut down as much as possible. As mentioned above, discipline is critical to a good health program. Equally important is not having anxiety while and about taking care of yourself. For example, it will do you little good to do a half an hour of yoga at home in the morning before work if, during that time, you are thinking of the 14 things you need to include in the purchase and sale agreement you are negotiating for a client. Do not panic: The work you need to do will get done, because taking that half an hour for yoga will help improve the ability of your mind and body to negotiate that agreement. Also critical to a good health program is a good support staff. This is especially true for the sole practitioner. Your support staff must not only be generally capable, but you must train staff to be able to handle the office in your absence. Hire good people and take the time to train them. In addition, before leaving the office for a vacation, short or long, spend as much time as possible (well in advance of leaving) going over details with staff and preparing them for any eventuality. Finally, your staff must be respectful of your time, space and needs. Whether you are trying to take a 15-minute midday nap or a one-week vacation, staff must understand why you are doing so and respect the process and the results. In certain situations, be sure to explain your situation to your clients. Primarily, clients will need to understand why you are taking some time off for a vacation; however, they do not need to know why you are doing yoga, or taking a walk in the park, or eating different foods or taking vitamins. Inform clients well in advance of your time off and what they can do if a problem arises. In my 23 years of practice, my nine years as a sole practitioner have been the hardest in terms of setting and following good health rules and routines. Even so, I have never been as able to cope with the daily stresses of my practice as I am now. As a result, my practice flourishes and the clients, old and new, keep coming back. Bruce G. Temkin is a sole practitioner in Hartford, Conn.

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