Michelle Suskauer, Florida Bar president and Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein attorney, West Palm Beach As attorneys, we work in a very high-stress profession and our personal well-being often takes a back seat to all of the other demands in our lives. We are tethered to our electronic devices, which keeps us connected 24/7 and makes it difficult to detach and decompress. This affects us all, from the solo practitioner to in-house counsel to managing partners. As a criminal defense attorney, I’m always on call because people rarely get arrested during business hours. As a small firm lawyer, I know the stress of representing clients and keeping the lights on, and now I also must manage my Florida Bar responsibilities. As a mother and wife, I need to make time for my family, too. It’s a tough balancing act. I’ve learned to toss out the idea of perfection and, instead, work to be the best I can be every day. That’s why mental health and wellness remains a top priority under my leadership. The bar is currently developing programs to help attorneys, whether it’s wellness apps, well-being coaches, virtual counselors, free bar CLEs and a possible mental health crisis hotline. Ultimately, a functioning justice system depends on functioning attorneys.
David Miller, Bryant Miller Olive partner, Miami For years, I've joked that the main motivation for many lawyers is fear — the sheer terror of making a mistake, missing a deadline or just plain being unprepared. Maybe this goes back to law school where your entire grade for a class rides on a single final exam that covers the whole course. Or to that professor who loved to rake students over the coals in front of the class if they hadn't read the assignment. Anyway, my greatest single source of stress has always been this anxiousness to get it done, to get it done on time (which means "early") and to be prepared when the client or the judge looks you in the eyes. That and only that has been the thing that could keep me up at night. Any other stress-producer — unprofessional opposing counsel (a major pet peeve), difficult problems, massive amounts of work — I've always been able to compartmentalize. These things go in the "work" box when I leave the office, and I can manage not to obsess over them until the next day. But not that terror of the unprepared. The only thing that has ever helped me to relieve that stress is simply to go to work on whatever it is. I don't have to finish, and I don't have to solve the problem. But if I just make some progress, the fear slithers back in its cave for a while. At least until the next time.
Tanaz Salehi, Kelley Kronenberg partner, Miami What is the more stressful part of your job? The most stressful part of my job is balancing the justice I seek for my clients with the issues we face in court with backlogs and opposing counsel who aren't interested in a fair result. I have to work on reassuring myself that justice sprouts in unexpected places and at unexpected times. I remind myself to just do the best I can, be patient and believe in the cause. What are the techniques and approaches that are useful for addressing it? I visualize the worst- and best-case scenarios, imagine all possible facets of each, and then find my way in the center, where most of life happens. Visualization helps a lot. It's not unlike meditation, just much more goal focused.
Anne Reilly Flanigan, Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman litigator, Fort Lauderdale She says stress comes with the job, of course, but the best way to combat the stress is to find a way to detach from the phone. “We are all so connected 24/7 that it is difficult to relax. I found that working out is a wonderful way to both detach and de-stress. The physical activity of working out is very healthy — and you can’t watch your phone if you are in the middle of training!” She is committed to interval training and yoga on weekends, and she tries to find time in the evening to work out as well. “It’s the best way to maintain my sanity,” she said.
We asked readers to share the stress they see in the legal profession and how they deal with it. Coping options came from the Florida Bar president on down. Suggestions for taming the stress range from working directly on the stressor at hand to visualization and exercise.
For anyone in search of programs that could help, here are some options:
• Florida Bar Mental Health and Wellness Program
• Florida Lawyers Assistance
• University of Miami Mindfulness in Law Program
• National Alliance on Mental Illness
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline