The practice of law is stressful, period. Technology has only increased the pressures of a legal career. When I started practicing 22 years ago, to-do lists were kept on notepads, missed calls were jotted on pink slips, and letters were dictated and typed on typewriters. If it was necessary to deliver unfavorable news to a client or opposing counsel, you sent a letter via snail mail with the assurance that it would be at least two days before the other shoe dropped.
Today, my to-do list is effectively my email in-box, which contains between 200 to 250
items on any given day. When clients or opposing counsel want to confer with you, they
start with an email, then place calls to your office phone and cell phone, and follow up with
a fax and a text. The ease with which we can now stay in touch and connected to anyone
and everyone has only added to our ever-growing must-do lists and increased the stress of
practicing law. Because of the mounting pressures in our profession, it is more important now
than ever before for lawyers to find and adopt positive and healthy ways to manage stress.
Self Care Becomes a Priority
It is no secret that I manage my stressful—yet fulfilling—life and practice through exercise
and healthy eating. But it has not always been that way. When I started my practice in
1993, health and stress management were not on my list of priorities. I was in my 20s and
maintained my health without stress, never giving it a second thought.
My viewpoint began to change when I entered midlife a few years ago. As I watched
many of my mentors age out of the practice of law, it dawned on me that taking care of
myself was nowhere to be found on my list of priorities. With two children and a husband
who is an attorney, an 85-year-old mother for whom I am largely responsible, an active
and busy law practice, and the management of Lewis Thomason and its almost 90 attorneys,
there was little room for me on my priority list. It was up to me to make a change.
Each morning before preparing breakfast for my two teenagers and getting myself ready
for the day, my first order of business is to run several miles. I also work out with a personal
trainer at least three mornings each week. (I do have to admit, however, that I typically
read and reply to some emails before I tie the laces on my running shoes, so I’m not already
running behind before my day even begins.)
After working out, I eat a healthy breakfast and pack a healthy lunch and snack for the
day. I eat “clean” (consuming only the foods on my trainer’s approved list), limit my alcohol
intake, and drink at least 120 ounces of water per day. I do allow myself one “cheat”
meal per week. I have adhered to this routine for the past three years, and have lost 35-40
pounds in the process. Most importantly, I no longer feel stressed, despite my inordinately
long to-do list and overwhelming responsibilities.
The Therapeutic Value of Physical Activity
The most enjoyable and therapeutic part of my routine is the personal training. Again,
I recognize that being a lawyer is stressful. But in 22 years, I have found nothing that gives
me clarity, calmness, and perspective like an hour with a personal trainer. It is a cliché, but
running, lifting weights, and just being active is truly good for the soul and better than
the best therapy money can buy. I encourage all lawyers to get off the couch and go to the
gym, cut out unhealthy food, and limit unhealthy quantities of alcohol. In return, you will
be less stressed and have more energy.
A wise mentor once told me, “The practice of law is a marathon, not a sprint.” We lawyers
must train for our own personal marathon, pace ourselves, and make self-care a priority.
Look for me in the office, in the gym, or on the road. I hope to see you in my path. The
practice of law is stressful, but exercise reduces stress. Period.
Lisa Ramsay Cole is the president of Lewis Thomason, which serves regional and national
clients from its offices in Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville, Tennessee. Cole is also
the managing shareholder of the firm’s Nashville office and can be reached at