How Attorneys Can Make Time to Stay Healthy

On January 10, 2017

How Attorneys Can Make Time to Stay Healthy

By Jeff Sailing
(Jeff is an attorney turned educator, and a regular contributor to the LAP Blog as well as other industry publications).

Everyone knows that attorneys log a lot of hours; this fact is regularly depicted in television shows and in movies. Most people have friends who are attorneys who can attest to the fact that they leave early in the morning and return late at night. This means that attorneys have to get smart about time management. For the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss how to keep up a regular gym schedule, because I believe this activity has the double benefit of keeping us healthy while also teaching important lessons about using time efficiently.

Let’s start at the beginning by taking a look at why attorneys are so time-crunched. Attorneys work so many hours because they are generally compensated on a billable hour model. They may work 12 hours a day, but only 8 of those hours are billable. The average billable requirement at a law firm is between 1700 and 2300 hours per year. This means that in order to make your minimum billable requirement, you wind up working well over the 1700 to 2300 hour range. Furthermore, this billable time does not include lunch, commute, or exercise. Yale Law School did a great break down of this analysis (

For this article, we will assume that commute and work total 12 hours a day. This leaves you with 12 hours a day to do everything else in your life. While this may sound overwhelming, it is really an opportunity to get efficient. Personal efficiency can translate into professional efficiency.

Next, let’s take out the time needed for sleep. I know that 8 hours a night is the standard, but that is not true in the legal world. 6 hours is a good night for me, so I will split the difference and use 7 hours. Now, we have 5 hours a day for life. When we only have 5 hours left, it is hard for some to grasp that 20% (1 hour) should be spent doing some kind of physical exercise. But, it is definitely what I would recommend.

First, let me acknowledge that it is easier said than done. With that out of the way, your life will be greatly improved if you make that time. You probably have a family, loved ones, and close friends you want to spend time with and it can be very difficult to take an hour away from them when your time is already limited. Even so, physical exercise is crucial for both mental and physical well-being and will allow you to make the most of the rest of your life.

First, let’s discuss the mental side of things. Exercise is invigorating! You feel great once you are done and there’s a sense of accomplishment associated with a workout. For these reasons, I always recommend trying to exercise in the middle of the day. It is a great way to break up your day and get extra energy for the afternoon. In as short a time as two weeks, you will find that you are more productive at work and go home with more energy than before you started this routine. This extra energy will help you focus in the office. As opposed to being tired, you will have the focus and energy to find that key document for your case or write a more compelling motion. Unfortunately, not everyone can break up their day this way.

If midday workouts aren’t a possibility, a morning or evening workout still accomplishes its goal. It gets your heart rate up and you start feeling better. Another key to working out is finding a ‘gym buddy.’ I spent years working out alone where I wasn’t able to make improvements; I did not get stronger, gain muscle, or lose fat. I needed someone to push me and to say they were going when I didn’t feel like it. I needed to foster their motivation through myself! When I found that person, I started adopting better habits and began to see a change. Ideally, find a couple of people and create a small support network so that you always have someone reminding you to go to the gym.

Now, let’s look at the physical side of things. If you work out, you will be in better shape and, simply put, you will improve your quality of life. I often tell my daughter when she complains that I just got home and am leaving for the gym that I am staying healthy to make sure I stick around for a while longer. Granted, she just looks at me and rolls her eyes, but it doesn’t change the truth behind the statement! Ideally, she and her mother will join me at the gym—this goes back to that support network I mentioned above. But even on the days when they are occupied, I still make the time for my own fitness routine.

The best thing about the physical change is how it adds to the mental benefits of working out regularly. Once you start feeling the physical improvements, you start feeling better about yourself as a person in addition to the focus and energy I mentioned above. You have more energy to spend with family or attend events. You have more confidence to close a big client or try something new. Most importantly, you start getting into this positive habit and it becomes easy to go back to the gym. If you haven’t been working out regularly, no one wakes up and finds it easy to go exercise. I won’t lie—those first couple weeks are rough. You may be trying to balance a complicated trial, writing six motions, training a new associate, and planning for some upcoming out-of-town travel. But once it becomes part of the routine and you start seeing the benefits, it becomes much easier.

Once you’re at the gym, do what works for you! You are there to work out—to sweat—and you need to figure out what keeps you moving. It doesn’t matter whether you like yoga, spin, weights, or stairs. I think that everyone can benefit from some strength training alongside some cardio workouts—there just needs to be a mix of activities. When I lived in Miami, I did a lot of spin. In Austin, I did a lot of yoga. I enjoyed it all! Some days, I like to go along with what my ‘gym buddy’ wants to do because I like mixing it up. Now, in the Windy City, my cardio comes from basketball. It is fantastic. I get a great work out and get to meet a fun group of guys. This is another great side effect of being a regular at a gym: you always find a bond with others and it makes it more fun to go.

To sum it all up, just like it was a process to learn to become a law professional, committing to a workout routine is a process. You will fall off the wagon, and you will have some weeks where you just don’t find the time or you’ll get an injury that throws you off. What is important is that you keep getting back in there, which is why I write this article as someone who continually tries. I was involved in team sports in high school and college, which means that right now I am not near where I have been in the past or where I would prefer to be. That having been said, I keep trying and I keep finding new ways to manage my time so that I can be around for my family. This is also about me—I want to feel good starting each day. Walking to the office wakes me up, gets me focused for the day, and helps me become a more complete eDiscovery educator. Ironically enough, I pushed back going to the gym to write this article, so I better cut it off here and get to my work out!

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