Sunday, January 9, 2022
I finished my first book of the year this weekend—The Law Student’s Guide to Doing Well and Being Well by Professor Shailini Jandial George. Although it is geared toward law students, as I will explain below, it is a book that most lawyers would greatly benefit from reading. And, with the new year upon us, what better time to focus on wellness?
Let’s face it, we are part of a stressed-out profession. The result—high levels of depression and substance abuse. For most of us, the pandemic has exacerbated our stress. I have certainly seen it in my own life, especially surrounding attempts to balance caretaking duties with work. Appellate practitioners are fortunate in that they often have more day-to-day flexibility in their schedules as opposed to litigators. My husband, for example, recently moved from a litigation position to an appellate position in part because his court schedule offered little flexibility, which added to our family’s stress. And while there are other books out there on lawyer stress and wellbeing, I really appreciate, and learned much from, Professor George’s recent book.
Professor George’s book tackles the wellbeing crisis among lawyers from an interesting perspective. She focuses primarily on the topic of cognitive well-being, or maximizing the potential of one’s brain, which relates to the “do well” part of the book’s title. As she explains, there is a “deep connection between brain health and wellness,” so by “doing well” we can “be well.”
Early in the book, Professor George sets up the importance of the brain as a tool of the lawyer’s trade—a image she returns to throughout the book. Just like a musician would care for her instrument, lawyers should care for their brains. Stress, distraction, poor exercise and diet, and a lack of sleep do a number on our brain. I certainly see that in my own life. Professor George devotes a chapter to each of these topics and offers self-reflection exercises and practical tips to improve our brain health.
So much of what she wrote resonated deeply with me, but let me share just a few points that especially stood out. First, I learned a lot in the chapter on focus and distractions. Did you know that “[t]he more we us the part of our brain activated by distractions, the more we weaken the part of our brain needed for deep focus”? Or that a group of researchers compared the cognitive ability of multi-taskers and persons who “had just smoked marijuana,” and the marijuana smokers “came out on top.” Yikes. I have certainly seen my ability to focus reduced in recent years, and I do think that the constant distractions of 24/7 connectivity and social media play a role. Professor George offers some excellent tips for improving focus and reducing distractions. One that I might put into practice more this new year is turning off distracting notifications on my computer and putting away my phone for a period of time each week to allow me to focus on some big projects both at work and at home, which with the pandemic are increasingly blended.
Second, I was struck by the connection between diet and exercise and brain health. I know that exercise and diet are good for physical health, but I never really thought about how diet and exercise impact my ability to think. Professor George offers specific foods to eat (and avoid) to improve brain health. She also describes how different types of exercise impact cognitive ability and offers different types of exercise to improve different aspects problems you might be facing. Perhaps the most personally striking statement she made was to encourage her readers to find their own “internal motivation” for exercise, noting those who exercise for the “internal benefits” tend to enjoy it more and stick with it better than those who do it for a special event. Now that I have hit a certain (undisclosed) age, the thought of keeping my mind and body in great shape to keep up with my active children is very important.
The last point that I want to share is the general applicability of Professor George’s book. While she did write it for law students, nearly all of it can be directly applied to lawyers, even the self-reflection exercises. It isn’t hard to take an exercise that has you look at a successful study session and apply it instead to a successful brief writing session or trial prep. Most of the self-reflection exercises are even more general than that (for example, the reflections on sleep, exercise, and diet are very general, with only one easily deletable reference to law school). And before you try to argue that you don’t have time for a self-care book, Professor George’s book is an easy, short read. Her style is delightful and funny, and the book weighs in at only 134 pages (excluding notes and the index).
Not only can the book be directly applied to practicing lawyers, but I believe that we have as much, if not more, to gain from it as law students. I did a good job practicing wellness as a law student. I find it harder now, with both work and family demands, to keep it up wellness practices.
I am usually not one for New Year’s resolutions or a word to apply to one’s year, but reading Professor George’s book has made me think about adopting “self-care” as my 2022 theme. She ends her book with a final self-reflection that asks readers to come up with concrete things from the book that they can implement this day, this week, and this month. I still need to sit down and do that exercise (there is no quiet in my house on the weekends), but it is certainly something that I need to do. I know that focusing on self-care and “doing well” will make me a better professor, mom, and spouse.
I would encourage any reader who wants to “do well” and “be well” to pick up this book. In full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy to review, but the book is well worth its low sticker price. I would encourage law firms and law schools to make this book available to employees and students. It would also make an excellent text for a law school class or CLE on wellness.
 I have two young children ages 3.5 and 1.5.
 When he applied for his new job late last year he calculated the last day he had been working but not in court. It was in June…of 2020.
 The number of times I have “lost” my cell phone since my 3.5 year old was born is pretty astounding.
 I do know the importance of sleep on my ability to think, but that is largely because my kids are still really young so good sleep is rare in our house.
 Good thing too. It seems like all the special events are canceled these days…
 Especially on the diet part—feeding four people, one of whom would live solely on dino nuggets (not on the approved food list) and yogurt, is a challenge.