Lawyer Wellness Show Notes:
In this episode, Brandon Osterbind talks about lawyer wellness and how our legal profession struggles with wellness. He dives into the question of what wellness looks like in our community and why it is important for you to hire a lawyer who is well. Brandon has been a practicing lawyer for 12 years and works hard to create a law practice that he loves going into every Monday morning. Legal work should be fulfilling and fun.
Announcer: We promise we are not a bunch of stuffy old lawyers saying stuffy old things. You heard that right. This is the Insight to Injury podcast sponsored by Osterbind Law, PLLC, the podcast that reports to you, central Virginia, about what's going on in the injury and disability world. We answer all the questions you don't even know to ask. Now here's your host, Brandon Osterbind. Let's get started.
Brandon Osterbind: Good day, team Osterbind. Thank you for joining us for episode five of the Insight to Injury podcast. Brandon Osterbind here. I wanted to come to you today and talk about something that is very interesting, I think. And it might be a little controversial when it comes to my fellow lawyer friends, but I wanted to take a minute and talk about these things, because I think it's important for the general public to hear some of these things that are being discussed among the legal circles.
Brandon Osterbind: And what we're going to talk about today is lawyer wellness. And you may wonder, "Well, I'm not a lawyer. Why should I need to listen to a podcast about lawyer wellness?" I'll tell you why. Because if you don't have a well lawyer, then you're not going to be well-represented. The American Bar Association came out with what they call a lawyer wellness report a couple years ago. This has become kind of its own thing in bar committee meetings and American Bar Association meetings, and Virginia State Bar has done a lot of study and they've talked a lot about lawyer wellness and why lawyers in Virginia in particular are not well.
Brandon Osterbind: And the American Bar Association, the cover letter that accompanied the report in 2017, this is three years ago now, says, "To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer." Let me repeat that. "To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer." Follows that up with, "Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to lawyer well-being." Now that is a problem. That is a significant problem, not just for the lawyers who are not well, but also for the clients that they represent. And that's why I think that you need to listen to this podcast so that you can understand what's going on behind the scenes and you can make decisions accordingly.
Brandon Osterbind: So today I want to talk about lawyer wellness and what that actually looks like and what you should be looking for. And when you're looking for hiring an attorney, you don't want to hire a lawyer who is burnt out, who has too many things going on, and who's going to put you at the bottom of the heap and just forget about you and because of all of these other issues going on.
Brandon Osterbind: Now, some of these reports are pretty comprehensive and they talk a lot about the problems and they attempt to come up with some solutions. And I just want to talk to you today about my philosophy as it relates to lawyer wellness. I'm a lawyer. I've been a lawyer for 12 years, and Kelly has been a lawyer for 13 years, and between the two of us, I think that we talk a lot about this, these very issues because we've experienced all of the same risks, all of the same conditions that other lawyers have experienced. But somehow I feel like we've come out of the other side not having to deal with some of the main issues that a lot of lawyers deal with.
Brandon Osterbind: And I'll tell you, one of the big issues that we see, and we especially see now during quarantine, if you guys spend any time on social media or on Instagram or TikTok or Facebook or whatever it is that you spend time on, you'll see a lot of people in general spending a lot of their time in the middle of the day or in the morning drinking alcohol. And I think that alcoholism is a significant problem in our culture, but it's also a significant problem in the legal profession.
Brandon Osterbind: I remember when I was looking at law schools, there were several law schools that had a standing tradition of drinking days or things like that. And that just did not appeal to me, because I know that alcoholism is a significant problem in our culture and it doesn't help. There's a country song just the other day on the radio that talked about how alcohol essentially cures all problems. And I just don't think that it does. And I don't think that alcohol in and of itself is necessarily an evil thing, but I think that it can be transmuted into that if it's used or abused to excess. And I think that the risk is there, and I think some people are more prone to the risk than others. But I think that alcoholism is a significant problem in our culture and in our culture of lawyers.
Brandon Osterbind: But when I think about hiring a lawyer who is well or a lawyer who is good, and I think that according to the American Bar Association report, those two things could be synonymous. Just because you're well doesn't necessarily mean you're a good lawyer, but if you are unwell, if you are not healthy, then I think that the ability to be a good lawyer is significantly hampered because of all the other things going on in your life. Whether it be depression, anxiety, unusual degrees of stress, or other mental health issues or other substance abuse issues, those things will significantly affect the practice of law.
Brandon Osterbind: So if you are a client and you're approaching this from a perspective of, "I want to hire a good lawyer. What should I be looking for?" there are a couple things that I think, at least in my experience, represent a healthy lawyer. And the first thing that I'll say with respect to what does living a healthy life, a healthy lawyer look like, is that the lawyer is living the life that he or she wants to live.
Brandon Osterbind: I cannot tell you how many bitter, disgruntled lawyers there are out there. In conversations with non-lawyers, with people who are thinking of becoming lawyers or who want to be a lawyer and are considering going to law school, the reaction is almost always, "Why would you do that? Why would you put yourself through that misery to become a lawyer?" And I think that that is a prevailing mindset in the legal profession. And my response to people when they say, "I want to go to law school," I say, "Awesome. What are you going to do with that? How are you going to make other people's lives better?" And I think that there is a role for a lawyer to do just that, to make other people's lives better.
Brandon Osterbind: That's why we're here, to help people, to change the way people function, to change their legal circumstances. And I think that we can be an agent of significant change in people's lives, and law school is just one step to get there. Now, law school is a significant amount of stress. It is a lot of work. It makes you work long hours and it conditions you to do the hard work that it takes to represent a client. But at the same time, it also prepares you to be an overworked, overstressed, overeating kind of lawyer who is not well. And that is something that I think our law schools probably ought to address and some of them are addressing in our society today.
Brandon Osterbind: And I think if the culture of the legal profession is that you work 12, 13 hours a day every single day, you never take a Saturday off, you work from home on Sundays, you drink alcohol to excess every single day of your life, then I think that you're going to be burnt out. You're not going to care anymore about anyone's problems, any other clients' problems. "Those are not my problem, and I'll just go in there and wing it and we'll see how it goes," and, "Well, it's not my problem," kind of thing.
Brandon Osterbind: But there's so much pressure out there to do more and to work harder that I think it makes it so much more difficult for lawyers to live the life that they want. And there are so many lawyers out there that aren't living the life that they want. And to those lawyers, I'll just say this. No one's stopping you from living the life that you want. If you don't want to be a lawyer, then stop being a lawyer. Go find something that you love and do it well. This is a Gary V. concept. I don't know if you guys have heard of Gary Vaynerchuk, but he is a marketing guy and he's very abrasive and very loud, but he's also very right when he says that if you're not happy that's on you. Go find something that you love to do and that you're good at and go do it better than anyone else.
Brandon Osterbind: And to lawyers who are not living the life that they want, they're not going to represent you as well as a lawyer who is living the life that he or she wants. So if you're looking for the kind of person who will represent you well, look for someone who is loving what they do. Look for someone who enjoys the type of law that they practice. Look for someone who has a philosophy of their existence.
Brandon Osterbind: I think that's very important to have core values that guide where you are going to go, what you are going to do, and more importantly, what you're not going to do. If there is something, if there's an opportunity that comes my way that does not fit within my core values, I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to do it, because it doesn't fit in where I place in the world. And that is ultimately what I want to do. I have carved out a niche of where I exist in this world and that's where I want to live, because that's where I get the most enjoyment out of my life. And if I can get that enjoyment out of my life, then it's a good thing for me to represent clients. It's a good thing for me to go to court on this case. And I think that the attorney and the client ultimately benefits from that.
Brandon Osterbind: I think number two, that the lawyer that you have needs to create his or her own reality. And what I mean by that is that we all have the power of agency. We all the ability to act as an effective agent for ourselves, reflecting, making creative choices, and constructing a meaningful life. This comes from a book by Paul Napper and Anthony Rao called The Power of Agency. I think that we all underestimate ourselves and what we are able to do and how we're able to do it. I think that we all have the power to create our own reality. And I don't mean like a virtual reality. I don't think that you understand that that's what I mean.
Brandon Osterbind: What I mean is that we have the ability to create our best life. So if we enjoy drafting documents and creating estate plans, then do that and do that really well and turn other things away. Most lawyers that I've experienced have this FOMO, this fear of missing out. It's very difficult for people to say no to things that don't fit within their core values or their core principles. But we have the power to create our own conditions, our own work space, our own script, if you will.
Brandon Osterbind: If that means I'm going to go on a walk at 10:00 every morning or I'm going to wake up and exercise at 4:00 every morning or I'm going to put my phone down at 5:00 every night, not going to look at it or I'm going to block off three to four hours a day where no interruptions are allowed. Those are conditions that we can create ourselves that will allow us to reflect, make creative choices, and construct a meaningful life. I don't mean just sitting down for four hours and doing nothing. I mean sitting down and focusing and accomplishing immense amounts of work and effort just by creating that circumstance that allows you to focus and to be creative and to exist apart from the daily grind.
Brandon Osterbind: The next thing I'll say is that you want to look for a lawyer who is able to step away from the practice for a period of time. One of the things that the Virginia report on lawyer well-being recommends is taking regular vacations. A lot of lawyers, especially solo and small firm lawyers, don't take regular vacations, and I'll tell you why. It's the caveman mentality, which is true to a certain extent, but it's eat what you kill out there. If you're a small firm or a solo lawyer out there, most of these businesses are run on an eat what you kill basis. So if you're not out there going to court, you're not out there making money. And if you're not the one making money, then you can't step away. No one can step away. And I think that is a struggle that a lot of people have.
Brandon Osterbind: And one of the things that has changed my mind on how to look at vacations is a couple of people who I've read and who have written extensively about it, and the first one is Michael Hyatt. And Michael Hyatt talks about going on a month sabbatical. That means walking away from his business for an entire month. Now, Michael Hyatt is not a lawyer. He is a online leadership and marketing expert, started off as kind of a blogger in that space and while he was the president of Thomas Nelson publishing. So it was a pretty large company, doing a lot of things, and making a ton of money, and he was running the ship.
Brandon Osterbind: He started this blog while he was the president or CEO of Thomas Nelson publishing and which is just a huge organization. And his blog just went off, and he was making money from it and he decided to turn that into his own business, and now he does a ton of stuff that is well beyond just blogging. He offers some significant products. I buy a lot of them because I just like the way he thinks about the world. But one of the things that he has talked about extensively was how to go on a month sabbatical. And I started reading these things probably a year and a half, two years ago, and it has made me want to do just that. I have never done it, but one of the things that Michael Hyatt challenges you to do is to kind of back into the end result.
Brandon Osterbind: So he asked the question, "What would have to be true in order for you to take a month sabbatical and ultimately walk away from the business?" And I think the answer to that for me is to build a business that functions without me. That's not to say that I don't function within the business. I function significantly within the business. But to build a business that can function for a short period of time without me and still bring in money and still pay expenses, and everything still runs on the back end without me making it run. And I think that's significant, because a lot of small firms and a lot of solo lawyers out there just don't think that way. That if you are eating what you kill, then you have to do everything. And if you have to do everything, if no one can do it as well as you can, then that means you can't go anywhere anytime. And that's very stressful and that's a problem.
Brandon Osterbind: But I think if you're looking for a lawyer who is healthy, then you're looking for someone who can step away for a period of time. And even if it's not for a month, maybe it's two weeks, maybe it's three weeks. I know that we have a two-week vacation planned this summer. We're going to go to the beach and just sit on the beach, listen to the waves crash, let the kids play, and create that mental space in my mind where creativity can exist.
Brandon Osterbind: I think that we all need a rest and recharge period, and the difficulty of not getting that means that when time comes to be creative, we haven't created that space in our mind for those ideas to flow freely. I can't tell you how many ideas I have on vacation or how many ideas I have in the shower or how many ideas I have on the lawnmower. Those are places where I feel I am resting or recharging, and that's where your best ideas come from. Ideas for cases will just pop into my head and I'll jot them down so that I can come back to them later, but I'm not going to sit down and work on it, because I want other ideas to come just as freely. But we have to create that time, that space away from the practice of law so that we can function freely and create that space in our mind to be more creative.
Brandon Osterbind: Another person that talks a lot about this that has influenced me is Mike Michalowicz. He wrote a book called Clockwork that is all about creating a business that runs itself. Now again, he doesn't talk about creating the business and walking away, and I have no intention of doing that. I wouldn't want to do that. My idea is to create a business that still makes money while I'm away, but that I love to work in.
Brandon Osterbind: I want my business to be a place where come Monday morning, I'm excited to get there. There are so many places, workplaces where people hate to go to work. Hannah Bowie and I were just talking about this just the other day, and I want our place of business, I want our law firm to be a place where our team loves to come to work. I started asking Hannah probably the first, I think it was the first Friday after her first week with us, I said, "Are you having fun yet?" And I've probably asked her that question maybe once a week on Friday ever since then, and just because I think that when you work it should be fun.
Brandon Osterbind: I don't think work should be stressful or should be high anxiety. I think that what we do should be fulfilling in our lives, and to a degree that needs to be having fun. Does that mean that some of the work is not hard? No. There is stress, there is anxiety, there is hard work to be done. But just because something is hard doesn't mean that we shouldn't enjoy it. And I do think that we should enjoy it, and I think that we should be having fun and things are so much better when you're having fun. So you want to look for a lawyer who can live the life that they want, who can create their own reality, who can step away from the practice to gain that perspective, that mental clarity of life and law and the practice and how it all works together.
Brandon Osterbind: And I think that you want to hire a lawyer who is having fun, and you can tell. Folks, you can tell if a lawyer is having fun or if a lawyer's not having fun. And maybe you can just take a glance at your lawyer's desk. Are there papers everywhere? Are there files everywhere? Is everything disorganized or is their desk clean? Is their desk organized? Does it appear like they have everything together? Is their office clean? Do people in their office smile? That's a big one, folks. When someone answers the phone at a law firm and just says, "Law offices," I'm always just stunned and I feel like I'm interrupting, and I hope that no one ever gets that feeling from calling Osterbind Law, because when we answer the phone, you're being greeted by someone whose job it is to greet you with joy. And I hope that you experience the amount of joy that we have in our lives.
Brandon Osterbind: We spend a lot of time together. Our team spends a lot of time together. We like to spend time together. We like to go out to lunch together. We like to go out to dinner together. We like to spend time together, and I hope that you can all feel or experience the joys in our personal lives coming out in our work lives, because that's who we are. That is who we are as people, as individuals. And when we come together to have fun, to work as a team and to accomplish big things, to solve hard problems, that's what we are focused on doing.
Brandon Osterbind: And I think it's important to circle back to the ABA report. To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. And if you're going to hire a good lawyer, you need to hire a healthy lawyer. And there are a lot of markers that you can look for, a lot of keys that you can see. In talking with a lawyer, spending 30 minutes with a lawyer you can probably see from his or her face, whether they're loving life or whether they're dreading life, whether this is just another case or whether this is the most important thing at the moment. And I think that if you focus on those things, I think you can make better decisions when you're hiring a lawyer.
Brandon Osterbind: And if you have a lawyer who's not healthy or if you see someone in your life who is not healthy, maybe struggling with depression or anxiety, ask that person if you can help them. I'm not promoting firing lawyers. I don't think that you should fire lawyers. In fact, rarely will I recommend that someone fire a lawyer, although sometimes it is the right thing to do. But in most cases, I think that if you find someone who is in a rut, I think that you need to offer your assistance. Don't be a negative person in their lives. Be an uplifting person in their lives. Edify that lawyer, build them up, tell them the things that they're doing well, help them to live the life that they want. And maybe if handling your case or the type of case that you have is not what they are the best at or what they enjoy the most, maybe you find that out in that conversation. But I think it's important to have those conversations.
Brandon Osterbind: So I hope this has been helpful. And I know that this may be a bit controversial with my lawyer friends, but what I'll say to this is, folks, if you are not living the life that you love, if you don't love your life and if you aren't doing the things that bring you ultimate joy and fulfillment, come talk to me. I want to help you figure out how you can live your best life. That's what I do for a living. I help injured and disabled people live their best life. That's what we do.
Brandon Osterbind: And for lawyers, too, I can't tell you how many young lawyers I've met with and I have tried to mentor over the years, because I think it's important for older lawyers. And I'm not old by any stretch of the imagination. I still consider myself young, but truth is I've been doing this for 12 years and most people haven't. So lawyers out there, one, two, three, five, six, seven years of experience, maybe you're in the middle of this right now. Maybe you are working 60 to 70 hours a week and life stinks right now. I'm here for my friends in the legal profession to help you figure out a way to regulate that. Let's figure out a way to create a practice for you that makes sense.
Brandon Osterbind: I come from an abundance mindset, folks. I mean, there are plenty of cases out there for everybody and every lawyer. It's not a eat what you kill dog eat dog mentality for me. I want to help my friends build better practices that satisfy their lives. And ultimately at the end of the day, that's better for our community. It's better for our humanity. It's better for the individuals that are working within that system. And quite frankly, it's better for me. If there are people out there who are, for example, if I have a case with another lawyer on the other side and that lawyer is a miserable person, then it's going to be a miserable experience going through that case, because you just don't have the same interactions as you do with a person who loves what they do and who loves their lives.
Brandon Osterbind: And when you get to that point where you have that person on the other side of a case, that person is much more enjoyable to work with. It's a much more professionally handled case. The judges appreciate that much more, and I think the clients and the juries appreciate that much more, too. So I'm not going to sit here and say that unhealthy lawyers shouldn't get clients, because that's just going to feed their unhealthiness even more. But what I'm saying is if you are an unhealthy lawyer or if you know an unhealthy lawyer, let us know. We want to help. We want to help build a practice that will provide for the financial needs of that lawyer. We want to build a practice that will provide for the emotional needs of that lawyer, for the wellness of that lawyer. And that's entirely possible, folks. Don't think that that's not possible, because there is a way in every practice area to build a practice that provides for you financially, probably even beyond what you would have even imagined, as long as you're intentional about creating a plan and executing that plan.
Brandon Osterbind: And a lot of what I've done in the last couple of years has been based on what I've learned from another Virginia lawyer, and I just finished reading his book and I want to give a shout out to it, because I think it's an excellent book, but a lawyer in Northern Virginia, his name is Ben Glass, and he runs his own law firm, Ben Glass Law, and he does it really well. And he also runs a company called Great Legal Marketing, and it's much more than a legal marketing company. I've been a member of the Great Legal Marketing community for the last couple of years, and I'll say that what I appreciate the most about Great Legal Marketing and Ben Glass is that he focuses not exclusively on marketing your law firm, but he focuses on a lot of these things of building the life that you want, being an agent for your own change, creating the life and the law practice that satisfies your needs instead of the other way around.
Brandon Osterbind: So many people build a practice that enslaves them. It makes you a slave to the practice of law, a slave to the business. And at the end of the day that's not good for anybody, because you feel trapped. Lawyers feel trapped like they can't get out of a rat race. But one of the things that Ben Glass has challenged me to do is to create those systems inside my business that will help me live the life that I want to live. And he talks a lot about lawyer wellness in his book, Play Left Fullback, and I think you can read this book even if you're not a lawyer because it talks a lot about his path to be where he is today and a lot of the things that he does in his law firm that could be translated into just simply running a business.
Brandon Osterbind: Ben focuses on all of the different ways that he has broken through the status quo of the more you work, the more you make, the billable hour, the almighty billable hour is something to bow down and worship to and those status quo mentalities that most lawyers and law firms have that really aren't there to help anybody. Those things just drain you. They don't fill you up. They don't make you the best person out there.
Brandon Osterbind: And whenever I hear Ben speak, I'm encouraged. He's always very upbeat. He's very real and he's very raw and he'll just tell it like it is, which I think is unique in the legal community. So if I can give a short plug out to Ben Glass and his book Play Left Fullback. It's an excellent book, very well rounded. It was interesting to get a background for Ben to see where he came from, and I think a lot of what his life looked like is reflected in a lot of what my life looked like as a kid doing a lot of the same things. And that was encouraging to me, because Ben is a little bit farther along than I am in the practice of law, quite a bit farther along than I am in the practice of law. But I'm learning a lot from him, and I learned a lot from his book.
Brandon Osterbind: It was very encouraging to me to read it, to see a lot of the things that he's talking about I'm doing at least to some degree. Some of the things I could do better, and some of the things I'm doing really well, and it's encouraging to read that. So if you're a lawyer out there and you want to know how to live your best life to become a hero instead of a slave in your practice, then read Play Left Fullback by Ben Glass. Just came out a month or so ago. You can get it on Amazon or other places, I'm sure, maybe Barnes and Noble. I'm not sure where all the places he's selling it on. I bought it from Amazon. So get the book, read it, and live your best life, folks.
Brandon Osterbind: And clients out there, the general community, make sure that you are encouraging your lawyers to live their best life, to do their best work, and to have fun doing it.
Brandon Osterbind: I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, always feel free to send us an email or call us or reach out to us through our website. One way, shape, or form, you can get in contact with us. We'd love to hear from you. If you have something that you would like for me to address on the podcast or on a blog post, let me know. I'd be happy to talk about those things, whether it's life, law, recovery, finances, those sorts of things. We're here to provide support in our community, not just from a legal perspective, but from a whole person perspective. And I hope this episode has been helpful in that way, because I want people to live their best life. I want lawyers to live their best life. I want the people in our community to get their best representation.
Brandon Osterbind: And to close, to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. So figure out what that means for you. Figure out what healthy means and go do it. Just go do it. And if you need help doing it, call me. Be happy to help. All right, guys. That does it for episode five of Insight to Injury. We will see you next week.
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