HOT SPRINGS – Justice William C. Mims has been leading the charge for lawyer wellness for more than a year now.
Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons tapped him to chair a special committee of the high court last year; Mims has been involved in most of the wellness initiatives across Virginia, often appearing before bar groups and other lawyer gatherings to spread the word about wellness.
When he was first appointed to chair the court’s effort, Mims spoke of the need for a “culture change” in the profession. During the past year and half, a change indeed has come. The many efforts on a variety of fronts are detailed in a story on page 2.
But Mims likes to make a call for wellness personal, inviting each lawyer in an audience to examine his or her own personal and professional situations.
Early on, he struck on a useful analogy – that of an automobile.
Imagine a six-cylinder car, Mims told members of the Virginia Bar Association on July 26 at the group’s summer meeting at The Homestead.
It functions “by firing on all six cylinders,” he said. If one ignition coil fails, the car does not work efficiently or well.
In his example, the number six is intentional.
The National Wellness Institute has developed a model for work/life balance called “The Six Dimensions of Wellness” (see graphic).
Under the model, a person needs to remain cognizant of six dimensions of life: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual and occupational.
By keeping these aspects in equipoise, one can work best to achieve personal wellness.
Mims noted that the six dimensions are interrelated. “They are not silos,” he said.
Each person is not “equally strong in all areas,” he added.
And it is valuable to recall that “we work to live, not live to work.”
Mims explored each of the dimensions with suggestions and tips for achieving success in that area.
Mims counseled VBA attendees to practice “self-care,” reminding mindful of one’s own health and needs.
“As lawyers, we tend to pour all our efforts into our clients,” he said, noting the phenomena of
“compassion fatigue” and “vicarious trauma” are real.
A lawyer can take on a client’s troubles if he or she is not careful.
One should seek physical exercise on a regular basis, Mims said, citing a story that found that 45 minutes of exercise four times a week lessens “depressive tendencies.”
Get plenty of sleep, he said. “Seven to eight hours regularly.”
And focus on “achievable dietary changes,” he advised.
The book, “Eat This, Not That,” can be very helpful in identifying good nourishing foods, he said.
The justice said that it is important to “acknowledge your emotions, especially anxiety and depression.”
As lawyers, “we hide these.”
There is no stigma to asking for help, Mims said, as anxiety and depression are “challenges we face.”
The best approach: Find stress management techniques that work for you, Mims said.
Meditate. Take a short walk. Have a “2:00 a.m. friend” you can call if you are facing a crisis, he suggested.
Spiritual wellness is closely related to emotional wellness, Mims said.
“We tend to be uncomfortable talking about this,” he acknowledged.
He said that he finds solace and value in daily prayer meditation readings, but the approaches can be many.
“Find a community of those who share your beliefs,” he urged.
Mims recommended a book called “The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction” by Virginia lawyer Justin Earley.
This book, published this past February, offers advice on how “to practice a rule of life that aligns our habits to our beliefs,” according to the book’s publicity.
Mims cited an NPR report that reached a simple conclusion: “Middle-aged men need more friends,” he said.
According to the Surgeon General, Mims said, “Isolation is a bigger health problem than cancer.”
To counterprogram the loneliness and isolation, the justice urged the attendees present to “find a social outlet – volunteer.”
Be deliberate in nurturing old friendships and developing new ones, he said. “Plan a lunch once a week.”
And participation in online social networks such as Facebook doesn’t count, he noted.
In legal niches and particular practices, “we can become narrow,” Mims said, counseling the need to remain intellectually curious and open to new learning.
He reminded the audience that “you can audit any course at a Virginia public university at no cost.”
And if you don’t want the commitment of a semester-long class, “Read something you don’t have to read. Go to museums. Take lifelong learning opportunities,” he said.
Mims said that studies have indicated that workers are unsatisfied with their jobs or careers when their work is not meaningful, when there is no security, when they feel they get no respect or when they feel financially insecure.
Many of those problems frankly are not as frequent for lawyers. “We are generally blessed in the legal profession,” Mims admitted.
But he advised his listeners to “be aware of those benefits.”
Mentor others and share that awareness, he urged.
Within a law office, Mims suggested lawyers should “develop a team mentality in your firm.”
A healthy approach, he said, is that “you all are a team working for the client.”
Drawing his discussion to a close, Mims urged his audience to have a resolve for the future “but be open to change.”
He cited his own example: In 2006, he became chief deputy attorney general after 14 years in the General Assembly. He became Attorney General in 2009; he then spent a short stint at Hunton & Williams before his election to the Supreme Court in March 2010.
One of his daughters wrily noted that he had had four jobs in 14 months, he said.
The moral to that story: “Doors open, so travel light to be able to go through them,” Mims said.