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President's Page by Brett Landis

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” - Audre Lorde

Self-care is surprisingly hard. I am writing this after a week where I have been unable to find the time to return a call to schedule a medical appointment, fill out my passport renewal paperwork, and caught a cold because I was trying to do too much all at once. When I had Covid in 2020, I was too busy to take a full day off of work. I suspect, I am not alone in these bad habits. With so many demands on our schedules, how do we even find time for self-care? The short answer: we find it because we have to.

Self-care is a difficult concept for lawyers. We’re trained from law school to prize being over-worked and under-rested. When I was a law student, I overheard a conversation between classmates before exams. “I’m so tired, I studied until the library closed last night.” “Me, too! I stayed up studying at home until 2 AM.” Having gone to bed early, I kept my mouth shut.

The image in popular culture of bubble baths, a glass of wine, or a mani-pedi appointment is a nice one, but one that feels like a luxury, not a necessity. A meme went around a few months ago that pointed out that these were not actually self-care, but coping mechanisms, short endorphin boosts to get us through times of stress. One of the most rejuvenating self-care experiences I have given myself was when I took an hour of personal leave to run errands for myself. The amount of space that freed up in my mind was huge! It may not have been as glamorous as a bubble bath, but it did so much more for me.

Real self-care looks different from the popular images. It involves things like going to your regular medical and dental check ups, building regular exercise into your schedule, and knowing what your support network looks like when you need to call on it. I want to challenge all of us to think about self-care in a different way and emphasize its importance to our overall health, physical and emotional.

I talk to the volunteers, staff, and interns in my office about self-care frequently. I probably do this to remind myself of its importance. I also do it because people who are doing public interest work often fall into the trap of thinking that self-care is “selfish”. This way of thinking is understandable, especially for those us who work in practice areas where our clients are dealing with traumatic situations. To be honest, this includes most lawyers (family law, criminal defense and prosecution, personal injury, probate, etc). Our clients are dealing with so much, and the issues are so important to the clients’ lives that it feels somehow wrong to take time for ourselves. But, taking time to care for ourselves is necessary. I try to remind myself that if I burn out helping one person now, that’s hundreds of people I will not be able to help in the future.

Self-care is critical to our ability to continue to work at our best. We feel better and think better (and more efficiently) when we recognize our needs. We are better advocates for our clients when we are able to take care of ourselves.

Finally, I highly encourage anyone who is stuggling to find self-care balance to seek out support. Many employers have Employee Assistance Programs which will pay for a variety of self-care resources. Additionally, as attorneys, we have a wonderful resource in COLAP (Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program) which provides free and confidential services to legal professionals in our community. You can reach COLAP at :303-986-3345 or at their website: https://coloradolap.org/.

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