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Fitness and the law: How do students succeed at both?

Ab Initio
|Written By Ted Flett
Fitness and the law: How do students succeed at both?

The overachievers that we are, few law students let a new year pass without jotting down, or at least taking mental note, of a few resolutions. Like the rest of the world’s goals for 2016, many of them involve health and fitness.

It’s not easy for a law student to shoehorn exercise among the competing demands in a schedule. But for some, it’s a matter of survival.

“I love it and it definitely helps me clear my head after a long day. I am usually more productive afterwards as well,” says Louis Luciani, one of the University of New Brunswick’s most affable 3Ls, of his exercise.

The Toronto native also says workouts give him a second wind.

“I feel that when we get tired at school, it’s more mental than physical. Everyone hits their point in a day where they just can’t be productive anymore. So breaking the day up and going to the gym helps me mentally rejuvenate. I also think exercising helps me to push myself further during stressful times like exams; focus longer, stay up a little later, wake up earlier.”

Combining his weights and cardio routine – “nothing crazy heavy,” he says – with a healthy diet gives Luciani ample stamina. And he notices when things go off the rails.

“I do try to eat healthy and think it’s important,” he says. “During this past exam period, my schedule was hectic and I didn’t eat how I usually do and I definitely felt it during the day. Just not as bubbly as I usually am.”

As disciplined as he is, Luciani admits to ditching the crunches at crunch time.

“I don’t mind sacrificing gym time and health to do well in school, as weird as that sounds.”

Word on Bay Street is that obstacles to balanced living only multiply during articles, so it’s best to button down healthy habits now.

“It can be challenging overall,” says Adam Pennell, an articling student at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto. “I typically train with weights and cardio three to four times a week. In law school, this would be in the evenings or after class. When you article, you have to readjust your schedule based on other lawyers’ and any client demands. This now means going before work, so typically between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. during the week and once on the weekend.”

A predisposed evening exerciser, Pennell struggled with the shift in his routine. He is coming to appreciate morning workouts but notes he needs to be flexible in his approach to the usual weights and cardio routine.

Despite the schedule juggling, Pennell sees the benefits of the adjustment.

“A workout is important. Even if it’s not going crazy in the gym, some physical activity like more walking, running outside, or swimming is crucial for taking my mind off of work and maintaining my health. I feel that I am in a better mood and am more productive during the day if I have a regular routine going.”

Pennell started exercising during his undergrad; it’s a passion that continued throughout law school at the University of Ottawa and has persisted into articling. He encourages law students to develop a physical fitness routine sooner rather than later. “Habit formation is not something that starts overnight,” he says. “You need to begin laying the groundwork earlier and continue building up. It is easier to adapt a good workout routine and continue with it instead of starting from scratch.”

Just down the hall from Pennell on BLG’s commercial litigation floor, Marty Sclisizzi is living by example. The senior partner has been spinning and winning in the pursuit of health and fitness for decades. But even he admits that his physical activity decreased once he began practising law.

“In my late 40s, I had an epiphany that started me on the return to a higher level of physical activity.

“Being physically fit has kept me mentally fit,” says the 68-year-old. “It has helped me maintain my energy and endurance levels beyond persons 20 years my junior. I also find that the healthy physical stress of exercise helps me better handle the mental stress of the day-to-day rigours of a litigation practice. So for me, the workouts increase energy and reduce stress.”

He admits the routine is not always easy to maintain. “The demands of a busy litigation practice make it challenging to maintain a routine of physical exercise. However, you have to make time to work out that interferes the least with the practice, then stick to the routine.” For Sclisizzi, that means early mornings just like Pennell has learned.

“For me, it is 6 a.m.,” he says. “I schedule no appointments or meetings before 8:30 a.m. I find that nothing gets in the way.”

At the turn of the millennium, he leapfrogged from the back of the spin class studio to the front as an instructor.

“I teach the class on the bike and ride as hard as I want the persons in the class to ride. I think my age inspires the much younger riders to try to keep up with me.”

“There definitely are consistent problems,” says personal trainer Brandon Connerty of his lawyer clients. He estimates that nearly half his clients at a Bay Street-area gym are lawyers or legal types, given the neighbourhood.

“As far as goals are concerned, lawyers are just like everyone else. They want to be healthier and look good naked, but the consistent problems in their lifestyle make those goals extremely difficult,” he says. “A major one is making time and committing to the gym. If the lawyer is new to the field, this is even more challenging as their schedule is dictated by tight deadlines, client meetings, and bosses who need things done yesterday. So, even if they have good habits and workouts booked in, they generally fall by the wayside when any sort of deadline is on the horizon.”

Connerty says late nights, lunches on the run, client meals with alcohol and dessert are a dangerous combination that lawyers face. “High stress, low sleep, lots of booze and calories are going to be the biggest challenges.”

“If you start looking out for yourself during the high demands of law school and making time for your physical health, it will start you off with the right habits when you are in a demanding practice,” Connerty says to law students.

“Make yourself and your health a priority and you will find you last much longer in your field. Find a firm that is health oriented, that would understand the importance of staying healthy. Learn what works for your body — both food and workout wise. Some people respond better to low carb, some people like paleo, some people like CrossFit, some people like weight lifting or spinning. And finally, get a trainer.”

So, happy holidays and let 2016 bring less case briefing and more bicep curls!

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