Put Yourself on Your Own Priority List

When I entered the University of Tennessee College of Law in May 1990, my physical well-being was the last thing on my mind. The institution where I studied law is not the opulent building of today. Most of my exercise in law school consisted of climbing the submarine-like steps in the library. But 22 years have passed, and focus on my physical well-being has shifted to front and center.

In May 1990, my priority became obtaining my law degree and the job I wanted after graduation. Over the past 22 years, my earthly priorities have been my family and my firm. Anyone who practices with me and knows me well has heard me say that my firm and its members are my family. Friends and faith share top billing as well. But as I entered mid-life and as I watched many of my mentors age out of the practice of law it dawned on me that “I” was nowhere to be found on my priority list. With two children and a husband, who is an attorney, a mother who is 85 and largely my responsibility, an active and very busy law practice, and managing Lewis King’s Nashville office, which has been blessed with exponential growth over the past 15 years, there was little to no room for me on my priority list. But that all changed in late March of 2012.

As spring blossomed in Nashville, it dawned upon me that now was the time to insert Lisa into the list of priorities of faith, family, friends and firm. As I watched my mentors age and retire, I realized I am now at the helm. I have become the mentor who taught me to always be professional; treat all others, even the janitor, as your equal; that mentor who taught me to always give 110 percent for your clients and goals; that mentor who told me no legal issue is insurmountable, if you surround yourself with the right team; and that mentor who taught me to make the way easier for those female attorneys who come behind me. And it dawned upon me that if I were going to have the health and stamina to continue as a lawyer, a mentor, and a leader, my health, and consequently I, had to be one of my main priorities.

For at least 14 years (and it is no coincidence that my first born is 14), my life centered on time with my children and my law firm practice, perhaps in equal parts. I am blessed to work in a firm that allowed me to work part-time for more than 10 years. But when I was not at work, I was spending time with my children. I was present for them, not for myself. My exercise in these 14 years consisted of walking the kids and walking the dog. I knew during these years that I needed to get in better shape. You see, I had always been someone who was in pretty good shape … until I had children. I played tennis all my life, even in college. Once I had children, however, all extensive exercise stopped. But I always thought I could get back to my roots if only I could lose a few pounds. I tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Atkins…nothing worked. I had worked out off and on at a local gym, but even that did not do the trick. Then, in late March 2012, as I once again searched for a solution, I thought of a program called "Boot" that had worked for some folks. On a whim I called and made an appointment to investigate the program.

That one call has transformed my life. I did not start Boot immediately because my husband and I took the kids to Paris for Spring Break. But if you have had the pleasure of travelling with my husband in a foreign city, you know you walk about ten miles a day — so Paris kick-started my transformation. Since April 1, 2012, I have placed my nutrition, my cardio, and my weight training at the top of my list, along with my faith, family, and firm.

In April, I immediately began working out with a personal trainer for one hour five days a week from 6 to 7 a.m. I did cardio for an hour to an hour and a half at the end of the work day, and I ate a special prescribed diet of “clean” foods balancing carbs, protein, and fat. In addition, I increased my water intake to at least 120 ounces per day. I followed that regimen for twelve weeks. Since that time I continue to work out with a trainer three days a week early in the morning, do cardio five days a week, typically a four-mile run, and I eat clean, which means only the foods on my approved list. I do allow myself one “cheat” meal per week. I limit alcohol to two glasses of wine a week and continue to throw back the water. I have lost 35 pounds, and I have never felt better or younger.

The most enjoyable and therapeutic portion of my plan is the personal training. However, the cardio and clean eating are also important. Let’s face it: being a lawyer is STRESSFUL! But in 22 years I have found nothing that gives me clarity, calmness, and perspective like an hour with a personal trainer. It is a cliché, but there is definitely something about working out and lifting weights that is good for the soul. I cannot imagine that psychotherapy could be any more beneficial for the mental state. If we can encourage more lawyers to get to the gym and off the couch, off the unhealthy food, off the alcohol, we will all be a lot less stressed. A wise mentor once told me, the practice of law is a marathon not a sprint. We all need to train for our own personal “marathon,” pace ourselves, and make ourselves a priority.

To say I enjoy my beauty rest is an understatement, and at first getting up at 5 a.m. to get ready and eat a balanced meal before my workout was extremely hard. But feeling good is addictive; being in shape is addictive. I have discovered the better shape you are in, the less sleep you need.

I also have a few friends and loved ones who have been bitten by the personal-trainer bug. Here is what they have to say as well:


Jason Long, an attorney with London Amburn in Knoxville and who is East Tennessee Governor of the Tennessee Bar Association:

What did you do to refocus yourself on working out?
I signed up for Operation Boot Camp and worked with them for two months last summer. While I did not get the one-on-one attention of a personal trainer, it wasn’t far off. The ratio was about 1 counselor to every 2 campers. Also, when the going got particularly difficult, I often had two or three counselors focusing on me and helping me along. Of course, I didn’t have the benefit of privacy with Boot Camp. However, I found that I got over the embarrassment at my poor conditioning fairly quickly.

Why did you decide to participate in Boot Camp?
Peer pressure. A fellow attorney was already attending the camp, and he insisted that I come along. I am glad he did, although at the time I was cursing his name. He was rightfully concerned about my health habits, particularly considering that I have two young children. Ultimately, I decided to go because I wanted to have a better quality of life with my children. I wanted to have the energy to keep up with them.

What personal and professional benefits have you seen from a regular workout schedule?
In all candor, I stopped working out with Operation Boot Camp about 5 months ago. I had several schedule conflicts that made it difficult to maintain the workout routine. However, during my time with the boot camp, I did find I had more energy during the day and I slept like a rock at night. The workout occurred at 6:00 a.m., so I found myself at the office earlier and was able to accomplish a great deal before the day started for most people. I was more confident and felt better about myself because I was working to improve my health, and that translated into a better attitude at work and home.

What changes in lifestyle and stress level have you seen?
While in Operation Boot Camp, I became a morning person. I was up at 5 a.m. to prepare for my workout and my day. This meant that I was able to accomplish a great deal before the office became too active. As a result, I believe I was more productive, which naturally lowered my stress levels. At night, I did not toss and turn with concerns over work. By the time we got the kids to bed, I was too exhausted to do anything but go to sleep. I do believe the regular sleep patterns contributed to the reduction in my stress level and overall health.


My partner at Lewis King, John Tarpley, former Tennessee Bar Association president, former chair of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) and current chair of the ABA Journal editorial board:

What convinced you to start working with a personal trainer?
One of my friends told me that a doctor shared with them that what you do between ages 55 and 65 sets the stage for the quality of your life from ages 65 to 80. Regrettably, I am at the age where I have to consider issues like that. Plus, I almost lost a weight-loss bet last year. I don’t like losing, so I am going to make that up to myself this year.

What is your workout schedule?
I work out five times a week. My goal is an hour with a personal trainer two times a week and some type of aerobic exercise three times a week. I have modified my diet drastically. I have had to teach myself what and how to eat.

What do your workouts do for your stress level?
If you know me, you know I live in a pressure cooker, and working out makes stress levels more manageable. And as frightening as this sounds, the time spent working out gives me more time to plot and scheme.


And Bill Harbison, former general counsel to Tennessee Bar Association, past president of Nashville Bar Association, and an attorney with Sherrard & Roe:

What do you enjoy about working with a trainer?
At the beginning, I dreaded going to the gym — and now it’s something I look forward to doing as a treat for myself.

How often do you work with a personal trainer?
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m.

What good tips have you learned that you can share with our readers?
One of the best things my trainer suggested is for me to drink lots of water and to eat more frequently.


My husband will tell you I definitely have an obsessive gene. Perhaps it is that gene that has allowed me to have an extraordinarily fulfilled life, great husband, wonderful, well-adjusted, healthy kids, and a thriving career. And it is that gene that made it possible to lose 35 pounds in seven months. But that obsessiveness brought me to a new place with my new priorities, and I intend to be around for another 22 years of practicing law as well. Look for me in the office, in the gym or on the road.

LISA RAMSAY COLE is the managing shareholder of the Nashville office of Lewis King Krieg & Waldrop. She is a member of the TBA’s Attorney Well-Being Committee.