One estimate claims the number of lawyers with digital addiction could be as high as 40%, and lawyers’ need to constantly engage with technology makes it difficult to set boundaries. What can they do to unplug? In this edition of The Digital Edge, hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk to Roberta Tepper about digital addiction in the legal profession and her tips for spending less time on mobile devices. Together, they discuss the signs and symptoms of addiction, caution against “text neck”, and talk about ways lawyers can mindfully put their phones down and reduce dependence, step-by-step.
Roberta Tepper has been the lawyer assistance programs director at the State Bar of Arizona since 2013.
Special thanks to our sponsors, ServeNow, Scorpion, Answer1, and Clio.
The Digital Edge
Digital Detoxing for Lawyers
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 138th Edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. We are glad to have you with us.
I am Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I am Jim Calloway, Director of The Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is Digital Detoxing for Lawyers.
Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we would like to thank our sponsors.
Thanks to our sponsor Clio. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com. That’s clio.com.
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We are very pleased to have as our guest Roberta Tepper, Lawyer Assistance Program Director for the State Bar of Arizona, who provides practice management, and trust accounting advice, runs the Bar’s Member Assistance Program and is the immediate past president of Arizona Women Lawyers Association. She is active in the Law Practice Division of the ABA ,serves on the Law Practice Division Council, and on ABA TECHSHOW Board. She is also a frequent author and presenter.
Thanks for joining us today, Roberta.
Roberta Tepper: Thanks for having me Jim and Sharon, I am so excited to be here.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, let’s begin Roberta by telling us if you would a little bit about what you do as a Practice Management Advisor and how you became involved with the subject of digital detoxing?
Roberta Tepper: So as a Practice Management Advisor, I advise lawyers on all aspects of starting or growing, managing and sometimes winding down their practices. This includes legal technology, office practices and procedures, trust accounting, and a variety of other topics. We try to be there for our members and get them the answers they need so that they can be more successful in the practice of law.
My interest in digital detoxing came about in a couple of ways. First, was through my own personal experience. Before I focused on practice management and lawyer well-being, I was one of those lawyers other lawyers loved to hate, I was one of the discipline counsel, and I realized not long after my office issued us all cell phones that I was relentlessly checking mine in the evenings and on the weekends. After I ruined an entire weekend obsessing about a nasty email I had received from opposing counsel about which there was really nothing I could do until the following Monday, I resolved to start unplugging.
Then when I started working as a practice management advisor and became involved with our Member Assistance Program, I could see that lawyers were wearing out, they were stressing out, they were burning out, and in significant ways that was because they were accessible at all times by phone, by their screens, they were checking, they were never giving themselves any downtime. They were working 24/7 and when they were include to their screens, they were thinking about being glued to their screens.
And I was talking to new lawyers with under five years in practice who were really ready to throw it in and stop practicing. And then just personally looking around at an airport or in a restaurant and noticing that people sitting at the same table were not actually speaking to each other but actually texting each other or looking at something on the Internet just really brought it home to me that we had a problem.
Jim Calloway: Are there any striking facts about this subject that you think our audience should know?
Roberta Tepper: I do. Lawyers, generally speaking, suffer addiction and substance use disorder at a higher rate than non-lawyers. What we don’t usually focus on is digital addiction. And one estimate puts the number of lawyers with digital addiction at between 20 and 40% of lawyers and there are some very scary facts relating to our use of digital devices.
We check our phones an average of 47 times a day, about two-thirds of us check our phones within 15 minutes of getting up, half of us sleep with our phones on our nightstand or even worse, in our bed. About 80% of lawyers check their work email on vacations. And when you measure all that together, about half of our waking life is spent looking at some kind of screen.
Sharon D. Nelson: Those are scary statistics.
Roberta Tepper: They are terrible.
Sharon D. Nelson: And we were really lucky to have the great pleasure of speaking together on this subject. So I feel very funny because I’m asking you questions that I generally well know the answer too because we gave the presentation, but for the sake of our audience. Tell them what the heck is text neck and what can it do to you?
Roberta Tepper: And I will tell you it feels a little strange to be giving you answers that I know you know. But text neck, it sounds both terrible and benign but it’s becoming an epidemic and it is caused by keeping your head down in the position we use when we look at our and I’ll use cell phones but it could be anything, it could be tablets, it could be laptops. So basically it is the epitome of bad posture.
And if you think about it, the human head when it’s seated the way it should be upright, weighs somewhere between 10 and 12 pounds but what medical professionals tell us is when you bend your head forward and down, the weight exerted by that position of your head increases the pressure on your spine.
One article in 2014 estimated that smartphone users spend between two and four hours a day looking at their phones and I would say that is a very, very low estimate for today’s world. So doctors tell us that when you’re looking down at your phone, and you have that position, you’re putting as much as 60 pounds of pressure on your neck, which was really designed to hold a 10 to 12 pound head. So you are increasing the load on your neck about five or six times.
Text neck has been linked to headaches, neurological issues, compression of vertebrae, depression, heart disease, that could go on but its – that’s scary enough.
Sharon D. Nelson: It sure is.
Jim Calloway: So I guess the lesson from this is I should try to hold my phone higher, right?
Sharon D. Nelson: Right exactly less pressure.
Jim Calloway: Roberta, what are some of the symptoms of digital addiction?
Roberta Tepper: At some level, addiction is addiction. If you think about alcohol or drug addiction, many of the symptoms are the same; focusing, obsessing, being unable to step away from your digital screen, all of those things are things that you would think about if you thought about oh a drug addict, they need drugs all the time, or an alcoholic, they crave alcohol or think about alcohol.
And we like to think that digital addiction is different but really it isn’t. Something that manifests itself with digital addiction though is this fear of missing out. Of course because it’s digital it has an abbreviation it’s FOMO but it’s the incessant checking of our devices because you might miss that Facebook post or the tweets or an Instagram picture. And that brings disruption to just every aspect of your life.
So if you know somebody who is displaying anxiety because they have to put their phone down or turn it off, you know somebody who is showing at least one of the potential signs of digital addiction.
It can lean to loneliness, to isolation, it’s not hard to think that if you are in a room full of people but you are glue to your screen, you’re not going to be interacting, think about how many times someone can ignore you before you finally start to stop trying. And so, lawyers and other people are finding it very isolating.
In the worst stages of digital addiction, addicts can feel phantom phone vibrations. They force themselves to look thinking they missed it. They can force themselves to wake up, it disrupts their sleep cycle. They can experience attention deficit disorder.
We’ve heard that the average person’s attention span is now less than a bird and that’s second, the difference between maybe eight and six seconds. So if you can’t focus on anything for more than eight seconds before you feel compelled to check your phone, that’s probably the most severe sign of digital addiction.
There’s also brain freezes, anxiety, and stress and if anybody has ever had sore eyes at the end of the day, looking at the big screen with your head up, imagine what you’re doing to yourself looking at the little screen with your head down. And sometimes, we do see lawyers that really just lose track of time. They are not getting their work done, they’re not being productive, they’re not serving their clients.
And it’s because they’re so focused on what’s going on in the digital world that they just can’t disconnect.
Sharon D. Nelson: Okay Roberta, I got to ask you, you said our attention span is less than — I think you said a bird, it’s a fish right?
Roberta Tepper: That’s right, less than a bird.
Jim Calloway: The birds and the fishes.
Roberta Tepper: If you think about and you know what, fishes are good examples too. If you’ve ever watched one and you notice how awesome it’s just twitch around, that’s our brain now, because we’re so used to that instant input of digital images.
Jim Calloway: This really feels like a conversation between three addicts, but —
Roberta Tepper: The self-reporting part will come later.
Jim Calloway: So before we move on to our next segment, let’s all try not to look at our cell phones while we take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is Digital Detoxing for Lawyers and our guest is Roberta Tepper, the Lawyer Assistance Programs Director for the State Bar of Arizona. She provides practice management and trust accounting advice, runs the bar’s membership assistance program and is the immediate past president of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association.
So Roberta, why do you think lawyers seem so susceptible to digital addiction?
Roberta Tepper: I think there’s actually two reasons. One is slightly less nefarious to me at least and I think lawyers are susceptible because so much of our working day, we are forced to use digital devices. You can barely even think about the practice of law anymore without mobile devices, without a computer, without a tablet, without your cell phone.
It’s just part of the culture that we built and in fact, I mean we encourage lawyers to embrace technology to be more efficient to better serve their clients and so, we’ve put the alcohol in front of the alcoholic and that brings me to the second reason, which is it’s sad but lawyers are really, really, really good at hiding or denying addiction.
I mean lawyers make some of the most resolute drug addict and alcoholic because we are used to manipulating the fact. We are usually smart, we are usually involved in one face to the public and one face to our ourselves, our private face, and so we are really good at — on hiding the symptoms.
So before it becomes a problem, we’re not inclined to do anything about it. When it becomes disruptive which is a later sign of addiction, that’s when we finally decide to do something about it.
Jim Calloway: Roberta, if someone’s concerned about this subject, how can they find out how much time they are spending on their digital devices?
Roberta Tepper: Okay this is the ironic part, there’s an app for that.
Sharon D. Nelson: That’s true.
Roberta Tepper: So we’re going to tell you to digitally detox and be aware of it but we’re going to tell you to use your devices to get that information. So there’s apps like Moments that can tell you how much time you’re spending on your phone and what apps you’re using most. Dashboard is a feature on new Android devices, it can measure your screen time by activity.
It may even suggest screen breaks in apps like YouTube. You can use QualityTime, it will tell you how much time you spend on each app. It will tell you the number of times you check your phone and the number of times you open an app and can suggest ways to restrict your app usage.
There is a digital well-being app in production, which is ironic yes again. On iPhones, if you go to Settings and Battery, you’ll get a list of your apps and how much time you spend on the screen. There’s a Screen Time feature on newer iPhones that tells you how much time you spend on each app.
So there’s plenty of software out there, there’s even Windows software called ManicTime, how appropriate or for Mac, it’s called Qbserve. All you have to do is a search. I know again irony to see that there are new apps being developed all the time.
Sharon D. Nelson: I said the same thing. I recently gave this lecture again with someone else, why do I feel guilty saying that. It was my husband Roberta so but –
Roberta Tepper: Okay fine.
Sharon D. Nelson: But in any event, we mentioned the same thing that it was kind of funny that we’re recommending an app to cure digital addiction, and it is, it has irony to be sure. But right now, sessions like the one I just got through teaching last week that involved digital detoxing are just really hot.
I mean I had people coming up afterwards saying, you really made a difference in my life today. Now, that’s a pretty strong statement, which probably suggests that their digital addiction is probably pretty strong too. But as the entire country begins to focus on lawyer wellness, are there some tips you can offer our listeners to help them spend less time on their devices.
Roberta Tepper: Sure. The first thing is you don’t have to go cold turkey. Sharon and I both had a conversation with a colleague and she said you don’t understand, if I turn off my phone I have to spend twice as much time catching up and that’s just worse and it just makes me feel anxious about what I’m missing.
And so, you don’t have to do — we’re not trying to launch you from digital addiction into anxiety, that’s not the goal. So don’t go cold turkey, but do set some boundaries, do decide on time that you can turn your technology off and not just on vibrate, but off that means you won’t check your phone or your tablet or your whatever.
So maybe that’s dinner with the family or at the movie or your kid’s ballet recital or lunch, you can use technology to help you, you can use auto-replies to let people know that you’re not available and when you’ll get back to them, you can use out of office messages the same thing, you can let them know you’re not dead, you haven’t turned off your practice but you won’t be available for the next hour.
It can help to turn off notifications on email or other apps, because this way, you’re not getting that ping-ping-ping of their stuff waiting for you. It’s sort of that same Las Vegas slot machine thing where it’s lights and buzzing and noises and that makes you want to play more, the same thing works for digital detox.
And have a support plan. If you’re a solo or a small firm lawyer, we know you can’t just go dark but you can arrange for coverage, you can use a virtual receptionist, there are a lot of alternatives for that and it’s not going to be easy. It really isn’t like any other addiction, you’re going to struggle with it.
So ask your beloved friends and family to kindly, not nastily, but kindly support you in this and not text you, perhaps they save their instant question of do you want macaroni and cheese for dinner for an hour or so.
And then the new thing, seems like the newest thing out that I seem to be reading articles about almost daily is using dark mode or grayscale, and that is because the blue light from the phone stimulate our brains and it makes it more conducive for you to check your phone.
And then finally don’t apologize. Just tell people I won’t be available during dinner. I won’t be available my daughter’s Valley recital is coming up. I’m turning off for an hour or I tell my friends don’t text me if you think I’m driving, because I won’t answer. And if they do well, you know that’s on them not on me.
Jim Calloway: Okay, intervention from friends.
Roberta Tepper: Exactly, I still have friends believe it or not.
Jim Calloway: So we’ve talked about intervention, now we have to move on to rehab. I understand you know something like digital boot camps, what are those?
Roberta Tepper: Digital boot camp is like group therapy to detox. Some of them are seven days long. You turn in your cell phone when you get there you did not get it back until you leave, and I know for some people the anxiety is just building up in them hearing that, but one of the purposes is they reintroduce you to life without screens. You actually read books that are on paper, you have a conversation. You burst water balloons. You do mindfulness kinds of exercises, there’s crafts and art and yoga and it all sounds very much like the movement towards lawyer well-being, and in fact it is.
But these are enforced periods of time when you are not permitted to access any kind of technology.
Sharon D. Nelson: So I have a funny story to tell you Roberta. One of my employees actually, actually went to a digital detox boot camp and she was completely prepared to cheat, she brought her phone with her, everybody else at the retreat had finally admitted that they had brought their phones intending to cheat. And it turns out that they went into some far corner of West Virginia where no company at all had signal. So those phones were just bricks, and they all live to tell the tale.
Roberta Tepper: And probably instantly checked for voicemail.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, actually she said that when she took, got her phone back it felt like Jacob Marley putting on the ball and chains again, so I think she did actually learn something.
Jim Calloway: Well, that’s very interesting folks. And before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is Digital Detoxing for Lawyers, and our guest is Roberta Tepper, Lawyer Assistance Programs Director for the State Bar of Arizona.
Roberta, I know that lawyers need to help themselves, but I think there’s a real responsibility that’s not being met by those who are in law firm management to help make sure that their lawyers are assisted in digital detoxing where needed. What can they do?
Roberta Tepper: You’re absolutely right Sharon, because the law firms who still expect their lawyers to bill 1,500, 1,600, 2,000, 2,200 hours, they’re just creating the environment that digital addiction will flourish. So they have to change their culture. They need to re-educate themselves and their lawyers because now we’ve built a culture of I didn’t sleep at all last night I was on my phone all night, isn’t that great.
And so we have to turn that on its head and build a culture where lawyer well-being is prioritized. The National Task Force on lawyer well-being created numerous recommendations for every aspect of the legal profession and one of them was for law firms.
So if you are rewarding lawyers for being glued to their screens, that’s what they’re going to do, but if you prioritize well-being, some big law firms have hired well-being directors, some offer mindfulness or meditation breaks.
As a matter of fact here at the State Bar of Arizona, we have a weekly meditation break for 15 minutes and none of our hourly employees have to check out, we go into a room, we have a guided meditation, nobody brings their cell phones or they turn them off and it’s great.
So law firms have to do the same kind of thing. They have to create a culture where people feel free to unplug and feel free to take that break from the digital world.
Jim Calloway: Well Roberta, I’d believe that most lawyers and frankly most people in today’s society are not surprised and feel like they spend too much time with technology and particularly their mobile devices, but Sharon and I like to give concrete takeaways to our listeners. So how do you get started making improvements and what’s the plan, what are your first steps?
Roberta Tepper: So the first step is to take the first step doesn’t that sound circular, but it’s true. Decide the one thing you can do without provoking anxiety in yourself.
So maybe if when I get home at night I will sit down to dinner and for that, whatever it is 15 minutes, I will turn my phone off. It’s one thing you’re probably not going to get any calls at all, and it will let you start believing that that’s possible, and then start creating your plan. You need to have a strategy if you’re going to turn off or two now, and I sound like must be leery, but it’s a plan you need to make and then you need to do it, because experts tell us that it takes at least three weeks to form a new behavioral habit and digital addiction is difficult because it’s both brain centered and behavior centered. And so it’s going to be hard for those three weeks.
So ask your friends for their support by not texting you during dinner or say I eat dinner with my family or alone or in front of the TV, from 7:00 to 7:15 don’t call, and then that’s fine.
So just figure out what that one thing is that you can do that causes you the least anxiety and then do the next hard thing and the next hard thing and before you know it, you will have created a new habit that will be to not be glued to the digital screen.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well I want to thank you so much for joining us today. This has been wonderful and you’re right, a journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step and you have to deliberately take it and then build on it, and I think that you’ve shown kind of a roadmap to people for how they might — how lawyers in particular might be able to do that successfully.
So thanks for giving us your time today, Roberta. It was a lot of fun on top of everything else.
Roberta Tepper: Thank you both for having me. It has been my pleasure.
Sharon D. Nelson: That does it for this edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. And remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or in Apple Podcast. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us in Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Good bye Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails cowboy.
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