A study that involved over 13,000 working lawyers recently reported that
- 28 percent lawyers suffered from depression
- 19 percent of lawyers had severe anxiety
- 11.4 percent of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year
These findings paint an urgent and grim picture of the health of those in the legal profession, which begs the question, how can more lawyers build a successful career while also prioritizing their mental health? So I sat down with Michelle Fonseca-Kamana to learn more about her trajectory and her approach to law, business and self-care.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how important taking care of your mental health is to your career.
My name is Michelle Fonseca-Kamana and I am the Founder and Principal Attorney at West Coast Lemons APC, a law firm specializing in California lemon law. The legal profession isn’t exactly known for being particularly mental health friendly, and as early as law school the hustle culture and competitive nature of this industry is ingrained in you. During my career I’ve had the fortune of working for firms that had decent work-life balances, and I’ve also had the misfortune of working for some pretty toxic workplaces as well. Having those experiences has allowed me to see firsthand that it is possible to be successful in this industry and have a work-life balance, and it’s helped me understand the consequences, both mentally and physically, of prioritizing a career over your own health.
2. What does self-care look like for you as a founder?
As a founder, I am more in control than ever over my self-care which is fantastic! I try to get some form of exercise every day, whether it is going to my local bootcamp, going for a run, or walking my silver Labrador, Pumbaa. Having a routine is also very helpful since it takes the guesswork out of my day and gives me one less thing to have to worry about.
3. How do you deal with your most stressful days on the job?
If I know I have a big court hearing or event, I’ll try to keep my schedule light the following day to give myself time to regroup. Being a business owner is a marathon, not a sprint, so I know I need to make sure to guard my time and energy. Spending time with other founders, especially other female law firm owners, has been my other secret weapon to navigating everything life throws at me as a business owner, attorney, wife, daughter, sister, dog mama, etc. Having that group of women that you can be blatantly honest with about your biggest struggles and insecurities (and realizing you’re not the only one going through these things) has been one of the most important keys to keeping my mental health in check.
4. How has your self-care shifted in the last 2 years?
While the pandemic has brought us the wonderful world of working from home, it has also complicated that elusive work-life balance. It’s hard to shift from work mode to home mode when you’re still under the same roof (and probably still in the same yoga pants)! I’ve had to be more intentional about my daily routine to make sure I don’t get sucked into working 24/7 from the comfort of my own home office.
5. What advice would you give to any woman with a demanding career that is trying to find balance between work and their personal life? What self-care tips would you give them?
Set clear boundaries and stick to them! For me that entails having strict working days and hours and that means I often have to say no or not be available the second someone needs me. I’ve also found that not giving myself the opportunity to check my email after hours helps keep me in check, because once I open up those emails it’s so easy to fall into that “this will only take 5 mins” trap that let’s be honest, can quickly spiral into a 5 hour work bender. Having a great support system is another key. I’m incredibly thankful I have a partner that respects how hard I work, but that also makes sure I don’t forget my real priorities. After all, founder or not, what’s important at the end of the day is not going to be how many hours you worked, what’s important are the people you got to spend your life with.