By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A couple of weeks ago I was working with a trial team and was present when one lawyer was profusely apologizing to another for wanting to go home. She knew there was still work to be done, she said, but she wanted to see her son before he returned to college. It was 9:45 at night. That dynamic can be pretty familiar for trial veterans. The stakes, the volume and difficulty of work, and the team structure can all create a psychology that discourages and penalizes that most basic of human needs: rest. I once worked for an attorney who saw it as a sign of weakness if any members of his team wanted to eat lunch. He ate very late at night, he explained, only when he was too exhausted to do anything else. That might feel productive, but it isn't. Any short-term advantage in making a little more progress in the moment is going to be outstripped by the long-term harm. And it is not just that exhaustion leads to mistakes. It is that, without a chance to pause, there is also no time to reflect and to relax into the kind of quality thinking and assimilation that a complex litigation situation demands.
Research confirms that rest and reflection improves processing and learning. A recent study reported in Psyblog (Schlichting & Preston, 2014) provides fresh confirmation of the cognitive benefits of relaxation. Study participants who were able to take a break to reflect on what they had learned were able to perform better on subsequent memory tasks. Dr. Alison Preston of the University of Texas at Austin explains the reasoning behind the results: "We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come." That experimental finding is buttressed by my own practical experience as part of many trial teams. A "No Rest for the Wicked" attitude is sometimes necessary for short sprints during emergencies, but over the marathon of a long trial it ends up holding parties and witnesses back from optimal performance