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Nothing But the Ruth
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Lawyers at Standing Desks: Benefits and Drawbacks

By Ruth Carter

Recently, I was blown away by how awesome a fellow lawyer’s office is. It’s not very big, but it has a standing desk by a window that overlooks downtown Phoenix, opening up the rest of the space for an oversize leather couch and armchair. I loved the layout, and he loves his standing desk. This inspired me to seek out other lawyers who use standing desks to hear their experiences.

I created a survey and was surprised by the number of responses: 29 people from across the country told me about their personal and their firm’s experiences using standing desks, including Kevin Marciano and Joe Cotterman, shown in the first two photos below, respectively. In one instance, the entire office uses standing desks.

Kevin Marciano, Marciano & MacAvoyAbout half of the respondents said they chose a standing desk to improve their health, or because they learned it was detrimental for the body to sit all day. A quarter said they got a standing desk because they had back pain. A handful were inspired to get one because they knew someone else who had one.

No one reported problems acquiring a standing desk. In most cases, their employer was intrigued. Most reported that colleagues responded favorably and with curiosity, and that the new desk was a conversation piece. Their desks even inspired several other colleagues to get one of their own. Cooper Cargill Chant in New Hampshire keeps a “demo” standing desk so people can test-drive it before asking the firm to purchase one for them.

The variety of desks people use ranges from custom-made to economical DIY setups. Some standing desks are actually stands that sit on a traditional desk, while others are stand-alone standing desks.

Joe Cotterman, Andante Law

There are also adjustable desks that can be used while standing or sitting — if you have one of these, my friend advised getting rid of your chair for a bit to force yourself to get used to standing.

Many respondents recommended getting an adjustable desk so you can sit when necessary without needing a separate desk. This also helps ensure that you have the proper ergonomic settings for your body’s proportions. Several people recommended getting a mat to make the hours of standing more comfortable, and possibly a tall stool.

Everyone who participated in the survey had thoughtful feedback about the advantages of having a standing desk. Here are some of the highlights:

“It leaves a bunch of room to pace. I love pacing, especially on the phone. Plus, with little to no sitting areas in my office, it makes for sub 10-minute meetings.” — Carlos Sanchez, Lindabury McCormick Estabrook & Cooper

“I have a lot more energy now that I stand all day. Leading is also much easier while standing — I find that I am more direct and more persuasive when speaking while standing.” — Lori Tripoli, author, “Contemporary Law Office Management”

Office of Barry Benjamin“The advantage of having a stand-up desk is that I don’t feel like a sloth, having sat in my chair at my desk for eight to 10 hours straight. Maybe this is psychological more than actually physical, but I do feel like my blood flows better and I am more alert during the day.” — Barry Benjamin, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, whose desk is pictured at right

“I feel good — I also find that having to stand for my computer I do less mindless activity, i.e. Internet browsing.” — Steven M. J. Bost, Miller & Bost

“It makes me want to work harder, especially toward the end of the day when my legs become a little sore. My back has also hurt less.” — Marc Burton, The Burton Firm

When asked about the drawbacks, the most common answer given was “none.” However, some reported getting sore legs and feet, and that having a standing desk gives them less desktop workspace. Having a standing desk may also result in less storage space, exposed cords and a monitor that wobbles a bit. It can also be awkward when people come into your office, because they don’t know if they should stand or sit. Then again, when you don’t want people in your office, this may encourage them to leave!

If you’re considering a standing desk, Luke Schmerberg of Schmerberg Law says, “Don’t be afraid to pay for quality. A good standing desk should be first of all a good desk. Make sure that it’s a piece of furniture you can live with for several years. If you don’t treat it like a novelty, you’ll get much more out of it.”

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the new ABA book The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers, as well as Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.

Illustration ©ImageZoo.

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Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet, and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” In “Nothing But the Ruth,” they write about the lessons they’re learning while building their practice. Ruth blogs at UndeniableRuth.com and tweets @rbcarter.

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