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Bar News - January 15, 2014

Take a Stand: NH Bar members explore ergonomic solutions


Charles Greenhalgh of Cooper Cargill Chant walks at his Trek Desk in his North Conway, NH, office, where several attorneys have treadmill or standup desks.
When delivering bad or serious news, it’s not uncommon to tell the recipient to take a seat. But you might want to stand up for this.

Sitting too much can have profoundly negative consequences on your health, from obesity and cardiovascular disease to several forms of cancer and early death, according to medical researchers. Studies have found it doesn’t matter if you run every morning, visit the gym daily or practice yoga at night. The more time you spend sitting down, the more damage to your health.

At the Law Office of Manning and Zimmerman in Manchester, attorney Maureen Raiche Manning modified her workstation with a small wooden box and a large legal book that sit atop her desk, raising her monitor, keyboard and mouse to standing height.

“It just seems like sitting is probably not what we were meant to be doing all day long, and I immediately noticed a difference,” she said. “I’m far less tired in the middle of the afternoon, not really tired at all.”

Manning can bring her computer down to chair level in a few seconds, just by moving her wireless hardware onto the top of her desk.

“You don’t have to buy some very expensive piece of furniture that’s out there,” she said. “You can easily modify, I would assume, pretty much any desk.”

Manning’s office also has some pub-height wooden dining tables that staff use to work with files or write while standing. Manning’s partner, Anna Zimmerman, has her computer on one of these tables and does all her work standing up. She said that when she recently made the switch from sitting, it didn’t take long to realize that she would need to ditch her high heels for some more comfortable shoes, too.

Most people who read about the dangers of excessive sitting tend to start out with a low-cost standing desk solution. Bloggers and product websites tout the advantages of height-adjustable desks, but the most important thing is to have a desk that enables you to maintain good posture. Several of the lawyers we spoke to also stressed the importance of a using a foot pad or step stool to change positions and shift your weight while you stand.

Dennis Morgan, a managing partner at Cooper Cargill Chant, is one of three people in his North Conway office who have a Trek Desk – a work station that fits over a standard treadmill. Morgan walks at 1.4 mph – not fast enough to break a sweat – and logs about three miles per day. “It’s relatively quiet, so you can have a conversation and be walking at the same time, and it’s stable enough, so we haven’t had any injuries or treadmill-related accidents,” he said.

Morgan has noticed a lot of positive changes since he began walking at work. He said he has more energy, burns more calories, and just generally feels better. One drawback: “It does affect my typing,” he said. “My accuracy is not quite as good when I’m walking along as when I’m standing still, so I have to rely on the spellcheck a little bit more.”

Portsmouth attorney William Boesch created a standing desk in his office using a podium built by his son. He uses it for writing and editing. “It gives me intervals of standing throughout the day, so that I’m not always sitting, peering at the computer,” he said.

Boesch’s partner, Simone Masse, uses a special ergonomic chair without a back, which makes sitting more active, because your body has to do more of the work to keep you upright. Even these types of chairs are a major improvement over long periods of passive sitting.

Andover, Mass.-based attorney William E. Hannum III of the Schwartz Hannum firm is one of about six attorneys in his office who stand at their computers most of the time. Hannum said it takes some time to get used to standing throughout the day.

“My first day of the standing desk was quite a physical challenge,” he said. “By 11:30, I was so exhausted that I thought I might not make it through the afternoon.” Hannum overcame that challenge after a week or so, but he soon discovered another one.

“What do you do when someone comes into your office? That moment is a little awkward,” he said. Do you sit down, or remain standing? “I usually try to gauge, is this a short conversation or a long conversation? It doesn’t feel very gracious to be standing across the desk from someone if it’s five or 10 minutes. ”

One of Hannum’s partners takes colleagues and clients on “walking meetings,” where they spend an hour walking around downtown Andover to discuss business. Hannum said the firm has considered purchasing four treadmills to create a walking conference room indoors, for when the weather gets bad.

Standing desks may not work in every office, due to cost or space constraints. Ergonomic experts advise that if you are sitting at a desk for long periods, it’s best to get up and stretch or take a short walk about once every half-hour.

While it’s clear that standing or walking while working is better for your body, does it also enhance your productivity and problem-solving skills? It’s tough to say. Several lawyers we spoke to who have modified their workstations said they had noticeably more energy, and some reported diminished back pain. Morgan said he thinks better blood flow keeps the mind sharp. For Hannum, the new desk is, at a minimum, a lot more fun than his old one.

“When I come into the office, this little part of me is like, ‘Oh cool, I get to use my desk again,’” he said. “I don’t know if I have better thoughts, but I do have some additional enthusiasm for being in the office, now that I have this desk that I really like.”

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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