I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 44 years ago, on September 24, 1973, and have practiced appellate law full-time since 1989. Appellate law has played a major part in helping me live a longer and healthy life. In 1973, the life expectancy for a teenager diagnosed with diabetes was 50. I turned 59 last month. Here are some of the ways my career has extended my life and diabetes has made me a better appellate lawyer.
I joined a small Houston firm in 1987 and worked as a trial lawyer for a couple of years. In Texas in 1987, health insurance coverage was not a given for a person with diabetes, and the group insurer for my small firm would not cover me or my wife, Angie. This was a problem that led me to a new job in 1989 with a larger employer, the State of Texas, where I began work as a staff attorney at the First Court of Appeals, just before our first daughter, Audrey, was born.
Health insurance has always been a key factor in my job choices. I’ve mainly worked in law firms that had decent health insurance coverage. Without good health insurance, the annual costs of my diabetes—quarterly endocrinologist visits; insulin; insulin pumps and supplies; test strips and meters; continuous glucose monitors and supplies—would be more than $30,000 annually. Decent health insurance coverage has maintained my health and the ability to work long hours on complicated appeals.
I know of many people with diabetes who have not been as lucky as me. I’m endlessly grateful to the people that make appellate work possible—judges, lawyers, and clients—that I have almost always had good health insurance.
There’ve been vast leaps in the technology supporting appellate practice and diabetes management during my life and career. When I started, lawyers didn’t have computers; we wrote briefs in longhand, and legal secretaries processed the words on Windows 3.0 and sent our work product to loud daisy-wheel printers. There was no email, texting, or video-conferencing.
The same is true of diabetes management. When I started, people with diabetes took one shot of insulin every day and hoped for the best; there were no insulin pumps and the only way to test our blood glucose levels was to go to a doctor’s office.
Working in offices with quickly evolving technology oriented me to finding and using new diabetes technology. Appellate lawyers have to keep up with ever-new tools for researching, writing, and collaborating. That’s true of diabetes, too. I now have technology that permits me to continuously monitor my blood glucose level on an iPhone app. If it’s trending up, I can push a button on my insulin pump and lower it. The newest technology, the artificial pancreas, allows an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to talk to each other and make fine adjustments to insulin dosing in real time.
As appellate lawyers, we consume new information and new technology every day at work, and this appetite for finding easier and better technology crosses over into diabetes management. It’s no coincidence that I’ve become an avid and early adopter of new diabetes technology. Practicing appellate law made me this way.
As I mature as an appellate lawyer and person with diabetes, it becomes clearer to me that the better habits of appellate practice and diabetes management are related.
Managing life with diabetes has been compared to the swimming of a duck. There’s a great deal of effort, below the surface, underlying the appearance of a duck effortlessly gliding across the water. Good diabetes management is like that. There’s a great deal of blood testing, carb counting, and insulin-dosing behind the scenes of the daily life of a person with diabetes. This is why the writer Scott Coulter calls his diabetes “the invisible disease.”
For appellate lawyers, our work is also like a duck swimming. Ideally, an appellate brief is an elegant document containing arguments whose persuasiveness flows from their beauty, simplicity, and truth. But the many long days and weeks required to produce a beautiful brief may in fact be filled with sweat, exhaustion, conflict, and anxiety.
Diabetes has helped me keep perspective regarding the travails of appellate practice. As my law partner Blake Tartt used to say: “Why should I be upset about problems in my cases? It’s not my problem, it’s my client’s problem.” Appellate practice has helped me understand that diabetes may be managed with the same techniques we use to produce beautiful briefs: consistency, patience, research, analysis, and no more angst than necessary.
How about you? What in your life has made you a better appellate lawyer?