What lawyers can do to prevent and combat burnout

Lawyer burnout affects hundreds of attorneys and paralegals worldwide. Why? This is because of stressful schedules, long work hours, and high-pressure in the law industry. There are also the factors of character traits such as perfectionism and pessimism that are prevalent among many lawyers. This article explores how much of an issue anxiety and burnout is within the law industry and outlines what lawyers can do to prevent and combat burnout.

The extent of the problem

  • “Lawyers suffer from depression at a rate 3.6 times that of other professions.” (Johns Hopkins University study 1990)
  • “White male lawyers are more likely to turn to suicide than nonlawyer professionals.” (A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study 1984-1998)
  • “70% of Yale Law School students struggled with mental health issues during their time at law school” (Yale Law Mental Health Report 2014)

As you can see, lawyer burnout is not an uncommon trend. In fact, it’s something that has been prevalent, affecting lawyers for decades. When looking into why anxiety and burnout are much more prevalent in the law industry, it came down to two solid factors: the work and demand of the industry and the character traits of lawyers. People who make great lawyers usually have two dominant character traits: perfectionism and pessimism. While this makes them very good at their detailed-oriented job, it does also make them prone to anxiety.

Perfectionism can soon turn into feelings of not being good enough when things don’t go as planned and lawyers tend to quickly blame themselves for it (whether it’s their fault or not). Combine this with working long hours with the pressure of always delivering higher quality work but in less time, you can see why lawyers often get to the stage where they have pushed themselves beyond their limits.

What lawyers can do to prevent and combat burnout

Due to the “perfectionism” curse, lawyers often don’t seek help when they are burning out as they feel like they have failed but this does a lot more harm for their health and careers than good. Burnout isn’t anything to be ashamed of. It’s an unfortunate side effect of long hours and stressful responsibilities that slowly leak into one’s social life so that you can’t escape it. While lawyers are particularly susceptible to burnout, it doesn’t mean that it is inevitable for everyone. Nevertheless, it is really important for lawyers to be aware and to learn how to manage their stress to avoid it. Here are 14 ways that lawyers can prevent and combat burnout:

  1. Listen to your body’s stress warning signals, such as headaches, backaches, dizziness, insomnia, and unexplainable fatigue.
  2. Find ways to work smarter, not longer.
  3. Don’t be afraid to drop unprofitable or difficult clients.
  4. Focus on the work that you truly enjoy and delegate the rest.
  5. Give something up before taking on a new commitment or responsibility.
  6. Learn to say no and to set up reasonable boundaries around your involvement.
  7. Avoid taking work home.
  8. Schedule vacation time and actually switch off.
  9. Exercise regularly.
  10. Make time for daily meditation.
  11. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.(see our tips!)
  12. Connect with people as much as possible (both in work, at home, and socially).
  13. If you need to seek help, consult your Doctor about how to cope with your stress, anxiety or depression.
  14. Ask yourself what you really want and don’t be afraid to change. Perhaps going to a smaller firm, creating your own practice, teaching, or going to a corporation will be more suited to you?

Are you feeling crippled by anxiety? Are you constantly exhausted? Use these 3 red flags to recognise if you are burning out.

You don’t have to feel trapped by your anxiety

In conclusion, being a lawyer is a stressful profession that results in high rates of anxiety, depression, and burnout within the industry (more so than any other industry!). Therefore, you should not feel ashamed for needing assistance to overcome it. When thinking about what lawyers can do to prevent and combat burnout, these 13 strategies will help you to recognise when you are burning out so that you can make the necessary changes to deliver and work successfully in a far happier and healthier way.

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