Lawyer burnout affects hundreds of attorneys and paralegals worldwide. Although it is nothing to be ashamed of, it is something to guard against. Unmanaged stress can be detrimental to your career, to your professionalism, and to your overall happiness.
Professional burnout is an unfortunate side effect of long hours, stressful responsibilities, and an inability to separate work from one’s social life. However, just because a lawyer is susceptible to burnout, doesn’t mean it is inevitable.
Recognizing Burnout As—and Before—It Happens
In an important article entitled “Why Lawyers Are Unhappy,” (Cardozo Law Review,2001), authors Martin E. P. Seligman, Paul R. Verkuil, and Terry H. Kang highlighted the notion that lawyers are growing increasingly miserable as a result of their duties. The competitive nature of the legal system, the long hours and high pressure to distinguish oneself, the essentially pessimistic nature of legal analysis (one must constantly be identifying and anticipating potential problems and arguments), etc., are all common obstacles lawyers must face day in and day out.
As you can imagine, this type of stress can eventually break even the strongest of contenders. However, by understanding how burnout works and being able to recognize its symptoms can give you the edge you need to stop it before it takes hold.
You Can Choose Not to Be Overwhelmed by Job-Related Stress
To successfully keep yourself in the game and evade becoming disconnected from your work—and your life—you must not only be able to recognize and admit that you’re becoming overwhelmed, but also be able to plan and take precautions to avoid further suffering. Here are key ways to help cope:
- Seek support. When you feel overwhelmed or anxious about your job, talk to someone about it. Sometimes you just need to vent to keep yourself from exploding. Professional counseling is always an option, but sometimes a dialogue with a sympathetic friend is all you need.
- Remind yourself of the good times. Keep a list of the reasons you became a lawyer in the first place. Include thoughts that focus on why you do what you do, what attracted you to law, what you find fulfilling in your position, and what about your job makes you happy.
- Compare pros to cons. Write down the factors of your job that are causing you grief, stress, or frustration. How does this list compare to your “good times” list? What can you change to turn the negatives into positives?
- Take care of yourself. Getting enough sleep, eating a regularly balanced diet (coffee does not count as a balanced breakfast), and getting regular exercise can greatly improve both your physical and mental focus and health.
- Socialize. Make time to relax outside of work and catch up with your friends and family. Even an occasional break from the daily grind of work can be enough to stabilize your stress and keep it from boiling over.
- Schedule vacations in advance. Maintaining healthy boundaries between work and home life is important. You can’t spend every waking moment intensely focused on work—it’s too much responsibility for your brain to handle. By scheduling periodic vacations and breaks, you’ll not only have something to look forward to while grind away, but you’ll also have a predetermined time to release pent-up anger, frustration, and stress.
- Educate yourself. Knowing how to prevent and treat signs of burnout can help you become a stronger lawyer and a more content person.
For more information on how to improve your attitude and increase your career success, continue to educate yourself by browsing our extensive collection of research articles. Take advantage of the time and dedication we put into helping our clients succeed in all areas of law by learning what we’ve discovered. You won’t regret it.