Lawyer’s Survival Guide: Coping With Burnout

Here's how to recognize and prevent lawyer burnout.

Posted Jan 21, 2020

What do you envision when you think of lawyer burnout

Do you think of a frazzled, cranky and exhausted person who spends too much time at the office? A depressed person who no longer feels a sense of purpose from their work? Attorney burnout can look like all of these things and more. 

The good news is, burnout doesn’t have to last forever. There are solutions that can help get you back on track and feel better about yourself and your work.

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How to overcome burnout in the legal field:
Source: Pixabay no permission required

How to overcome burnout in the legal field

Take an inventory of your time 

Try to be as objective as you can and consider the number of hours you spend at the office, with friends and family and by yourself doing things you enjoy. 

Are you spending too many hours at work? Sometimes lawyers end up completely wedded to their careers at the expense of every other aspect of life and this takes a toll. 

Notice where your time is spent and make a promise to yourself to set more rigid boundaries around work hours so that you can have some time to recoup. 

Find other sources of identity 

Our culture trains us to respond to personal questions about our lives with an answer about our careers. When someone asks about you, is your first response “I’m an attorney”? Explore other areas of yourself in terms of identity

Yes, you are a lawyer. What else are you? Are you a parent? An artist? A cyclist? Do you enjoy cooking, dancing, reading? 

Incorporate these other interests into your life more consistently so that your sole identity isn’t related to your profession. 

Take a vacation 

While this may seem overly simplistic, sometimes the most common-sense solutions seem impossible during a period of burnout. Lawyers with burnout symptoms may feel as if there is no time for a vacation; it may seem as if there is too much to do and that there are too many people relying on you. 

Schedule vacations well in advance and set them regularly if possible to avoid getting into a procrastination mode in which you never get around to taking time off. 

Make an agreement with yourself that you will disconnect from work during scheduled vacations and let clients know that you will be unavailable during that time.

Meditation and relaxation techniques 

Learn some relaxation techniques and use them several times per day. Deep breathing techniques, imagery and meditation are all simple ways to reconnect with yourself in the moment and reduce stress

Mindfulness techniques that use your five senses can be very beneficial as you work on stress reduction.

Professional life/work coaching 

Talking to a career or life coach can be a helpful way to reset priorities and examine the areas of your work that you enjoy as well as the parts that are negatively impacting you. 

If it feels as though the burnout symptoms go a bit deeper and may encompass other areas of your life, consider talking to a therapist. 

Life coaches and therapists are trained professionals who can sit with you objectively and explore your needs and interests. 

Health check 

Schedule a visit with your doctor. If you are experiencing burnout symptoms, your health may also be impacted. Consider making your health as much of a priority as your career. After all, there are thousands of lawyers but only one you. 

It is important to identify and treat burnout symptoms before they worsen and begin to take over your life. More than other professions, lawyers are at risk for substance use disorders due to high stress and depressive symptoms.

One in five attorneys self-reports a history of alcohol abuse or other substances. These factors make it even more important to take care of your burnout symptoms and to restore balance and peace in your life.