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Lawyer Burnout: Avoiding & Overcoming Burnout

After rigorous studying through law school, undergoing an intensive interview process, and securing a lucrative position, many lawyers find themselves feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. 

Lawyer burnout is quite widespread due to a lack of proactive education and prevention strategies. In fact, nearly half (47%) of surveyed lawyers said they’ve struggled with burnout.1 This is, in part, due to Big Law’s paradox of success: getting promoted often leads to more demanding workloads, rather than more freedom and flexibility. 

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent law firm burnout. Below, we’ll highlight its telltale signs and offer best practices for overcoming and preventing lawyer burnout so you can carve out a balanced, rewarding career.

What Are the Causes and Signs of Lawyer Burnout?

To start, it’s important to identify why Big Law burnout develops in the first place. Some of its chief causes include:

  • High-pressure work environments – Legal professionals in big firms are often beholden to very tight deadlines, whether they’re preparing for litigation or closing a big deal. This perpetual sense of urgency can lead to chronic stress.
  • Competitive nature of law firms – The legal profession can be cut-throat. Many Big Law firms pressure their associates to move up in the firm or leave. This “up or out” policy can spur intense competition among associates.
  • Demanding client expectations – Law is a service business, and clients typically seek out the expertise of lawyers for serious matters. As such, they may demand frequent updates, immediate responses, and around-the-clock availability. Satisfying these clients’ demands often requires lawyers to sacrifice commitments in their personal lives.
  • Long working hours – For most lawyers, full-time work goes far beyond a 40-hour, 9-to-5 schedule. On average, lawyers at large law firms work 66 hours a week, while those at small-to-medium-sized law firms average between 42 and 54 hours a week.2 While these hours cited are national average statistics, there are several firms, especially in the major cities of the U.S., where attorneys’ hours are significantly longer. These long hours at work make it difficult to keep up with friends, family, hobbies, and self-care.
  • Emotional toll – Lawyers often deal with high-stakes and often contentious situations on a daily basis. Over time, these stressors can take their toll, rendering lawyers chronically stressed or even emotionally numb.3 Anxiety and other mental health issues may arise as a result.

Symptoms of Lawyer Burnout

Now that we’ve covered the causes of lawyer burnout, let’s take a look at its most common symptoms:4

Physical symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight fluctuations

Emotional symptoms:

  • No longer feeling effective or competent on the job
  • Experiencing a decrease in job fulfillment and satisfaction
  • Withdrawing from colleagues 
  • Feeling isolated

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Procrastinating on routine tasks
  • Struggling to be present at work
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Missing deadlines
  • Exhibiting a decrease in work quality and efficiency

The Consequences of Ignoring Burnout

If you can relate to any of these symptoms, it’s important to take a step back and address your lawyer burnout. Otherwise, it’s likely to get worse over time. Lawyers who ignore burnout can find themselves:

  • Facing career repercussions and stunts in professional development due to their decreased work performance
  • Struggling in their personal relationships
  • Experiencing increasingly severe physical and mental health repercussions
  • Falling into a pattern of bad habits that are harmful to their long-term health (e.g., not exercising regularly, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, poor dietary habits.)

Burnout Prevention Strategies

Whether you’re currently in the throes of lawyer burnout or you suspect you’re on the cusp of it, there are several prevention strategies you can employ:

Setting Boundaries

Everyone deserves healthy boundaries—including lawyers. By carving out time for yourself, you can bring a better version of yourself to work.

Healthy boundary-setting may look like:

  • Reducing pressure to reach the next milestone by a specific time period and instead prioritizing consistent progress.
  • Defining what situations truly warrant working outside of your standard work hours. 
  • Designating time throughout the week that’s just for you, your family, or your friends.

Embracing Delegation 

Many lawyers have more work on their plates than they can manage alone. While delegating work can be difficult, you must accept that you’re only human and have just 24 hours in a day. Evaluate tasks that could be delegated or conducted more efficiently. While these solutions can require more of an investment upfront, they often will save you time long term. In addition, part of your professional development includes your competency and leadership skills to efficiently manage others to whom you delegate work.

Pursue Hobbies Outside of Work

Engaging in hobbies can enhance your work-life balance and give you some much-needed time to rejuvenate. Discover or re-engage with hobbies that interest you or bring you joy.

Coping With Being Burnt Out

Even if you try to keep burnout at bay, you may inevitably experience it from time to time. In these instances, try the following coping strategies to prevent lawyer burnout:

  • Seek out the support of a therapist
  • Join a lawyer support group 
  • Employ stress reduction techniques (meditation, regular exercise, etc.)
  • Prioritize self-care and good sleep
  • Join forces with a self-care accountability buddy 
  • Take breaks as needed throughout the work-day
  • Spend more quality time with loved ones

Can Legal Recruiters Help Reduce Burnout?

Some law firms are simply more demanding than others. As a result, you may need to switch law firms to banish law firm burnout for good. In addition, leaving Big Law may be the answer to achieving a more positive work-life balance. 

If you’re ready for a change in the legal industry, working with experienced legal recruiters can help you find a new firm that’s a better match for your desired work-life balance. 

At E.P. Dine, we can help you navigate your career change and keep your mental health at the top of the priority list, whether you’re seeking a law firm associate, law partner, or in-house counsel opportunity. 

Abolish Burnout With E. P. Dine 

In summary, many lawyers face feelings of burnout at some point in their careers. The determining factor is how each lawyer decides to respond to the feelings of burnout when they occur. While lawyer burnout can be arduous, making the right adjustments can help. 

One of the easiest ways to escape chronic burnout is to work with a recruiter who understands your need for a healthy work-life balance, like E. P. Dine. We’ll take the time to understand your goals, prepare you for interviews, and showcase your value to potential employers. Most importantly, we’ll prioritize your mental health throughout the recruitment process. 

Ready to make burnout a thing of the past? Reach out to E. P. Dine today to find a healthier work environment.

Sources:

1American Bar Association. Surveyed lawyers report they experience burnout in their jobs more than half the time.

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/journal/articles/2022/surveyed-lawyers-report-they-experience-burnout-in-their-jobs-mo/

2PracticePanther. Unveiling the Truth About Lawyer Working Hours.

https://www.practicepanther.com/blog/unveiling-the-truth-about-lawyer-working-hours/#:~:text=While%20it%20can%20differ%20from,42%2D54%20hours%20per%20week

3Science Direct. A snapshot of emotional harms caused by the litigation process – Qualitative data from Ghana.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666353821000072

4MayoClinic. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642

At E.P. Dine, we are committed to delivering content that is not only relevant and insightful but also rooted in professional integrity and expertise. To achieve this, every article published on the E.P. Dine blog undergoes a meticulous review process by qualified professionals with deep knowledge and experience in the legal field and legal recruitment.

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