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8 Warning Signs of Lawyer Burnout and What to Do About It



8 Warning Signs of Lawyer Burnout and What to Do About It

To help you identify and address lawyer burnout, we asked legal professionals and wellness experts for their insights. From combatting procrastination with goals and breaks to scheduling downtime to boost productivity, here are the top eight signs and solutions these professionals shared.

  • Combat Procrastination With Goals and Breaks

  • Recognize Changes, Show Understanding and Kindness

  • Address Chronic Stress With Healthy Habits

  • Question Work-Life Balance Amid Errors

  • Counteract Exhaustion With Self-Care

  • Monitor Mental Health Amid Constant Stress

  • Restore Stability With Mindfulness Techniques

  • Schedule Downtime to Boost Productivity


Combat Procrastination With Goals and Breaks

When lawyers are feeling overwhelmed and unable to accomplish what needs to be done, they may find themselves putting off tasks or avoiding them altogether. This can lead to decreased productivity and increased stress levels.


To combat lawyer burnout, it is important for lawyers to set realistic goals and prioritize their tasks accordingly. It is also helpful for lawyers to take regular breaks throughout the day and engage in activities that help reduce stress, such as exercise or meditation.



Recognize Changes, Show Understanding and Kindness

Lawyer burnout is real. I have gone through it several times in my career. Those incidents have ranged from a small panic attack resolved by a day off to a more serious situation, resulting in a need to take time away from the profession. But in every case of burnout I have experienced, and seen occur to other lawyers, there are similar characteristics.


Look for a change in your lawyer's typical business practices. For example, if your lawyer is very timely with communications but then changes to monthly communication only, they may be underwater. Personality changes or signs of impairment are also good indicators.


The reality is, the practice of law is one of the most stressful, difficult, white-collar professions in the United States. Attorneys have some of the highest rates of mental health issues, divorce, addiction, and suicide of any modern US profession. Be kind to lawyers and check in on them if you notice anything concerning.



Address Chronic Stress With Healthy Habits

We run a mental health practice with 48 therapists and often have attorneys as clients. Burnout can present in different ways, but a common element to understanding it is knowing the difference between acute stress and chronic stress.


Acute stress is similar to the stress you feel when getting the house ready for in-laws to visit. Chronic stress would be like those in-laws moving in with you. Attorneys are in a high-pressure environment constantly, as there is pressure to do top-notch work for clients, to get new clients, and to generate as much revenue as possible. This can create burnout.


Signs of burnout can be things like getting upset with a partner at home, falling behind on work, substance abuse, poor self-care, etc. It helps to identify what would be a more sustainable pattern for each person. For many, this means better sleep, exercise, and creating some better buffers between stressors that are healthy. Sometimes, we even use EMDR for performance enhancement to support clients.



Question Work-Life Balance Amid Errors

If you spot a lawyer who has begun to make small clerical errors in the work they are doing, this might be an early sign of burnout.


By overlooking certain small things, a lawyer's mind might be cloudy and separated from the work they are doing. Even when it's small things, this can be a major issue and can lead to damaging results. Noticing small mistakes or forgetting things might mean that you are in the early stages of burnout.


Or, if you've noticed someone you work with making these small mistakes, don't get mad or work them even harder. Instead, question them about their work-life balance in order to understand if they are possibly suffering from burnout.



Counteract Exhaustion With Self-Care

One sign of lawyer burnout is a persistent feeling of exhaustion, both physically and emotionally, which goes beyond normal stress and fatigue.


Encourage lawyers to prioritize self-care. This includes getting enough rest, engaging in regular physical exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and finding time for activities that bring joy.


Law firms and individual lawyers should strive to create a healthier work-life balance. Encourage setting boundaries on working hours, taking regular breaks, and avoiding excessive overtime.

Manage caseloads to avoid overwhelming lawyers with excessive work. Distribute responsibilities more evenly and consider realistic timelines for completing tasks.


Regularly assess and review work policies and practices to identify areas contributing to burnout and make necessary changes. This could include reevaluating billing practices, workload distribution, and performance expectations.


Lyle Solomon, Principal Attorney, Oak View Law Group


Monitor Mental Health Amid Constant Stress

In law offices, burnout is never far away for lawyers. One intense case or challenging client could push them over the edge and into a difficult space that is tough to get out of.


It's imperative to monitor your mental health and do whatever it takes to stay far away from burnout. For most people, it's easy to spot the signs if you're looking.


The signs are:


- Constant stress. There can be stressful moments throughout the workday, but constant stress is a surefire path to burnout.


- Multiple extended workdays. Not balancing personal and professional life is the fastest way to burnout. If you've been working too late into the evening and having some very long days, prepare yourself for possible burnout.


- No breaks or vacations in sight. The never-ending slog of being a lawyer, with no break in sight, can cause burnout because there's nothing to look forward to.


Keep an eye on these things and prepare yourself!



Restore Stability With Mindfulness Techniques

One key sign of lawyer burnout that I've observed as a psychology expert is a drastic imbalance between work and personal life, often accompanied by emotional exhaustion. Lawyers are so involved in their profession that they may not even notice this imbalance.


This can make them feel disengaged, affecting both their professional effectiveness and personal relationships.


In this situation, to bring back a sense of clarity and control into their lives, I recommend adopting mindfulness techniques like short-breathing or meditation exercises, reflections, journaling, and mindful eating into their daily routine.


Gradually, they will become more grounded, less stressed, and better able to manage their work-life balance. As a result, burnout symptoms lessen, and they will regain their passion and enthusiasm, improving their overall well-being and mental health.


Bayu Prihandito, Psychology Expert, Life Coach, and Founder, Life Architekture


Schedule Downtime to Boost Productivity

In trying to maintain an "always-on" presence, lawyers may be doing the opposite for themselves. In reality, without rest and downtime, productivity and effectiveness will be limited.


Struggling to concentrate, experiencing difficulty in making decisions, decreased efficiency, and a decline in the quality of work will quickly become apparent to the lawyers themselves and those around them.


Schedule specific times to do something besides work. Then, measure how it changes your productivity so you have real data to show it's working (and worth it).



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