5 Ways Lawyers Can Battle Burnout

13 July 2023


Lawyers are some of the busiest professionals in the world because so many people need their help in high-stakes situations.

In an industry where there is a lot of pressure and little room for error, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and burn out. The workload and hours pile up and it can be difficult to unwind, even when you are off the clock. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is a relatively newly identified condition but it has become something of a buzzword.

Basically, it is an intense feeling of overwhelm brought on by overwork. It tends to happen when you are exposed to the same intense level of stress, day after day. The ABC recently reported that burnout is “over-represented in dutiful, reliable, caring people.”  Make all the jokes about lawyers that you like - many lawyers absolutely fit this description!

The Mayo Clinic writes that burnout isn’t yet a medical diagnosis, and some medical professionals believe it has other underlying causes, such as depression. Despite this, many people receive an unofficial diagnosis of this condition each year. 

Burnout can happen when you’re working excessively long hours, when you feel unclear about what you actually have to do and if there is a lack of control about your workload or responsibilities.  

If you’re constantly in fight or flight mode and you don’t feel supported by your superiors, you’re likely to start noticing symptoms of this condition. 

Burnout: What to look out for

The following are some of the signs to be aware of if you think you are becoming burnt out:

  • Have you become jaded or overly critical at work?

  • Do you drag yourself to your computer each day and have trouble getting started in the morning?

  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?

  • Do you struggle to be as productive as you used to be?

  • Do you find it hard to focus?

  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?

  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to get through tough situations?

  • Are you tired but lying awake at night?

  • Do you feel tired even though you are getting plenty of sleep?

  • Do you prefer to spend your weekends and evenings doing as little as possible?

  • Do you have unexplained sickness, stomach ache or headache?

If you can relate to the above statements, you may be burnt out. 

Burnout and lawyers

Burnout among legal professionals is shockingly common. 

One US study found that attorneys felt burnout 52% of the time. Meanwhile, a UK study found that 92% of layers experience job-related burnout and 25% experience it daily.

With numbers like this, it is vital for lawyers and other legal professionals to be aware of the risks of burnout and take steps to avoid reaching a point where an extended break from work is non-negotiable.

5 ways legal professionals can overcome burnout and achieve work-life balance

Burnout is a complex condition but people are realising that overcoming it requires a little more than upping your ‘me time’ and taking long baths to try to unwind.

  1. Take a break: You need to take breaks so you can ‘eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty’. While powering through may feel like a way to prove yourself, your productivity and attention to detail will begin to wane if you don’t take short breaks during the day, create boundaries so you have days off work and schedule holidays. 

  2. Utilise technology and get help: Dedicated professionals often beat themselves up when they can’t get everything done but the reality is there are only so many hours in the day. Remind yourself that you are only one person and don’t be afraid to say to your employer, “Realistically, I am not going to have time to do that job well.”  If there is anything you can find such as a programme or an app to streamline your workflow, make the most of it.  

  3. Outsource: Don’t get bogged down in tasks that can be given to other people. If you can’t outsource at work because your specific skills are required, outsource what you can at home. Pre-prepare or order ready-made meals, splurge on a house cleaner or get your groceries delivered. 

  4. Take care of yourself: There are things you can do in your off time to keep burnout at bay. Remember to exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep. It may be hard to implement these things all at once with your busy schedule but sometimes an extra hour of sleep can give you the energy to focus and get more done.

  5. Speak to your employer: If things are truly getting on top of you, you may need to speak with your employer to explain your workload is not sustainable. It’s not always an easy conversation to have but it can serve you both in the long term. 

If you truly feel you are stretched to your maximum and your employer is inflexible, it is always an option to explore another firm. Your mental health should be a priority and a change can make a big difference. 

Looking for your next job in the legal profession? Speak to Barratt Galvin today. 

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