When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, a lawyer ranks as one of the top 15 dream jobs. As a child, it was probably exciting to see lawyers defend people or help put criminals away. It’s true, being a lawyer is all of those things and it’s probably one of the biggest reasons many people become lawyers. Fast forward to actually being a lawyer, and in the real world your job is rewarding, but equally demanding. From long hours, managing client personalities, an overwhelming caseload, and pressure to win cases, it’s no wonder that being a lawyer also ranks in the top 30 most stressful jobs. Stress management for lawyers is a constant struggle and it can be hard for them to break the cycle.
We didn’t need to tell you being a lawyer was stressful, but there are many factors that contribute to why lawyers are stressed. If you find yourself drowning to balance your work, these tips can help you stay above water.
Factors that make being a lawyer stressful
There are many factors beyond a lawyer’s day-to-day of dealing with clients or a tough case that can cause stress. It’s important to know these outside stressors to better understand how they play a role in a lawyer’s overall stress level.
Law school debt
In general, the cost of obtaining a college education has inflated over the years, but becoming a lawyer comes with an ever bigger price tag. It’s estimated that most lawyers enter their practice with a six-figure debt. To make matters worse, lawyers don’t always start off with the big salaries we see in the media. Depending on the state or practice area, some lawyers earn in the ballpark of $40,000-$50,000 in their first year and work their way up as they build their book.
Lawyers are often put in a position where they are building their book just to make more income in an effort to pay down their debt. This vicious cycle can lead lawyers to work longer hours and put their wellbeing on the back burner. The worries of financial security can greatly influence the quality of a lawyer’s work, mental health and stress level.
The legal industry is a competitive space and everyone wants to be a part of the action. This means lawyers need to be at the top of their game and adapt to the changing legal landscape. Continued advancements in legal tech have greatly influenced the way lawyers operate and manage their practice. The introduction of technology like practice management software has opened the eyes of many law firms and shown them new, efficient ways to streamline their processes. Law firms are slowly moving away from outdated legal practices and turning to technology to reduce excessive use of paper, processing paper checks, manual time entry, and more
An industry once resistant to change is now pivoting with the times, forcing many lawyers into uncharted territory. While much of modern legal technology is focused on simplifying a lawyer’s day-to-day work, it also adds the stress of a new learning curve.
Lack of support
Like any business, law firms thrive off of revenue. Many lawyers are expected to meet a set amount of billable hours and always seek out opportunities for lead generation. Oftentimes, law firms can be so fixated on revenue that they overlook the wellbeing of their lawyers. On the other hand, lawyers want to perform and meet their goals so they will do what it takes to please managing partners.
This isn’t to say that lawyers shouldn’t be competitive or goal-oriented – it’s in their nature. It just means that law firms must understand the mental and physical pressure forced on their lawyers and adjust their practices to value their wellbeing while pushing revenue goals forward. A lawyer’s work-life also affects their family or home-life, so it’s important to consider both. Many law firms will find that lawyers can still meet or exceed their goals when they aren’t overworked and stressed.
A large part of a lawyer’s career is their image. From how they interact with clients or co-workers, style of clothing, demeanor in court, and cases they choose to take. This especially goes for specific areas of law, like criminal or defense law. Defense attorneys don’t always have the best public image. They’re often asked to represent individuals who may have committed violent acts or cheated the law. What the public fails to realize is that every individual, including criminals, have the right to due process. Of course, not every attorney loves this aspect of their job but it’s their duty to discover the facts whether that means their client is guilty or not.
In a culture where “keeping your cool” is looked up on, lawyers may struggle with suppressing the pressure it takes to maintain their image or scrutiny of the cases they choose to take. Lawyers want to come off as strong or resilient, so they find difficulty asking for help because it may taint that image.
Stress management tips for lawyers
The best way to minimize stress is to find time throughout the day for activities that allow for a mental break. Yes, this does mean taking small amounts of non-billable time for yourself. And no, this is not time spent on your lunch break.
Exercise is great for weight loss if that’s your goal, but it’s also a great stress management activity. Studies have shown that moderate-to-vigorous exercise can sharpen your cognitive function, improve sleep, decrease stress or anxiety levels and more. While these are great benefits, they only work if you stick with them. Be sure to choose exercises that you enjoy and switch them up so you don’t get bored.
For busy lawyers, this could be taking the dog out for a long walk or a quick run before starting your day. If you’re not a morning person, be sure to find time to break away from work and go for a walk outside or do simple workouts that can be done on the go.
You know the feeling. Your favorite song comes on, you get an energy boost and your mood is instantly lifted. Lawyers can achieve this same feeling while working and it may even help their productivity. Specifically, with mundane or repetitive tasks because it distracts you from the work you’re doing. Music affects everyone differently, so it’s important to find soothing music that isn’t too distracting. I can
Take more breaks
Sorry, lawyers, but you need to take more breaks. What’s the point of working long hours with the potential of producing poor work? Signs you’re overworked include brain fog, forgetfulness, sleepiness, and lack of attention to detail. It can be next to impossible to meet your goals or client expectations if you’re working under these conditions. You’re prone to making more mistakes which you’ll have to spend time redoing later. A decrease in the quality of your work and productivity will look worse than the amount of hours you bill come review time.
In this situation, stress management for lawyers could be as simple as taking quick 5 to 15-minute breaks to walk, check your phone for non-work related items, or catching up with a coworker. Anything to relieve your brain from focusing on work for even a short amount of time will greatly benefit your work ethic and stress level.
Similarly to taking breaks, you need to prioritize sleep at night. Lawyers are known for working long hours and returning to work on little sleep. This too can lead to unsatisfactory work productivity, poor image and can also wreak havoc on your body.
It’s important for lawyers to set boundaries in their work, especially when it comes to stress management. This means creating reasonable working hours that allows for ample rest time. Workload and client needs can impact when you stop working, but it’s important to make working late the exception, not the norm.
When considering a sleep routine, lawyers should aim for 7 hours of sleep per night. This is the average hours of sleep an adult needs for proper cognitive function and overall well being. Before bed, disconnect from all technology and create a relaxing space. Light music and calming aromatics are a perfect way to set the tone for a restful night’s sleep.
Stress happens to everyone
It’s important for lawyers (and everyone) to know that stress happens. Whether it’s from work or home, stress can be inevitable. How we handle that stress is what makes the difference. It starts by identifying what is making you stressed and taking proactive steps to stop it. This may mean working up the courage to ask for help. Once a faux pas in the legal industry, stress management for lawyers and mental health awareness has become top of mind through the implementation of lawyer assistance programs or LAPS.
The help is out there if you need it, it’s time to take it.