Rainmaking Recommendation #153: 10 Tips to Avoid Lawyer Burnout

Free image courtesy of Biberta @morguefile

(This is not a post I ever thought I would write, and it’s longer than most Rainmaking Recommendations, but I thought you deserved an explanation.)

If you are wondering where I have been for the past 7 months since the last Rainmaking Recommendation you received, I’ll tell you.

I have been dealing with an extensive case of being utter and total “burned out”.   I had nothing left to give and the only thing I wanted to do was crawl into my bed and sleep.

After 15 years of being a solopreneur, of doing everything by myself, I contemplated just getting a job – having someone give me a paycheck, health insurance benefits and all of the other “perks” that come from working for someone else.

One of the hardest things that I had to do was ask for help.  Like many attorneys (even though I do not practice any more), I thought I could handle this on my own.  I thought I had to be the perfectionist and have the take charge, no-holds barred personality that many lawyers possess.

Thankfully, I have some amazing friends and colleagues both in and out of the legal industry who have been there for me (they know who they are and I am grateful to them for everything they did to support me).

In fact, the lawyer personality is almost endemic with the predilection for becoming burned out, stressed, depressed or suicidal.

Just Google “lawyer burnout” and you get more than 395,000 articles and blog posts.  Google “lawyer depression” and you will find more than 1,330,000 articles and posts.  This is a real problem for the legal profession; I just never thought that I would succumb.

And it’s not just lawyers but others who are in the legal industry.  Very recently a colleague in the legal marketing industry took his own life.  If you have met this gentleman, you would have thought he had it all, and had it all under control.  I cannot say why he did what he did, but I do know that if you are burned out and stressed, depressed or suicidal, please find someone with whom to talk.

You can avoid burnout but you have to start taking care of yourself.  And this is one of the most important things that I learned during this time:

It is not selfish to be self-centered!

Meaning, you have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of anyone else – your family, your colleagues, your clients.

Think of it this way – what’s the one thing they always say during the oxygen mask demonstration on an airplane:

“In the event of an emergency, or a drop in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling in front of you. Please put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.”

And so, you must start valuing yourself and your health, both mental and physical.  You know those poor eating habits, deficiency of water, lack of sleep, not exercising, addictions to alcohol or other substances, all effect how you feel.  You know that if you don’t have a direction that you want to take your practice in, whether it be in BigLaw or as a solo practitioner, you are at the mercy of what others want and this will cause you stress.

10 Practical Tips:

I love these 10 tips written a few years back for Psychology Today by Tyger Latham Psy.D. in an article entitled: The Depressed Lawyer: Why are so many lawyers so unhappy?

  1. Set realistic and obtainable goals based on what you have accomplished and experienced in the past.
  2. Learn to prioritize your life, i.e., focus and put your efforts into action items that are truly important.  Let go of those items that are either insignificant or not time-sensitive.
  3. Recognize that “mistakes” are a part of life, essential, and often present the opportunity for important learning opportunities.
  4. Be cognizant of your emotional barometerand use such information to evaluate whether you are achieving an optimal balance between life, work, and play.  If you are stressed out all of the time, pay attention to that information and make changes that will enable you to reach equilibrium.
  5. Take your mental health seriously.  Consider your mental health to be as important as any other professional obligation.  As with psychologists, impaired attorneys often ignore the early warning signs of mental illness and risk placing themselves as well as others in serious jeopardy.
  6. Seek balance in your life.  Make sure you are taking time to care for yourself so that you can care for your clients.  As with other high-pressure and demanding professions, attorneys who neglect their physical, psychological, spiritual, and interpersonal lives run the risk of making mistakes on the job.
  7. Learn to manage your stress by finding healthy outlets for it.  Whether you manage your stress through exercise, socializing, or channeling your energies into other, non-legal pursuits, be sure to make time for these things.  In fact, schedule them into your calendar and view them as every bit as important as your weekly meeting with the partners.
  8. Accept that the practice of law is inherently stressful.  While it is important to accept this reality, it is not okay to succumb to it.
  9. Know and take advantage of your personal strengths, while acknowledging, accepting, and minimizing your weaknesses.  No one is perfect and those who assume they are, are not only insufferable to be around but also run the risk of over-extending themselves, failing at their jobs, and potentially disappointing those who count on them.
  10. Remember that true professionals know when to ask for help and delegate responsibility.  Be familiar with the resources available to you – be they personal or professional – and utilize them.  If you feel you are constantly “stressed out,” depressed, or struggling with substance abuse/dependence issues, get professional help immediately.  Just as any psychologist would consult an attorney when addressing legal issues outside of their area of expertise, so too, an attorney should be prepared to consult a mental health worker if s/he feels ill-equipped to address the psychological stressors in her/his life.

Take care of yourself.  Or you may just find yourself in the same situation in which I was, and it’s not a fun place to be.

By the way, after figuring out how to be self-centered and still take care of my clients, I love every minute of my business once again and business is booming.  



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