The conversation around lawyer burnout is seemingly never-ending. Though lawyers and legal staff have been disproportionately affected by feelings of stress and overwhelm for years, the term “burnout” entered the popular conversation in 2019 as Australians worked longer hours from home.
Start the conversation — and lead by example
Frequently, the burnout conversation can set off a chain reaction: When partners and lawyers talk about their own burnout, it helps others at the firms feel safer taking alleviation measures. It’s most important for firm leadership to share; every voice added to the conversation helps.
Share specifics about how you’ve struggled with burnout and overwhelm. Detailing your battle to open and answer emails is a lot more helpful for identifying lawyer burnout symptoms than a Top 5 list of tips. Your vulnerability can truly open the floodgates.
Create change with firm-wide cultural efforts
Shifting your firm from a “tough-it-out” mindset to one that honours mental and emotional needs doesn’t happen with one conversation. Change requires repeated exposure and messaging from your leadership and HR teams — and the supportive action to back it up.
Working at a law firm is challenging no matter your role, and legal pros must intentionally work on not getting to the crispy burned-out stage. That doesn’t mean quitting the practice of law. But it does require intentional, long-term changes that reflect the modern needs of modern professionals.
Define work in a healthy way
Legal professionals often derive their self-worth from their performance as an employee and see exhaustion or overwhelm as signs of success.
Lawyers are particularly prone to anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles, all of which affect on-the-job performance and compound feelings of burnout. The ability to name and identify exhaustion and overwhelm at the moment is an important first step toward addressing their effects — and taking steps over the long term to pause before you reach that point.
Set (and maintain) boundaries
High-achieving people naturally struggle to set boundaries with their time, and for many, working from home destroyed the natural barrier between office and personal space. Now, individuals must make an even greater effort to shut down their computers and put away their smartphones.
That means setting boundaries not just with colleagues and clients around your work hours but with technology. Just because you can respond to that 11pm email doesn’t mean you should.
- Setting an endpoint for checking and responding to emails every day
- Focusing on specific tasks by setting a timer and ignoring other distractions