Reducing Stress as a Lawyer: Avoiding Lawyer Burnout (2021)

SEP 12, 2021 | PRACTUS LLP

Reducing Stress as a Lawyer: Avoiding Lawyer Burnout (2021)

Authored by Stephanie Recupero

Lawyers Continue to Experience High Levels of Stress in 2021

Twenty-eight percent of lawyers struggle with depression; 19 percent struggle with anxiety. These statistics come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the demands of being a lawyer. And given the course of events from 2020 through 2021 lawyers are feeling more isolated, anxious, burnt out and depressed than ever. A study of over 3.2K attorneys and staff in ALM’s 2021 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey shows a greater proportion of law firm attorneys and staff are reported instances of mental health struggles across the board.

This of course has been a problem before COVID in really affected our lives. Lawyers work long hours, neglect their own needs, and feel extreme competition. It’s no wonder so many suffer burnout. How will you ensure the same doesn’t happen to you or someone you care about?

Lawyer burnout is a real problem affecting attorneys everywhere. Here are six ways you can avoid it.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

There’s an intense level of competition in the field of law. Lawyer’s self-worth is measured by the hours that they bill. Every lawyer wants to be billing more hours than the next and taking on more work than others. Both of these factors can help build your reputation and career.

It is an endless cycle that inevitably leads to burnout.

But because the ultimate goal is to be busy and successful, most attorneys repeat the cycle over, without talking to each other about how this burnout is affecting their lives. It can be excruciatingly isolating.

The first step to preventing burnout is realizing you’re not alone. Even though this industry doesn’t openly talk about it (yet), it’s happening all the time.

man running up stairs in bright shirt

2. Take Care of Your Body

When was the last time you went for a run or worked out at the gym? What about playing basketball with your friends or biking with your kids?

Your physical health affects your mental health. If you don’t take care of it, you’re more susceptible to burnout.

Convincing a lawyer to spend an extra hour every morning being active is unlikely. We’re all busy with cases and clients. But, exercise produces endorphins which drastically improves your mood and outlook on life.

Find ways you can incorporate activity into your schedule. Could you have a walking meeting with a colleague or client? Can you commit to leaving the office for 45 minutes once a week?

Keep a yoga mat in your office and do some Pilates during lunch.

Speaking of lunch, fuel your body with protein and nutrients. Consider packing a healthy lunch and go-to snacks to have throughout the day. The better you take care of your body, the better it’ll take care of you.

female attorney at computer desk meditating

3. Use Mindfulness Throughout the Day

Before you continue reading, throw out all your preconceived ideas of mindfulness. It isn’t just for long-haired yogis in the rainforest and self-development snobs.

Mindfulness is the act of being aware. It means being aware of your feelings, thoughts, actions, and your surroundings. In many ways, it means being more intentional with your time.

How often do you put aside how you feel to get more work done? Over time, those emotions build up and either result in physical or mental illness. Lawyers can benefit immensely from mindfulness.

Meditation is one technique that is really getting some traction Studies have proven how impactful meditation is for lawyers. Because the law industry is riddled with high statistics of anxiety and depression, there’s a movement among law schools and law firms to teach their students and attorneys ways to center themselves and meditate to help improve their mental and physical health. 

You can even practice at your desk. Set a reminder once a day to meditate for a couple of minutes. You could use a guided meditation or simply acknowledge how you feel.

Believe it or not, the simple act of acknowledging your emotions can help reduce burnout.   

group of co-workers eating together with food display on table

4. Don’t Sacrifice Your Personal Life

We’ve already established the more hours you work and bill to your clients, the more successful you seem in the law world. But, the more hours you work also equals the less time you have for yourself and those you care about. As a result of the billable hour method, which hasn’t changed in years, many attorneys sacrifice their personal lives to bill more.

Spending time outside of work socializing, and spending time with family and friends is crucial to your well-being. Without that balance, you’re more likely to burnout.

It’s time to set some boundaries and some goals.

Do you want to have dinner with your spouse and kids each night? Do you want to play squash with your friends on the weekends? Do you wish you made time to see your parents more often?

The only thing preventing you from doing these things is you. When you make your personal life a priority, it becomes one. 

Practus attorneys JoEllen and Robert Elwood

5. Talk to Someone

If you’re starting to feel the symptoms of burnout, talk to someone. 

There are plenty of online and in-person resources. For some, meeting with a therapist regularly is a form of self-care. For others, having a one-off chat with an online counselor is better.

Find someone you can talk to about your feelings. It could be your spouse, a friend, or a work colleague. All that matters is that you pay attention to the signs and take the time to express how you’re feeling.

Ignoring feelings of burnout, like anxiety and sadness, only perpetuates them. And before you know it, they can overtake everything in your world. That’s why being proactive with your mental health is so important.  

6. Know Your Options

Anyone who tells you to get used to burnout because that’s the life of a lawyer is wrong.

You always have options. If the firm you work for doesn’t support you and your mental health,  it’s not an ideal workplace and not the firm for you. You can do much better.

Consider other avenues for your career. Visionary law firms today are leaving the traditional law firm model behind in order to better support their attorneys and staff.

At Practus, our attorney’s happiness is a top priority. And we’ve seen how having more balance in your life and freedom to control your hours reduces the risk of burnout and leads to happier and healthier attorneys. Find a law firm that supports your well-being.  

Lastly, Here are 10 Self Management Tips to Handle Depression

  1. Build a Support Network: Socialize with other lawyers and your friends and family
  2. Reduce Your Stress: Make sure you exercise. Even a five-minute walk will help
  3. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene: Get 7-8 hours a night. Limit caffeine intake
  4. Improve Your Eating Habits: Stay away from sugar and carbs
  5. Learn How to Combat Negative Thoughts: Be more constructive and positive
  6. Confront Procrastination: Do important things first. Prioritize.
  7. Practice Gratefulness: Regularly remember goodness you’ve received from others
  8. Find Meaning and Purpose: Keep your life in line with your personal values
  9. Practice Deep Breathing: Breathe from deep in your lungs
  10. Practice Mindfulness Meditation: Learn to center yourself

Practus team members working together

Looking for More Ways to Avoid Lawyer Burnout?

It’s far too common for lawyers to suffer from anxiety, depression, and overall poor health. Lawyer burnout is a real problem in this industry, and it needs to change.

If you’re starting to notice the signs of lawyer burnout, consider the tips listed above.

When you’re ready to improve your work-life balance with a new law firm, we can help. Contact Stephanie at to learn more about our business model.   

The Authors
Stephanie Recupero
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Practus, LLP provides this information as a service to clients and others for educational purposes only. It should not be construed or relied on as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers.

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