President's Column: Lawyer Burnout

Lawyer Burnout

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When you became a lawyer, you may have thought of yourself as some kind of superwoman or superman who was able to leap tall courthouses in a single bound. There was a lot of injustice in the world, and you were ready for the fight.

That was then. Now your shingle has been hanging out there for a few years. Is your passion for the law still the same? On Monday mornings, do you have to talk yourself into rolling out of bed and showing up at the office? Do you find that you really don’t like your clients anymore? Have you been asking yourself if what you do makes a difference? If these questions strike a nerve, you might be headed for job burnout.

One of the most widely used indicators of burnout is the Maslach Burnout Inventory. It describes burnout as a syndrome comprised of emotional exhaustion (being drained emotionally by contact with others), depersonalization (feeling cynical and negatively toward people), and reduced personal accomplishment (evaluating one’s work in a negative manner). These symptoms can derive from many sources, including heavy caseloads, disillusionment with the judicial system, conflicts in the office, and failure to meet professional goals.

There are always deadlines to meet, emergency hearings to attend, briefs to write, and client phone calls to take. Stress is part of the profession, and it rears its ugly head on a daily basis. Thus, it is not surprising that lawyers are among those with the highest risk of burnout and other problems including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and divorce. The warning signs of burnout include:

  • Loss of enthusiasm for work;
  • Chest pains, shortness of breath, panic attacks;
  • Increased absenteeism, missing court dates, failure to return phone calls;
  • Loss of motivation; and
  • Lack of productivity and uncompleted projects.

While the effects of burnout might result in a drop of productivity for some people, others experiencing burnout will step up the pace and try to work harder. Taking on more clients and additional tasks at your law firm, however, will not get you out of the rut.

In order to counter the effects of burnout, you will have to treat both the body and the mind. If you are one of those people who can function on three hours of sleep, good for you. But if you are not, perhaps getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is the first step on the road to recovery. What kind of food do you put in your body? Make sure you eat three squares a day, and make it healthy, please. If you love between-meal snacks (I sure do), make sure they are high protein snacks that will help sustain your energy level all day long. And there are exercises you can do in the office to relieve stress and increase your energy level. Take three or four micro-breaks during the day and do some calf stretches and shoulder rolls. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Instead of e-mailing your colleague, walk down the hall and deliver the message in person.

You should also learn to effectively manage your time. Don’t feel guilty about delegating tasks. Invest in some quality “me” time to do something that is not related to work. Setting aside a certain amount of time each day or week to do something that pleases you might be just what the doctor ordered to recharge your batteries.

Take time to re-connect with family and friends. All too often, busy schedules may cause you to lose contact with loved ones who can offer support, take your mind off work, or give you recognition for your hard work.

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And when you walk out of the office at the end of the day, turn off your cell phone. Don’t check e-mail from your home computer. Instead, put your feet up and think about someone who makes you smile and feel good about yourself

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