How to Not Burn Yourself Out as a Lawyer

Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, discusses how to spot symptoms of burnout as a lawyer and steps you can take to keep yourself healthy, awake and productive.

The legal industry faces huge challenges when it comes to workplace stress and burnout. Extremely long hours, large workloads and unrelenting requirements to meet client demands are common issues that can all affect stress levels. Unsurprisingly, in 2018 over 82% of junior lawyers reported feeling regularly or occasionally stressed with a further 26% being severely/extremely stressed.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment and reduced productivity. If you feel tired even after a good night’s sleep, no longer enjoy your job or work longer hours with an increasing to do list it is likely that you’re burnt out.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, work is a crucial starting point when it comes to making changes in your lifestyle.

There are a number of things you can do to prevent burnout and make sure you keep yourself as fit and healthy as possible. However even if you’re not currently experiencing these symptoms, it’s important that you bear these warning signs in mind and always take time out for yourself.

  1. Support systems

To avoid burnout, support systems are key. It’s common for individuals in the legal industry to avoid seeking out help, for fear of being labelled as weak or unfit for work but this can often lead to an increase in stress, working longer hours and therefore feeling even more tired. It’s crucial that line managers and senior management provide guidance and are deemed approachable so that employees feel able to discuss any issues with their mental health and wellbeing.

  1. Mental resilience

Lawyers should be trained in how to differentiate between pressure and stress, and develop their own mental coping strategies. Although pressure is inevitable in the working environment, and a small amount can be good for us, the legal industry is well known for long hours and heavy workloads which can be detrimental to employee health and wellbeing. Levels of pressure and weaknesses are different for everyone, so lawyers should be encouraged to develop self-awareness in order to identify the signs and symptoms of burnout.

  1. Recharge

While it is common for lawyers to work hard throughout the week and also during the weekend, this can negatively affect productivity. It’s crucial that you give yourself enough time to recharge at the weekend, so if you can, consider working an extra hour or so during the week to free up time. You should also think about what it is that helps you to rest and relax, whether it’s yoga, being outside or spending time with family, you should find out what works for you and make time for it.

  1. Take a step back

With burnout most commonly caused by work, legal professionals need to make sure they have somewhere they can escape to if their stress levels are becoming too high. Whether you physically remove yourself from the source of pressure to a different room or take your lunch break outside, taking a step back will help remove the source of stress and help you to recharge.

  1. Work flexibly to prevent exhaustion

Research in 2018 by Westfield Health shows that almost half (46%) of UK workers regularly turn up to their jobs feeling too tired to work2. Yet it can be difficult for lawyers to discuss working flexibly with their management as the industry can be perceived as traditional with inflexible working hours.

But if you know that working Monday to Friday is causing you to become increasingly stressed and burnt out, you should speak to your manager and see what the regulations are. Burnout reduces productivity, so your employer should be willing to consider your request if they’re made aware of how much it’s affecting your ability to meet client demands.

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