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How Do You Avoid Lawyer Burnout?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 16, 2015 5:59 AM

Do you hate your job as a lawyer? Do you not feel satisfied in the work you do? Unfortunately, it seems that lawyers are particularly prone to asking themselves these probing questions. Lawyers' personality types generally tend to put them especially at risk of depression and burnout, and some won't even recognize the problem until it's too late.

Fighting an Uphill Battle

It's a terrible thing to generalize, but there seems to be strong evidence that lawyers as a whole are some of the people least qualified to be lawyers. The job often requires a tough-skin and an ability to let things slide a little. But research by the firm LawyerBrain.com indicates that as much as 90 percent of lawyers score in the bottom half of a psychological trait type characterized by Dr. Richards as "resilience." In a word, many lawyers are sensitive, defensive, and have difficulty bouncing back from adversity.

Fortunately, Dr. Richard's "resilience" can be nurtured and taught. Here are some major highlights.

  • Let Go of Perfectionism: Lawyers tend to see potential consequences in everything. It's perfectly normal to shoot for excellence in an area that one is unfamiliar. However, "good enough" is sometimes all you need. For example, sometimes a motion to quash just needs to be passable. And these days, many programs already include templates of such routine motions. Don't try and reinvent the wheel.
  • Take on Fewer Clients and Projects: Take Clint Eastwood's advice: "A man's gotta know his limitations." Lawyers are just human beings, and despite the mythos that surrounds lawyers, it is unrealistic to push yourself to the point of harming your health. It's also counter-productive. Not only is your quality invariably slipping, you're also killing yourself. Or you might end up killing yourself. Suicide is definitely a result of burnout. Hopefully, you're in the business of living a long life and fulfilling career. And as cliche as it may sound, money doesn't necessarily make you happier. Take fewer clients and assume fewer projects. You can rest for a day.
  • Take on Better Clients and Projects: Now that you have fewer aggravating clients, you can take on more interesting clients -- or projects that really interest you. Emotional attachment to your projects can produce better work.

Improving yourself and learning some resilience is time and effort well invested. Remember, burnout is the enemy. It's too high a price to pay in your legal career.

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