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Top 5 Ways to Avoid Attorney Burnout

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

All work and no play can make attorneys not just dull, but also burned out. With law firms typically requiring 1,700 to 2,300 billable hours a year, according to Yale Law School's career office, a lawyer's life often means long workdays and big sacrifices to your work/life balance.

How do you know if you're burned out? Exhaustion, detachment, boredom, cynicism, irritability, and paranoia are some common signs of attorney burnout, as the Lawyerist points out.

There are various ways to cope -- some simple, some drastic. If you're not burned out already after reading this intro, here are five ways to avoid attorney burnout:

1. Perspective.

Whatever's stressing you out may not be as super-important as you think, so step back for a second and take a deep breath. This is pretty Zen, but Lawyerist suggests that you imagine you're observing your burned-out self. What would you say if you saw yourself like this? What would you suggest that you do? It's not always a sign of weakness to ask for help and delegate tasks. Something as simple as a yoga class may do the trick.

2. Humor.

A funny thing happened on the way to your law firm. Well, maybe not, but finding humor in everyday life can work wonders for your sanity.

Whether it's the funny way your co-worker walks, or the stupid sound your stomach makes office fax machine makes, being able to laugh releases endorphins that produce a natural high for your overworked brain, a New York Times science article points out.

3. Exercise.

Are you up in the gym just working on your fitness? You should be, if you want to stay lawyerlicious and on top of your game. Regular workouts also release -- you guessed it -- endorphins, which reduce your brain's perception of pain, according to WebMD. Exercise also improves self-esteem and helps you sleep better, WebMD says.

4. Sleep.

Speaking of sleep, attorneys usually don't get enough of it. Six to seven hours a night should be plenty -- and correlates with a lower death rate than sleeping eight hours or more, according to a study by UC San Diego's medical school.

Lawyers should commit to getting sufficient sleep and exercise, explains BigLaw attorney Christina Bost Seaton, co-author of Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Conquering Career Burnout. "One tool for doing that is through the use of SMART -- Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely -- goals," Bost Seaton said. Logging your sleep and exercise hours can help keep you on track.

5. Enough is enough.

If all else fails and you just can't take it anymore, perhaps it's time to plan a leave of absence -- or an exit strategy.

And keep an eye out for your fellow overworked lawyer colleagues as well. Friends know when to say when, and are often the first line of defense in avoiding attorney burnout.

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