Are lawyers overworked? The answer to that question is, more often than not, a resounding “yes!”
In fact, many lawyers are so overworked that they have virtually no work-life balance and they’re struggling to find time to adequately care for their mental and physical health. This can lead to serious consequences, such as lawyer burnout, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.
So, what’s causing the overload for attorneys, and what can be done about it?
Read on for some tips on how to preserve your well-being as a lawyer.
Signs of Feeling Overworked
Many aspiring lawyers go to law school feeling optimistic that they can make a difference in the world once they become full-time lawyers. However, when they become new lawyers, many end up working long hours and taking heavy caseloads so they can get noticed in their law firms. Unfortunately, these young lawyers are already on their way to experiencing attorney burnout.
In the legal industry, there is a predominant tradition of overworking. In fact, some lawyers even brag about how busy they are.
This can be traced back to a misplaced concept that the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be in your legal career, and ultimately, the happier you will become.
But at the end of the day, is it really worth it to glamorize this culture of overwork?
Let’s dive into what the signs of overworking are.
1. Feeling Stressed or “Burned Out”
It’s normal to feel acute stress at work, but if it develops into chronic stress, this is a serious problem. Lawyers are expected to complete an average of 1800 billable hours per year. On top of this, there is also non-billable time spent on business development and marketing. Needless to say, this often translates to long work hours, which can lead to burnout. Lawyer burnout may also lead to potential mental health issues, social withdrawal, and even physical symptoms. Signs of burnout are felt not only by senior lawyers, but also by many younger legal professionals.
2. Feeling Overwhelmed or Inadequate
New associates tend to be eager to prove their place in the law practice, so they tend to take on more responsibilities that may be beyond their capabilities. Without the assistance of a mentor or senior attorneys, junior lawyers can often feel overwhelmed with the extra tasks. As a result, they can begin to experience feelings of inadequacy. These tasks may be challenges that every lawyer faces, but without enough support and reasonable boundaries, it can feel very overwhelming to newer legal professionals.
3. Weakened Immune System
Among the effects of burnout or stress is a compromised immune system. If your immune system is weakened, this could lead to minor illnesses like the common cold, or it may even lead to serious health problems like heart disease. Usually, if you call in sick frequently or work, your legal career will suffer. Plus, let’s face it, it would be hard to juggle client demands and other legal work when you’re not in tip-top shape.
4. Sleeping Disorders
Both the mind and body need sleep to recuperate. A good night’s sleep is crucial to revitalize you before starting a new day. Generally speaking, lawyers have quite a bit of work on their plates and they often need to put in extra hours just to meet deadlines and complete their work. This is why many lawyers don’t feel like they have enough time to sleep for a full 7-9 hours, especially when they need to wake up early in the morning to commute to work, or even to do more work.
Unfortunately, attorneys might also have a hard time going to sleep due to depression or anxiety. In the long run, an inconsistent sleeping pattern can cause sickness and leave you not feeling your best self.
Similarly, lack of sleep can cause exhaustion, but so does overworking. Frequent fatigue may be a sign of a much deeper problem. In short, exhaustion can cause the quality of your work to decline. Plus, being tired all the time also affects your personal life, especially when you’re too exhausted to do the things you enjoy or to be fully present with the people you love. Likewise, it’s hard to spend much time with your family members or social circle when you would rather be sleeping.
6. Frequently Distracted
If you’re frequently distracted, you won’t be as efficient or productive as you want to be. Finding yourself distracted often is typically a sign that you’re losing your motivation to work, or losing your passion for your career. Plus, if you’re having trouble focusing on work, you tend to make more mistakes. Big law firms aren’t quick to forgive mistakes, as it costs them money and clients when mistakes happen.
If you identify with any of these signs, it’s important to ask yourself, what drives you to overwork? Do you think you’re still in a healthy working environment? Is overworking a company culture?
Tips on How to Overcome Overworking
If you think you have even just one of the signs above, you might be an overworked lawyer. As the saying goes, it’s important to work smarter, not harder.
Here, we listed some tips on how to overcome overworking in the legal industry. These are the most important things you should consider in order to become one of the legal leaders in your field.
1. Take a Closer Look at Your Priorities
Oftentimes, big law firms have already worked out what they expect from their associates. When it comes to your priorities, this should go the same for you. Afterall, you made your way into the practice of law with aspirations and dreams. But you have to consider your immediate priorities. What is most important to you? It’s important to not just determine your priorities, but also to adjust your expectations to the reality of your priorities. Also, don’t compare yourself to your colleagues. They have their own set of challenges and priorities, and you have yours. Comparing yourself will increase your stress, so it’s best to avoid it at all costs.
2. Make the Necessary Changes
In line with your priorities, are you ready to make the necessary changes in your career or personal life to take care of them? To begin with, don’t bite off more than what you can chew. If you’re finding yourself feeling overworked, it’s important to talk to your senior associates or a mentor if you think you need more help or if you’re at your breaking point at work. They’ve been through similar circumstances and they can offer support and general counsel.
3. Set Boundaries
To run a successful legal career, you need to learn how to say “no.” First of all, it’s crucial that you define your working hours. Then, if you think you need more time to complete a task, try to renegotiate—you are a lawyer, after all. Let your colleagues know your limitations so you can compromise.
Similarly, you need to learn how to prioritize the urgent and important projects you’re working on instead of multitasking, which may lead you to lose focus. Also, if you find that your values no longer align with the office culture you’re surrounded by, it’s vital that you look for other opportunities.
4. Plan Your Schedule
By planning your schedule, you can make sure you not only get your work completed on time, but also that you’re spending enough time with your family and social circle. It’s also important to plan out a well-deserved vacation at least once every year. If you think you want to accomplish work-related tasks while on vacation, try booking a Destination CLE.
The Eduvacation℠ of Destination CLEs incorporates completing your required CLE hours while on a relaxing vacation in exotic locations around the world. In this way, you can feel productive, even while you’re away from the office, and even while enjoying time with family. You can also choose to schedule in time just to disconnect and enjoy your personal time, or even to go away for the weekend with friends or family members. If you feel like you can’t afford to stay away from the office for too long, at least take short, frequent breaks from working to avoid burning out.
5. Seek Help
Always remember that self-care is the first step in overcoming burnout. Seek professional help if you think you need someone to talk to, or if your mental health isn’t improving. You can even ask your firm to give you a temporary leave of absence to work on yourself.
6. Reestablish your Personal Relationships
When was the last time you went out with friends for happy hour? Do you still remember when you last joined family events? Lawyers have personal lives they need to take care of, too. Plus, spending time with your friends and family is a great way to disconnect from work and find peace in your life. Make a conscious effort to know how the people who are important to you have been doing. Trust us—it goes a long way!
We’ve all been there. That moment when you realize you’ve been working so hard, for so long, that your brain has turned to mush. You can barely think straight and the only thing you want is a pillow and a comfy place to curl up for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just an occasional occurrence – it’s become the norm for many lawyers in the United States. A recent study shows that 88% of lawyers feel overworked, with one-third reporting they are chronically overworked. This statistic is alarming not just because it means our legal professionals are struggling, but also because it could lead to serious health consequences if left unchecked.
If you’re feeling overworked but having a hard time unplugging, consider booking an Eduvacation℠ with Destination CLEs. It’s hard to say no to escaping to an exotic and relaxing location while still furthering your legal career by earning CLE credits and networking with powerful leaders in your field!
Click here to book your next getaway that will help you recharge and come back feeling refreshed.