Being a lawyer is challenging in more ways than one, especially on your mental health. That may seem like the understatement of the century, but it’s definitely not a profession for the faint of heart. Most of all, one’s psyche is on a tenuous tightrope when working in the field of law. Everything from long hours to equally long commutes to immensely competitive coworkers can hinder your mental health.
As a lawyer, your mind is your weapon. If that starts to fall by the wayside, then your physical health will follow. Everything is connected, and not in a fun way like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, how do you strengthen your mental health in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world? We’ve got a list of lawyer challenges coupled with ways to overcome them for the sake of your mental health.
How to Overcome Stress in the Workplace
Stress — it’s a killer. That’s not just a quote from the lovable bat Bartok in the animated film Anastasia. It’s a saying that rings true. Stress can kill. And who’s more stressed out than a lawyer? If you’re working long hours, chances are your mental health is more than a little frayed.
Beyond Counsel provides a handy tip for when stress overwhelms. “Remember that you’re only human. You should always try your best, but you won’t win every case. The sooner you come to this realization, the better.”
No, you won’t win every case. Your client may not win their settlement or be acquitted. That’s just a fact of life. One that’s difficult for perfectionists — ahem, lawyers — to accept, but accept it you must. Here’s another pro-tip: breathe. It seems so simple, and yet at the worst of times, we find ourselves clenching up and holding our breath. So, don’t do that. Healthline has a list of 10 helpful breathing exercises for stressful situations.
Breathing helps you clear your mind and center yourself. Taking 10 minutes to meditate is also a great way to relieve stress. Write down your negative feelings in a journal. Drink water. Stress is not the end. And remember, the world is still spinning.
How to Deal With “Guilty” Clients
It will happen — you’ll represent someone “guilty” who committed the crimes of which they’re being accused. How will that affect your mental health? If you consider yourself to be a morally sound person, then trying to defend someone “guilty” may wear on your psyche.
Beyond Counsel has another helpful tip for just such an occasion. “Keep things professional. And remember that you chose this career for a reason. Hopefully, you’ll find that this reason makes everything worth it in the end.”
Write down what that reason is. Read it out loud. Doctors and nurses deal with death every day. Surgeries that take a detrimental route, procedures that result in death. Perhaps they’re unable to revive someone after a horrific car accident. And yet, medical professionals continue to do their work day in and day out. While this may feel like comparing apples to oranges, the principle remains the same. Do your job.
So, how do you keep your mind intact during difficult cases? Compartmentalize. Extricate the acts from the client. Your job is to represent the person.
How to Weather the Long Hours
Long hours at any job can be wearisome, let alone at a law office. Prolonged work, especially without proper breaks, can hamper your mental health. It can make you fatigued, irritable, and you can easily lose focus. You may also feel dark, depressive thoughts creeping in since your “guard” is down.
The Wellbeing Thesis documents the importance of taking breaks while working long hours. “… research has found that taking a break can be very beneficial for you and your work. Micro-breaks, lunchtime breaks and longer breaks, have all been shown to have a positive relationship with wellbeing and productivity. By taking regular breaks you can boost your performance.”
If you think about it, taking a break is like jumpstarting your brain. Giving your mind a moment to rest and recharge. This is especially crucial if you struggle with mental health issues. The Wellbeing Thesis also boasts a list of tips to ensure that you take proper breaks.
“1. Agree break times with your peers and help each other to stick to the break time you’ve agreed.
2. Set an alarm on your phone to prompt you.
3. Plan to do something in your break that you enjoy – the anticipation of pleasure will motivate you to keep to the break.
4. Pay attention to any benefits you experience when you take a break – this will lodge in your mind and motivate you to take breaks in future.
5. Use post-it notes or drawings in your workspace to remind you that a PGR project is a long-term piece of work – you won’t complete it well if you burn yourself out: so, take a break.”
Additionally, you can enact the aforementioned breathing practices to help keep you centered. Eat something healthy for a snack in between sessions. Stay hydrated.
How to Not Allow Assumptions of You Affect Your Mental Health
People are bound to judge you regardless of your profession — that’s just common sense. Also, humans are prone to doling out harsh judgment because of their own insecurities. Criminal defense lawyers are especially judged for the clients they defend. However, lawyers, in general, are perceived as “aggressive,” “robotic,” and “manipulative” because of what they do. According to society, they’re silver-tongued smooth talkers without a soul. But you and I both know that’s not true.
These passing judgments and assumptions can erode your mental health. Whether they’re from strangers or associates, words still hurt. Beyond Counsel doesn’t have much advice beyond this:
“Unfortunately, there’s no surefire solution here. The only thing you can do is learn to accept that people will judge you. You should also learn to accept that their judgments simply don’t matter. You know yourself best.”
Relish in the fact that you know who you are. Remember that those that matter won’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter. A great way of fortifying your mental health against the naysayers is to surround yourself with a strong support system. Cultivate a trustworthy friend circle on which you can rely. Wherein you can vent and air out your feelings without judgment. Hold fast to that system.
Write down a list of your positive attributes. Read them aloud every day. Remind yourself that you know who you are and that’s all that counts. Just do your job to the best of your ability.
How to Withstand a Competitive Job Market
There’s no question — the law profession has always been a competitive one. Beyond Counsel notes that the rise of new technologies can contribute to the competitive job market. Said new technologies eliminate the need for companies to take on lawyers. Additionally, there are way more lawyers on hand that exceeds the demand. Not to mention, so many people are studying law in school.
What’s Beyond Counsel’s sage wisdom for navigating the intense law market? “One of the best pieces of advice we can give you here is to elevate your skill set. Become the type of lawyer that’s hard to find by picking up valuable skills. Learning new technologies and entering niche legal markets, for example, are excellent ways to stand out.”
So, that’s the technical solution to wending your way through the market. But what about your mental health? Competing for jobs and clients can feel like slogging through quicksand. Perhaps you’re starting to feel discouraged or inadequate. Maybe you’re on the brink of throwing in the towel altogether. It’s so easy to feel intimidated or like you’ve got a strong case of imposter syndrome.
Consider mental health coaching. Talking to a coach is not only an excellent way of maintaining your mental health, but it can help you sort out those complicated feelings. You’ll have someone impartial to vent to — a third party that won’t judge you like the rest of the world. Your coach can light your path and aid you in finding solutions to the myriad of issues you face as a lawyer in a competitive job market.
Remember, your mental health is important!
Overall, your job isn’t easy. Practicing law is immensely difficult — that’s why you’re in school for so long! However, despite the persistent attacks to your mental health, there are solutions. There are methods you can adopt to help you keep your mind in tip-top shape. Just always remember to practice self-care. Taking care of yourself is top priority. For more tips on nurturing your mental health as a working lawyer, click here.