As a lawyer, you likely work between 50 to 60 hours each week. To the outside world, you’re Superman’s long-lost cousin, flying around in a trip hazard cape to fight your client’s battles.
To observers, your life is the ultimate dream, the model every other profession should shadow.
But you know that’s far from the truth.
Your job entails more than rushing to court to deliver a magnificent speech on your client’s behalf. Your job is a tough cookie, so tough that your body is feeling worn-out.
Lawyer burnout isn’t a trivial matter to sweep under the rug. If you’re overworked, there are consequences, and most aren’t hunky-dory.
In this article, I talk about the negative consequences associated with burnout.
But first, let’s look at why some lawyers push themselves to that point.
The Lure Behind Lawyer Burnout
Most lawyers don’t work to lose steam, and that’s true in your case. Why, then, do most law practitioners become overworked and burnout?
Perhaps it’s the perfectionist in you that pushes above and beyond. There’s the drive to excel at your practice and, let’s face it, a law firm is no place for timidity and mediocrity.
You’re working in a real, competitive field, and if you don’t bring your ‘a game’ others might view you less than.
Also, since the firm’s main goal is to augment its profits, your health is often thrown through the door. It’s a cold world, and you must fend for yourself; at least that’s the impression given.
There aren’t many positives associated with being overworked as a lawyer. Sure, your value doubles (or triples) when you push beyond your limit, and you’re in a better position to give your family whatever they desire financially.
Exertion at work also increases engagement and efficacy in your practice. However, there are sacrifices involved, and one such sacrifice is your mental health.
The Business of Law on Mental Health
Burnout contributes to poor health.
Problems such as hypertension, stomach disorders, and headaches are negative consequences associated with burnout. However, there are psychological problems at play.
Male attorneys, for example, experience “higher levels of depression.” Their female counterpart, however, racked up more stress and anxiety points, according to a study. A significant 28% of lawyers suffer from depression, while 19% and 23% work their way around anxiety and stress, respectively.
As a lawyer trying to find balance, it’s easy to develop a mental health condition from burnout.
Like this anonymous lawyer, you might be a high-functioning practitioner, but if your problem of being overworked isn’t addressed, your world could collapse.
You may be tempted to push beyond your limit, but think about how your emotional and mental health would suffer.
The list to follow explores 6 negative consequences of burnout that contribute to mental health problems.
Negative Impacts of Being Overworked
Stress is a natural, healthy process. It’s your body’s reaction to life and a mechanism that can be used as a force for good. Stress sends your body cues, oftentimes about things you need to get done.
Perpetual stress, however, strains the body.
Your body is in a constant state of mental and physical tenseness. Chronic stress wears down the body, much like an old Chevy from the 70s.
I’ve had the opportunity to conduct extensive research on stress a few years back, and what I found stuck with me.
Stress affects the body on various levels—think psychological, behavioral, physical, and physiological. When you wear a knapsack of stress, you’re signaling to a plethora of health problems that you’re vulnerable.
The nature of being an attorney is stressful. But when you extend yourself without let up, one day, something will give.
Think about a balloon that is blown up. When inflated with the right amount of air, you can use it for different purposes, such as decorating an office party. Too much air, however, and the balloon explodes.
The next time you think about allying with stress, think about that deflated balloon.
2. Physical & Mental Exhaustion
Your clients have demands.
The law firm you work with also has requirements, and if certain processes aren’t streamlined, your day could be clogged handling administrative, non-billable work.
Furthermore, you may have personal ambitions. Are you thinking about making partner? Whatever those goals are, they require industriousness.
If you’re that type of attorney who often jumps on a plane to see clients, the physical and mental strain is heightened. And, if you’re a litigious lawyer, research shows you’re more susceptible to burnout.
Stress and physical and mental exhaustion combined is a dish of disaster. Consider another negative consequence of lawyer burnout.
A goodnight’s rest is crucial to your performance as an attorney. Sadly, your profession doesn’t allow that luxury.
The Centers for Disease and Prevention Control reported that approximately 32.9% of lawyers, judges, and persons within related fields are sleep deprived. A former lawyer with 40 years under his belt confirmed that lawyers, were in fact, robbing themselves of quality slumber time. He has never slept beyond 4 hours at a time.
Your inability to sleep might be a result of chronic stress and physical and mental exhaustion. If you want to get a goodnight’s rest, swapping out your habit of becoming overworked is essential.
If you continue sleep-deprived, your mental health will take a hit, and so will your effectiveness at work.
4. Spousal and Family Neglect
With all those additional hours and break away from home, what do you think will become of your family? Some firms may allow you to clean up deadlines at home, but when do you begin spending quality time with the people you love the most?
No, I’m not insinuating that you cannot practice and be a good parent or spouse. But oftentimes spouses and children feel neglected.
While some lawyers can hold things together, others get home just in time to kiss their children goodnight. Sure, you want to give your children the world, but at what expense?
James Goodnow, a partner at a major law firm, was transparent about his practice and family life. He understands the heavy lifting that comes with the territory, and like most attorneys, struggle to keep the balance.
Like James, if you’re honest to admit that the business of law may strain family ties, you’re well on your way to changing small things to be more involved and present in your family’s life.
5. Negative Behavioral Changes
When immersed in stress, snapping at anyone (and anything) becomes a habitual practice. If you aren’t careful, the stress and demands of work-life could dominate the sweet, generous persona that you are.
If you’re experiencing untoward changes in your attitude, this is a cause for alarm. Are you irritable? Does the slightest blunder ignite anger or frustration? Do you have to drag yourself out of bed, instead of leaping as you once did?
You’re not alone in this.
Other lawyers suffer from burnout behavioral changes. Paula Davis, a former attorney, shared how she became “cynical” and bugged by everyone in her burnout story. She became disconnected from others, although she previously enjoyed social interactions.
These behavioral changes don’t get better with time. They do, however, change when you make a conscious effort to deal with being an overworked lawyer.
6. Substance Abuse
As an attorney contending with burnout, a bottle of wine may seem tempting. And probably you’ve gulped down a few bottles, but that’s our little secret.
Substance abuse is commonplace among law practitioners. Consider the findings from a study. About 12,825 working lawyers were assessed using surveys concerning their mental health and behavioral tendencies. The results were problematic, as they unveiled that a significant 20.6% of attorneys were potential heavy alcohol drinkers. Mint, young lawyers seemed more heavily influenced by alcohol, rather than those with years of experience in the business.
The conclusion of this study is telling and a silent plea from lawyers, as they’re more prone to alcohol use disorders than any other profession.
While lawyer burnout seems like a difficult hurdle to jump, you’re not without help. Consider what you can do to deal with your situation, while you keep your job.
Taking Lawyer Burnout by the Horns: What Can You Do?
Workplace policies may not be in place to prevent or cushion lawyer burnout. Some colleagues may also consider it a sign of weakness should they get wind of your situation.
Your health is your prerogative. If you feel cramped and buried under work, get help. Don’t be afraid to see a professional who can provide the tools and tricks you need to deal with workplace burnout.
My practice as a mental health coach qualifies me to work with overworked lawyers. Using research-backed techniques and simple lifestyle changes, you’ll be able to strike a balance, stress less, sleep better, and spend more time with your family.
Can you make improvements on the job to maintain a high performance and not feel burnout?
Schedule a free 30-minute coaching session to learn how I can help you. See you on the other side.