Work-related stress is endemic among lawyers, and many have found that this has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heavy workloads, tight deadlines and long and unpredictable hours all take their toll. Ultimately, if not managed, the result can be burnout. Burnout has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. In essence, it’s a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or where your role has been physically or emotionally draining over a long period.
Burnout can lead to a range of issues: from fatigue, anxiety and headaches to feelings of overwhelm, feeling detached and alone in the world, cynicism, self-doubt and depletion. The phenomenon is also a key contributor to absenteeism. The recent study by Law Care ‘Life in the Law’ found the lawyers were at high risk of burnout, with participants aged between 26 and 35 displaying the highest burnout scores.
Helen Pamely is a leading life and career coach for lawyers and provides exceptional support to her clients. Her work includes helping lawyers suffering from burnout.
Both companies and individuals are seeking relief and resolution for burnout, and it’s a topic our career coach speaks on regularly. Helen is always happy to provide expert advice on this issue. In the meantime here are 10 tips for preventing and dealing with burnout:
- Provide more support to junior lawyers. As flagged above, occupational stress is particularly prevalent among trainees and junior associates. A further report by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) found that 93% of those working in the legal profession up to five years PQE are stressed at work, with almost a quarter of respondents feeling ‘severely’ or ‘extremely’ stressed. Ensuring juniors get the support they need from firms and senior lawyers is crucial. In the long-term, this will ensure better employee retention.
- Use techniques such as mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress. The ability to step back and ground yourself in the present moment can make a big difference.
- Psychotherapy can also be helpful to prevent and manage burnout. Helen Pamely is not only an experienced life and career coach but qualified in mindfulness and psychotherapy.
- Stay active and break a sweat. Research has shown that exercise is not only essential for keeping us healthy but for reducing stress.
- Seek advice from more senior lawyers. Helen is a former City of London law firm Partner, having trained and qualified at Magic Circle firm Linklaters. She can advise on the best ways to destress and prevent burnout in the first place.
- Make sure you take time out to recharge your batteries. The ability to switch off from work when on holiday and in down time is essential.
- Enjoy time with your friends and family. Having meaningful connections in our lives provides us with crucial support and also reminds us of what matters most. It’s important not to neglect this.
- Make sure to keep up hobbies outside work. Making time for other activities in your life where you can ‘switch off’ and forget about your stresses, creates healthy and much-needed mental space, which is vital to our overall mental health and wellbeing.
- Set healthy boundaries with clients. To the extent you possibly can, manage client expectations and those you work with, so that you can maintain a manageable workload.
- Encourage use of the latest technology in your law firm. This will encourage automation of many tasks and also mean that lawyers aren’t burdened with unnecessary admin.