Is Being a Lawyer Stressful? Here’s How to Manage Stress From the Job
Thanks to dramas like Law and Order and Suits, there’s a lot of glamour surrounding the legal profession. But the truth is, it’s an incredibly stressful line of work.
In this article, we’ll cover the work stress lawyers face, why lawyer anxiety can be so high, and what to do about it. Armed with these tools, you’ll be able to serve the cause of justice without suffering burnout or an undue emotional burden.
Why is the Legal Field Stressful?
First, let’s talk about why being a lawyer is so stressful in the first place. This will provide useful context for the sections that follow, which discuss strategies for reducing lawyer stress while increasing productivity.
A key contributor to attorney stress is the famously long hours that the legal industry often demands. Though the exact number of hours a lawyer works will depend on the specifics of their specialization, firm, and location—the data suggest it’s a lot, regardless. When lawyers work for big firms they can easily hit more than 60 hours a week—perhaps as much as 80 hours a week—and even when they work for smaller firms the number can be in the mid-50 hours a week.
In any profession, a heavy workload is likely to lead to an equally heavy burden of stress, it’s no different for lawyers.
You might be asking why lawyers need to put in so much time—the answer is large caseloads. This, too, will vary depending on the area of law you expect to practice; if you spend time at a free legal clinic, it’s likely that there will be no end to the matters requiring your attention, but it’s not as though intellectual property or corporate lawyers make it home at 5 o’clock.
Additionally, clients are often in the market for legal services because they are facing stressful situations themselves, such as divorce or injury. Working with clients going through traumatic and life-changing events can take a toll on you as well.
Another stressful aspect of having a large caseload is that the stakes tend to be very high. The legal disputes you’re involved in may involve large sums of money, and impact many lives, not to mention affect your firm. That would weigh on anyone, and it’s a prime reason that being a lawyer is stressful.
Besides this, law is a complex and difficult profession. There are thousands of subtleties and procedures to understand in order to do your job well, and they’re constantly changing. Staying up on everything is another task that you’ll have to undertake in addition to your cases.
Student Loan Debt
Though law does pay well, getting the required education is extremely expensive. According to data from the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, the average young lawyer has $160,000 in student loan debt, and three-quarters of survey respondents had more than $100,000 in debt by the time they graduated from law school.
Even if you prioritize paying off these loans quickly, it could still easily take years. Debts are a common source of stress, so it’s no surprise that lawyers feel weighed down by their own fiscal burdens.
Risks of Attorney Stress
Lawyer stress has consequences, which we’ll discuss in the following sections.
Stress manifests itself in many ways, including physical difficulties. It can lead to chronic fatigue, insomnia, and related sleep issues, a lack of appetite, and bodily pains such as headaches.
When you face real danger, your body reacts by activating a “flight or flight” response that allows you to protect yourself. But when that mechanism is switched “on” all the time, it wears you down steadily, which can make you less happy and less able to do your job.
In order to overcome the fatigue and related health problems discussed in the previous section, many lawyers turn to substance use. This could involve drinking too much coffee, taking Adderall, or using nicotine to power through long hours, then turning to sedatives or cannabis to go to sleep at night.
As with most things, these substances might not do any lasting damage in small doses. But if used consistently, you’ll develop a dependence on them, rendering you unable to work, live, and function in their absence.
Overcoming an addiction problem requires herculean effort and carries with it its own drastic downsides. Ask any enthusiastic coffee drinker how it feels to take a few days off, and you’ll get a sense of how unpleasant a detox can be.
Extremely long hours spent poring over legal documents or appearing in court do not exactly facilitate having a robust network of friends and family to call upon when you need support.
Isolation takes a toll. A lack of human contact is well-known to cause mental anguish and suffering. That’s why, even in a maximum-security prison, solitary confinement is reserved as an additional punishment for the most ill-behaved inmates.
As with physical stress, this emotional stress can lead to lawyer anxiety, depression, and a host of other problems.
3 Tips to Manage Stress as a Lawyer
Let’s talk about ways in which attorneys can manage these difficulties and prevent burnout.
1. Take Breaks
No matter what you’re doing, doing it for a long time will tax your mental and physical resources. That’s why it’s important to take short, frequent breaks, and less frequent, longer breaks. By splitting up the tedium, you can re-invigorate yourself and do a lot to reduce the strain of a big workload.
There are lots of ways to take breaks productively. Going for a short walk, meditating for a few minutes, and doing some light stretching or exercise are all great options. If you’re reading a lot (which lawyers have been known to do), it’s also good to spend some time looking into the distance. This may sound strange, but it helps to reduce the strain and damage that hours spent looking at books or screens can do to your eyes.
2. Automate Your Work
Law firm management requires a lot of work, but there’s a good chance that you could do more to lighten your load. Delegating certain tasks to co-workers or more junior staff is one way to do this, but that may not always be an option.
Automating manual, time-consuming tasks can drastically lighten the load for you and your team members. This is made enormously easier by using high-quality legal software like LawPay.
LawPay has a suite of features that can substantially reduce tedious work. We have billing and invoicing software that makes it easy to invoice, bill, and get paid. For example, many lawyers track their time manually and record all of their hours at the end of the day or week. This requires additional time and mental effort to remember and dig up all the work done, all of which is automated when using LawPay’s time-tracking feature.
MyCase also has many features for comprehensive case management that can save you up to three billable hours a day. MyCase’s comprehensive practice management software allows you to automate the behind-the-scenes work such as billing, client intake, client communications, calendaring, managing documents, and more so that you can focus on what you do best—serving clients and practicing law.
3. Draw Boundaries
Finally, as a lawyer, it’s important to draw boundaries. You’ll have a lot of work to do, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t schedule time off to rest and recharge.
Drawing boundaries can take many forms. It might mean turning your phone off during a dinner with a loved one, carving out time on a Saturday to go to the park for fresh air, or not answering emails during a vacation.
The only way for rest to really work is if it’s actually rest—if you’re still thinking about work, you won’t be able to restore the energy you need to bring your best self to the law.
Managing the Stress of Being a Lawyer
Being a lawyer is difficult work, involving many physical, mental, and spiritual vicissitudes. Luckily, there are many things you can do to lower the work stress lawyers have to deal with. By taking breaks, setting clear boundaries, and adopting the rest of the advice presented in this article, you can lower your anxiety and weather whatever storms come your way.
Technology can be a big help in reducing stress as well. Quality legal software can lighten your daily burden significantly and help you keep on top of administrative tasks. To learn more about automating your billing and payment processes, book a custom LawPay demo. Or for all-in-one practice management, sign up for a 10-day free trial of MyCase to experience it first-hand.