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The threat of burnout is real in the legal profession

The commitment attorneys have to their clients, and their work often translates to an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” kind of a mindset, creating an always-on culture that leaves little room for a break. The unforgiving hours of the job coupled with persistent demands from both firm leadership and clients can end up leading to high stress, exhaustion and ultimately, burnout from the job. 

What causes burnout?

This state of physical and emotional exhaustion can frequently rear its ugly head in law offices for two primary reasons:

  1. Intense job demands: The high pressure and competitive nature of law firms challenge attorneys to work longer and harder, all while juggling rigid deadlines, business development efforts and client demands. In fact, the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s 2019 State of U.S. Small Law Firms Report, found that acquiring new business and spending too much time on administrative tasks were the top two challenges cited by firms.
  2. Lack of sufficient resources: On top of the immense pressures found the office, firms tend to lack resources that can help alleviate stress in the workplace, including flexible schedule options, open feedback, office engagement, and social support groups.

What’s interesting is that many attorneys are looking to introduce more work/life balance into their lives in hopes of combatting burnout, with 80 percent reporting that it is an essential measure of success. The difficulty with finding this balance in the world of law remains a genuine and serious issue.

Why is it important for law firms to address burnout?

Aside from the overall health and well-being of employees, burnout significantly increases the risk of turnover – and that’s losing firms billions of dollars each year in recruiting costs. Depending on the size of the firm, the National Association for Law Placement found that losing just one associate can cost between $200,000 and $500,000.

What are the signs?

Attorney burnout can take many forms, including fatigue, social withdrawal, headaches, and absenteeism. But perhaps the most serious symptoms of burnout are inefficiency and inattention to detail – vital areas for any practicing attorney. With the intense work demands and the importance of billing the most hours, firms depend on efficient and thorough attorneys to be profitable. 

How can I prevent burnout?

  • Take a break. One of the best ways to avoid the threat of burnout is by taking time away from the office. Consider which months are least busy for your firm and carve out dedicated time off to relax and recharge. It’s common to feel overwhelmed with the thought of work piling up while you’re away, so plan well in advance so you can clear your calendar and notify clients of your absence. And make sure to get someone up to speed on critical cases and administrative tasks you’re responsible for so they can handle questions while you are out of the office.
  • Use technology to your advantage. Attorneys report spending nearly 40 percent of their day on tasks other than practicing law. When most firms are pushing for more and more billable hours, this is an incredible amount of time wasted on activities not directly related to the bottom line. The good news is that the legal industry is seeing major improvements in technology, helping attorneys make the most of their workday. Tools such as Westlaw Edge utilize artificial intelligence to deliver faster, more accurate answers, all in the name of saving time – and hopefully alleviating some stress along the way.
  • Remember the basics. It sounds simple, but health and exercise are often the first to go when attorneys are feeling the pressure at work. Small steps, such as short walks outside or taking a lunch break each day can make a significant impact on your overall mental and physical health. If your firm offers options such as working from home or flexible work weeks, take advantage of it. The time you’d spend commuting to and from the office could instead be spent doing something you enjoy.

Where do I go from here?

The good news is you have options. Westlaw Edge delivers attorneys the fastest answers and most valuable insights, helping combat the threat of attorney burnout.

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