Resolve to Avoid Lawyer Burnout With These 5 Easy Tips

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Burnout is endemic in the legal profession. And we're not talking run of the mill dislike for your job -- if you're not skipping in to work every morning, we don't blame you -- but full-on "I'd rather in be in an ISIS prison than here" giving up.

But just because burnout is common doesn't mean you have to succumb to it. With a little awareness and a little work, attorneys can help make sure they're not debilitated by depression, dread, and dislike for their job. Here are five simple resolutions that can help you stave off, or recover from, lawyer burnout.

1. Stay in Touch

This year, resolve to go out more. Burnout is commonly preceded by a withdrawal from social contacts, according to Herbert Freudenberger, who coined the term "burnout." It's easy for overworked, overstressed attorneys to come home and crash, alone, with a bottle of booze and Netflix. But that isolation only fuels the feelings of emptiness or purposelessness that lead to burnout.

Instead, pledge to spend time face time with friends or family at least once a week and maintain contact in between. Even in your busiest days, you can still sneak in a quick video chat or phone call.

2. Focus on What Gives Your Work Meaning

Every week, take a moment to inventory what gives your job meaning. Is it the approval of your peers? Interest in the subject matter? The ability to pay off loans? Reminding yourself of why you do what you do -- even if it's not exactly saving the world -- can help you build strength to get through the less rewarding parts of your job.

But what if you come up with zilch when looking for meaning? Make some. Doing volunteer or pro bono work can help give you a sense of fulfillment to pull you through your paying gigs. There's a reason public interest attorneys are the happiest attorneys.

3. Take Time Off

Don't let work overwhelm your life. Planning and taking vacations is an important way to de-stress and maintain a healthy boundary between your life as an attorney and your life as a person.

4. Check Your Competitive Instincts

Attorneys often burn out because they work too hard for too few rewards with little driving them but the desire to be on top. If you want to ensure a long career, not just a successful one, you'll need to keep some of your competitive instincts in check. That means settling for being in the top half of associate hours billed, for example, instead of at the very top. Your bonus might be a smidge smaller, but your life will be much better.

5. Try Mindfulness Techniques

Even if you're not one for incense, yoga pants, or Zen mantras, there can still be room for mindfulness in your life. Mindfulness techniques, which focus on achieving "active, open attention on the present," are being adopted by many firms as a way for attorneys to deal with stress and conflict. A few minutes of mindfulness work a day might be enough to help you find some peace -- or at least provide a peaceful break during your day.

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