No job in this world is easy. Every task, every goal, and the journey has its fair share of struggles and obstacles. That said, being a lawyer has its troubles on another level. It is certainly not easy to tackle complex cases, prepare strategies for your client, and stand firm in the grueling atmosphere of the courtroom. This job and your daily routine indeed take a toll on your wellbeing and produce a state of complete burnout.
Burnout is a traumatizing state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that makes you feel swamped and shattered. It is normal to have occasional or even routine bouts of stress, particularly in this line of work. However, things take an unexpected, undesirable turn when you do not manage your stress on time and soothe it daily.
When you don't address the routine stress, you only let stress become more extensive and complex. There then comes the point when you become so emotionally drained and overwhelmed that your body and mind keep you from going any further. You lose the motivation to take on any case; you feel withdrawn from even the activities you once found incredibly enjoyable, and you let go of the will to push yourself any more challenging.
You become cynical, hopeless, pessimistic, lethargic, exhausted, and even highly resentful. You do not wish to progress in life because you feel you don't have that spark anymore. Instead, burnout manifests itself in the following signs and symptoms. If you experience any of these daily, it is clear you are not in a healthy physical, emotional, and mental state.
Feeling drained, emotionally and physically, all the time
Having muscular pain frequently
Experiencing strong headaches regularly
Having drastic changes in appetite
Struggling with insomnia
Sharing a shallow sense of self-esteem
Constant self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy
Loss of motivation and willpower
Feeling defeated and helpless and thinking of yourself as a failure
Becoming highly cynical in life
Detachment from everything and everyone around you
Increased sense of dissatisfaction from life
Withdrawing from your responsibilities
Using alcohol, drugs, or food to cope with your pain
Isolating yourself from loved ones
Venting out your frustration on others
Losing the will to go to work
Procrastinating on essential tasks
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, your body signals you of the intense burnout you are experiencing. The problem with this situation is that burnout sabotages your wellbeing and confidence, depletes your motivation to do better, zaps you of your energy, and keeps you from pursuing different activities, especially work-related endeavors, with increased zeal and zest.
Whether you work as a litigator or as a transactional one, or you're in academia or government, if you find yourself overwhelmed and cynical often, that's because of burnout. Fortunately, a creative way out of this rut is a unique approach to soothe burnout and reclaim your energy, motivation, and life for good.
In case you're wondering if any of these ideas are backed by research- they are! The anecdotal evidence and your personal lived experience tell you that being a law student and lawyer is stressful. But so do all the studies.
One such study is "What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success" by Lawrence S. Krieger and Kenno Sheldon. They conducted a theory-guided empirical research project to identify the activities and behaviors that correlate and contribute to lawyers' wellbeing and life satisfaction.
They gathered data from several lawyers in four states to gain insights into diverse factors, including law school experiences, legal careers, and personal lives. They immediately noticed some patterns in the data, which raised serious questions about the usual priorities on law school campuses and among practitioners.
They noticed that most law students and lawyers focus almost exclusively on external factors. These factors include money and status-such as earnings, partnership in a law firm, law school debt, class rank, law review membership, and U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings. But the study shows almost no correlation between those external factors and lawyer wellbeing.
But what they did find was that internal and psychological factors do correlate to 'happiness" and "satisfaction." But unfortunately, focusing on the internal factors, such as autonomy, interest, freedom, a sense of worth, choices regarding family and personal life, erode in law school.
Interestingly, money and status factors and demographic differences were least important in lawyer happiness. Different practice types and settings further exemplified the issues that arise with a misplaced focus between internal and external factors. For example, lawyers in large firms and other prestigious positions were not "as happy" as public service attorneys. This held even though the latter had much better grades and pay than the former group. And junior partners in law firms show no significant improvement in happiness than senior associates. Even with the higher pay, benefits, and prestige of a partner, there was no actual increase in the sense of satisfaction.
The bottom line is, lawyers are like everybody else. Despite specialized cognitive training and the common perception that lawyers are fundamentally different from others, we are people first and lawyers second.