To say that being a lawyer is a high-stress occupation is a gross understatement. From ensuring you’re up to date on the latest legal and procedural changes to responding quickly to clients’ requests and demands—you face constant pressure to do and achieve at the highest level. What’s more, in today’s ‘always on’ culture, there’s never an excuse to not meet a deadline or respond to a client’s inquiry—especially when working from home.
Compounding the stressors lawyers face is the fact that many of the duties and responsibilities associated with practicing law are completely outside of your control. And, professionally, your value is inherently tied to how many hours you bill.
Given the demands associated with practicing law, it’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace and endless lists of to-dos. However, it’s important to consider the toll chronic stress takes on your physical and mental health. If you’re a lawyer who is feeling the ill-effects of too much work-related stress, it’s time to pause and reflect on ways you can make your well-being a priority.
Changing your personal paradigm
To be a truly content and high-functioning human being and lawyer, you need to take care of yourself—mind, body, and soul. While things like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep often top the list of personal health must-dos, there are numerous other extremely beneficial practices you may want to consider incorporating into your daily life.
Pause and check in: The demands of work can create tunnel vision and, before you know it, you’re floundering and feeling overwhelmed. On a regular basis, take time to be still and evaluate how you feel, both physically and mentally. Do you feel calm and connected to the work you’re doing or is your heart racing and thoughts scattered? One of the easiest, and more effective, ways to quiet the mind and physical sensations associated with stress is to focus on your breath. According to Harvard Medical School, shifting your focus and paying attention to your breathing elicits a natural relaxation response in your body. Practicing deep breathing techniques even for a few minutes each day can reduce your heartrate, lower your blood pressure, and promote overall feelings of tranquillity.
Reclaim your time: Lawyers are notorious for putting in long hours. During COVID-19 lockdown, working from home can easily promote extending your workday. When your thoughts are consumed by work-related matters, out of hours, and not focused on family, friends and private life—something needs to shift. Setting boundaries and establishing clear lines between your professional and personal lives will not only provide time to focus on the people and things that matter outside of ‘work’, but also ensures you have the physical, emotional and mental capacity, and stamina to step up when you’re handling a complex client matter.
Ask for help: Historically, the hallmarks of the legal profession require lawyers to be intelligent, confident, and highly competent. By nature, most lawyers are competitive, trend towards perfectionism, and struggle to admit when they don’t know something or need help. These personality traits can lead a lawyer to push beyond their limits and eventually suffer burnout. Especially during the pandemic, being brave enough to be vulnerable and admit when you don’t have all the answers can be extremely liberating. Doing so may also help you see the obstacles you face in a new light and allow you to come up with solutions that benefit both you and your firm.
Well-being is a priority
In law firms, the topic of well-being and seeking help can be controversial. Generally, the societal and industry idea that well-being is soft, asking for help is a weakness. Mindfulness is perceived as being weak, and that the need for self-care is a personal flaw—especially for a lawyer. Increasingly, however, many law firms realise they cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the human side of their lawyers. The stakes, from both a human and business perspective, are simply too high. In order to attract and retain top talent, provide superior client care, and compete for new business—firms need to seek out new innovative ways address truly modern their legal practice. This isn’t just about new and innovative solutions to provide clients with the value and answers they need, it’s also about recognising and addressing much needed organisational and industry change when it comes to the overall well-being of legal professionals. As the world copes with COVID-19, this necessary paradigm shift is highlighted even more.
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