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How to Avoid Burnout While Navigating a Legal Career

How to Avoid Burnout While Navigating a Legal Career

If you have been feeling burnout as a working attorney, don’t worry — you’re definitely not alone in being completely disengaged and exhausted in the workplace.  Industry observers have long been privy to the reality of attorney burnout, given the high-demand nature of attorney work, the billable hours requirements and aggressive culture at some firms.  Some industry observers have posited that the feeling of burnout has actually worsened over recent decades, as “always-on” modern technology has become increasingly ubiquitous in our daily lives (both personal and career).


Thirty years ago, for example, a firm could not always expect to get a hold of an attorney when they weren’t in the office.  Nowadays, cell phones, messaging, and email allow firms to hold attorneys accountable for spontaneous issues soon after they arise.


It’s important to understand, however, that there are ways to avoid and overcome attorney burnout.  Burnout does not have to be a permanent state of affairs, and does not have to be resolved only through extreme decisions (e.g. leaving the law behind entirely).  In fact, by making a series of careful, well-considered decisions, you can move towards a legal career that a is sustainable both mentally and physically.


Let’s take a closer look!


What is Burnout, Exactly?


Burnout can be difficult to define, but in general, it is used to describe — in the work or study context — an individual who is experiencing the following issues:


    • Chronic mental exhaustion
    • Pessimism
    • Work inefficiency
    • Inattentiveness
    • Physical issues related to stress (i.e., headaches, aches, sleeping problems, etc.)


Some researchers have called burnout a form of “disengagement,” in which the individual detaches from their work and finds it impossible to commit the level of resources necessary to do an adequate job.  Generally, this leads to even greater stress as the “burnout” afflicted individual is set back by their inability to perform.


Strategies for Avoiding Burnout


There are a number of strategies that one can use to avoid and overcome burnout.  Though many assume that simply taking some time off will help resolve burnout, that is not a solution in the long-term — in fact, if an attorney is very busy, then time off may lead to additional stresses, depending on how much work they miss.


Make a Career Change

Make a career change — either big or small.  Moving to a new practice area that you’re curious to explore could be just the shift you need to get those juices flowing again.  Alternatively, if you feel stuck in your current firm or legal department, move to another one!  Studies show that a new physical environment can have a significant and positive mental impact.  Leaving the law isn’t necessary if you make small, but powerful moves towards changing your day-to-day work life.


Explore Purposeful/Passion Projects

Many attorneys go into legal work excited for the prospect of truly helping people.  Even corporate attorneys find excitement and meaning in pro bono work and various other passion projects.  It’s important not to let these projects fall to the wayside — treat purposeful work as part of your monthly or annual requirements in the way that you might treat paid work.  By ensuring that your schedule is integrated with at least some amount of meaningful work, you will have developed a more balanced career — one that involves sufficient financial and purpose-based renumeration.


Consider Proactive Psychological Therapy

Therapy can help individuals avoid and overcome burnout by addressing the stresses that we put on ourselves to achieve — stresses that may not be necessary.  For example, an obsession with performing “perfectly” could lead to burnout in a relatively normal workplace.  By addressing this perfectionist feeling, one can overcome a factor that is likely to contribute to burnout in the long-term.


Therapy can also help you make sense of a stressful work environment — how much of that is from your own contribution and how much of that is due to co-workers and overall environment.  By identifying the problem areas, you can more accurately determine whether a workplace is right for you, or whether a move elsewhere will serve you better in avoiding burnout.


Contact Garb Jaffe & Associates for Recruitment Assistance


Feeling burnt out on your legal career and looking for an antidote?  Though finding a new position isn’t the only answer to burnout, it can certainly help — a new office, a new set of colleagues, new clients, new projects, and better work-life balance — all of these can refresh an attorney’s sense of self and put them in a position to truly succeed, both emotionally and financially.


We encourage you to contact our team here at Garb Jaffe & Associates to learn more about how we can assist you in your journey to transition to a position that is more fulfilling and balanced.


Here at Garb Jaffe, our experienced San Francisco Bay Area legal recruiters have spent decades working with a range of attorney-candidates, helping them to secure an “ideal” new position.  In providing such assistance, we work tirelessly from beginning-to-end to ensure that the attorney-candidate has the resources and knowledge necessary to favorably compete against other applicants — our team helps clients with preparing their resumé, identifying ideal firms and specific openings, readying themselves for the interview phase, and following through on interest.


Call us at 310-207-0727 or complete an intake form through our website to schedule a meeting with a member of our team.  Our services are free of cost for attorney-candidates.


We look forward to speaking with you.

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