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Understanding Legal Burnout & Building Resilience

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Understanding Legal Burnout & Building Resilience

​In the legal profession, burnout has become an increasingly prevalent issue affecting lawyers at all stages of their careers. The demanding nature of legal work, combined with long hours, high-pressure environments, and client expectations, can lead to chronic stress and eventually burnout. This is a key concern for many legal firms, and many of the employers we partner with are making it a priority to implement strategies to support employee wellbeing.

The main causes of legal burnout we hear about from our candidates are:

  • High Workload: These are further compounded by tight deadlines and client demands.

  • Perfectionism: This often stems from a fear of failure and lawyers feeling the pressure to deliver to a high standard.

  • Lack of Control: Often having limited control over their work schedules and priorities.

  • Client Expectations: Clients can be challenging in terms of their expectations, turnaround times or the or sometimes difficult personalities.

  • Emotional Toll: Dealing with sensitive or emotionally draining matters (most prevalent in areas such as criminal and family law), can take a significant toll on lawyers.

These pressures often present in several ways:

  • Physical Symptoms: Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, fatigue, and digestive issues due to prolonged stress.

  • Emotional Exhaustion: Feelings of apathy, cynicism, and emotional detachment.

  • Decreased Performance: Impair cognitive function, decision-making abilities, and overall job performance.

  • Relationship Strain: Spill into personal relationships, leading to conflicts with family and friends.

  • Career Consequences: Impact on career advancement, job satisfaction, and overall professional success.

Our recommendations for legal personnel to avoid burnout are:

  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries, including when you’re contactable and for when people internally as well as externally (e.g. clients) can expect to hear from you, taking regular breaks and self-care activities.

  • Delegate and Collaborate: Share the workload – as you become more senior, delegation is increasingly important to manage a high workload.

  • Manage Stress: Utilising techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises and physical activity.

  • Seek Support: Reach out to mentors, peers, or professional support networks.

  • Prioritise life outside of work: Take part in activities that bring joy and fulfilment.

  • Set Realistic Expectations: Set realistic goals, prioritise tasks and communicate effectively.

  • Seek Professional Help: If experiencing severe burnout symptoms, consider seeking professional help.

How employers can play a crucial role in eliminating burnout:

Employers play a crucial role in reducing burnout by implementing supportive policies and fostering a positive work environment. Providing resources for stress management, such as employee assistance programs, wellness initiatives, and mental health support services, can help employees cope with the demands of their work and encourage them to seek help when needed. Prioritising work-life balance through flexible work arrangements, realistic workload expectations and encouraging time off (including boundaries such as not being expected to work when on leave or check phone and emails) can prevent chronic stress and burnout. Cultivating a culture of open communication, where employees feel comfortable expressing concerns and seeking assistance, can also help identify early signs of burnout. Investing in professional development opportunities, training programs, and mentorship initiatives can empower employees to manage their workload effectively and build resilience in the face of challenges.

Legal burnout continues to be a significant concern in the legal profession, the consequences are far-reaching for the sector as a whole and can lead to people leaving the profession entirely. Implementing strategies for prevention is the key way to move past this ongoing issue in the Legal sector and will ensure greater retention of staff.

If you are experiencing burnout in your career get in touch with a member of the CoLegal team who can help you find a role with an employer who is actively prioritising employee wellbeing.