How To Handle Stress As An Attorney
Newsflash: being a lawyer is stressful. Okay, that obviously goes without saying. The stressful nature of legal practice is well-documented and obvious even to the most junior attorneys. Many attorneys work long hours in an adversarial system where the stakes are high. Besides the general pressures that all attorneys face, these days, millennial attorneys face challenges that past generations didn’t have to deal with.
First, the rising cost of education: in 1985, the average private school tuition was $7,526 (1985 dollars), which would have cost a student $17,118 in 2017. Instead, the average law school tuition is $46,329 (2017 dollars). In other words, private law school was 2.71 times as expensive in 2017 as it was in 1985 after adjusting for inflation.
Second, technology: with advances in high speed internet and smart devices, clients and employers have more access to attorneys than ever before. Instead of making things easier for us, in a competitive market, it forces attorneys to give more and more access to stay afloat.
Unfortunately, attorneys are notorious for coping with their stress in unhealthy ways. According to a recent study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association, 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with some level of depression, and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety.
Last week, NLA hosted a panel on how to balance work and life. The discussion produced some very helpful insight that I’m sure will help attorneys to better manage their lives.
- Find time to unplug: As seasoned attorney Adeyinka Ojo mentioned, “during the 90 minutes I spend watching an Arsenal football game, I am not an attorney.” Whether it’s from social media or smart devices, the advice to “unplug” is coming from many sources these days, however it could literally save your life as an attorney. Lawyers need to realize that long hours are unsustainable and that they must have a productive outlet.
- Prioritize your life: “working 12 hour days was unsustainable and not worth it, so I left,” said Lola Moses. Even in a field that seems highly competitive and at times unstable, attorneys must be willing to walk away from jobs and firms that are unhealthy for the sake of their long term health. When attorneys walk away from overly demanding jobs, it could send a signal to the market that their business model has to change.
- Split your time: Given the stress of full time legal practice and the ever-growing pool of attorneys looking for work, some may want to consider cutting back the hours spent doing legal work and “supplement their legal practice income with work in other areas,” said Jonathan Pollard. Whether it’s real estate, taxes or insurance, there are areas where ones legal training could bring much needed balance. Pollard, a solo practitioner, finds that his practice allows him the flexibility to explore different industries. Lawyers need to take advantage of the “gig” economy like everybody else.
While the legal practice can be challenging, practitioners must continue to adapt by finding new ways to balance work and life.