Practicing law can be stressful. Lawyers are under constant pressure to meet deadlines and client demands, and law-practice environments can be highly competitive.
If you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious fairly often, it’s time to take action. Chronic stress causes chemical imbalances in the body and can weaken the immune system, making a person more susceptible to serious medical conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, lawyers suffer from elevated rates of clinical depression, substance abuse, and suicide when compared to the general population.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to avoid chronic stress, and taking these steps will likely lead to greater happiness and fulfillment in your legal career.
Choose a Legal Career that is Meaningful for You
The practice of law can be very rewarding and personally fulfilling. Lawyers in private practice have many opportunities to genuinely help the people they represent. Prosecutors and criminal defense counsel make our criminal justice system work. Lawyers representing nonprofit organizations that have missions aligned with their personal values have a chance to use the law to make the world a better place. In-house corporate counsel can help the corporation achieve its business objectives. Lawyers who choose an academic career have the opportunity to educate future generations of law students and help shape the evolution of our jurisprudence. You will be more likely to experience satisfaction and fulfillment in your professional life if you choose a legal career and practice area that is meaningful for you.
Don’t Suffer in Silence
If you start to dread coming to work, take steps to identify the source of your discomfort. A conversation with a colleague or a supervisor might improve the situation. If you feel a disconnect between the culture of the organization and your personal values, accept the fact that you will not be able to change the organization’s culture. You might decide it’s time to start looking for another job. Whatever course you take, don’t simply hunker down and try to ride it out. Suffering in silence and hoping the situation will somehow improve is likely to become a source of chronic stress.
Set Boundaries Around Your Time
Setting time boundaries is a useful technique for managing stress and for achieving a reasonable degree of life balance. Without time boundaries it’s easy for lawyers to get so caught up in their law practice that the rest of life passes them by. Preserve time for vacations and other meaningful activities. Set aside time during the day for reflection and rejuvenation. Decide whether, and under what circumstances, you are willing to work on weekends. Consider how often you really want to bring work home with you at the end of the day. Once you set boundaries around your time, it will be important to manage the expectations of your clients and colleagues to be consistent with those boundaries.
Give Back to the Community
Contributing to your community can be profoundly gratifying and can also provide a break from your law practice routine. There are many opportunities to make contributions, such as performing pro bono work, serving on a bar association committee, joining a nonprofit board, or coaching a neighborhood sports team. Find an activity that you enjoy.
A regular mindfulness practice will help lawyers be fully present with clients and colleagues. It will also help lawyers stay calm and centered when dealing with stressful and chaotic situations. Daily meditation is an excellent way to practice and develop mindfulness. Other mindfulness practices include Yoga and Tai Chi. It can also be helpful to simply close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths before responding to a stressful situation.
Interested in learning more about mindfulness, such as brief, breathing-focused meditation? Then look out for the February issue of NWLawyer for tips, resources, and recommended meditation apps from Anna L. Endter, head of Research Services at the University of Washington’s Gallagher Law Library.
Make Time for an Avocation You Enjoy
In law school we were taught legal reasoning as a logical exercise. We were also trained to accept the idea that emotional and spiritual considerations are simply not relevant to proper legal analysis. As human beings we need to find ways to express the emotional and spiritual aspects of ourselves in order to live a balanced life. Become involved in an avocation outside of the legal profession that makes your heart sing. You’ll be glad you did.