I've seen quite a few lawyers in my clinic over the years.
There must be a reason for this. According to a Lawcare survey:
56% suffer from stress
2.4% are addicted to alcohol
17% have taken time off work due to stress in the last year.
35% have had depression in the past,
20% said they were currently suffering depression.
60% report being overloaded with work
35% report a lack of appreciation
41% report long hours
66% said they would “be concerned about reporting feelings of stress” to their employer.
70% of respondents said they worked late either every day or several times a week.
60% agreed they were “not working to the standards you want to achieve”
People outside the profession may find these figures surprising. If you speak to people in the legal profession you get a different story. What is it about the job or the person that leads to this?
The Psychological make-up of the "Typical" Lawyer
Over the last 20 years of working as a therapist I have come to recognize common characteristics among people in this profession. Most tend to be highly ambitious and over-achieving individuals (type A). They are almost always perfectionists (not perfect but think they or what they do should be!). They tend to be perfectionists in nearly every area of their lives. At a low level it is not a bad thing, but under stress it can become rigidly applied, it can then become problematic
The Nature and Practice of Law
The legal profession is not like an episode of ‘Suits’! The job can be very demanding and extremely stressful. It can be hard to stay calm and keep a good work life balance. At some point the pressures of working in the legal field will break down their defences. Lawyers are not trained how to deal with stress effectively.
All lawyers experience a certain degree of stress and emotional burn-out during their careers. It is not unusual for lawyers to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week with no time for rest or recuperation. The adversarial nature of the profession itself leads to stress, feeling constantly under attack from outside the organisation or sometimes from within.
I have worked with people across the legal profession, from trainee solicitors to judges. They have all managed to learn how to cope better with the stress of their profession through the use of a number of CBT techniques.
Here are some things that you can put into practice now
- Set realistic and obtainable goals based on what you have accomplished and experienced in the past. Don’t overload your diary. Read Getting things Done by David Allen
- Learn to prioritize your life, i.e., focus and put your efforts into action items that are truly important. Let go of those items that are either insignificant or not time-sensitive.
- Recognize that "mistakes" are a part of life, essential, and often present the opportunity for important learning opportunities. Make sure you acknowledge what you do well. Act as your defence lawyer!
- Notice what you are feeling. This is the alarm that indicates things are going wrong.
- Mental Fitness. A lawyer needs a healthy brain. This means a calm one. When we a stressed we make bad often short term decisions. Mental fitness takes regular exercise. CBT gives you the exercises to practice. Read CBT for Dummies by Rob Willson
- Work Life Balance. Take time to care for yourself so that you can care for your clients. It is easy to neglect your physical, psychological and interpersonal lives
- How to manage your stress Learn to relax. The most effective technique is Mindfulness mediation see www.franticworld.com
- The job is stressful. “there is no such thing as bad weather only the wrong clothes” Billy Connolly. Learn to what works for you in dealing with the stress.
- Know your personal strengths and weaknesses Realise you are not perfect and therefore by definition fallible.
- It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help! What avenues are open to you? What personal or professional help do you have? If you feel you are constantly "stressed out," depressed, or struggling with substance abuse/dependence issues, get professional help.