Overcoming Lawyer Burnout//

Why the Legal Profession Needs to Change

And how we can do it, together.

BCFC/ Shutterstock
BCFC/ Shutterstock

One of the best and most honest tests of your career choice is whether you would encourage your loved ones to follow in your footsteps. Every lawyer we’ve asked said they wouldn’t want this career for their nearest and dearest. Why? Because the legal profession is currently struggling in the grip of pandemic stress and burnout

There are many possible causes for this sorry state of affairs, including the billable hour business model, enormous student debt, a lack of focus on leadership in the profession, and an increasingly competitive marketplace. Anecdotally, though, it feels like it’s getting worse, not better, and that’s not acceptable to us.

We are James Cook, General Counsel for Thrive Global, and Anjali Bindra Patel, coach and consultant to leaders in law firms and law schools. Collectively, we have amassed over 40 years working as and with lawyers. We have witnessed firsthand the impact that stress and burnout have not only on lawyers, but also on the people who love them and the clients they serve.

We are not alone in feeling that the situation has to change. Resources to support lawyers are increasing, but they are insufficient, and those that exist can be hard to find. 

We’d like to introduce you to Overcoming Lawyer Burnout, a new special section on Thrive Global. The purpose of this section is to become the definitive online destination to access stories, resources, and advice intended to help lawyers harmonize their career ambitions and personal life goals, better manage their stress, and protect against burnout.

We do not believe you have to sacrifice a happy, successful life to have a thriving, successful career. In fact, we believe that without focusing on your well-being, it is impossible to produce sustained high performance. Put simply, if you continue to work long hours, without also focusing on your physical, mental, and emotional health, you are almost guaranteed to encounter unresolvable conflicts that will leave you stressed or burned out.

Developments in science indicate that there is a better way. By incorporating simple, small behavioral changes (which we call Microsteps), you can improve your ability to operate at peak performance and manage your stress levels. Such changes can even be incorporated into a 2,400 hour year, if that’s how you currently mark time. 

In the many discussions we’ve had with lawyers, students, judges, and coaches, we believe that the legal profession is ripe for change. This is due to a confluence of factors, including technology advances, a new generation with different priorities, increasing evidence that the current way is not working, and scientific insights on performance and endurance improvements resulting from minor changes in behavior. To paraphrase Margaret Mead, all that’s required is a thoughtful, committed community. 

Wondering how you can help? Firstly, we need help to collectively communicate that many lawyers struggle with well-being and maintaining a healthy and fulfilling life outside work. The nature of our profession is such that these struggles are often an inherent part of our roles. We want you to share your struggles here on our platform. This will help destigmatize the discussion, and create an open community ready for change. We also hope that you’ll share information about the solutions and behavior changes that have helped improve your quality of life and performance at work. Sharing your experiences of what has and hasn’t helped provides others with encouragement to change, and practical examples of how to do it.  

Finally, we ask you to engage in conversations with your peers on how to institute sustainable change. Overcoming Lawyer Burnout provides a conversational platform, but there are many others, too — within your firm, within your professional association, within your alumni networks, and within your social groups. Who would dare bet against us, if we collaborate together? 

This is just the start. We hope to watch the legal profession transform into one that we would be happy for our loved ones to join. But we are also aware that a journey starts with a single step. 

That journey starts with us, here and now, at Overcoming Lawyer Burnout.

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