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Attorney Burnout: The Benefits of Purposeful Breaks (and how to take them)

Burnout refers to a state of mental and physical exhaustion, coupled with cynicism (depersonalization) and inefficacy (reduced personal accomplishment). Although several factors contribute to burnout, overwork is most directly related to exhaustion, which is the key element of the syndrome. Jam-packed schedules, filing deadlines, client revenue requirements, and lack of  boundaries are some of the reasons lawyers are prone to work overload.

Taking purposeful breaks from work is not a panacea for burnout. It is, however, an essential step to avoiding and alleviating the syndrome, regardless of the multifaceted causes that include more than work overload.

Common Excuses for Not Taking Breaks

A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes that the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee paid vacation days and paid holidays. Yet even those who get paid vacation days do not use it all. According to a Project: Time Off report, a majority 52 percent of employees in the United States reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year. The study adds that in 2017, the average American took just 17 days of paid vacation.

Common excuses for not taking breaks — especially extended vacations lasting at least a week — include:

1. I don’t need it

When you are functioning, checking items off your priorities list, and getting through your day, you may conclude that you don’t need time off.  You might not realize that you could be a lot more productive and effective if you took a break and then came back rested and refreshed.

This excuse is based on fear of using up time off when you’re not in crisis mode and could need it later due to a real crisis.

2. I have too much to do

Whether you are a solo practitioner with your own practice or a partner at a big law firm, you have difficulty getting away from work when you feel there is too much to do. Lack of delegation of tasks and responsibilities or failure to get appropriate support often leads to counterproductive overwork.

The fear is that the business will cease to run or succeed or that your team cannot function without you. You might also worry that your practice and colleagues may very well be able to do without you, even if it’s just for a few days.

The Project: Time Off study reported that employees with concerns that they would seem less dedicated or even replaceable if they took a vacation were less likely to use all their vacation time (61% leave time unused, compared to 52% overall).  Those who felt their workload was too much to take time off were also less likely to use all their vacation time  (57% to 52%), as were those who felt there was a lack of coverage or that no one else could do their job (56% to 52%).

3. I can’t afford it

Billable hour requirements or client revenue goals is a primary reason for not using vacation days or time off. For a solo lawyer, taking a vacation often means missing out on new business opportunities to add to the cash flow. Lawyers at larger firms also have similar concerns due to stiff competition with other lawyers and firms. The fear of losing prospects and clients causes many to stay close to the office.

Planning for a vacation might also bring financial worries, especially when it involves rest and relaxation at a retreat, sightseeing in exotic places, bringing your family, or other types of getaways that are quite expensive.

4. I don’t want to lose momentum

When you’re in the midst of a major work project or you’re about to start one, it can be hard to step away from it. You get accustomed to the high stress and don’t know how to relax and stop obsessing about the goals and objectives you want to meet. Defaulting to old habits and routines around work often feels more comfortable than exercising relaxation skills that have not been used in a long time.

There is fear that taking a break means quitting or giving up. There are also concerns that a mountain of work will be waiting for you to clear out when you get back.  You might even feel lost and confused when you take a break from work and have no urgent action items or measurable results to consider.

Ways to Overcome Excuses for Not Taking Breaks

Excuses for not taking breaks can be overcome with these practices:

1. Prioritize self-care

To boost employee productivity and well being, organizations need to encourage vacations and even make it mandatory. Individuals also need to prioritize self-care and recognize that burnout prevention involves taking the time to recharge.

Use time blocking methods to get your most important work done within a set time frame, instead of allowing it to expand without limits. Also known as time boxing, this involves setting an appointment (with yourself) to do a single, high-cognitive demand task or a batch of similar, low-cognitive demand tasks in a specific time block.

Avoid unnecessary, agendaless meetings that only involve information sharing that can be otherwise accomplished through more efficient means. Declare certain hours as quiet, focus time when you should not be interrupted and other hours as time to have discussions, answer questions and address concerns.

Set appropriate boundaries. If your boss approaches you with another project, remind her of your list of priorities and discuss which should take precedence. Either she will tell you which is most important or find someone else to take on the new project.  Respectfully push back if she tells you that they are all priorities. Ask for specific due dates instead of settling for “ASAP.” Taking on too much will backfire in the form of missed target completion dates, poor quality work, and inadvertent errors.

Taking extended time off to recharge can create its own stress for lawyers, who are used to hustling and working hard. Yet taking a break is necessary for sustaining progress and creating desired results over the long haul, as well as boosting productivity in the short term.

Working obsessively and compulsively does not necessarily make you productive and can actually lead to burnout. Treat self-care as a vital component of being productive and sustaining diligence.

2. Plan ahead for your time off

There will always be more work for you to do, no matter how hard you push through and try to clear things off your desk. Instead of waiting for the perfect time to take a vacation – when all the to-dos are done, all files are closed, and all deadlines are met (which never happens) – plan ahead for it.  Treat it like an important appointment or commitment that must not be broken. Just be practical about when you take it and how long it will last.

Ask yourself what you need to do to make it happen by a set date. The first step is choosing your most important and urgent projects to tackle or complete before you go on vacation. Use the priority matrix (urgent + important; important but not urgent; urgent but not important; not urgent + not important). Decide on which ball you can drop for the time being and pick up later or drop altogether.

The next step involves notifying your clients about when you will be on a break; whether you will be responding to inquiries and, if not, who will be in charge of responses; the status of their case; and how time-sensitive issues that may arise while you’re gone will be handled.

Another step is to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others who can do the job well if not better than you. If you’re a solo lawyer with no full-time staff, you can turn to a reliable independent contractor or virtual assistant to handle certain types of tasks, such as responding to general inquiries.

Provide your assistant with a case list containing  client contact information, status of the matter, and potential issues that may arise. Have an outlet (e.g. telephone call or email) for them to reach you in real emergencies and define parameters for what constitutes an emergency.

Solo practitioners can seek help from another solo lawyer to cover emergencies and issues that cannot wait to be handled until they return. Lawyers with colleagues can keep their team members informed of ongoing projects. Do necessary prework, such as drafting the legal discussion for a motion that can be readily completed by another qualified person who has access to the client files.

Taking things off your plate doesn’t mean you won’t be needed within your practice or by your organization. It simply frees you up to focus on more urgent and significant projects that better leverage your skills, expertise and time.

3. Shift your money mindset

The classic 40-hour work week and the pressure to spend more than that at work have trained lawyers to measure their value accordingly. However, true value does not lie in the time you spend on a matter. Rather, it results from the unique benefits you bring and the positive difference you make with your service.

To fully unplug and recharge,  you will have to refrain from taking on new cases, performing consultations or engaging in client work while you’re on an extended break. A short-term revenue loss may result, but you will make up for it after you return with renewed energy created by a much needed break.

You also don’t have to go in debt to enjoy a vacation.  Choose the one that is right for you and fits your budget. You could just spend a few days exploring recreational sites, eating at the much-talked-about restaurant, hanging out at the nearby cafe or going for a long nature walk in your own town.  You could stay at home and read a good book or relax on your couch watching your favorite movie. The point is to stay away from the office, put work aside, and ignore emails and social media.

4. Systematize your law practice

Law firms need to systematize their processes and procedures so the absence of one lawyer does not dramatically affect business operations and client service. Systematization is often overlooked by solo lawyers and small firm lawyers who tend to keep most of their knowledge in their heads instead of in their business records.

Systems may include an office manual documenting the various business functions at your firm, a detailed checklist for your most common types of cases, and template letters for following up with prospects and closing out client files.

The key systems you need to set up, consistently use, and extensively document include:

Operations management system. e.g. setting up operations procedures and administrative processes around business functions, instead of around people.

Calendaring, scheduling and tickler system. e.g. recording important hearings and meetings and setting reminders for due dates and deadlines.

Client file management system. e.g. providing steps for running conflicts checks, opening new client files, closing files, and destroying old files.

Client communication system. e.g. having a policy for responding to telephone calls, emails and other communications from clients; providing a script for resolving a billing dispute.

Client service and retention system. e.g. creating templates for repetitive letters and emails; providing step-by-step procedures and checklists for  routine matters; preparing written instructions and answers to FAQs for clients.

Client attraction and acquisition system. e.g.  implementing a specific process for responding to online and telephone inquiries from prospects; developing a policy for post-consultation and post-meeting follow-ups with prospects.

Case management system. e.g. using online software like MyCase or even an Excel spreadsheet to manage cases and track the status of each.

Billing and invoicing system. e.g. using Quickbooks or other financial software to monitor income and expenses and automate invoicing to clients.

Firm management system. e.g. providing a written office manual that contains contact information for key personnel; location and account numbers for business and trust accounts; passwords for computer and voice mail; location of business documents such as leases, service contracts, and business credit cards.

Contingency management system. e.g.  creating a succession and transition plan or an emergency handbook for dealing with unexpected practice interruptions.

Systems help you prepare for practice interruptions, whether due to a planned vacation or due to unexpected illness.

Why You Need to Take Breaks

Taking purposeful breaks creates the following benefits:

1.  Increase Engagement at Work

Psychologists Christina Maslach, PhD, and Michael Leiter, PhD define people’s relationships to their jobs as a “continuum between the negative experience of burnout and the positive experience of engagement,” in their article, Early Predictors of Job Burnout and Engagement.

These pioneers in burnout research note there are three interrelated dimensions of the burnout-engagement continuum: exhaustion-energy, cynicism-involvement and inefficacy-efficacy. Burnout and engagement are opposites. Engagement is an energetic state of active involvement and increased efficacy.

When job demands exceed your resources and depletes your capacity, you are more prone to burnout. Resting, recharging and refueling between particularly stressful events – such as meeting a deadline or arguing at trial –  helps you avoid burnout and better engage with your work.

2. Enhance Multifaceted Skills

Breaks are necessary for deep thinking and reflection. Real productivity does not come from taking action all the time and operating on autopilot. By stepping away from work, you are more likely to gain a fresh perspective on challenging projects and develop new ideas for complex problems.

Exhaustion results in memory loss, lack of focus, and reduced executive function and self-regulation skills. By re-energizing your brain with necessary breaks, you become more focused, respond better to stress, and make smarter decisions. You also develop your creativity, analytical ability and problem-solving acumen.

3. Improve Productivity

Working harder and longer leads to diminishing returns on output and progress, which interferes with goal accomplishment and quality of work. 

One Stanford University study , The Productivity of the Working Hourspublished in The Economic Journal, found that once you work up to 50 hours in a week, you hit diminishing marginal returns. Your output rises at a decreasing  rate and falls to almost nothing after 55 hours.  In the long run, excessive work hours are counterproductive. 

Maintaining a sustainable workload not only reduces your vulnerability to burnout, but also gives you more energy to do high-quality work and provide diligent representation.

4. Learn to Relax

The intense work culture in Japan led to the invention of the term, Karōshi,  in 1978 to refer to the rising number of people suffering from heart attacks and strokes attributed to overwork. The term was used to describe “occupational sudden death” and translates to “death by overwork.”

In general, lawyers are used to dealing with high-pressure situations and gain their self-identity and self-worth from their work. When your life is organized and structured around your work, it’s a big struggle to step away from it. Learning and practicing how to relax is critical to alleviating tension, slowing down and avoiding burnout.

Taking a break helps you recognize that your work is separate from you. It is not the same as quitting or being lazy, but is an active process of reflection and learning.  Sometimes you have to push hard, but you risk getting burned out when you operate in hyperactive mode all the time. Developing your relaxation skills helps you to mindfully manage and combat stress.

Taking Breaks is Necessary to Avoiding Burnout 

A break from work can include mini-breaks throughout the day (e.g. 5 minutes for every 25 minutes of work; one-hour lunch break), a weekend off or three-day weekend; an extended vacation lasting at least one week; or a sabbatical or leave lasting at least one month.

In a given day, purposeful breaks may involve alone time (e.g. meditation, reading a calming book); interaction with nature (e.g. looking out the window; sitting on a park bench); social connections (e.g. chatting with a colleague; having lunch with a good friend); relaxation (daydreaming, sketching, listening to music); and movement (taking a walk, tai chi, stretching, doing jumping jacks).

Rest through purposeful breaks is essential to improving engagement in the workplace, which is the opposite of burnout. By letting go of the excuses and instead implementing steps to take time off, lawyers will be better equipped to avoid  burnout and keep the fire in their belly to do their best work.

For more information, read the related article, Attorney Burnout: The High Cost of Overwork. 

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This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation.  

The author, Dyan Williams, is admitted to the Minnesota state bar and focuses on the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which are subject to change. Check your individual state rules of professional conduct, regulations, ethics opinions and case precedents, instead of relying on this article for specific guidance. 

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Attorney Burnout: The High Cost of Overwork

Being truly productive is not about filling your time with more work and plugging away at your to-dos without breaks.  Still, managing a heavy caseload and working beyond office hours are expected and even glorified in the legal industry.

Overwork is considered a badge of honor when it is equated with dedication, responsiveness, and a can-do attitude. But when mounting stress pushes you into the downward spiral of burnout,  it is impossible to make meaningful contribution and perform at your peak. The fire in your belly fades out and the inner drive gets replaced with indifference and disillusionment.

Knowing the symptoms helps you spot burnout and take action to alleviate it. Understanding the effects of overwork and other contributory factors is key to preventing and stopping burnout. Recognizing the consequences of burnout makes you less likely to ignore the telltale signs.

What is Burnout?

There is no clear definition of burnout. More often, it is discussed in terms of its common symptoms. Although burnout is typically linked with chronic stress, they are not the same. Burnout is at the extreme end of the stress continuum.

In the 1970’s, psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger coined the term and referred to it as “a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.”

Christina Maslach, psychologist and creator of the leading burnout measure, the Maslach Burnout Inventory™ (MBI), describes burnout as a syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic, job-related stress. She notes that burnout is “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion marked by physical depletion and chronic fatigue, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and by development of a negative self-concept and negative attitudes towards work, life and other people.”

In the 10th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), burnout is given its own code (Z73.0) and is referred to as a state of vital exhaustion. Burnout, however, is not recognized as a medical diagnosis in part because its symptoms overlap with those of more widely studied conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorder,  as well as physical illnesses.

While there are questionnaires to self-assess burnout, there are no official methods to diagnose burnout or whether the symptoms are caused by something else.

What are the Common Symptoms of Burnout? 

Warning signs of burnout include emotional symptoms, such as feeling overwhelmed, forgetfulness; inability to focus; feeling empty or depressed; chronic anxiety; increased irritability; intolerance of others; and withdrawal from friends and family. Physical symptoms include headaches; indigestion; nausea; sudden weight loss or gain; and getting sick more frequently. Among the behavioral symptoms are insomnia; alcohol dependence; and substance misuse.

Maslach’s 3 key dimensions of burnout

Maslach and her colleagues found that burnout has three key dimensions:

Emotional exhaustion is overwhelming exhaustion that includes low energy, depletion and fatigue. It is feeling emotionally drained by interpersonal contact and being overextended and exhausted by one’s work.

Depersonalization refers to cynicism and detachment, i.e. a negative and excessively impersonal response toward clients (recipients of one’s services or care)  and various aspects of the job. It is usually associated with irritability, loss of idealism, withdrawal and other negative shifts in attitude.

Reduced personal accomplishment is a sense of inefficacy and a feeling of ineffectiveness in producing the desired results. It refers to a negative self-evaluation of professional competence. It is linked to depression, low self-esteem, low morale, and an inability to cope.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory™ evaluates the three dimensions with a 22-item survey using a 7-point Likert scale for responses.  An answer reflects both the frequency and intensity of feelings and may range from “Never” to “Every day”.

The Emotional Exhaustion subscale includes nine items, such as  “I feel burned out from my work,” “I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job,” and “I feel I’m working too hard on my job.” Higher scores on this subscale correspond to higher degrees of burnout.

The Depersonalization subscale includes five items, such as “I’ve become more callous towards people since I took this job,” “I worry that this job is hardening me emotionally,” and ” I don’t really care what happens to some recipients.”  Higher scores on this subscale correspond to higher degrees of burnout.

The Personal Accomplishment subscale includes eight items, such as “I feel I’m positively influencing other people’s lives through my work,” “I feel exhilarated after working closely with my recipients,” and “I have accomplished many worthwhile things in this job.” Lower scores on this subscale correspond to higher degrees of burnout.

Freudenberger’s 12-stage model of burnout

Freudenberger described the development of burnout in 12 stages, which do not necessarily occur in order and might not all be experienced in every case:

1. Compulsion to prove oneself (excessive ambition; obsession with proving worth)

2. Working harder (inability to switch off; taking on more work)

3. Neglecting needs (lack of social interactions; unhealthy diet; irregular sleep)

4. Displacement of conflicts (roots of problems are dismissed; feel threatened by disagreements)

5. Revision of values (work becomes the only focus; life becomes one-dimensional as family, friends, hobbies, etc. are neglected)

6. Denial of emerging problems (intolerance; inflexibility in thoughts and behavior; cynicism; aggression)

7. Withdrawal (hopelessness; reduced sense of direction; use of alcohol and drugs for stress relief)

8.  Obvious behavioral changes (odd shifts in behavior and emotional outbursts, which concern friends and family)

9. Depersonalization (devaluing self and others)

10. Inner emptiness (feeling empty and anxious; addictions develop)

11. Depression (feeling lost and uncertain; pessimistic outlook on the future)

12. Burnout syndrome (mental and physical exhaustion that can be life-threatening; medical attention becomes critical)

As psychologist Cary Cherniss notes, burnout begins with a mismatch between your work demands and your resources to deal with these demands (stress). It progresses to the immediate, short-term response of anxiety, tension and fatigue (individual strain). Then it sparks changes in attitude and behavior, such as greater cynicism and detachment (defensive coping). Paying attention to the early warning signs is key to staving off the more severe symptoms and full-on burnout.

What are the Causes of Burnout? 

Both the workplace environment (external factors) and your individual traits and personal habits (internal factors) contribute to  burnout.

Workplace factors

In their book, The Truth About Burnout, Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter identify six factors in the workplace that fuel stress and trigger burnout. They are:

1. Work overload. Organizational restructuring, downsizing and budget cuts force individuals to work more with fewer resources.  Billable hour requirements and other financial demands push lawyers to work longer even when they ought to take a break and recharge.

2. Lack of control over your work. Having autonomy — such as the freedom to determine your own priorities, set limits, and solve problems creatively — is critical for workplace motivation and engagement. When you have little or no control over which tactics and strategies you use, and when you execute them,  it’s much harder to influence the outcome and derive satisfaction from the work you do.

3. Insufficient reward. Meaningful rewards come in a variety of forms.  They include high pay, good benefits, recognition from peers and supervisors, and the feeling that you make a difference for your organization and your clients. In the high stakes legal industry,  lawyers are harshly reprimanded and called out for mistakes and failures, while their diligence and successes are often taken for granted. If your work is not met with appropriate reward, burnout is more likely.

4. Lack of community. When there is minimal support from colleagues and supervisors, unresolved conflicts, extreme competitiveness, and intense isolation within your workplace, there is a higher propensity for cynicism and detachment.

5. Absence of fairness. Trust, openness and respect are necessary for a workplace to be perceived as fair. Inequities in the workload or pay structures, favoritism in promotions, biased evaluations, and failure to appropriately resolve disputes can lead to burnout.

6. Conflicting values. A mismatch between your organization’s values and your personal values makes it hard to align priorities and goals. Inconsistencies between the organization’s stated objectives and its daily actions also create frustration, discontentment and negativity.

Individual traits and habits

Common personality traits or tendencies among lawyers, which tend to cause burnout, are:

1.  Perfectionism. Deadline-driven work, complex laws and rules, and ongoing changes in procedures and policies are some of the factors that encourage perfectionism. This involves setting impossibly high standards and rejecting any work product short of perfection. Unrealistic expectations, aversion to mistakes and the overvaluing of flawless performance can steer you toward burnout.

2. Conscientiousness. Prioritizing work and clients’ needs over self-care and personal commitments is prevalent among lawyers. The ability to make a difference  can lead you to say yes to unreasonable requests and never-ending demands. Overtime, your conscientiousness and sense of service can begin to feel more like self-sacrifice, deprivation and martyrdom.

3.  Achievement orientation. High achievers tend to have lower resilience to stress and setbacks. They obsess about meeting goals no matter the costs, and find it difficult to discuss their weaknesses and accept constructive feedback. Due to their strong desire to excel, they are generally hypercritical of their failures and fall easily into comparison traps.

4. Workaholism.  Many lawyers work beyond the standard 40 hours per week,  e.g. 50 to 80 hours, because they are workaholics. They have an extreme internal drive, are excessively hard workers, and are addicted to work. They work compulsively and excessively, beyond what is required to meet organizational goals or their own financial needs.

What are the Consequences of Burnout?

Burnout has far-reaching consequences on lawyers, their organizations and the industry as a whole. They include:

Ethical Missteps

ABA Model Rule 1.1 (Competence), which is reflected in Rule 1.1 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, instructs lawyers to provide competent representation, which “requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

Rule 1.3 of the MRPC (Diligence), which mirrors the Model Rule, states “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.”

Rule 1.4 (a), MRPC (Communication) and the Model Rule, requires lawyers to promptly inform the client of key decisions and circumstances and obtain informed consent; reasonably consult with the client about the means to accomplish objectives; keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter; and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.

These and other ethics rules are more likely to be broken when you are experiencing fatigue, cynicism, detachment and hopelessness due to burnout.  Your capacity to meet the demands of your profession and needs of your client are depleted by burnout.

Intense fatigue, for example, makes it much harder to keep up with the workload, track and meet deadlines, analyze and apply complex laws, and respond promptly to client’s questions and concerns. Your cognitive abilities and creative problem solving skills are not as sharp as they could be when you are burned out.

Excessive depersonalization of clients strips your ability to show compassion and address highly sensitive issues.  Too much distancing from your work can lead you to overlook critical aspects of a client matter.

Feeling ineffective and helpless discourages you from exerting effort and exploring ways to solve problems. Your interest and focus wane when you think what you do makes little or no difference.

Health-Related Problems

Emotional depletion and mental fatigue often lead to serious health problems. Burnout has been linked with physical consequences, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disorder, chronic pain, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, severe injuries and shorter life spans. Burnout is also associated with psychological effects, including depression and anxiety disorder.

Impaired Relationships

Burnout can lead to withdrawal from family and friends as well as more interpersonal disputes. Work-family conflict, for instance, arises when obligations at work take time and energy away from family-related responsibilities.  Negativity, lower energy, irritability and increased frustration affect your ability to maintain relationships with colleagues, team members, supervisors and partners.

Substance Abuse 

Stress is a known contributor to alcoholism and drug addiction. In a 2016 study titled, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, researchers found that more than 1 in 5 lawyers said they felt their use of alcohol or other drugs was problematic at some point in their lives.  The study found that attorneys in the first 10 years of their practice experience the highest rates of problematic use (28.9%), followed by attorneys practicing for 11 to 20 years (20.6%).

Alcohol or drugs is sometimes used to numb out, relax, or cope with work-related stressors. Some drugs, such as cocaine, also serve to increase mental alertness. Self-medicating to deal with burnout leads to drug addictions and substance abuse.

Dysfunctions and Reduced Productivity in the Workplace 

Burnout and its related symptoms prevent you from getting the most important things done efficiently, effectively and in a timely manner. Cynicism or negative attitudes toward the organization, clients and colleagues reduces commitment to the workplace, job satisfaction, and quality of service. It also contributes to communication breakdown and low workplace morale. Emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue lower productivity and increase absenteeism and tardiness.

In addition, the growing sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment often causes burned out lawyers to quit their jobs, close their practice, or shift to another profession or vocation altogether. Heavy workloads, inadequate rewards and job dissatisfaction, which are part of the burnout culture, are among the reasons for high turnover rates. The organization incurs significant expenses when recruiting and training lawyers to replace those who leave.

Overwork Comes At a High Cost that Does Not, in the Long Run, Outweigh Any Possible Benefit

Prolonged exposure to stress (e.g. excessive workload), combined with the workplace environment and personal characteristics and tendencies, make lawyers vulnerable to burnout.

Burnout not only impairs your personal health and productivity, but also affects the outcomes of your organization in the form of subpar work product, decreased client satisfaction, and a higher propensity for legal errors and ethical missteps.

The high cost of overwork, which is a requisite for burnout, means you must take purposeful breaks daily, weekly, and yearly – no matter how busy you are. The heavier your caseload, the more recharging and refueling you need to avoid running on empty.

For more information, read the related article, Attorney Burnout: The Benefits of Purposeful Breaks (and how to take them).

# # #

This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation.  

The author, Dyan Williams, is admitted to the Minnesota state bar and focuses on the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which are subject to change. Check your individual state rules of professional conduct, regulations, ethics opinions and case precedents, instead of relying on this article for specific guidance. 

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