Keeping the Fire Burning: Stopping Lawyer Burnout

John Smith (a fictional lawyer) should be ecstatic. An email from the court shows he’s just won a major motion in a case he once cared about. But instead of eagerly reaching for the phone to share the news with his client, he wants nothing more than to crawl under his desk and sleep. He is tired, so very tired. John is burned out, a non-medical term used to describe people who have no fuel left. No matter how much they rest or vacation, they feel exhausted, cynical, disengaged, and like nothing

Why Lawyers Leave Law Firms and What Firms Can Do About It

Every practicing lawyer knows at least one: a brilliant, hard-working, former law firm associate. Maybe she left to spend more time with family, or maybe she wanted to try a smaller “lifestyle” firm to reduce her hours, or maybe the firm culture made it impossible to stay. Whatever the reason, her academic and professional credentials are excellent, and the firm lost her talent. What could the firm have done differently to keep her from leaving? Associate retention is a top priority for many la

Why You Should Sleep under Your Desk | Section of Litigation | Section of Litigation / Solo & Small Firm

Practicing law in the twenty-first century is exhausting. Clients' needs are as intense as ever, but now we must also confront a nonstop flow of information and distractions. For most of us, "the way we're working isn't working," as Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, wrote. Tony Schwartz & Christine Porath, "Why You Hate Work," N.Y. Times, May 30, 2014. We're working harder than ever, but we're also more exhausted than ever and our to-do lists never seem to get any shorter. One of the key

What to Say to Someone Who Doesn’t Care About Nature: The Difficult and Powerful Words that Might Matter

I tried making arguments about the ecological value of the waters. I tried pointing out that, as we keep finding out the hard way, everything is far more connected than we realize: DDT decimates songbirds, pollution in one place affects the climate in another. We can’t predict the ways that drilling in or paving over a place may harm other ecosystems or humans. Nothing either one of us said was changing the other’s mind. We were growing angrier and more distant. After the conversation, and afte

Restore Order to Your Desk to Reduce Stress

Stacks of paper, overflowing inboxes, and cluttered desks are major contributors to stress. To regain a sense of calm, you need to take control of your space. Here’s how to do it. Much like a zebra at the watering hole, you want to know when a predator (or an angry boss or client) is on the prowl. Whenever possible, place a wall to your back with the door in your line of sight. You should also arrange your furniture so you can see who walks by and enters your office. Attorney and Feng shui mast

How To Avoid Billing for Interruptions

Lawyers are interrupted a lot, as often as every three to ten minutes. The difficulty of recollecting our time when we are interrupted so often can be more than a nuisance; it can be a real ethical problem if not carefully managed. Ethical rules require attorneys to accurately account for their time. ABA Model Rule 1.5 requires a lawyer’s fees to be reasonable. ABA Formal Opinion 93-379 stated lawyers may not bill for more time than they actually spend on a matter. The potential ethical problem

How to Recognize and Prevent Lawyer Burnout

Like a spent fire or candle, burned-out people have no more fuel. They cannot continue. A burnout is, as one lawyer described it, a “certified charred hulk.” The problem is serious. “Technology makes it much more likely that we’ll experience burnout,” says Alessandra Wall, a clinical psychologist. In fact, Paula Davis-Laack, an attorney and burnout expert, believes we live in a culture of disconnection, distraction, and overload that is a perfect breeding ground for burnout. And the law, with i

How the New Science of Self-Compassion Could Patch the Leaky Pipeline

[T]he structural and cultural reforms that might eliminate double binds have been slow coming, if they are coming at all. The top ranks of law are still short on women, and the pipeline is leaking at every stage. Women attorneys need strategies to cope with the discomfort, anxiety and stress that come with navigating gendered workplaces and doing things, such as asking for credit and business, that they are socialized not to do. An important strategy for surviving (and even thriving) may lie in the burgeoning field of self-compassion.

Stop Trying to Be Happy, Lawyers

Why bother with happiness? From the Declaration of Independence to modern self-help aisles, we are bombarded with resources and tips telling us to find happiness. But the happiness hawkers assume, usually without analysis, that happiness is a worthy goal. As good lawyers, we should examine the premise that happiness is worth achieving before we embark on its pursuit. There are a plethora good, research-backed reasons to pursue happiness. Happiness has been associated with numerous health benefi

The Real State of Substance Abuse Among Lawyers

The image of lawyers clinking their glasses—to celebrate a victory, mourn a loss, close a deal, or for pretty much any old excuse—has long been part of the legal culture. Yet there has been little or no research into the true state of substance abuse and mental illness in the law for 25 years. That changed this year with the publication of a new study of over 12,000 lawyers in 19 states. The results, as the study’s lead author put it, are “disheartening but not surprising.” The research shows t

Protect Clients from Irrational Judges, Juries, and Themselves

“To err is human.” That is true whether you are a judge, a juror, a witness, a client, or a lawyer. The human mind can engage in any number of fallacies and systematic errors, many of which can be critical to the outcomes of your clients’ matters. To improve the outcomes of your clients’ cases, it is worth building an understanding of some of the common systematic errors the human brain encounters and developing strategies for dealing with them. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in judgmen

Why Creativity is Important to Good Lawyering

Law is rarely considered a creative profession. Most of us think of creatives as being poets and artists, not rule-following lawyers. But creativity simply means you have the ability to think of new ideas, and that is something a good lawyer does every day. Whether you are interpreting a case in a novel way, trying to grow the pie in a negotiation, or reframing a bad fact, you need to hone your creativity. The good news is even if you do not consider yourself creative, there are ways you can cul

Get Better Sleep Today to Better Serve Your Clients Tomorrow

What makes a good lawyer? More often than not, someone will say it is the ability to get by on very little sleep. Many lawyers believe that practicing law means racking up your sleep debt. Unfortunately, that means many of us are undermining our ability to practice well. The truth is that sleep deprivation does not make us good lawyers; rather, as Harvard Medical School Professor of Sleep Medicine Charles A. Czeisler put it, sleep loss is “a performance killer.” “We know that … a week of sleep

Stop Folding Under Pressure: Why and How to Deal With It

Every lawyer has had it happen. You think of the perfect follow-up question after the deposition ends, or you devise the pithy answer to the judge’s question after the hearing. Often, we perform well below our best in high-stakes situations, despite hours of dedicated preparation. Here is what’s going on in your brain and what you can do to perform closer to your potential, even when the pressure is on. You choke under pressure because the region of your brain responsible for executive function

2 Key Ingredients for Finding Happiness

"Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation." -- Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are I talk to a lot of people who know a lot about happiness. They know that gratitude is important and that counting their blessings can help. They know that sleep and exercise are essential. Yet they often say, "I read about happiness and stress all the time. Why am I still so unhappy?" For many, it's because transformation happ

Law School Quadruples the Chances of Depression for Tens of Thousands: Some Changes That Might Help

In the next few weeks, tens of thousands of the most promising young Americans will do something that will make them more than four times more likely to become depressed. They'll start law school. Although law students enter school with fairly normal rates of depression (about 8-9 percent), upon matriculation, the rate of depression more than quadruples (to about 40 percent), according to the Dave Nee Foundation, which works to end the stigma of depression among lawyers. This striking change ca
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