What I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Lawyer

What I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Lawyer

When I started law school, I loved it. Hypercompetitive classes, demanding coursework, and the adrenaline rush of solving complex problems made me pursue this career. Once I officially received the title of “lawyer,” I was even more attracted to the fast-paced work culture. I want to be different, make a difference and find my place. My work is passionate and empowering.

I didn’t realize that the same job was leading me down a path of exhaustion.

One afternoon in the summer of 2020, fear gripped me. I have entered the period of worried thoughts about my life, more loved and my work. The more I tried to avoid it, the worse it got. I’m afraid. Very scared. My heart rate was fast and tremors of emotion haunted me for days. Every time I walk into my office, I feel dread. My concentration was gone. I turned to alcohol for help.

It took months for me to finally admit to myself and those close to me that I needed help. I later learned from a specialist that I had severe anxiety and was on medication. My recovery was a small experiment. He considered many things.

What I experienced during those months was one of the worst effects of exhaustion. I work 80+ hours a week (without complaint) at my law firm, which I put the clock into. My career defines my sense of self, and that means my self-esteem depends on my success.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Over the past few years, we’ve learned how common fatigue is, and it’s becoming more common in law. A May 2021 survey by Bloomberg Law reported that 50% of lawyers were burned out in the first quarter of the year. Among those surveyed, junior and middle-class colleagues are hardest hit, with two-thirds reporting a decline in general well-being.

I believe this finding is a direct reflection of the culture we have created in the legal profession – one that rewards individualism and competition, promotes confrontation, and discourages vulnerability. If this is a career you want to pursue, here are some tips I want you to give as soon as possible.

Assess company culture before hiring.

Avoid working for a law firm that is more important than your personal health. I know this is easier said than done when you start competing against a very talented group of peers.

How you start your career matters. The pressure you feel to be on the first team can be more important than working for the right company, which prioritizes employee inclusion, belonging, and well-being. If you start out in a workplace that doesn’t live up to your potential or doesn’t care about your psychological health, it will be unsustainable in the long run.

Here are some interview questions to ask your manager (or your future friend) about whether the organization values ​​work-life balance or promotes a culture of burnout:

  • Would you say you have a good level of work-life balance? Why or why not?
  • Does your company have a family leave and medical leave policy? Do new parents at your company usually go right back to work?
  • How does top management respond to failures or mistakes? Can you explain the situation that did not happen as you would have liked and how it was handled by the company?

If you hear that people are being worked to the bone (instead of fines), asked to return to work before their leave ends (instead of getting full leave), or punished for their mistakes (instead of encouraging them to learn). – these are all red flags. The idea is to understand how the company responds to the needs and wants of its employees.

Don’t ignore your physical triggers.

What if you got a job? How do you manage burnout when working in a hostile culture?

The biggest advice I can give you is: Don’t listen to what your body is telling you. Common symptoms of fatigue include: increased heart rate, headache, fatigue, palpitations or sweating, and general irritability. These symptoms can happen gradually or suddenly, like mine. When you are under stress, your body becomes alert. It prepares to face a threat or to flee, a reaction we usually call fight or flight.

If you notice these triggers during your work day, notice them. Small things like staying hydrated now, taking a few seconds of deep breathing, or taking a short walk around your office to physically decompress can help. In the long run, your body tells you that you need rest. You may want to have a more serious conversation with your manager about your workload or seek help from a medical professional to talk about medication or coping mechanisms.

I spent months in therapy trying to find my own coping strategies. But over time, I realized that even if I can’t take a day off or a vacation, I can build smaller breaks into the workday so that I don’t lose my physical and mental health.

The more you start paying attention to what your body needs, the easier it will be to take care of it. If your workplace or manager makes you shy away from this need, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Have a life outside of your job.

The hard truth is that the legal profession is in serious decline. When you want to become a lawyer, you often choose a path that requires you to spend a lot of time preparing and preparing for each case. Customers can request. Your assignments can go from a very low stake to a high-stress scenario overnight, depending on various factors.

If you work on the emotional issues that often arise in criminal and family law, you may also experience some level of emotional exhaustion. In this situation, it can be difficult to remove yourself from the customers’ lives. To protect yourself and do your job well, you need to set healthy boundaries at work—which often means having a life and support system.

Take a vacation at least once or twice a month. To reduce the stress that often occurs before and after a vacation, plan ahead and make it a personal goal not to cancel. When you turn it off, it’s actually “off”. .

For some, this may seem irreversible. In this case, set a smaller goal: Do something outside of your project that brings you happiness. What helps you open up? Do you have a favorite hobby or activity? It could be something as simple as walking your dog in the morning, going to the gym at night, binge-watching TV, having dinner with your family at least twice a week, or volunteering for a cause that is important to you. This small commitment will help you expand your social circle, rediscover your interests, and become better (and healthier) at work.

Give yourself a little grace.
In some areas of law, perfectionism is, I think, normal — because the situations you’re dealing with can be high-profile, and you’re often directly involved in the private lives of real people. While it’s generally good to try your best, the danger here is setting unrealistic and hard expectations on yourself if you can’t meet them. This cycle of behavior can be linked to depression, anxiety, and other physical and mental health problems.

While I understand the desire to win every business and do right by your client (s), I know from experience that this pressure can do more harm than good. You are not a superhero. You can’t just wave a wand and make things magical. Remember, like everyone else, you do the best you can with what you have.

One strategy that has helped me is to write down the things I am grateful for every day. Try it: The next time you lose your job, write down what you learned along the way and why it is important for your growth. The next time a customer is unhappy with you, write down a way to help them (even if you don’t get what they want). Or think about whether you are grateful for your support system, family, or friends. Research shows that gratitude can help us sleep better, reduce stress, and improve our relationships with other people.

Finally, constantly remind yourself that it’s not your job. Like me, you may be passionate about your work, but if you don’t make a conscious effort to separate it from other parts of your life, you are likely to burn out. This leads me to my last piece of advice: Put yourself and your loved ones first. Your career is not as fragile as other parts of your life. There will always be more work. We cannot say anything about our health or our time.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top