A Guide To Well-Being in the Legal Profession: 7 Tips for Sound Mental Health

Updated January 26, 2024
14 min read
A Guide To Well-Being in the Legal Profession: 7 Tips for Sound Mental Health

Introduction

Mental health for lawyers is crucial. And, unfortunately, it is so often neglected. Lawyers end up selflessly surrendering to their tense pace of work, believing that this is the only way they can achieve success just because they don’t know that it can be different.  

The narrative should be changed. We have prepared this mental health guide so that lawyers can understand mental health, see what’s going on among their peers, and devise an action plan for successful change. 

The Attainable Perfect Future of Lawyers

Let’s try to envision what a fulfilled and successful lawyer should probably look like. Their first and foremost characteristic would be their power over time, confidence in their decisions, and a healthy work-life balance. 

These lawyers would have enough energy to be at their best when helping their clients because they would know when to recharge and how to manage their time. This lawyer will embrace technology to delegate all the unfulfilling mechanical tasks and focus on higher-value jobs. This lawyer will be much happier overall as they finally have time to spend with their families and friends, pet a dog or a cat, or take on drawing and wine tasting. 

In the end, everyone would benefit from this new reality. Law offices will make more money, more people will get access to high-quality legal services, and lawyers will be happy with their jobs and, thus, be more productive. 

The Fixable Not-So-Perfect Present of Law Practitioners

According to the American Bar Association's report, it was found that 28% of the surveyed lawyers, representing a significant cohort of lawyers with depression, have experienced this mental health challenge throughout their legal career. This statistic raises the critical question: are lawyers depressed? This issue underscores the need for a discussion on mental health within the legal community.

Meanwhile, 19% report that there are lawyers with anxiety, and 11,5% confess to having suicidal thoughts. In addition to these upsetting numbers, 21% of the survey participants were qualified as problematic drinkers. 

Even though lawyers are not the only ones who suffer from depression, mental health issues are still prevalent in the legal profession as compared to other professions. As research shows, it all starts in law schools: as many as 96% of law students experience significant stress, in contrast to 70% of med students and 43% of grad students. Why does it happen? Probably because law is an adversarial setting, and legal professionals are struggling to withstand it from the very beginning of their university studies and throughout their careers. 

When we asked Olivia Vizachero about the current mental health of lawyers trends in the legal profession, her answer wasn’t so optimistic either. Here is what she told Loio:

“Unfortunately, law school doesn’t teach future lawyers thought and emotional management, despite how essential those skills are to practicing law successfully and sustainably. Instead, many attorneys struggle with managing their minds, constantly worrying about “what ifs,” catastrophizing about the possible worst-case scenarios, doubting their skills and abilities, shielding themselves, and obsessing over what their colleagues and clients think about them.

When practicing that kind of thinking, they experience an array of negative emotions. Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, behind, confused, worried, inadequate, guilty, and ashamed starts to become second nature.“

Olivia Vizachero, lawyer, certified life coach, and Owner of the Less Stressed Lawyer

She added: “Experiencing these negative emotions on a consistent basis over time takes a toll. Attorneys will please supervisors and clients by overworking themselves in an effort to make good impressions, only to overpromise and underdeliver.”

Let’s now try to overview the main reasons for these trends. 

Why Do Lawyers Have Mental Health Issues?

There are several key triggers for mental health issues, which seem to be quite common among legal professionals. Would you recognize yourself in the following paragraphs?

First of all, lawyers stress too much. One of the challenges lawyers have to face almost every day is dealing with difficult clients. The 22% of attorneys surveyed in 2020 considered this part of the job the most challenging. These and other challenges are becoming even more stressful under the pressure of tight deadlines — “to be done due yesterday” is not a joke anymore. 

Secondly, lawyers overwork. “The long hours I work” is yet another tough aspect of the job for 18% of the survey respondents. Experienced lawyers like Lisa Lang even talk about overwork culture as the biggest problem of the legal profession. According to the Bloomberg Law Survey, one-fifth of law firm lawyers report billing over 80 hours in their busiest week, while the real number of hours they work in such weeks can reach up to 100. 

Thirdly, lawyers spend a lot of time on monotonous tasks. Administrative work is also reported as the most back-breaking aspect of the job by 17% of the survey respondents. Alongside tight deadlines and complex cases, lawyers are bound to complete a lot of mechanical work, which steals their motivation. Proofreading contracts, sending documents back and forth, converting PDFs, etc., are often done at the expense of more high-value tasks, draining the lawyer’s energy and motivation.

Furthermore, unrealistic expectations lawyers often encounter also maximize their stress levels and may lead to burnout. An experienced attorney and life coach, Angela Han, has shared her thoughts about lawyers and mental health with us. When we asked her why mental health issues are so common among lawyers, she said: 

“Because we are expected to provide the correct answers every time, ASAP, all the time. When we don’t meet these superhuman standards, we suddenly become subhuman. There is no in-between. So, we never get a chance to be the human beings that we are.

When we can’t be who we are as human beings, we lose touch with everything that gives us purpose in life. When we lose touch with our purpose and values, we lose motivation or overwork ourselves. Here, we see the textbook picture of what burnout looks like.” 

Angela Han, lawyer, certified life coach, personal trainer, and “Fit to Practice” podcast host

A distressing mix of these and many more factors leads to unacceptable outcomes — lawyers ceasing to love their jobs and, eventually, enjoy their lives. This, in turn, may lead to a decrease in productivity or even burnout. The worst thing is that everyone is affected: not only a lawyer who struggles from burnout is suffering, but also the business they work for along with their clients. 

But how can you, as a lawyer, know there is something wrong with you, especially when the issue is still in the bud? 

How To Know You Have Burnout

Burnout is one of the most common mental health conditions, and it can even act as a risk factor for developing depression. In short, burnout is a state of both physical and emotional exhaustion caused by protracted stress. It is very important to be aware of its symptoms and know when it’s time to help yourself out. You can see the signs of burnout in the infographic below. 

Now that we figured out the roots of the problem and even know when to take action, it’s high time we talked about the ways to fix the situation.

Mental Health Tips for Lawyers

Mental health and lawyers have become a crucial dialogue in the legal profession. Given the demanding nature of their work, which involves intense pressure, extensive hours, and high-stakes decisions, lawyers often grapple with wellness issues. Subsequently, mental health, a previously overlooked aspect, has gained significant attention and respect within the legal community. Several strategies have been identified to help lawyers manage their mental health.

  1. Set boundaries: Create clear divisions between work and personal life. The process might be gradual, but gaining control over your time and energy is immensely beneficial.

  2. Embrace discomfort: Discomfort is inevitable. Rather than avoiding it, learn to accept and live with it. It's a part of growth and resilience-building.

  3. Seek support: Don't hesitate to seek professional help. Therapy, mentorship, and casual conversations can provide significant relief and understanding.

  4. Connect with peers: Engaging with communities or support groups like the Lawyers Depression Project can provide solace and solidarity. Knowing you're not alone in your struggles is comforting and helpful.

  5. Leverage legaltech: Legaltech can act as an irreplaceable assistant in a lawyer’s work routine. Many tools are available, including those on G2, Capterra, Loio, and others.

  6. Manage your time: Effective time management isn't just about productivity; it's crucial for mental health. Balanced allocation of time influences everything from sleep to stress levels.

  7. Self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same care and attention you offer a client. Self-dialogue and self-affirmation are important steps toward a healthier mental state. 

Helpful Resources About Mental Health Management

Here is the list of resources where you can discover other ways to improve your mental health or find out more about mental health in the legal profession:

  • TedTalk about the importance of meditation as a way to do nothing and let your mind have a rest;

  • A guide to lawyer’s well-being with tips and clarifications on the issue;

  • A report on the lawyer’s mental health with actionable advice on making a change in different settings (for example, in law firms or in-house teams);

  • Brilliant Legal Mind is a blog about mindfulness meditation for lawyers. 

Wrapping Up

Let’s reinforce the mental health tips we’ve covered in the article. Make sure you take care of yourself and your mental health by following these seven steps:

  1. Set boundaries between yourself and people that make you feel bad, as well as between work and your personal life. 

  2. Allow yourself to feel discomfort rather than trying to escape it.

  3. Ask for help from a specialist or someone you can trust. 

  4. Enter communities of like-minded people who are experiencing the same problems.

  5. Delegate mechanical and time-consuming parts of the job to legaltech.

  6. Mindfully plan your time and follow your plans carefully.

  7. Treat yourself as you would treat others.

Always remember that you are your most important client. Make your own case the top priority on your priority list.

To your health!

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko
Lawrina

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at y.savchenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.