In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, Joleena Louis discusses why solo attorney burnout occurs and what she does to prevent it.
I’m currently experiencing a sense of renewed motivation about my practice. This is great because I really love what I do and don’t see myself doing anything else.
But lately I have come across many of my solo colleagues who have the opposite feeling.
I recently had a long conversation with another attorney. She is someone I respect and admire as a practitioner of law, but she is at the point where she she feels so burned out that it feels like a chore for her to go to work every day.
This made me feel a little sad. Here I am with a renewed sense of existence as a legal professional and this other attorney is feeling disdain for her own profession that she worked so hard to become.
Solos who are burnt out are physically and emotionally exhausted. This exhaustion causes them to lose the drive or passion that they used to have about their work.
Surprisingly, I’m seeing this in very experienced attorneys who have very successful practices. Its very unnerving.
Is this my future? How can I stop this from happening to me? This made me ask other solos about their experiences with burnout.
Why Solos Burn Out
1. The Job.
Being an attorney is inherently stressful. The stakes are high since our clients life, family, or money is on the line.
People that become lawyers are typically overachievers and we put pressure on ourselves for perfection.
In addition to the pressure we put on ourselves, we have to meet endless deadlines, billable hours, and deal with emotional people. It’s a constant struggle to even find a moment of peace because there is so much coming at you at once.
2. Stress and Anxiety.
I’ve written many times about the stress and anxiety that comes with being a solo.
Balancing running a business with practicing law, along with other life obligations, is the definition of stress.
Not to mention the constant worrying about money and the difficulty of not thinking about work 24 hours a day.
You sometimes get the feeling of the weight of the world on your shoulders that can manifest itself in many ways.
3. Compassion Fatigue.
Stress.org defines compassion fatigue as “the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.”
Basically, you feel extreme stress or indifference to the people you are trying to help. This frequently happens to attorneys who represent victims of domestic violence or children.
When you work in law, especially in business-to-consumer practice areas, you constantly hear about the person’s rough times. It’s great to have compassion, but there is a little to how much turmoil one can hear before it begins affecting them.
You can find yourself lying awake late at night thinking about your clients’ troubles.
4. Poor Time Management and Failure to Properly Delegate.
It can feel incredibly necessary as a solo to “do it all.” This leads to poor planning and the feeling of being rushed.
Some solos I know find it necessary to stand strong in the “solo attorney” title when in reality it isn’t doing them any good and causes them to always feel pressed for time.
How I avoid burning out.
While I have felt stressed at times in my practice, I do not necessarily feel I have experienced a burnout just yet.
The most popular advice I received about avoiding burnout was to delegate, manage your time well and to take regular “unplugged” vacations.
In addition to that, I have also been told to start my day by doing something that makes you feel in control and centered, such as running, meditation or yoga. Not only are these ways to make you feel in control, they also greatly impact your health and are much better ways to cope with stress.
I don’t know if I’ll ever burnout but I can see how it could happen. I believe being aware of what to look out for and ways to avoid it will protect me from going down that path.