We know that the film and television industry portrays the legal profession as non-stop excitement and drama, such as in Chicago Justice and Law and Order, but the reality is that being a lawyer is not that at all.
Quite the contrary, being a lawyer often involves long hours filled with tremendous demands and stress, advocating for your clients, meeting billable hour requirements, long days engaging in client development, and getting your bills submitted and paid on time.
To a lawyer, the list can seem never-ending, leaving a lawyer emotionally and physically drained. This begs the question: How can lawyers better contend with the reality of professional and workplace stress?
We have a few suggestions.
Know Your Big Rocks
In the account of Dr. Stephen Covey, author of First Things First, an expert asked a group of students to fit a seemingly massive amount of objects into a one-gallon jar including about a dozen large rocks.
Without putting in the large rocks first, all of the objects would not have fit. The moral of the story is that while there is much to put in your “jar of life,” if you don’t know what your priorities—or “Big Rocks”—are and put them in first, they will never fit.
What are your Big Rocks? Do some soul searching, identify them, and put them in your life jar first.
Establish solid boundaries around your Big Rocks. After identifying your life’s priorities, create a firm barrier around your time for them.
For example, if taking your significant other out on your anniversary is a priority, then treat it as a court appearance that you cannot miss.
Just as it is important to set a boundary, you must enforce it. As Doron Gold notes in The Lawyer Therapist: Healthy Boundaries Make for Healthy Lawyers, “[t]o set a boundary and then not to enforce it is to have no boundary at all. Boundaries are about telling people how you want them to treat you and then holding them to it. That requires clarity of terms, the clear communication of them, consistent enforcement, and the implementation of consequences for a violation.”
Constantly thinking, analyzing, and worrying, lawyers need calming peace.
Mindfulness has become more mainstream for lawyers, with classes and organizations created specifically for them such as yoga classes for law students and specific organizations dedicated to the cause, such as the Center for Contemplative Mind’s Law Program. Other mindfulness methods include meditation, or a quick body scan technique. And if you’re a technology fan, apps such as Aura and Calm provide guided customized meditation to fit your needs and your schedule.
You’re a third-year lawyer without a book of clients to bring to your new firm? Don’t set a goal to be partner within the year.
Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Take an honest look at what is doable and what you can achieve.
Be realistic in your own development and career progression. And if you are the managing partner, create a systematic approach to hiring and developing associates.
Use Technology to Just Do It
Part of effectively tackling tasks is knowing what it is you need to do and scheduling them.
For example, if you easily forget tasks, events, or deadlines, you can use your email calendar function to record upcoming deadlines or activities, reviewing them weekly and daily.
You could also use a task-tracking app such as OneNote or Todoist to record and monitor your personal and professional tasks on-the-go.
Part of stress and overwhelm is not knowing and not managing life’s tasks. There are even other apps, such as RescueTime and Remember the Milk, to help motivate and track time spent on tasks to keep you productive.
Use Automation Technology to Your Advantage
The legal industry has come a long way in creating and using applications and automation to help accomplish more in less time.
Take a few moments to research legal technology tools that can help you automate or minimize administrative tasks, freeing up your time to accomplish more billable work.
The American Bar Association also has a Legal Technology Buyers Guide that offers suggestions on technology to help you get started. For instance, applications such as Case Text help lawyers spend less time and effort doing legal research. Other applications like BillerAssist, AllocateLegal, EffortlessIntake, and SmokeBall reduce the amount of time lawyers have typically spent on billing and other administrative tasks.
Remember, the reality of being a lawyer may not be completely glamorous, but you do have control over your day and life. If life does get too stressful, please contact your physician for additional assistance or one of the American Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Programs.