The pressures on legal professionals are intense. The desire to diligently represent clients is stronger than ever, as is the need to meet billable hour goals and stay on track to achieve career goals.
But burnout is acute and affects many lawyers to the point that they consider quitting their jobs. The movement towards better well-being will accelerate as the workforce moves towards millennials. According to a Thomson Reuters report“This generation of lawyers have high expectations and different priorities… In fact, 50% of millennial lawyers say they would change jobs if it meant more balance between their personal and professional lives. “
Changing jobs or industries is definitely an option. But what if you love your current job in the legal environment? What if you wanted to stay in your place and enjoy more balance and well-being in your life?
Know your why
“When you have a fuller sense of purpose at work, it’s easier to feel engaged rather than exhausted,” says Nita Cumello, Global Client Director and Director of Well-Being for Global Large Law at Thomson Reuters. It encourages lawyers to understand what their companies are working towards and how they contribute to this work. “When people have a clear purpose, the team is more engaged, the culture thrives, and the environment as a whole is healthier,” she says.
Take advantage of employee wellness programs
Law firms have done a lot to help individuals take care of their own well-being. This can include extra days off, wellness apps, yoga during lunch on office days, or extended remote work opportunities. Many lawyers resist these offers because they fear optics, and firms have work to do to change this stigma. The more people who participate, the more likely people will be to recognize that wellness programs are not just for “struggling” lawyers, nor are they “fluffy”, as has been could see it in the past. Cumello notes that wellness programs are high-value investments companies make in the whole individual. “It’s a holistic way of approaching work that allows an individual to thrive,” she says.
It doesn’t have to be a new program – it can be something as traditional as taking a vacation. In the ABA Wellness Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers, author Anne Brafford reports on the benefits of taking a vacation. She writes: “In their study of 6,000 practicing lawyers, law professor Larry Krieger and psychology professor Kennon Sheldon found that the number of vacation days taken was a significant predictor of lawyers’ well-being – and was even stronger than income level in predicting well-being.”
Everyone wants to invest in their well-being, but people may be waiting for someone else to make the first move. If you’re hesitant to take advantage of a new offer, consider the good you could do for your colleagues. You can find out which combination of work and activity helps you optimize your physical, mental, emotional and social state. When other people see you doing this, they may feel more confident to explore this on their own.
This is especially important if you are leading teams. People will look to you to validate or undermine company-wide messages about wellness. Help others by taking care of yourself. Cindy Kelly, who leads a client training team for the Legal Professionals business at Thomson Reuters, began opening her meetings with grounding and connecting exercises. “My team members take a metrics-based role and work with clients all day — and we take a moment to be present with each other,” she says. “We signed with the Conscious business charterand I saw a huge opportunity to bring this charter to life at the team level.
Protect your time
It can be uncomfortable to set boundaries at work. There will always be more work to do and there will always be clients or colleagues who want your time. Customer demand won’t go away, but you can ask, “Can this wait until Monday?” Businesses are rethinking their own posture on wellness, giving you a great opportunity to match them and extend non-critical timeframes to adapt to balance and wellness.
Law professor Rosario Lozada, who offered a useful 10-step reflection exercise in the ABA Journal, reinforced the importance of creating time for self-care. She wrote, “The next time you open your calendar or other to-do list, add a specific self-care duty. Choose an activity that renews and energizes you; make it a recurring and priority event. You may have just engaged in a courageous act of “self-preservation.”
Start in six-minute increments
None of this is easy. Finding common ground for personal well-being will be different for every attorney. Your work and personal priorities will differ from those of your colleagues, and your desire to rock the boat will also vary. So where to start ? Cumello likes to paraphrase attorney wellness expert Jarett Green in encouraging you to start with six minutes, based on their conversation about her Practicing Wellness Podcast. “You can find six minutes in your day to breathe, get out, find calm, or do something that brings you joy. Make it a daily practice. Invest time consistently and see where it takes you. If you you give the opportunity to reframe that it’s not a luxury, it helps you optimize the way you work – it’s easier to save time.
Six minutes a day could get you anywhere – to a more sustainable approach to your current role, to the confidence to take the next big step in your career, to a new hobby, or to more time with your family. It can help you connect with your why and decide how to protect your time. It can help you become a better lawyer.
“It’s not a luxury,” Cumello says. “It is imperative.”
Well-being is intimately linked to mental health. If you are concerned about your mental health, do not hesitate to seek advice. Our article on managing mental health in the workplace can help you identify your employer’s legal responsibilities to meet your mental health needs.