By Michael Bromley • July 31, 2017
It’s no secret that law is a stressful profession. The industry is competitive and closed off, and clients are often very demanding. On top of this, lawyers are inherently quite driven. You place a lot of pressure on yourself to succeed. This is great when you're kicking goals. But it can spark some serious problems when it comes to your health and wellbeing.
To make things worse, many law firms are not particularly open to hearing these concerns. Some firms may say they care about employee wellbeing, but the reality is different. Subsidised gym memberships and free fruit can't fix these issues. So, attorneys feel like they can’t speak up in case they're viewed as weak and not up for the job.
This type of thinking isn’t good for anyone. It can result in small mistakes by the individual, which can have huge ramifications for the firm. Continually putting work first can lead to burnout, or worse. The profession has a very high rate of depression - something that firms don't often address. So, we think it's time to change tack and start tackling the issue head-on.
In this article, we discuss some of the warning signs that you’re reaching breaking point. We also touch on what you can do to make things better when everything is spiralling out of control.
The chronic problem
The first sign we’re looking at is "the chronic problem". This is a problem that creeps up on you. It can culminate for years before you reach breaking point. It begins with a general, deep sense of dissatisfaction with the work that you’re doing on a day-to-day basis. It’s often caused by placing yourself under unrealistic levels of pressure. Being an overachiever. This negativity feeds itself, the nasty feelings become cyclical, and it becomes a chronic problem.
The problem is the issue is so endemic in the legal profession that most attorneys think it's normal. Not to mention the insular nature of the profession. I mean, when was the last time you caught up with a friend who isn't a lawyer? It's so easy to get stuck in a legal bubble where high pressure is the norm. This means lawyers aren't aware that these levels of stress and unhappiness aren't normal or that they need to do something about it.
The solution to the chronic problem begins with awareness that you might have a problem in the first place. You need to accept that there is a problem. Take the time to do some serious self-reflection and ask yourself whether work makes you happy or stressed out and anxious. Does your day-to-day work align with your core values? Does it align with what you want to be doing in the future? If not, it may be time to ask yourself some frank questions about the future of your career.
An unhappy work life often results in an unhappy home life. It's no surprise, then, that the legal profession has one of the highest divorce rates. Do you bring stress home with you from work? Do you find yourself going home from work every day in a terrible mood? You don't mean to take it out on your loved ones, but if you’re reaching breaking point then you might be.
Once again, the first step towards solving this problem is accepting there is a problem in the first place. Many professionals are so caught up in work that they aren't attuned to how they’re feeling. Or to the emotions of people around them, including their loved ones.
To uncover whether your relationships are suffering as a result of your career, you need to talk to those closest to you. Ask them to be open and honest with you. Have they noticed a change in your behaviour? And if so, how is it affecting them? It's a tough conversation to have, but it is necessary if you want to make progress.
Once you’ve uncovered any latent problems, you need to work together to solve them. Remember, the onus isn’t necessarily on you to fix the problem. You may need to work as a team. Perhaps your loved ones aren’t giving you enough support, or they’re not aware of the pressure you’re under at work. But the first step is for all members of the relationship to be aware that there is a problem to begin with.
Enthusiasm is so important in life. It’s also something you need to get right. Losing enthusiasm for your work is one of the first signs that you might be on your way to breaking point. Everyone knows on a deep level whether they’re satisfied with their life. Take a moment to ask yourself whether you look forward to work or dread it. You might come up with some interesting answers. If you discover that work is a major source of discontentment, something needs to change.
Unhappiness at work can bleed into your enthusiasm in other parts of your life. This is another sign to look out for. Maybe you’ve stopped doing the hobbies you used to enjoy or you no longer catch up with your friends. If this is the case, you need to ask yourself why it has happened. Stressful work isn’t always the reason, but it often is.
What you can do about it
So, we’ve considered three typical signs that you're heading towards breaking point. But how can you avoid getting there?
First, as we’ve already discussed, you need to recognise whether there is a problem or not. This isn't as simple as it sounds. Plenty of things outside of your career can cause stress and dissatisfaction. It comes down to knowing what your values are, and taking the time to be self-reflective. Essentially, asking yourself whether work aligns with your values and the value you can bring others.
If you do identify a problem, don’t panic. As we’ve already discussed, stress-related unhappiness in the legal industry is rife. No obstacle is insurmountable, and it’s better to take on problems head-on rather than to let them fester.
Finally, it’s important to have the self-confidence to take positive actions. It’s not easy to approach your superiors or loved ones with stress-related problems. It's hard enough to even approach yourself with them. But it’s up to you to take that affirmative step towards being more content and satisfied in your legal career and the direction you’re heading.