Chances are that being an attorney suits you, otherwise, why on earth would you have pursued this profession? Yet, after a few years of overwhelming piles of documents, never-ending emails, back-to-back consultations, finding your own clients, doing your own marketing, and ardently defending your clients in court, it’s easy to find yourself working more than 60 hours a week. Because of the non-stop pressure, lawyers are among the top professionals susceptible to burnout.
Many who have never experienced burnout assume it’s merely periodic, work-related stress or lack of sleep. But burnout is far more than feeling mentally overtaxed — a simplification of a deep-rooted issue. At its most severe, it’s an occupational hazard capable of leaving you incapacitated or unable to carry out your job. As a lawyer, people are counting on you to handle their most sensitive legal issues. So, if you’re so inundated with stress and exhaustion to the point of burnout from the incessant demands of your career, it’s not just you that will suffer the consequences — your clients will too.
What is Lawyer Burnout?
Lawyer burnout is chronic exhaustion as a result of too much on your plate. Lawyers without an efficient system in place can find themselves disillusioned, overworked, and ultimately emotionally distressed. Exacerbating the issue is work martyrdom — the propensity to put the well-being of your clients before your own. Not only is this emotionally draining, but it can start to take its toll on every area of your life. Your emotional and physical burnout will start to spill over into your clients’ overall experience and affect your reputation.
Believe it or not, burnout can even cause long-term changes in your body that can make you more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
Signs You’re On the Brink of Burnout
Chronic stress can start to lead to physical fatigue. From stomach aches, to migraines, the emotional exhaustion will eventually take its toll physically. Regardless of how much you sleep, during a burnout period your body never quite feels rejuvenated in the mornings since it’s producing high amounts of cortisol — the stress hormone attributed to disrupting healthy sleep patterns . Many individuals suffering from burnout may start to experience depression as well, which can cause a drop in energy and motivation to move your body.
Inundated With Tedious, Monotonous Tasks
As a lawyer, there’s no shortage of tasks to complete throughout the day, whether administrative or in service of your clients. But when you start to feel like your tasks are more than you can handle, then it’s only a matter of time before your entire day feels consumed by the pressures of your pending to-do’s. Lawyers who have an incapacitating amount of backlogged tasks tend to develop decision paralysis when it comes to prioritization. And in the absence of an effective system in place, managing your workload to completion can seem like an impossibility.
Pulling Away From Your Responsibilities
When the pressures of your practice become all too much to handle, withdrawal — a common attorney defense mechanism — isn’t far behind. And if kicking the can down the road wasn’t antithetical enough to your workday, cynicism and apathy rear their ugly head when stress compounds. Consequently, personal and professional relationships decline as your workload piles up.
Turning to Alcohol or Other Substances
Many professionals turn to alcohol to cope and unwind after a long day — attorneys included. After all, drinks with colleagues or a glass of wine after a long day are customary are they not? However, dependency can creep up as alcohol and other substances become go-tos in alleviating the stressors of a demanding workweek, impairing your ability to do your job. Around 70% of legal malpractice issues can be attributed to substance abuse, often by attorneys struggling to seek treatment. Suffice to say, alcohol (or substance) consumption can take the edge off on occasion but really isn’t sustainable without risk of addiction and further health implications. For those who find themselves drinking beyond moderation, assistance for lawyers is readily available.
A common physical reaction to burnout is experiencing weight change. For many, increased cortisol levels as a stress response triggers hunger sensations, pushing stressed out lawyers to snack more often, in many cases on less than healthy food choices. On the other hand, there are those who can’t stand the sight of food when they’re overwhelmed with too much work on their plate. Whereas some people lose weight when under duress, others experience weight gain. It all depends on your body’s unique chemistry. Either way, if you start to notice significant physical changes as a reaction to your stress, it’s a red flag that something needs to give.
If you start to feel your patience running thinner than usual, it could be a sign of burnout in the not-so-distant future. The reason why many people feel easily agitated as a burnout symptom is because stress releases adrenaline. Too much adrenaline released in your body upsets your body chemistry, sending you into survival mode. It’s almost impossible to pump the brakes once you reach a stress threshold. Should you catch yourself feeling unreasonably angry about seemingly innocuous things, consider taking a much-needed break and reassess the way you’re running your practice.
No Desire to Take on More Clients
It’s hardly a no-brainer why you wouldn’t be enthusiastic about taking on more clients when you can barely handle the ones you currently have. Yet, your clients are relying on you to carry out your role. Not only could you be negatively affecting their well-being by failing to do your job in providing adequate representation, but you are ultimately rolling the dice on your livelihood. Failing to follow through with inadequate representation of your clients will lead to poor reviews and a bad reputation in general.
People who are nearing burnout are hardly feeling very sociable. The intense stress paired with chronic fatigue makes you feel disinterested in most things. As such, it’s likely difficult to be patient and compassionate in your relationships. Over-tiredness can create a rift in personal relationships, causing attorneys to be distant or even short-tempered with friends and family.
Common Causes of Lawyer Burnout
According to a 2018 legal trends report, the average full-time working lawyer works just under 50 hours a week. Almost 40% say that this has an overall negative impact on their life. One of the biggest reasons why lawyers put in so many hours is because it’s a struggle to catch up with everything that it takes to run a legal practice. With so many administrative tasks, lawyers are often forced to work outside of standard business hours in order to tend to their clients’ needs. On average, lawyers spend over 50% of their day on non-billable tasks, like marketing and following up with leads.
Clearly this isn’t a sustainable lifestyle. The exhaustion will start to take its toll on legal professionals, regardless of how zealous they are about practicing law.
Working extra hours may seem conducive to productivity, but in most cases, it is in fact counterproductive, not to mention detrimental to your physical health. Research shows that working more than 10 hours a day can increase your chances of cardiovascular issues by as much as 60%.
The competition is fiercer than ever in today’s legal industry. Clients expect more than ever for less, and many law firms find themselves struggling to meet their annual revenue goals. With more than 1.3 million practicing lawyers in the United States, there is no shortage of choices for legal consumers seeking representation. But attracting new clients is no small feat for those with zero to minimal marketing experience — particularly in smaller firms.
To the chagrin of many lawyers, marketing is typically absent in law school curriculum. You’re taught to handle cases but not how to run a business. Lawyers who aren’t prepared for the marketing and sales aspect of standing out in a sea of competition may find themselves burned out from the multiple hats they have to wear.
Drawn Out Manual Processes
Manual processes are one of the primary culprits for burned-out lawyers’ workloads. From responding to incoming leads to finding the best time for a consultation, to drafting up lengthy documentation, to sending and receiving agreements, all of these steps take countless hours to complete manually. They are tedious, they are error prone, and they shouldn’t be on an attorney’s plate to begin with lest you risk double work and client dissatisfaction.
Many lawyers possess personality traits that cause them to strive for perfection at all costs. You can see where this is going. Impossible standards are tough to meet. While perfectionism may drive lawyers to excel at what they do, it incurs an emotional toll. Failing to achieve perfection can lead to feeling helpless, out of control, and dissatisfaction with oneself and life. Rather than being driven by aspirational goals, perfectionists are driven by the fear of failure. Hence, it’s arguably toxic in excess, particularly a law firm work environment.
When running a law firm, resource availability dictates your time, growth, and caseload capacity. The fewer employees you have, for instance, the more difficult it is to keep up with all of your paying clients or prospects. It’s a simple equation, output equals resources plus time.
Once you reach burnout, it’s an uphill battle to reach baseline. Think of a car spinning its wheels in a ditch — it’s possible to get out … eventually, but the best solution is prevention. If you start to notice any of the warning signs mentioned in this post, then look no further than the following solutions to circumvent disaster and turn things around.
Ways to Avoid Legal Burnout With Legal Technology
Pinpoint Your Problem Areas With Legal Reporting Software
Time equals money. The more time you lose on manual processes, the more you can hear the metaphorical coins dropping into a piggy bank. While you might not be able to stretch the number of hours you have in the day, you can make the most out of the 24 that you’re given. Instead of letting yourself get bogged down with manual processes that shouldn’t be on your plate to begin with, boost your efficiency by relying on legal technology.
Step one: identify where your time is going with data. Data is the unsung hero in the legal world and, if harnessed, can be one of your greatest assets for identifying problem areas when it comes to efficiency. One solution, legal reporting software, helps you track your productivity, and stay accountable for how you’re using your time. You can easily keep tabs on firm’s performance with visibility into the following key metrics:
Revenue Per Employee
If you find yourself currently working over 50 hours a week, and only a small portion of that time is allocated to actual billable work, then law firm reporting software will help you pinpoint the holes in your productivity so that you can make changes accordingly.
Once you find out where your problem areas are, you can turn towards automation to put those tasks on autopilot. Attorney intake software can help you automate processes that are draining your energy, resources, and time, and put you back in control of what’s most important at your practice.
Accelerate Growth With a CRM
A CRM for lawyers manages the client journey end-to-end, keeping everything in one single organized location. No more spread out post-it notes or multiple spreadsheets — a CRM keeps a record of all interactions with clients, ensuring no one falls through the cracks.
CRM paired with a pipeline management system takes this a step further by telling you what action to take next on any matter, eliminating inefficiencies in your follow-up process — all with minimal effort on your part. The end result is less work for you, and delighted clients that refer you to their friends and family.
Automate Client Replies
One of the biggest challenges for lawyers trying to stay productive is getting back to their clients and leads. With so much on their plate, it can feel impossible to have to take a 10-minute call several times a day to update each client on their case. Because of this, poor lawyer responsiveness is one of the top complaints that clients have. Making your clients wait more than 24 hours to hear back from you can lead to negative online reviews and a lack of referrals. Instead of sacrificing your productivity to try to get back to everyone while simultaneously completing all of your tasks, rely on automation to reply for you.
Client intake software can be easily configured to send automated and personalized messages, keeping clients engaged from day one, without you having to do a thing. From that point on, you can set triggers of your choice to send out a message depending on where they are on the client journey. Whether they sign up for a newsletter, or they schedule a consultation, automated messages make them feel connected to you every step of the way.
Give Clients Access to the Client Portal
In 2022, we find ourselves in a consumer-driven world. Clients expect immediate replies, and won’t settle for anything less. Yet, as a busy lawyer, you simply don’t have time to stop what you’re doing and give everyone an update in real-time. That is … unless you have a client portal. A client communication portal provides immediate means of access to a client’s case details thereby cutting you, the attorney, almost entirely out of the equation.
Clients can access the client portal 24 hours a day, and see the latest developments of their case, access documents, and even send their lawyer a message. Not only does this give them more freedom, but it also gives lawyers more freedom. Your clients will be thrilled with your modern approach, and you’ll benefit from them being more self-sufficient. Everyone wins!
One of the frustrating aspects of running a law firm is finding a time that works for your clients and you for consultations. Before long, trying to find a time and date that works for not only your schedule but also theirs can lead to a long string of emails back and forth.
Nobody has time to write 10 emails a day over one simple consultation. Allowing your clients to book their own appointments with automated appointment scheduling can be one of the most liberating, time-saving changes you make in your practice. It’s as simple as sending them a link to a calendar that links to yours in real time, displaying only your available time slots.
From there, they can schedule an appointment without you having to do a thing, serving as a modern and convenient alternative to manually setting appointments, which can be especially helpful when you don’t have the luxury of front desk staff.
In addition to being able to set their own appointments, clients will also receive automatic appointment reminders, significantly reducing the chance of appointment mixups, and client no-shows.
Use Document Automation Software
From drafting up attorney retainer agreements to wordy affidavits, creating documents can take a lot of time out of your day. Not to mention, you risk them being full of errors. Lighten your workload by using legal document automation to generate tedious paperwork in a matter of seconds. Custom fields make it easy to merge data from your matters directly into your PDF and word documents, saving you precious time that you can dedicate to what matters most at your practice — giving your clients the attention they deserve.
Up until very recently, getting documents signed by your clients was a time-consuming, multi-step process for most. It required your client to print, sign and scan documents back to you, often resulting in hour-long delays to get the case rolling. Those were the dark ages before e-signature.
Stop losing time, and offer your clients an instant and effort-free way to sign important documents. A client e-signature tool ensures their cases are continuously in progress, making everyone’s lives much easier. In addition to being much faster and more convenient, e-signature is also safer. Rather than sending legally binding documents through email, or snail mail, e-signature software is protected from third parties trying to access sensitive information. Above all, offering effortless solutions like electronic signature for legal documents will strengthen your client relationships, and improve the overall client experience.
Automate Your Marketing
As mentioned earlier in this post, marketing is an enigma to many in the legal industry. After all, you’re not a business person, you’re a lawyer, right? Unfortunately, you are a business person, and you have to run your law firm like a business if you hope to continue to grow.
Yet with so much on your plate, it can be difficult to keep up with the demands of attracting and engaging clients. Automating your marketing with email automation for law firms can be one of the best things you ever do for your firm. Automation tools like audience segmentation software target specific contacts in your law firm CRM based on their characteristics such as their profession, case type, and other factors that could play a role in what sort of marketing materials you sent them. Each group of contacts is sent targeted and personalized marketing that makes that much more likely to open the emails.
Rather than trying to appeal to the masses with an all-in-one marketing approach, personalized messages make your firm memorable, and stand out. Automated drip email marketing sends clients messages based on triggers of your choice. From birthday messages to thanking them for joining your newsletter, marketing automation for law firms keeps you top of mind for your clients without any effort on your part.