Anyone that was able to become licensed by a state bar is a highly motivated, intelligent and competent individual. However, despite this fact lawyers are people with personal lives that can impact their judgement and lead to poor performances on behalf of their clients. One of the most common factors that impact an attorney’s performance is burnout. The practice of law is one of the few professions that encourages conflict between its members. Brain surgeons, for example, are not attempting to craft ways to make brain surgery more difficult for brain surgeons.
The law, however, is different. A District Attorney wants to put criminals in jails, but a criminal defense attorney wants to prove the person the D.A. is trying to put in a jail is not a criminal. Therefore, both sides will come up with ways to make the other side’s job more difficult by crafting arguments that the other side is wrong.
This inherent conflict leads to burnout, because lawyers for the most part are perfectionists that want to win, but very few, if any, lawyers win all the time. Furthermore, in substantive litigation a lawyer will lose at least one motion, which will create uncertainty as to whether or not they will win their argument. The uncertainty of losing a case, motion, etc., looms over any attorney’s heads until the litigation is complete. Therefore, the adversarial and uncertain nature legal practice creates a perfect recipe for lawyer burnout.
If you become burned out, then you may be unable to adequately represent your client and could make poor decisions related to your case. One of the ways to detect burnout in an attorney is by ask how many cases you are handling and how many people work in your office. If a solo lawyer is handling 100 cases with nobody else in their office, odds are this attorney already is or will soon be burned out. Another way to detect burnout is to determine if you have some hobby, interest, or passion other than the law. If a lawyer is continuously engaged in the adversarial and uncertain nature of legal practice with no outlet, you will burn out.
It is well known that burnout exists in the legal profession and numerous programs exist to prevent it, but it remains a common occurrence. The legal culture tells attorneys to push the issue aside and not complain. Therefore, many lawyers believe slowing down or seeking help is a sign of weakness, but in reality, it is a sign of strength. A burned out lawyer is not helping anybody and pushing through problems to do poor work is harmful to both counsel and client.
Therefore, lawyers should take a personal inventory of their cases and not take on more than they can handle. Additionally, lawyers should find something outside of their work to occupy their time and be sure to not let work take over their life. Although all attorneys will have 14-16 hour workdays, doing this on a continuous basis is unsustainable and will hurt both you and your client. For these reasons, it is important to consider whether you have the capacity to handle a new case.
Authored by Ryan Griffith, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law