Mental Health Matters: Avoiding Lawyer Burnout

With Christmas around the corner and the holiday season ahead of us, it provides the perfect opportunity for self-reflection. In a profession that requires bala...

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With Christmas around the corner and the holiday season ahead of us, it provides the perfect opportunity for self-reflection. In a profession that requires balancing incessant deadlines, long hours, and seemingly never-ending requests for one's time, it's important that lawyers take the time to reflect on the year gone, the steps taken to manage their workload and stress combined, asking themselves how it can be better improved in the New Year. Your mental health matters. 

The Early Signs

Burnout, the impact of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, can surface in myriad ways. Though not unique to lawyers, the profession does lend itself to highly stressful situations. The following red flags may indicate that you or someone you know is experiencing burnout.


While it's normal to feel exhausted sometimes, persistent feelings of exhaustion are not. Some days you are busier than others or don't get a great night's sleep––that's normal. However, if you're feeling exhausted all the time, even when you get a good night's sleep, this could be a red flag signalling that you may be experiencing burnout.


Working as a lawyer can be stressful. It's part and parcel of the job. With stress, it's also easy to become irritable or impatient with those around us. However, when your irritability increases to the point that it becomes hurtful to you and those around you, it's time to acknowledge the red flag warning that you may be on your way to burnout.


One day you'll be focused, diligent and actively getting your work done. The next, you find yourself struggling to make it to lunch, your focus negatively impacting your workflow. If you suddenly struggle to stay on task, take a step back and evaluate your situation. You may find that your retraction from work is a red flag signalling burnout ahead.


Most lawyers work more than 40 hours a week to get through their workflow, and it's easy to see how—from meeting billable hour requirements, managing clients, going to court, and staying on top of case preparation, the pressure to get it all done is intense. For this reason, depression, anxiety, and alcohol or drug misuse or dependence are unfortunately not unusual in the legal industry. So if there is any red flag to be vigilant about, it's this one.

If the pressure is getting you down to the point that you feel so overwhelmed that you need to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol, it's time to take immediate action to protect your well-being. Make it a priority to turn to your support network or family members and seek help. 

Strategies to Avoid Lawyer Burnout


From client meetings, court appearances, and billable hours right through to new client consults, emails, conference calls, research, writing, and preparing for meetings with opposing counsel—the legal profession demands it all neatly packaged within a forty-hour work week. The reality, however, means that it is often closer to sixty, even eighty hours instead.

Aside from taking fewer clients, thorough planning can help you stay ahead each day. Don't limit your planning to meetings in your calendar for the week or fortnight ahead. Think big picture: think monthly, quarterly and yearly planning.

Putting a roadmap in place for not only your law practice but your career will lessen the overwhelming feeling, helping you think outside the day-to-day business and give you the confidence to realise that you are moving forward. 

Optimise Work Processes

More and more law firms are using matter management software to automate tasks, collaborate with team members, and improve client relationships. Furthermore, cloud-based matter management systems can integrate with other software systems or connect with third-party services. Adopting or enhancing your system can streamline your organisation and free up your time for essential tasks—reducing burnout by working smarter, not harder.

Establish Boundaries

It is essential to set and enforce boundaries that allow you to perform your best while managing stress levels. Burning the candle at both ends with deadlines, meetings, hearings, and client requests can get overwhelming quickly. 

Set and communicate boundaries that protect your quality of work and your health and mental well-being. Make an effort to disengage from your computer, and put work aside when it gets to a particular time. Understandably, there will be weeks when this isn't achievable, and that's ok. 

Exercise, Sunlight, Loved Ones

When establishing periodic breaks within your schedule, try spending some of that time outdoors, whether it be spent exercising or enjoying time with loved ones. Being outside can help reset your mind, giving you the energy boost you need to refocus for the rest of the working day.


Sometimes you need someone to talk to, someone objective to listen and carry some of the burdens, if only for a while. This is where it can be helpful to talk to a therapist, psychologist or counsellor—someone who understands that mental health matters. You can speak to your GP about a mental health treatment plan to access these services. 

Help is available. If you’re not sure where to start, the Queensland Law Society has an extensive list ready and waiting to offer help, services and support.

If you’re experiencing a crisis or want other support, Lifeline offers 24/7 support by phone, text or chat. Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute provide resources for mental health challenges including anxiety and depression, and offer tips and strategies for maintaining wellbeing. 

There are also resources designed specifically for legal professionals available, including: 

Need a Better Solution?

While strategies to mitigate symptoms on an individual level can be helpful, studies have shown that approaching burnout on an organisational level is important for treating the underlying causes. 

A lawyer's risk of burnout is directly related to the amount of time they spend working, pushing the need for a better solution when it comes to managing case workflow and client communication. 

If you're ready to improve your firm's matter management system, contact us to learn how LawMaster can drive efficiency, accuracy and profitability. We look forward to hearing from you.

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