A Lawyer’s Guide to Avoiding Burnout
Many legal professionals working additional hours may feel it is the logical response to having larger volumes of work - read more to learn about ways to avoid burnout in a stressful work field.
  • legal
Blog Specialist
Published on Aug 31, 2023


Statistics provided by Clio show that demand for legal services went up by 18 percent between 2019 and 2021. By March of 2022, demand for lawyers escalated again by 24 percent, forcing many legal professionals to take on more workload and work overtime. In 2022, Clio reported that 86 percent of lawyers work outside their regular workdays; that’s almost nine in every 10 lawyers.

Many legal professionals working additional hours may feel it is the logical response to having larger volumes of work; while they may not be entirely wrong, working overtime must be done with caution to ensure balance prevails. Failure to do this can result in poor relationships with loved ones, clients, and colleagues, as well as chronic burnout.

In this post, we have compiled five burnout signs lawyers should never ignore and feasible tips they can adopt to combat burnout and stay on top of their game.

5 Unmistakable Signs of Burnout

Before we dive into helpful tips for preventing and overcoming job burnout, it is reasonable to explore common signs of burnout. This is especially necessary as many adults are burnt out without realizing it; they mistake chronic burnout for regular work stress, normalizing their poor work-life balance.

In the coming paragraphs, we will look at five common signs of burnout.

  1. Looming Sense of Failure and Self-doubt

You should suspect chronic burnout at work when you suddenly develop a looming sense of failure and constantly doubt your abilities. Once you always compare yourself to your counterparts and nurse feelings of underachievement, it might be a sign to step back and get to the root of those feelings.

Other ways this could manifest include zero sense of pride or fulfillment in one’s profession, declining confidence in one’s abilities, and the development of an overall negative mindset on career and life.

  1. Declining Physical Health

Another evident sign of job burnout is poor physical health. This can include one or all of the following: constant feelings of exhaustion, body and muscle aches, unexplained weight loss, reduced immune function, and frequent illness.

An exception to this are individuals who naturally experience any of these symptoms or those with a medical diagnosis explaining why their health may be declining. However, if you’re typically hale and hearty and suddenly begin to notice your physical health decline, you should review other factors and get to the root of the matter as soon as possible.

  1. Emotional Instability

One of the most apparent manifestations of burnout is emotional instability, and it adds up. People who are burnt out are in survival mode and are merely trying to get through each workday. In times like that, connecting with themselves and regulating their emotions so it doesn’t spill onto others can seem like a reach.

If such circumstances go unchecked, short emotional outbursts and angry tantrums can become impactful mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

  1. Poor Performance and Work Rate

Chronic burnout is reflected in an individual’s work rate and overall performance. This stems from the growing negative feelings towards one’s job, which can slowly develop into apathy. 

Poor performance and work rate are usually a build-up of procrastination, forgetfulness, struggle with concentration, and withdrawal from key roles and responsibilities. 

While extending grace to one’s self can be healthy when KPIs have not been met, being utterly lackadaisical about one’s job is unacceptable and must be checked to avoid queries from superiors.

  1. Withdrawal

Experiencing burnout can cause feelings of loneliness in the sufferer's mind, making them withdraw from family and loved ones. This choice to withdraw sometimes manifests as self-neglect, that is, the individual begins to compromise on hobbies, self-care rituals, rest, and other personal needs, even down to basic hygiene.

In extreme cases, chronic burnout pushes people to rely on excessive substance consumption to cope with daily responsibilities.

5 Tips for Avoiding Burnout as a Lawyer

1. Take Breaks 

Like every muscle in your body, your brain deserves a break every now and then. This can consist of long holidays, such as vacations and temporary leaves of absence, or short breaks throughout the day, such as lunch and social breaks. 

Between their busy schedules, taking breaks is easier said than done for the average lawyer. It is also easy to overextend your break times, which can have an adverse effect on your performance at work. However, when done with discipline, taking breaks will positively impact employees' mental and physical well-being.

To ensure your breaks from work are worthwhile, incorporate activities you enjoy. The excitement and anticipation of the break will fuel you to work harder. Additionally, you should strive to plan your breaks when you have less work so you're not stressed and overwhelmed at the thought of work compiling in your absence

2. Delegate your Work

Individuals with the Type A personality (which includes most lawyers) may not want to hear this, but delegation in the workplace is necessary. As excellent as you may be at your job, having too much on your plate can result in obvious inefficiencies in your performance. Hence, your best bet is to delegate micro tasks and then supervise their execution instead of doing them all by yourself.

Delegation may be harder for legal professionals in small-scale firms and junior associates with no one to delegate to. Fortunately, there are multiple legal software on the market to which small law firms can easily outsource specific tasks.

An example of legal software your firm can outsource to is the Paralegal as a Service. The software provides law firms with competent virtual paralegals who work remotely. This way, legal organizations, both large and small, can delegate in confidence, prevent burnout for their employees, and avoid the costs of hiring in-house paralegals.

3. Ask for Help

The careers of legal professionals are as stressful as they come. The demanding nature of their job can have an adverse effect on their physical, emotional, and mental well-being, yet many lawyers have a hard time admitting to burnout. 

The good news is that the cultural stigma around mental health has been reduced immensely. In addition, the corporate world has become more considerate of employees' mental well-being, making it safer for professionals to admit to burnout and ask for support while they recover. 

When legal professionals have reached peak levels of stress and anxiety, it is imperative they talk to someone. This could be their boss(es), a mentor, a loved one, or a therapist. Joining a support group is another great way to find legal professionals who have overcome chronic burnout, helping burnout lawyers feel less alone.

4. Set Aside Time for a Hobby

Hobbies are a great way to disconnect from work and lose ourselves in the things that bring us joy and fulfillment. For many lawyers, pastimes provide an avenue for exploring their creativity outside work and also connect them to people who share similar interests.

When reflecting on the possible reasons for your burnout, one of the things to consider is whether or not you indulge in "play." Play, in this sense, refers to any activity you enjoy where there are no expectations from you whatsoever. This is particularly important since meeting set deliverables is the most stressful aspect of being a lawyer.

For the hyperproductive professionals who feel guilty when they play, science tells us that play promotes neurogenesis in adults. In other words, you just may become smarter by indulging your passions outside work, so every now and then, loosen up and play!

5. Automate your Software

Employees begin to feel burnout when their given workload exceeds their physical, mental, or emotional capacity. If this is your circumstance, you should consider optimizing your work process by deploying legal software for automating routine tasks. This allows you to free up time, which can be spent resting or on other tasks technology cannot handle.

Legal organizations looking to invest in proficient legal software are welcome to try out  NextChapter. This all-in-one legal software offers virtually all the automated software the average lawyer needs in one database. 

Some features available to users include NextChapter Docs, which legal professionals can use for automated document generation, ClientTexting for communicating with clients and sending automated reminders for important dates, and a Cloud feature to enable your law firm to access case information from anywhere.

NextChapter is the solution-oriented bankruptcy software your law firm needs; give it a shot and watch your case filing process become much more seamless. 


Burnout Ultimately, lawyers must realize that experiencing burnout does not make them any less competent; afterall only a healthy mind can deliver excellently at work. 

The above tips should help keep burnout at bay, but should you experience burnout, be sure to speak up about it and get the support you need.