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How can legal professionals deal with stress?

Published on: 25 Nov 2016

It’s well-known that working in the legal profession can involve strenuous working hours and challenging deadlines, and lawyers will no doubt be accustomed to operating under a great deal of stress. However with a significant amount of uncertainty looming over the nature of future regulatory environments and clients increasingly looking for additional legal counsel, lawyers are likely to find themselves ever more pressed for time than usual. 

Law firms look for the most resilient and hardworking candidates when recruiting at both ends of the scale. Training contract applicants will be expected to demonstrate their commitment to the profession - and an infallible work ethic - while partners will have to provide examples of exceptional leadership skills throughout times of significant pressure. So how can legal professionals manage stress at work?

•    Avoid being a perfectionist
Lawyers often maintain an ingrained belief that success only comes with perfection, but this simply isn’t the case. Striving for perfection is an ideal, but all too often it is also an unobtainable target. Unrealistic goal setting, will only lead to you unconsciously putting excessive pressure on yourself and creating unattainable expectations. Instead of fixating on specific elements of tasks in hindsight, focus on your current work and how you can complete it to the best of your ability.  

•    Manage your time as proactively as possible
It goes without saying that trying to create an effective work life balance can be a challenge in any profession, let alone law, where there is often significant pressure to bill as many hours as possible. Often a large amount of lawyers’ time during the ‘normal’ working day is consumed by public work, for example client facing meetings or work lunches, giving them little option but to work late into the evening to finish private work such as researching and preparing for the following day. Start each day by reviewing exactly what you need to achieve, and whenever possible, schedule all of your work within working hours. 

•    Take mental breaks 
Taking short ‘mental breaks’ is crucial, if you stay intensely focused on one task for hours on end, you’ll likely find yourself more stressed. It’s important to take short breaks between tasks to reflect on the day objectively. Review what you have achieved so far and what you still need to complete, even if you don’t have the time to take regular physical ‘breaks’. 

•    Don’t be afraid to ask for support 
Lawyers are known for being hard working and resilient, however unrealistic expectations can result in them being reluctant to seek support if they are struggling with stress. Approaching someone for support does not mean you are any less skilled or likely to succeed, it demonstrates that you are a responsible professional who recognises that stress can have an adverse effect on your work. In fact, if you continue to struggle in silence it’s possible that the quality of your work may slip and actually hinder your chances of being made up. 

•    Dedicate time to doing things you enjoy
Law is a time consuming career, and many professionals will have dedicated a lot of their free time during university to activities that would improve their prospects of securing a training contract. While for qualified professionals having to cancel social plans to meet deadlines can become an all too regular occurrence. However it’s important that you spend time developing your interests outside of law, if you become consumed by your work you’re more likely to feel unfulfilled and motivated when working through tough and demanding periods.

How else do you think lawyers can reduce stress?

Lynn Sedgwick is Managing Director of Clayton Legal