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Posts Tagged ‘burnout’

images-4To talk about lawyer burnout in a meaningful way, we have to mention the finish line problem. It’s the common element in every lawyer burnout story I’ve heard.

So imagine you’re running a marathon and arrive, gasping for air, at the final hundred yards. Onlookers cheer. Digging deep for that last ounce of energy, you can almost feel the relief of crossing the finish line.

Then some guy emerges from the crowd with unsettling news.

“Did we forget to mention there’s another marathon, starting right now? We need you to run that one too.”

You process these words. You don’t scoff, or laugh, because this isn’t a joke. He means it, and you’re going to do it. First of all, because you’re a trooper, and a team player. Second, (setting aside our metaphor for the moment) because you’re a lawyer and so you don’t have a choice in the matter, not merely because you’re a born pleaser and deeply risk-averse and highly competitive and ambitious (and maybe never asked yourself in any meaningful way what else you might want to do with your life) but also (perhaps) because you owe a fortune in school loans.

In an attempt to pull yourself into a frame of mind suitable to running another 26 ½ miles without a break, you tell yourself that, after this second marathon, there’ll be another finish line, and this time there will be an end, a respite, some rest. Might as well look on the bright side – you are young and smart and capable and filled with an unstoppable go-getter spirit. You’ll pull off the impossible.

Sure enough, you make it to the second home stretch. Once again the crowd cheers. You can just about taste the sweetness of slowing down and resting.

Then someone else steps out of the crowd. Her tone is matter of fact: “It turns out there’s another marathon, and we’re short-handed. You’ll have to run it.”

You feel numb, or maybe like screaming, or maybe just numb – it’s hard to tell. Another marathon, with no break. You have to keep running.

So you do. But at some point, while running, you’re also crying. Still running, just crying at the same time. And there’s anxiety, that comes in waves, leaving you gasping. Weirdest of all, there’s also a persistent fantasy of tripping and twisting your ankle, and you contemplate how nice it seems like that would be, to twist your ankle. Not to die or anything like that, just limp off to the hospital and lie down and sleep and not run anymore. That would be better than this.

But that doesn’t happen. You don’t trip, or twist your ankle. You do find yourself hurling a cup of gatorade at a race official, which almost gets you kicked out. But you cool it, because you can’t get kicked out (although part of you wants very much to be.) You have to think about your career. You have to keep your cool. You have to keep running.

All you want in the world is to stop running, which is the one thing in the world you’re not allowed to do.

This, in a nutshell (a metaphorical nutshell – and yeah, the nutshell itself is also a metaphor so wow, we’re getting meta here) is lawyer burnout, a phenomenon that’s all about denial, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, by the time you realize burnout might be coming, it’s already here, and a whole lot worse than you think.

How bad does lawyer burnout get? On a reasonably regular basis, lawyers arrive at my office, sit down, and burst into tears. That happens. And these aren’t people with much history of bursting into tears.

(more…)

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screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-11-32-29-amIt was fun to compare notes last week on “I, Lawyer” – the podcast of Fredrik Svärd, a Swedish lawyer and journalist and the creator of Legaltech.se, a top legal blog in Sweden that focuses on the intersection of law and technology.

Fredrik endured his own bout of burnout in the legal world, and lived to talk about it, so our conversation turned into a healthy give and take around experiences in law and interacting with other lawyers under often difficult circumstances.

Don’t worry, we decided against conversing in Swedish.  But it was interesting speaking with a lawyer from another country, and Fredrik has a very Scandinavian wryness and hard-boiled-ness about him – he’s been there himself and asked tough, pragmatic questions about strategies for surviving law and the realities of leaving the profession.

You can listen to the podcast here (on Soundcloud), or here (on Fredrik’s blog.)  And click here to access all the episodes of Fredrik’s podcast, “I, Lawyer” in iTunes (you can also subscribe so you never miss another one.)

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

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162546268-495x328I must be, because I was just interviewed by the celebrated Leslie A. Gordon of none other than the ABA Journal for her article, entitled “How Lawyers can avoid Burnout and Debilitating Anxiety”.

And Leslie also interviewed my old friend, Jeena Cho – and I know she’s famous!

And there’s this great portrait of me taken by the photographer, Len Irish! 0715FANXIOUS-MEYERHOFERL

The article does a great job of highlighting the issues of anxiety and burnout among lawyers.

I modestly confess that I particularly liked this quote, which somehow fell trippingly from the tongue of little-ol’ Moi:

It’s important to note that no strategy should be touted as a cure-all. “The implication can become that you’re struggling with anxiety or depression because you’re not doing your yoga or not meditating or not eating right or somehow choosing to go without sleep,” Meyerhofer says, “that it’s your fault for not having mastered some ‘effective strategy’ that would make all these issues disappear.” The fact remains that law can be brutal, and most young associates are not equipped for what they find when they enter the profession, he says. “You’re not tossing and turning in bed, roiled by anxiety, because you’re choosing to eat badly or to skip your yoga class. It has a lot more to do with being thrown into the deep end in an extremely competitive, exploitive business driven not by compassion or collegiality or the desire to mentor, but by profit and money and competition for prestige.”

Thank you, ABA Journal, and Leslie, and everyone who helped produce this piece.  I hope the message gets out that being a lawyers doesn’t have to be synonymous with being stressed out and miserable.

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

My latest book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

Read Full Post »