In terms of First World Problems, complaining about having too much work is almost as bad as worrying that you have too much money. But, as any lawyer knows, work is work and having too much of it can detrimentally impact your cases and practice, not to mention your personal life.
Whether you were overzealous in taking on new clients or had a supposedly straightforward matter snowball out of control, here's some ideas on how to cope with too much work.
Overscheduling Your Way to Contempt of Court
Too much work can lead to excessive stress and lost sleep, of course. But it can also land you in jail. One overscheduled California lawyer was sentenced to five days in jail for contempt of court after he was unprepared for a murder trial. In 2012, Tim Pori notified a Bay Area judge that he wasn't ready for a murder trial scheduled for that day. The overbooked lawyer had also been preparing for another murder case and had expected to get a continuance. When that was denied, he was unprepared -- and unable to further delay, since both of his clients refused to waive their right to a speedy trial. Only a technical error in the judges' contempt order was able to save him from jail time.
How to Deal With an Overwhelming Workload
If you're drowning under a pile of work, don't just give up. If there are looming and inescapable deadlines, consider getting some extra help. Temporary contract lawyers, legal assistants and of counsel relationships can help take some of the burden off your shoulders. They'll also take some of your fee, but losing a bit of income for some piece of mind is worth it -- it certainly beats facing sanctions for missing deadlines or ignoring clients.
If you have more time before everything comes crashing down, consider a permanent solution, like a new, full-time hire. This could be another lawyer or, if you're still handling the non-legal aspects of a practice, support staff. There's no reason you should be copying your own briefs if you have more valuable work to be doing.
Finally, if it's client demands that are making you overwhelmed, start setting boundaries. Be clear about your availability and set honest expectations about when clients can expect a matter to advance.
Remember, if you're good enough to get too much work in the first place, you're good enough to get out of it.