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What to Do When Law Practice Literally Makes You Sick

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 03, 2019 2:20 PM

Paula Davis-Laack was killing it. Her practice was so busy lunch was a bag of peanuts and a contract.

But then she hit a wall -- that wall every lawyer hits on the way to burnout. She literally couldn't breathe, and rushed to a health clinic. It was a combination of stress and anxiety.

Law practice was killing her.

Practice Well-Being

Everybody knows stress can be a killer. For Davis-Laack, it was close enough. She quit her job, went to graduate school, and became an expert in stress and resilience.

In a presentation to the National Association of Bar Executives, she explained how lawyers can avoid work-related burn-out. The New York Times listened to her as well. "We have literally become addicted to doing stuff all the time and think that downtime is laziness or somehow a missed opportunity to get ahead," she said told the Times. "Organizations reward this, so it's reinforced."

Lawyers often have to be available around the clock, seven days a week. There's also the fact that practicing law is more complex -- and often more specialized -- than ever before. With too many demands, too little downtime, and no end in sight to being overworked, burnout seems almost inevitable. To reduce stress, Davis-Laack says attorneys need to balance their work demands and resources. Work-life balance includes a healthy diet, enough sleep, regular exercise, and social interaction. And by social interaction, we don't mean Instagram.  

Work-Life Balance

"It's certainly no secret that a high-pressure job can cause inordinate amounts of anxiety and tension, which can manifest themselves in myriad physical ways," wrote Regan Walsh for the Harvard Business Review. Studies show that stress can cause mild problems like chronic headaches, nausea, insomnia. More serious disorders can include hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.

Walsh told the story of a lawyer who learned about work-related stress at an early age. She had a stroke when she was 35. The young attorney woke up with half her body paralyzed. She was due in court, but managed to call her assistant.

Law practice will always come with some level of stress. But that doesn't mean that it has to be life-threatening. Solving this problem can start with first admitting that there is a problem. Then, you just have one more job to do: work on your work-life balance.

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