According to many studies, lawyers (especially family lawyers) have some of the highest stress, depression, anxiety, and addiction levels of any profession. Some studies have cited that attorneys have three times the level of alcoholism and depression than the general populace. Even though lawyers have known these statistics for years, nothing seems to be changing. I was a trial and family law attorney for 27 years, and I participated as a counselor and intervention specialist for my state’s bar association section helping lawyers with addiction problems. I saw first-hand the effects of stress and addiction on my colleagues.
Many law school students graduate with huge debts from law school (and college) – including tuition and expenses. According to US News & World Report, as many as 90% of the 2015 graduating class of many well-known law schools graduated with debts of well over $100,000 (76% of Yale graduates owed $123,000). That is a huge amount of debt for any lawyer to bear when they are trying to start a practice, even if they landed a plum job at a top law firm. No wonder stress levels are high.
Family law is one of the most time-consuming litigation categories – which can result in invoices that some clients cannot afford (or don’t want) to pay.
The competition for clients and fees is huge. Many lawyers feel like they have to fight the opposition, the opposition’s lawyers, the judge, and then their client when it is time to be paid. As a former divorce lawyer, I know that family law is one of the most time-consuming litigation categories – which can result in invoices that some clients cannot afford (or don’t want) to pay. Oftentimes, family lawyers can feel like there is no safe haven in the career that they thought would bring them satisfaction and fulfillment.
3 Techniques to Increase Productivity in Your Family Law Practice
3 Life- and Career-Changing Techniques to Reduce Stress & Increase Productivity in Your Family Law Practice
1. Let’s start with meditation.
The objective of meditation is to stop thinking for as long as we can. I call it “brain recess”. For most lawyers, that would be like asking them to breathe in a vacuum; after all, that is what lawyers are trained to do: think. Meditation is the absolute last thing our legal minds want to do, but it is absolutely critical to our well-being that we detach from our thoughts for a few minutes a day. Meditation is like engaging the clutch on that hamster wheel in our mental cage so that the thoughts stop spinning around and around. There are as many different types of meditation as there are lawyers; find the kind of meditation that appeals to you (pun intended).
2. The second technique to consider is breathing.
Yes, breathing. Most lawyers (as well as the general population) do not breathe deeply enough. Shallow breathing cuts off adequate oxygen to the frontal lobe, which results in higher brain function shut-down. When we sense fear or threat, we automatically start breathing faster and more shallowly; this creates fight-or-flight syndrome, also known as panic. When we focus on breathing deeply, we supply enough oxygen to our frontal cortex our analytical brain – to allow us to reason. Otherwise, we stay in a state of panic and fear as if being chased by wild animals, snakes, or spiders – which compromises our ability to analyze and make good decisions.
3. The third technique is commonly known as “mindfulness.”
I call it “paying attention.” When we detach ourselves from our thoughts, we can actually master them faster. The whole notion of the power of positive thinking only works if we are controlling our minds, not the other way around. Lawyers train their minds to work a certain way, to anticipate problems. We have to detach from that unique ability long enough to stop anxiety from setting in. We can control our thinking, but we have to be aware that we are thinking; we can control our thoughts if we are aware of them. If we are afraid, we can be aware of the feeling of fear. If we are stressed, we can be aware of the feeling of stress. With awareness, we can turn our thoughts in a positive direction and let go of the negative feelings. It becomes easy to do with practice.
Reduce Stress & Increase Productivity: Control Your Thoughts, Control Your Career
When we gain control of our thoughts, we can realize that we are simply good people who are doing legal work for a living – not lawyers who are trying to be good people. When we fall into the trap of identifying ourselves as lawyers first and foremost, we are letting the tail wag the dog. Many lawyers I know are compassionate, peaceful, and happy – probably because they have not let their legal mind overtake their conscious mind. Lawyers who are caught in a loop of “Win at all costs,” “Get that client no matter what,” or “How do I pay my bills?” have fallen into a lose-lose mindset. When we perceive practicing law as a “win-lose” scenario, we also fall into the lose-lose mindset. We have to think of ourselves as counselors rather than warriors and add tools like breathing, meditation, and mindfulness to our toolboxes.
Using these techniques to eliminate stress and anxiety can make practicing law fulfilling and successful. If you think spirituality is not for you, I urge you to reconsider: it could save your license – or your life.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Lawyers
Mindfulness meditation teaches us to approach each moment with more calmness, clarity, and wisdom.
Secondary Traumatic Stress and Family Lawyers
Practicing family law is stressful, and we now have some validation that listening to our clients’ traumatic stories can and does affect family lawyers.