Lawyers’ mental health has only recently become a priority in many law firms. Meanwhile, lawyers have experienced some of the highest rates of stress, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders compared to other professions.
Some 614 lawyers surveyed in late 2021 reported feeling burned out in their jobs 52% of the time—a record number, according to Bloomberg’s analysis. Nearly half (46%) say their well-being also worsened. Lawyers whose well-being declined experienced burnout at almost twice the rate (70%) of attorneys who reported no change.
These stats bring up very important questions for law firms and the legal industry overall: What causes such high levels of stress? And how does it impact lawyers’ ability to do their jobs? Most importantly, what can you do within your own practice to address these issues?
Causes of Lawyer Mental Health Issues
Mental health struggles can start as early as law school, as 96% of law students surveyed experience significant stress, compared to 70% of medical students and 43% of graduate students.
Once in the profession, the situation doesn’t always improve. The stressed lawyers in Bloomberg’s analysis cited their most common challenges as:
- the inability to disconnect from work,
- heavier workloads or more professional responsibilities,
- trouble focusing on work tasks, and
- new or increased personal responsibilities.
High professional expectations and inflexible deadlines add intense daily pressure. Handling multiple tasks simultaneously and repeatedly switching tasks lead to mental fatigue and makes it difficult to focus.
A lack of work-life balance drives much dissatisfaction. Young legal professionals are placing more explicit emphasis on work-life balance, mental well-being, leisure, and other activities outside work than was evident in prior generations, according to a 2022 State of the Legal Market report.
Dealing with demanding clients in times of crisis can take a huge emotional toll. Clients and colleagues often expect to reach lawyers whenever necessary, creating an unforgiving work environment. (Almost two-thirds (65%) of US general counsel surveyed said they expect to be able to reach their outside lawyers at all times—even if there’s not a current emergency.)
Add in the industry’s obsession with billable hours, and lawyers face a potent mix of unyielding demands and unrelenting exhaustion.
The Risk and Results of Stress
When lawyers are stressed, they are more likely to make mistakes and struggle to concentrate, causing significant decreases in productivity. Stress can lead to health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety.
A lawyer’s personal life often suffers as well. Work pressures can contribute to problems in personal relationships, compounding unhealthy stress levels. Over time, grappling with stress can lead to severe burnout and eventually drive lawyers out of the profession entirely.
The Role of Technology in Burnout
Ideally, technology is meant to streamline workflows and save time for lawyers, but relying on too many different tools and platforms often has the opposite effect. Unfortunately, firms and lawyers may adopt multiple technology tools to address various challenges. Training lawyers to use numerous apps and navigate between platforms can suck up valuable hours. But that’s not all.
Platform fatigue can quickly set in as lawyers must repeatedly toggle between systems, manually extract and route information across tools, and haphazardly communicate in multiple, siloed spaces. If technology is not handled properly in your law firm, it can disturb concentration and demand an unrealistic level of multitasking from lawyers and staff who don’t have the mental capacity to take it on.
In effect, a lawyer is much like the average office worker who toggles between different apps and websites nearly 1,200 times daily. They can spend just under four hours a week reorienting themselves after toggling to new applications, which adds up to five working weeks a year.
These disjointed, frustrating experiences can lead to lost or misinterpreted data, redundant work, and reliance on the wrong information—all of which layer on even more stress.
Combatting Platform Fatigue and Stress
How do law firms prevent technology from contributing to stress and burnout for lawyers?
First, it’s vital to be selective and purposeful with the tools and platforms your firm utilizes in its tech stack. Are all your systems synced up and able to talk to one another? If not, an all-in-one practice management system can enable better organization of your data and facilitate easier communication across your team.
Next, think about processes where automation could help reduce time and workloads. Your firm can give hours back to lawyers daily by automating tasks for activities such as document creation, routing, and review, calendaring, invoicing, matter management, and more. With workflow automation, tasks that might have taken several days to complete can now be done in a matter of hours, freeing lawyers to gain back headspace and achieve a better work-life balance.
Finally, stay up to date with your team’s feedback and needs when it comes to technology. If your tools and processes aren’t keeping up with your employees’ needs, it’s time to replace or update them.
The right technology stack makes staying on top of changing environments easier, reducing stress and strife. Lawyers instantly find accurate information about a case, client, and matter while receiving timely alerts, workflow efficiencies, and fast results. Some tools can even provide data that reveals the positive differences lawyers make, offering a true sense of accomplishment.
Customize Technology to Support Your Staff
A legal practice management platform is a holistic, flexible, and scalable software solution. An all-in-one system eliminates excessive switching between platforms. It provides a cohesive set of tools to connect remote lawyers and the entire law firm. And it helps lawyers save and manage their time, collaborate more effectively, and deliver the best possible service to clients with 24/7 mindsets.
Part 2 of this series will explain how, as we delve into the specific features you want in your platform to help reduce stress and improve lawyer mental health and wellness. In the meantime, get in touch with our team to see how you can unify your firm through an all-inclusive platform.