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Practice Management: Chuck Newton
Avoiding the Fate Of Lawyer Burnout
By Chuck Newton
Lawyer burnout is real. It is not limited to lawyers as every profession and every business can produce the same feeling of exhaustion. It is an occupational hazard. I have myself had bouts with it over the years. I am not sure you can avoid this feeling completely, but there are some precautions you can take.
For me, developing a practice area, bringing in clients, making the organization work, and visions of controlling the world are all fun undertakings -- at least for a while. The problem is that when this work turns into an obsession for too long it is the biggest contributor of burnout. It is no surprise as to why this is true. Months and years of worry, long hours and weeks, fighting for and about money, and excessive work and dedication will just wear you to the bone. It is the old visual that if you burn the candle at both ends, soon you will not have a candle to relight.
For many of us that have already hit the wall, the solution is often downshifting. For me it was narrowing my practice to an acceptable niche, moving my practice home, ending long commutes, to the degree that I do not have to worry as much about money, and have time to participate with my friends and family and social activities. To those that are just starting out, my advise it to learn from our mistakes and plan your practice well at the beginning.
Niching or not taking on too many practice areas helps. The reason is not only does it allow you to set more specific goals and priories, but it allows you meet these, and maintain them with less effort.
Some people say delegating is important. I do not agree. If you need to delegate tasks then collaborate and do what you must. But, delegating adds a management aspect to your practice, and that takes even more time and worry ... and often money. Fewer cases, less overhead, a more definite practice area always helps to reduce the need to delegate or it allow you to enter into collaborative relationships that over time allows you the benefit of concentrating on even few task.
Stop the case chase. Take fewer but more rewarding cases. The case chase is very costly as to money and time, and it snowballs as to both. In time it usually overwhelms you. Really what you want are enough good cases in which you get paid reasonably well. This allows you to feel a greater sense of reward and satisfaction. You, ultimately, feel more in charge. More importantly you can spend more time on these cases because you are not overloaded with cases and clients that you do not like, and who do not like you. Fewer cases mean more relaxing time for you away from the office. Think about it for a moment. Are you really comfortable away from the office when you are being overwhelmed with deadlines and constantly worried about things you might be missing?
Spend more time way from the office doing what you like. Spend more time with your family. Remember, that burnout is contagious. If it adversely effecting you, then it will adversely effect your family, friends, staff, partners, the courts with which you must deal.
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