Angharad Warren
Angharad Warren
Associate Director: Private Practice

Articles From the Team

Stress as a solicitor: how to manage it to avoid burnout

As legal recruitment consultants, we regularly speak to solicitors - at all levels - who are on the brink of burnout, or have reached it already!

Trainee solicitor stress

Trainee solicitors are under constant pressure to impress. Having spent years studying in the run-up to your training contract and having already achieved so much, you don't want to fall at the final hurdle. Ideally, you want an option to remain at your training firm on qualification, so in some sense, the training contract can feel like a two-year interview process - stressful for anyone!

Post-qualification stress

So, you've qualified and have a great job: a better income, increased job security, a focus on the area of law you enjoy, but has the pressure lessened?

Not necessarily. In many cases, it may have gone up a gear. You now have a full chargeable hours target and to a greater extent, you're expected to know your stuff. The promotion and bonus carrot is dangled in front of you and you eagerly look to impress your manager. To achieve the highest rate of bonus, you not only need to exceed your target, but you need to smash it all round! Firms incentivise you in this way and most lawyers are keen to reap the financial rewards after years spent studying and working on a modest wage during their training contract. The increasing cost of home ownership for millennials means that most of you will put in the extra hours and continue to mount the pressure on yourself to get on the first step of the property ladder.

Stress on promotion

So, you get the promotion to Associate, Senior Associate, Legal Director. All the way through this journey you've probably worked exceptionally hard but you're ambitious and you want to make partner so the journey isn't over.

Making partner is no easy feat and only the most dedicated will reach this pinnacle (at the top firms at least). For many, it'll mean you've made sacrifices along the way; by this stage, most of you will be in a serious relationship and in many cases you'll have children and there's likely to be a pretty consistent battle between dedicating time to your family and balancing the demands of work. This is especially difficult when you're responsible for generating business, fee-earning yourself and ensuring your team hit target, are motivated, engaged, and happy. The law isn't a career option for the faint of heart: it's long hours and it's mentally (sometimes physically) demanding.

Stress can be a motivator, but with the driven and perfectionist personalities that many lawyers tend to have, it's often overwhelming and it leads to burnout.

Telltale signs of solicitor burnout

Burnout is pretty easy to recognise: unrelenting exhaustion, struggles sleeping, increased alcohol consumption, mood swings, feeling unmotivated, suffering panic attacks and being overwhelmed by your 'to do' list are common symptoms.

Technology is revolutionising our working lives but if that means you can work anywhere at any time, when do you switch off? And how do you successfully manage work and stress?

It's important to be able to tell the difference between what's urgent and what can wait. It's impossible to operate at full capacity or over capacity all of the time and impressing your boss or achieving your bonus is never worth sacrificing your health or too much of what you love - be that hobbies, your friends or family.

Tips to manage inevitable stress in order to avoid burnout

Keep a stress diary

Keeping a stress diary may help you identify what the main triggers are. Perhaps you're striving for a seemingly impossible target, working excessively long hours, feeling a lack of support at home or at work, or feel there's no real progression available in your job.

Talk it out with your manager

Once you've worked out what the problem is, talk to your manager about your struggles. You may feel it's a sign of weakness to admit that you aren't coping but by addressing issues early on, you can stop things spiralling out of control.

Speak to someone else

If you've had this kind of conversation already and nothing's changed, then it's worth speaking to us. We can help you get to the root of the cause: why you feel under pressure, and you can use us as a sounding board.

Usually, our first suggestion is to go back to your supervisor or the head of the department, and ensure there's nothing more your current firm can do to help. Some factors may be outside of their control.

Exploring your options

A long commute may be adding two to three hours to your day. We can suggest options closer to home. It may be a cultural fit you're struggling with. Or maybe it's the norm at your firm to work until 7pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, or even later and that doesn't work for you. Your firm may not be able to offer you the flexibility you need to make your job work around family or there may be an issue within your team that means you feel blocked in terms of career progression so you feel frustrated.

Whatever it is, in all likelihood, we can offer other options worth exploring.

When it comes to chargeable hours targets at firms in Birmingham ranging from 1200 to 1600; what's considered under-performance at one firm, will be considered a stand-out performance at another. Would a drop in target help your pressure levels? Some firms can offer huge amounts of flexibility in how, where and when you do your work - could that flex make a huge difference to your life?

We work to live so if you aren't enjoying what you do, speak to us about how we can help.

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