How to deal with stress at work in the legal sector
Faced with a relentless stream of deadlines, a bulging caseload and high monthly billing targets, no lawyer is immune to feeling overwhelmed by life in legal practice. In fact, as the Law Society Gazette reported recently, a staggering 63% of lawyers at all levels of qualification are grappling with stress on a daily basis. (1)
It’s easy to forget sometimes, but there really is nothing normal or inevitable about constant pressure, unrealistic expectations or feeling overwhelmed, yet these seem to be ever-present elements of the day-to-day of a lawyer. To help you manage workplace stress, we take a closer look at some of the practical steps you can implement to take back control of your workload and safeguard your wellbeing.
Workload stress: here’s how to say ‘no’.
According to the UK Health & Safety Executive’s figures, workload pressure is by far the most common cause of work-related stress, cited by 44% of stress sufferers.(2)
Unfortunately, the principle, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person” can too often prevail in firms and chambers — especially when it comes to allocation of new instructions. A complex trademark dispute arrives. You did an amazing job on a similar one, so this latest case lands in your lap automatically, without any real consideration of whether you have the capacity to handle it.
To keep your caseload at a manageable level, knowing how to say ‘no’ is an invaluable skill for any lawyer. Let’s say a senior partner emails you with a new instruction when you’re already very busy. Instead of declining the work outright, try reframing your response in such a way as to invite the person requesting the work to consider your priorities: for example, “I can take it on, but this will mean putting X’s existing case on the back burner for a fortnight — or else reassigning it. Is that ok?”.
Likewise, if an existing client approaches you directly with a new instruction when you are at capacity, it’s useful to be able to offer a workable alternative rather than an outright no. This might involve recommending someone else within the firm to handle it, so you are actively helping to solve the client’s problem, without overburdening yourself.
Sharing the load through collaboration
‘Lack of support’ was another common trigger of stress highlighted in the HSE’s findings. This will ring true with many legal fee-earners: you have a big caseload to handle, and it can too often feel like you are on your own in managing it.
The stress associated with this can be reduced when firms introduce a more group-focused approach to case handling. Cultural barriers and an over-emphasis on individual targets can make it harder for lawyers to work together, however, digitising your files can go a long way in helping reduce these barriers.
With collaborative tools, you can share files with ease and work on them simultaneously, get ideas and feedback, all from a single platform. Regular round-table meetings are also a good way of giving lawyers the opportunity to talk through problematic cases, to find a way through workflow bottlenecks and to help prevent those lawyers from feeling overwhelmed.
Your time is precious: here’s how to take back control
A certain amount of stress can be a positive thing; especially for helping you think on your feet. Stress becomes a problem however, when it is constantly or frequently present, and when you feel your calendar and caseload is controlling you, rather than the other way around. Keeping stress in check requires you to retake control of your time. Strategies for this include the following:
- Disable work notifications in your own time. If clients or colleagues believe you are available 24/7, they will likely try to contact you at all hours. Draw a line between your time and work time, as it becomes impossible to switch off and recharge without it.
- Split large tasks into manageable chunks. If you have a complex task ahead of you (drafting a detailed opinion, for instance), start by splitting it into distinct parts. Next, estimate realistically how long each part will take to complete and reserve sufficient time for each part in your diary. This should help these major tasks feel much less daunting.
- Identify ways to improve productivity. From scheduling set blocks of time for answering emails through to using a Kanban chart to help your workflow run more smoothly, if you can find ways to work more efficiently, it helps you avoid that incredibly stressful feeling of getting nowhere fast with your workload. For ideas on how to make positive changes, check out our 7 productivity tips.
Get organised for greater wellbeing
As a barrister, your instructing solicitor has requested an emergency pre-trial conference. With multiple ring binders of enclosures to consider and limited time to get through it, simply getting organised can be a stressful process in itself.
With the right type of technology at your fingertips, it becomes possible to remove many of the frustrations that can arise when you have a complex bundle on your desk. With Casedo, for instance, you can import all your documents into a single manageable file. It means that navigating the bundle instantly becomes a lot easier; you can get to exactly the right section you require in an instant, annotate and make sense of the entire bundle and see the whole picture in much less time and with a lot less stress.
To discover how Casedo can help you retain control of your caseload, try our free demo today. You can also find more information on issues affecting legal professionals, and how you can overcome them, in the articles on our Insights hub.
- Ferguson, M. (2019). Mental health needs to play on our minds. [online] Law Gazette. Available at: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/commentary-and-opinion/mental-health-needs-to-play-on-our-minds/5102403.article [Accessed 2 Jan. 2020].
- Hse.gov.uk. (2019). Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2019. [online] Available at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf [Accessed 2 Jan. 2020].