3 Tips to win lawyer stress

Any workplace creates stress. Experts say there are generally mainly 4 stress factors at any work, namely inter-personal relationships, organising, multi-tasking and physical discomfort.

Do you experience stress in any of these areas? Let’s do a quick check by answering the following questions:

  1. Do you struggle with relationships with a colleague, client, employee or an official?
  2. Is your work organised?
  3. Do you feel overwhelmed attending to too many matters at the same time?
  4. Do you feel physically uncomfortable at work due to anything Covid or pain related?

In my experience, as a former law firm owner, there may be additional special stress factors, including attending to a difficult or new type of legal instruction, working very long hours, managing debtors, attending to marketing, paying your monthly expenses and managing staff.

Many practising lawyers further have families to support and a personal life with its own challenges.

In South Africa, law firm owners have further unique stress factors dictated by our external environments like political unrest, constant changing laws, loadshedding threats and an economic crisis.

The result of stress can be physical health issues (like headaches or sleeping problems), mental health issues (like anxiety), performance issues at work, anti-social behaviours or a lack of life-work balance.

The question then arise, how do our South African lawyers handle stress? How do you handle your stress?

Although lawyers may not share much on this topic openly with each other, every lawyer struggles with stress and you can be assured that you are not alone. The good news is that stress can be managed and reduced by learning certain skills and behaviours.

The purpose of this blog is to share 3 tips to help lawyers manage stress:

  1. Do a stress audit. This means: try and identify what is causing you stress. If there are many issues, write down a list. If you have a list of worries written down, number them in order of urgency. Based on urgency, decide on 3 actions to take and by when you need to complete them. Work and stress become more manageable when we prioritise matters and break tasks up into smaller steps. It could also be helpful to create a 2 column table and write all your worries in the first column and how and by when you will take action in the second column. If you have too many urgent matters for the same date, can you get postponements, outsource or delegate? Remember to cross worries off your list, when a matter is resolved.
  2. Review and improve systems and processes. The pandemic is causing many delays in legal processes.  By adjusting turnaround cycles, you could gain more space and time to attend to all (or even more) matters. For instance, if you have files on a weekly diary cycle, consider if there will be a negative impact if you diarise files two weekly and/or monthly basis. Or could you standarise or improve email communications to clients to get less calls and queries between diary cycles?
  3. Take control of your day. To start feeling in control of your legal practice and workload again, start by taking control of your day. Start each day with a short planning session, deciding on your specific minimum goals for the day, and assessing if they are attainable and realistic for that day. At the end of the day, if you completed your minimum goals for the day, reward yourself, or tell yourself that you deserve to relax in the evening as you have done the minimum goals you had to do for that day. In this regard, John Maxwell’s saying “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of success is found in daily routine” applies.  As strict workday routine is often not practical for all lawyers, all the time, especially for litigants, allow flexibility in your daily planning. The best litigants know to further plan daily for at least 2 hours for Murphy’s Law!  It is guaranteed that having a daily plan will make your work feel more organised and help combat multi-tasking.

As a final note, remember that none of us experienced or survived a global pandemic before. If you have Covid symptoms, have to isolate or are caring for loved ones who are sick, or suffered a loss, put your health first. This may be an unprecedented time we are going through, but we will never live through this time again. Decide to enjoy life and live without regret. May this pandemic allow us to embrace our humanity more and be kind to more people and ourselves, as death may become more of a reality for more of us.

It is hoped that this blog inspires lawyers by giving ideas how to audit and manage lawyer stress. If it will be helpful to brainstorm your lawyer challenges, consider booking a lawyer coaching session with the author, Lawyer Coach, Emmie de Kock of LawyerFirst Coaching & Consulting. Lawyer coaching helps top lawyers reach their personal and professional goals faster. Email: emmie@lawyerfirst.co.za.


One thought on “3 Tips to win lawyer stress

  1. Zain Fakroodeen on Reply

    Very practical advice! I found the column useful & crisp. Certainly will be circulating it to our professional staff.

    Perhaps the next column, suggest that we should start early in the morning, alot gets done this time.

    Also Daily Notes as you had suggested (schedule). Extremely useful but do an audit at the end of the day. Makes notes for the following day. Don’t memorise and clog the brain.

    Thanks once again

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