The autumn season is an exciting time at most firms, as the incoming class of first-year associates joins the ranks. Eager to start their careers, they are soon faced with the fact that their senior counterparts know all too well: the practice of law is no easy business. A young attorney may find him or herself not only fighting against his or her adversaries, but some days, just about everyone involved in the case. Creative adverse experts, cantankerous court clerks, resistant clients … the list goes on and on. And that’s all before lunch, which the young attorney happens to sadly eat alone at his or her desk every day.
The advent of technology and remote accessibility makes it even harder to decompress at the end of a long day. While going home used to mean disconnecting from the day’s rigors, it now means responding to a constant flurry of emails until you pass out from exhaustion. Try to enjoy a football game after hours? Sorry, your client needs to know about that discreet issue you raised ages ago. Family time? Sure, but only if you can coach your kid’s tee-ball team while responding to serial emails from senior attorneys looking for precise minutiae. Weekends can tend to turn out to be just a change of scenery, filled with the same working hours as a regular business day.
So what’s a young attorney to do? Curl up in the fetal position and hide under your desk until your secretary finds you in a pool of your own tears? While some days may seem to call for a good old-fashioned tantrum (we’ve all been there), this article focuses on ways to manage the mounting stress of the profession so you don’t find yourself at the precipice of a full-on meltdown.
Burnout from always “being on” is all too common. Psychologists have even described the constant email updates as a “toxic source of stress,” with tell-tale signs of tension and worry after working hours. Switching your email off at a set time every night and only responding to non-emergency emails on Saturdays, leaving Sundays for family time or leisure activities, may help you be more productive during your working hours. Higher email pressure is associated with having a negative impact at work. By contrast, “email curfews” have been shown to reduce stress and leave you feeling fresh when you get back to work.
Meditation is not just for the yogis among us. Many executives swear by meditation to help them de-stress from the rigors of their intense professions. Among them are salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff; former Monsanto CEO Bob Shapiro and former Medtronic CEO Bill George (both of whom turned office rooms into mediation spaces); Def Jam founder Russell Simmons; and Oprah Winfrey, who was introduced to the practice when working with inner city school systems that used to help children with academic and behavioral problems.
Physical activity reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, making for a more happy, healthy and productive you. It also leads to increased brain functioning and supports self-regulation. True, you may feel like you have no energy to work out, but regular exercise actually helps to increase energy levels, improve sleep quality, and helps with mental clarity. Not convinced? A 2015 study by USA Triathlon showed that the median income for triathletes is $126,000 (well over the national median income), with about 80 percent working in white-collar jobs. If they can find time, so can you.
Interestingly, participating in endurance sport competitions may also help manage stress in other unexpected ways. According to philosopher Matthew Crawford, observable metrics of success inherent in sporting competitions help to fill the void left by “a lack of objective standards” prevalent in most knowledge economy jobs. Writes Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work: “The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence has been known to make a man quiet and easy.”
Get a Hobby
Sometimes we just need a reminder that we are more than our jobs. Make time every week for a non-work activity. Those activities that take up your full mental capacity (preventing you from thinking about work worries) are the best. Maybe it is 30 minutes a week at the driving range, finally learning how to play that guitar that has been sitting in your bedroom since high school, cultivating a fish tank or building model trains. The point is to calendar dedicated “you time” where your only task is to focus on something that is not related to your practice.
Know When to Ask for Help
The New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program provides free and confidential assistance to attorneys who are at or approaching the breaking point. Don’t hesitate to give them a call at 800-246-5527 if you need help dealing with stress, depression, or substance abuse.
The NJLJ Young Lawyers Advisory Board is a diverse group of young attorneys from around the state. Follow them on Twitter, @YoungLawyersNJL.