Avoid the Burn: 4 Types of Burnouts for Solo and Small-Firm Lawyers

Contribution from our SPONSOR ZipBooks authored by Sarah Bennion. Sarah is a writer and marketer at ZipBooks.

Small-firm and solo lawyer burnout (n): A state of debility that occurs when a solo lawyer or lawyer in a small firm becomes emotionally exhausted from a mixture of chronic stress, demanding conditions, and (occasionally) excessive caffeine.


Thankfully, this occupational combustion is not inevitable. Recognizing the different kinds of burnouts can help you avoid professional demise. Here are four types of burnout to look out for:

  1. Burnout by perfectionism.


Gayle Victor, a consumer debt attorney for 30 years, noted, “In the Johns Hopkins study, optimism outperformed pessimism—except in the legal profession, because lawyers are hired to always look out for what can go wrong.”


A healthy dose of pessimism and meticulousness can greatly benefit a solo or small firm lawyer. But being constantly immersed in cynicism can create feelings of self-loathing and anxiety that lead to burnout.


Antidote: Participate in stress management activities. Find something that relaxes you, whether it be meditation, exercise, reading a novel, or watching an hour or two of Netflix. Stepping away from work and spending time doing something you enjoy will help alleviate the weight of professional perfectionism.


  1. Burnout by workaholism.


Do you regularly skip meals? Have you pulled an all-nighter at some point in the last few weeks? Have you missed family functions to spend more time in the office? If so, you just might be a workaholic. For solo and small-firm lawyers, who have more responsibilities than lawyers in a major firm, even 40 to 50 hour weeks can seem insufficient.


Antidote: Don’t sacrifice healthy habits! Skipping meals, working through the night, and isolating yourself from friends and family will catch up to you eventually. Seek out mentors who have been able to balance work and home life. Remember, it is worth it to climb the professional ladder a little slower and avoid burnout than to have a short-lived career.


  1. Burnout by compassion.


Because of their regular exposure to traumatic reports and graphic evidence, attorneys are particularly susceptible to vicarious trauma, or compassion fatigue. This is particularly a problem for attorneys practicing family, juvenile, and criminal law.


Antidote: Get support! Talk regularly with family, friends, or even another practitioner. It is also wise to seek help from a professional. Recognize that counseling is not a sign of weakness; these specialists are trained to assist those with compassion fatigue and help slow or even stop burnout.


  1. Burnout by the mundane.


Constant administrative duties, like bookkeeping, paperwork, attending networking events, and marketing the business, can make creating and sustaining a practice an exhausting process for small-firm and solo lawyers.


Antidote: Use technology to reduce the administrative burden. Powerful online software, like ZipBooks, can alleviate some of the mundane managerial pressures on small businesses. Or, add a professional bookkeeper (10% off forever for Girl Attorney members) and completely eliminate the painful sources of burnout that bookkeeping, reconciling, and tax preparation can be.

Want a few more ideas? Here’s a great article from Girl Attorney on preventing burnout and debilitating anxiety.

If you want a hand in keeping your bookkeeping up-to-date, let us know. We’re happy to add a personal bookkeeper to your team — or just answer your questions. ZipBooks fully supports Girl Attorney, so check out our Girl Attorney special and get 10% off bookkeeping forever.

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