So you studied diligently for the bar, passed, and now you are a new lawyer. Now, you find yourself experiencing more anxiety and stress in the practice of law. From a fellow new lawyer to another, here are a few of tips for managing stress. While these tips are not exhaustive (as simple things like adequate sleep, eating, and proper exercise can also help), hopefully these tips will give you some insight on how at least one lawyer, me, manages stress.
1. “Me” time
Given the nature of our profession, it is easy to “take work home”. We might, for instance, constantly think about that motion we need to write, the discovery we need to propound, or the Case Management Conference statement we need to file. We can dwell on these things for hours after work. As a new lawyer, this is compounded by the fear of letting down our bosses, clients, or the risk of looking unprepared in front of opposing counsel. All of this can negatively impacting our emotional well-being – i.e., insomnia, anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
The good news that is there might be a solution to this problem: “Me” time. This is a period of time after work to attempt to focus on something other than work. For me, I will sometimes go to the gym or running. Other times, I might buy the ingredients and make a fancy dinner after work. I could also simply come home, kick up my feet, and watch something on Netflix. In any event, my reasons for doing these tasks are intentional – they are to focus on something other than work (i.e., me). This helps reorient my state of mind when I get back to the task at hand. I simply call this period of time “Me” time, and it is just that, to focus on me rather than everything going on at work.
As new lawyers, we might fall into the trap of allowing work to define who we are as people. The law – albeit a big part of our lives – should not be overconsuming and everything. While we all chose a profession that is – by its nature – very demanding, we should also attempt to remain faithful to the things that we did prior to becoming members of this profession. For me, I love to ski and surf. For others, it might be reading novels, or sailing, or painting, or making music. Whatever it may be, having a hobby outside of work is important. By their nature hobbies will give you things to talk about outside of law. With more things to talk about, more people will like you (i.e., your clients, opposing counsel, etc.). Ultimately, this will help manage stress and facilitate a more enjoyable career.
3. Don’t (Over)use Alcohol
While we might – from time to time – have a beer or glass of wine, it is important not to fall into the habit of drinking every day. After a long day in the office, listening to client complaints or responding to contentious emails, about their case, it is easy to feel stress and a desire to drink alcohol. Overdoing this, however, can lead to adverse physical and mental health consequence. One way to avoid this is to simply recognize the issue and take steps to avoid abuses. You might, for example, set small goals – like limiting yourself to a couple of drinks (and only a couple of drinks) on the weekends. If you find that even this is too difficult, then it might be a good idea to seek help from a mental health counselor. One indispensable asset we have – as new lawyers – is our sharp minds. We don’t want to find ourselves wasting those away by overusing alcohol.
4. Proper Planning
While having “Me” time, hobbies, and refraining from alcohol might all be good advice, it does not address the main concern we might ultimately have – how do we manage our demanding caseload and bosses? One way to do that is with proper planning.
What I mean by proper planning is to develop a system for managing your workload that is efficient and works for you. I, for example, implemented a system to ensure that I meet my deadlines and ensure that I am not constantly scrambling to get things done. To this end, I have two separate calendars – one that I personally annotate and one that my legal assistant annotates – and I refer to both calendars at least once a day to update them and make sure my deadlines for the next couple days are complete. I also have multiple Excel matrices outlining specific events in my cases, due dates, and important things that I need to account for in my cases. I have been fortunate to have learned this system through my mentors, and it has proven to be an invaluable resource for properly managing my ever increasing caseload. But for this system, and the proper planning that results therefrom, I would constantly feel lost, miss deadlines, and this would dramatically increase my stress. Thankfully, this system has given me to tools to properly manage my demanding caseload.