A First Year Lawyer Perspective: Maintaining Mental Health While Practicing Law
I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day about how to manage the demanding nature of being a lawyer while still finding joy in the work. Truthfully, as a first-year lawyer, I am still learning, but with that being said, I never stop trying to find better ways to manage my stress and enjoy the work that I have yearned for so long to do. It is no secret that being a lawyer is one of the most demanding, stressful, and pugnacious careers: not only is the nature of the work sometimes combative, but the hours can be long and the to-do lists can be even longer. After two months of practicing, I wrote an article on the alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety amongst lawyers. In preparing for that article, I also read some truly heart-wrenching stories about lawyers who took their own lives when the stresses of the job seemed to be too much to handle. At the time, I sat at my desk thinking “this cannot happen to me,” “this cannot happen to my friends,” “this cannot happen to anyone.” From that point forward, I have consistently tried to find ways to manage my own stress. In an effort to encourage you, too, to prioritize mental health and find ways that help mitigate your stress, I will share with you some of what has worked for me!
At the very beginning of my legal career, I read countless articles on meditation, mindful breathing, and the benefits of yoga. I thought those were the most typical, and therefore the best, ways to calm down after a long and stressful day. But what I quickly realized is that just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for me. Personally, I have found that exercise is the most effective for me; it doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise and most times, my favorite is just a walk outside. Faced with those longer days when the to-do list never seems to get any shorter and I might not be able to get to the gym or get outside, I purchased a walking pad and a standing desk for my home office. Now, I can work while moving my legs and getting my heart rate up. It helps me reset, destress, and feel good that I am not only being productive at work but doing something good for my physical and mental health. In addition to exercise, I have recently tried to be more mindful of what it is that is causing me stress and anxiety; through this, I have come to realize that most of the time it’s imposter syndrome! I convince myself that the brief I am writing is not persuasive enough, the memo I am drafting is not informative enough, or the article I have drafted sounds trite. In reality, we are actually smart enough, confident enough, and skillful enough to be great lawyers. Sometimes all we need to do is step back, see things through a different lens, and enjoy the view.
In sharing my experience about managing my own stress levels, I hope to encourage you to do the same. While I have found that routine exercise and practicing intentional mindfulness has worked for me, it might not be what is best for you. In order to find what best suits you, try a few different techniques to narrow in on the one or two that work for you; like many things, focus on quality over quantity. You should also reach out to colleagues or research the various legal focused mental health support groups. The most important thing is that you find an outlet for mental wellbeing that works for youbecause I promise you won’t regret it.
I have kept this quote "Small Steps Everyday" in a frame on my desk since the first day of law school as a reminder to myself that most of my big accomplishments in life have been a compilation of a million little steps.