Why Work Life Balance as a Lawyer Is Impossible

Work life balance as a lawyer? More like work, work, work! And it takes a toll...

Working in the legal field can take its toll on your physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, and more. Before you dismiss the serious implications of that statement, it’s worth taking a closer look at the collective experience of lawyers. A recent study interviewed over 3,800 lawyers about their mental health. Of those interviewed, 31% were depressed, 64% have anxiety, and 13% have an alcohol or drug problem. (Source: Law.com)

In a study of more than 2,500 lawyers in North Carolina, one out of every four attorneys reported clinical symptoms of depression—such as loss of appetite, lethargy, suicidal thoughts, or insomnia—at least three times a month during the past year.”

Those are some sobering statistics, but thankfully, the antidotes to most of these problems are well known and not terribly difficult to implement. Proper sleep, exercise, nutrition, and a regular routine of basic self care practices are critical components of a healthy, happy life and steering clear of lawyer burnout.

The Antidote to Lawyer Burnout

Sleep is intrinsically linked to mental health, “Adults with chronic sleep loss report excess mental distress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and alcohol use,” as shown by this NCBI study. Similarly, so is exercise. “Running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%” (Source: Help Guide)

So get more sleep, eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, and see your doctor annually. It should be an easy fix, right?


If you are a lawyer reading this article, you already know the norm in the legal field is to routinely neglect these areas. Lawyers are typically smart and motivated individuals, so surely something else is at play.

What is it that makes work life balance as a lawyer seemingly unattainable?

An article published in the ABA Journal sums up the reason well, “It’s that they are driven by financial considerations to earn as much money as possible by billing as many hours as possible, and that means they sacrifice other things—like time with friends and family, a healthy diet and exercise—to the almighty billable hour. How are you expected to get to the gym or yoga class or the pool when you’re billing 300-hour months?”

It’s not that lawyers don’t know that taking care of themselves is important; they are certainly aware of the health benefits of sleep and exercise, but they are unable to enjoy them because life as a lawyer brings with it a heavy workload and necessarily takes priority. It’s an impossible double-bind that sets up lawyers to choose one over the other. Or so most think.

What if there is a completely different way of thinking about creating a healthy work-life balance that still allows lawyers to practice law? The truth is, money is renewable and you can always make more—it's your time, energy, and attention that are non-renewable.

Accepting the reality of that statement is the critical first step toward creating a sustainable work-life balance.

Getting Started on a Healthier Path

If you are serious about making a lasting change toward better work-life balance getting a more clear picture of how you spend your time is a powerful first step. Here are a couple of exercises for you to consider trying.

Exercise One – Track Your Time for One Week

Don’t track just your billable hours here. For one week, track every minute of your day—from the minute you get up until the minute you go to bed.

Notice how much of your time was spent on activities that provided lasting value either to yourself or your family and friends.

  • How much time did you spend on personal self-care and basic hygiene?
  • Preparing healthy meals, planning meals, grocery shopping?
  • How much time was spent on activities simply because you find them enjoyable?
  • How much time did you spend with your family and friends?
  • How much sleep did you get?
  • How much exercise did you get?

Don’t beat yourself up for all the ways you think you are failing or not measuring up when you complete this exercise. That is not the point. The point is to get an honest view of where you are now so you can find places where you can begin to make small incremental changes. Remember, finding work-life balance is not about winning. It’s not about perfection. It’s about building a path toward a life you love.

Exercise Two – Take Stock of Your Current Situation

Noting the above after tracking your time for one week, consider the following:

  • Do you wish you had spent more time with your family?
  • If you did spend time with family and friends, were you able to be present with them and enjoy the moment?
  • Did you spend any time doing something you love, just for you?
  • How was the quality of your sleep?
  • Were you able to fit in exercise at all?
  • Are you overdue for a haircut, pedicure, dental appointment, or physical?

Exercise Three – Schedule Time for Self-Care

In order to have any time for yourself, consider scheduling it just as you would for a client or a court date. And stick to it! This is something you can do incrementally and build up over time. Learn more here about Why Self-Care Is the Game-Changer for Your Law Practice.

Commit to scheduling one 30-minute block of time each week for the next month. Mark the block of time in whatever calendar tool you use—digital or written.

How about a 30-minute walk? Or that haircut you’ve been putting off? Perhaps even just 30-minutes blocked off to do something that feels good to you, like taking a nap or sitting down with that book you’ve been wanting to read.

If you didn’t end up stopping for the 30-minutes, stop and jot down a few notes about what prevented that. Are there ways you can address the reasons you didn’t take the time for yourself?

At the end of the month take a look back on how you did. Do you notice any patterns?

If you were able to do this successfully, consider adding in that 30-minute block twice a week, or even daily. Every minute you are successful at taking this time for yourself will incrementally add up to improving your work life balance as a lawyer.

If you were not able to do this successfully, it may be time to consider if your current law practice is ever going to allow for the quality of life you would like to enjoy—and start looking at your options to get on a healthier path.

Would you like to learn more about a way to practice law that will allow you to prioritize your family, your health, and your happiness?

New Law Business Model supports lawyers to have a life and law practice they love. Book a call with a Law Business Advisor today and learn how building a 6-figure (or more) law practice and achieving work life balance as a lawyer can be easier than you think.

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