Lawyers: Recognising Burnout Symptoms

We have generally tried to keep our blog posts general enough to apply to a wide range of our readers, but sometimes we hone in on a specific group of people to address. In today’s blog post we are looking at the stress experienced by those people practising law. Our London-based therapist, Teyhou Smyth, sees a disproportionately high number of lawyers in her practise, and she has some timely advice for them.

Every profession has the potential for burnout; lawyers – both barristers and solicitors – are equally at risk and should keep an eye out for the common signs and symptoms.

In a John Hopkins University study, lawyers rated highest in rate of depression among 100 occupations. It is a demanding profession on a number of levels, and this can take a tremendous toll.

Experiencing burnout in the legal field doesn’t mean you need to kiss your career goodbye; it means that your mind and body are giving you important messages that you should pay attention to.

Ignoring burnout symptoms is risky and can bring about additional problems.

If you notice yourself experiencing some of these signs and symptoms, it may be time to consider the possibility that you are ignoring some important needs of your own.



Sometimes, burnout can simply look and feel like fatigue. If you find yourself more tired than normal, consider examining the underlying causes.

Depression can result in physical and emotional fatigue. Consider taking the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), an assessment to determine your level of depressive symptoms.

The PHQ-9 will help you to examine nine common depressive symptoms and whether these factors are impacting your life currently.


Burnout can result in feelings of self-doubt about your skill level and whether you should still be practicing law.

When your inner resources are depleted, often the knowledge of one’s own skills and abilities is quick to follow.

If you find yourself overlooking your accomplishments in the field and focusing mostly on the negative experiences, this could be a sign that burnout is imminent.

Dreading workdays

A deep appreciation for weekends and time off is normal, but if you are experiencing a bad case of the Monday-morning-dreads, you may be displaying signs of work-related fatigue.

Spending most of the weekend focusing on the dread of going back to work is a sign that you are becoming emotionally depleted. Spending time in dread-mode takes you away from the present moment so that you can’t enjoy your down time.

Unfortunately, some attorneys are not taking weekends off at all and work extremely long hours, which sends them into burnout mode even faster.


All of us have a cynical side, and the longer one spends in a particular field, the greater that cynicism can grow.

However, when cynicism is the primary factor in your daily work life, it may mean that you are experiencing some burnout.

Losing focus of why you entered the field of law, losing faith in the process and feeling jaded about your clients may indicate some burnout in working with the public.

Sleep disturbance

Burnout can impact your sleep patterns. Some people may respond by over-sleeping (hypersomnia) while others experience insomnia.

Health issues

High stress can result in health problems. Increased blood pressure, gastrointestinal and digestive issues, heart conditions and even asthma can be affected by stress levels.

If you are experiencing health issues or a worsening of existing problems, it may be time to get a checkup to determine if your stress is impacting your wellness.

If you are noticing symptoms of burnout, it doesn’t mean you are doomed to failure in your law career. Take some time to reflect on your needs, your symptoms and the areas of life that may be out of balance.

It may be useful to consult a life coach or mental health professional as you explore your wellness and get back to the life you want to live.

Talking to an objective professional can offer insight and ideas that are sometimes difficult to identify on your own. Burnout can be a temporary condition when we pay attention to our own needs and bring our lives back to balance.

You can read our blog post on how lawyers can cope with burnout here.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website]

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