Women now constitute about 50% of law students in the U.S. but only 38% of actively working lawyers. That number, up from 31% a decade ago, is a sign of progress. However, women are still leaving the profession in droves, often because of harassment, discrimination, and the overarching pressure to work harder than men to prove their value.
Unfortunately, insufficient self-care, or attempts to alleviate the guilt of long hours by trying to “do it all,” can lead to burnout. Research shows that unrelenting stress in the legal profession increases the risk of turning to alcohol or other substances to cope. One study reported that up to 36% of lawyers engaged in “hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.”
It is possible to end the cycle of destructive behavior. By taking simple steps, we can empower one another and future generations of women lawyers to make self-care an essential part of leadership and career advancement.
Women in the legal profession must own their right to a healthy and happy life.
Five Crucial Self-Care Steps for Women Lawyers
1. Keep moving.
Staying active makes a difference when trying to manage day-to-day stress. That could be yoga, meditation, walking, swimming or a whole host of activities. Ultimately, such activities help build resiliency skills that offset stress and expectations at home and work.
2. Know your worth.
We encourage you to define yourself by the value you add to your firm or organization instead of how early you arrive or how late you stay every night. Focus on the quality of your deliverables, and the rest will follow.
3. Create a network.
It’s helpful to have a support system both inside and outside of work. Aim to develop trusted relationships with at least two people in your profession who you can confide in about challenges and brainstorm solutions with. Likewise, it’s important to connect with others outside of work, where you can enjoy additional interests and be appreciated for your authentic self.
4. Be compassionate.
Learn about the signs of burnout and be kind to yourself or your colleagues who are under stress. If you’re so stressed you can’t stop thinking about that glass of wine at the end of the day, you may want to consider finding a safe person, such as a therapist, to discuss how you’re feeling. If you notice a colleague is quieter than usual or avoiding group meetings, you could reach out to ask if everything’s OK. Isolation is a recipe for disaster in the best of times. It can make a significant difference to let other women know they’re not alone and that we all need to ask for help sometimes.
5. Set a precedent.
We can create a healthier, more balanced and sustainable lifestyle by making it clear to management that not only is self-care non-negotiable, it also makes us stronger and more successful. Informal bar committees and professional clubs can be a great way for women to unite and have an ongoing dialogue around these issues.
The bottom line is that it’s critical to put your well-being first instead of attempting to convince others you have it all together. Needing time to take care of yourself and demanding balance in your life is not a reflection of weakness or incompetence. It’s a sign of courage and true leadership.
Editor’s Note: Link Christin, Executive Director of the Legal Professionals Program at Caron Treatment Centers, contributed to this post. Sadly, Link passed away in April, of natural causes. Link was a frequent contributor to Attorney at Work, writing powerful and thoughtful articles on attorney addiction, depression and critical life skills for young lawyers. You can read more about Link in the In Memoriam here.
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