It’s all too easy to ignore self-care in the legal profession, in fact it’s been positively encouraged for years!
“If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we weren’t too brilliant at self-care even before we joined. The culture of the profession has always required a certain level of sacrifice. For the more mature members of my audience (like me) can you imagine attending one of your first interviews and asking questions about what wellbeing support is available?! I was still interviewing in the days when women were told to wear a skirt!
This profession has a real problem with boundaries between work time and home time. The job is never done, so there is no “finishing” work for the day, we have to call “time” at some point, and very often this is a self guided stop, employers don’t necessarily have an interest in stopping lawyers from fee earning and billing clients, with some exceptions of course.
It becomes second nature to a legal professional to prioritise the work and tell yourself that you will look after yourself later, once you’ve reached X,Y,Z point. (You don’t need me to tell you that X,Y,Z never comes.)
Self-care really is a mindset problem rather than a practical one.
A client reminded me of this recently when she came to work with me on her “work life balance” issue, the issue being that she had none and it was impacting her health, her family and her sanity.
In our first session together we soon discovered that her firm were actually pretty good at role modelling a decent finish time and switching off for the evening. It wasn’t her firm or their expectations that were driving her need to work longer hours (even than the equity partners she worked for).
The need for her to work these hours was internal not external.
And this is good news. It means she doesn’t need to change careers or even look for a new job, She created the issue, she can change it and that’s what we’re working on now. Self care plays a pivotal role in this work.
Why are we so bad at self-care?
The profession attracts certain personality types, generally speaking.
The people pleaser, the perfectionist, the imposter, and so on. All of these “alter-ego’s” if you like, don’t have self-care particularly high on their agenda.
A strong people pleaser will find it next to impossible to say to their client or their boss, “I am not going to get that contract to you tonight because I have yoga/meditation class/dinner with the family”. Although of course they should!
So our mindset and personality types, the role models we’ve grown up with and the culture we swim around in, mean that self-care has never been on the agenda. Where else are we going wrong?
Eight common self-care mistakes that legal professionals make
It’s easy to assume that self-care is about going to the spa, reading a book or buying a nice treat for yourself, and those things are great of course.
But genuine self-care is about putting yourself first in your decision making more often than not.
Self-care is about looking after yourself in a few different areas. These are some common mistakes:
- No time for meals, grabbing snacks, eating too much junk food or takeaways, or constantly topping up the coffee to get through the day.
- Missing out on sleep, working late into the night because you can always catch up later.
- Always meaning to get to the gym, out for that run or to a yoga class, but it’s so easy to delete that from the diary and carry on working.
- Ignoring that gut feeling and working with clients you really don’t want to be working with, or potentially working at a firm that really doesn’t gel with your top values.
- Regularly cancelling dinner dates with friends and family to carry on working.
- Giving up your hobbies, or not even being able to remember what you enjoy doing, because you just “don’t have time”.
- Having no time for meditation, journaling or other spiritual practice even though you know just how good for you this is.
- Feeling disconnected and as though you are doing everything alone with no sense of any support.
Adrenal fatigue, burnout and checking out await if we leave self-care for too long.
( Adrenal fatigue, burnout and checking out (leaving our career) await us if self-care is ignored for too long. Deferring looking after ourselves until we’re successful ignores the very basic fact that by looking after ourselves, we will be even more successful! (Success meaning whatever you want it to mean in this context.)
A group of junior lawyers asked me recently for my top tip in relation to wellbeing.
“It really comes down to one thing – the rest of it flows from that – putting yourself first… every single thing in my life works better because I take care of myself now.”
(Following my near miss with burnout running my one business and two kids, now I’ve learnt the importance of taking care of myself – I run three business, have three kids and work less hours! It really is possible to turn things around.)
If taking better care of yourself is something you’re ready to do, make sure you’re on the email list to be the first to know about online and in-person trainings coming up. You might also find useful my Boundaries & Burnout, the legal epidemic guide.
If you’re not already in my free Facebook Group, Legally Speaking for members of the legal profession, do come and join us.
I’d love to know what you do to take of yourself, please feel free to drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.