Stressed-out associate should meditate on work-life imbalance

Issue July/August 2008

Q I am a third-year associate at a prominent firm, and really wondering just how many years I can bear this kind of stress. I get a bad headache at least once a week, and my doctor has become more concerned about my blood pressure. At home, I find myself snapping at my husband. Ironically, I actually enjoy the legal work, but what can I do to make my lifestyle more tolerable and still pay off the student loans?

While some people seem to thrive on pressure, deadlines, etc., most of the lawyers we see who work at large firms say that there is no denying that the job’s demands make for a sustained high level of stress, and make it difficult to achieve the kind of work-life balance that has, for years, been the subject of much talk and little action.

The demands are, in part, a function of the high level of compensation that is one of the main incentives to seek such jobs in the first place and which does help a great deal when it comes to those student loans.

Career counseling is always an option, of course, and we are able to make such referrals. The jobs, however, that might improve your lifestyle might not do as much for your bottom line. Finding a level of support/mentoring from more experienced lawyers at the firm can be helpful, but that kind of input is often lacking, to say the least.

Another way to manage stress, enhance coping and even reduce physical symptoms exacerbated by stress, such as headaches and high blood pressure, is to practice meditation/relaxation techniques. If you are interested in books about such approaches, some of the best known authors are Herbert Benson and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

We also recently started a weekly stress reduction/meditation series at LCL, where guided meditation in a group format is offered at no cost to lawyers each week. There is no commitment to attend regularly, and this might be a good way to get a sense of whether you would find meditation helpful.

Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.

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