Lawyers’ Assistance Program
Articles & Presentations
What Lawyers Can Do About Stress
(The following materials are taken from an article appearing in THE PROFESSIONAL LAWYER, MAY 1994 Edition, written by Barbara Harper and Donna L. Spilis. The magazine materials were excerpted from an article from a book to be published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section entitled “Stress Management and the Legal Profession.”)
What Lawyers Can Do About Stress by Barbara Harper and Donna L. Spilis.
Stress Often Goes Unrecognized Until it Causes Negative Physical, Professional or Interpersonal Consequences
Stress is so prevalent in the life of legal professionals that – unfortunately – it seems to go unrecognized until the serious and negative consequences of that stress is made manifest within the life of the attorney. Put another way – and to use terminology which will be understood by most Louisianans – the attorney-in-trouble does not realize he has a problem until the water around him has reached a full, rolling boil.
Stress is usually defined as a physiological and psychological response to negative or positive environmental changes. How an individual may respond to this stress depends on how the event is perceived.
Stress that elicits a negative response in one practitioner may have no ill effect on another.
Problems often arise when a practitioner attempts to medicate the inappropriate levels of stress existing within him through either chemicals or other releases, such as gambling.
Stressors Reported By Lawyers
1. Inadequate time to complete jobs satisfactorily;
2. Competition – turning every encounter into a win-lose situation;
3. Self-criticism – focusing on weaknesses, rather than strengths;
4. The absence of recognition or reward for good job performance;
5. Powerlessness – the failure to see available choices;
6. Hurrying – constant pressure to perform better and faster;
7. The comparison of achievements, or lack of them, to these of peers;
9. The unrealistic expectation that life should be problem-free;
10. Lots of responsibilities but little authority or decision-making capability;
11. The inability to work with others because of basic differences in goals or values;
12. Job insecurity due to pressures from within or to the possibility of a takeover or merger;
13. Prejudice and bigotry expressed by colleagues of a different age, race, sex or religion;
14. Concerns related to being responsible for employees;
15. Not being able to use personal talents or abilities effectively or to full potential;
16. The FUD factor – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
Some physical symptoms are:
1. pounding heart;
2. tightened stomach;
3. neck and lower back pain;
5. dryness of mouth/throat;
8. disruption of digestion.
Some behavioral symptoms are:
1. the inability to sit still/concentrate;
2. increased smoking and/or drinking;
3. loss/increase in appetite;
4. proneness to accidents.
Some personality changes are:
1. emotional tension or alertness;
2. general irritability;
The impact on professional performance may be:
2. file stagnation;
3. failure to respond to messages;
5. lowered productivity;
6. fewer billable hours.
The lawyer may experience:
2. a deterioration of communication;
3. lowered self-esteem.
Mechanisms to Increase the Capacity to Tolerate Stress Physically
1. eat a proper diet;
2. get enough rest;
3. take regular exercise;
4. eliminate high-risk behaviors (smoking, excess alcohol, missed meals, tranquilizers, etc.);
5. use systematic relaxation techniques;
1. seek out those who support you unconditionally;
2. share your pain with another.
1. take time to assimilate what is going on with you;
2. make what you enjoy a priority in your life;
3. get clear about your goals, values and priorities.
If a practitioner believes that he is negatively burdened with inappropriate stress levels, then he should seek a stress assessment, which gives a clear picture of what needs changing and helps to direct these attorneys to the appropriate resources. However, the provision of available resources can only be initiated once the practitioner is willing to admit that he feels “stressed out.” Until this admission is made, no assistance can be provided UNTIL the inappropriate stress levels begin to result in inappropriate behavioral or chemical intake changes which are obvious for all to see.
So, the simple secret to appropriately facing increasing stress levels is to ADMIT the feelings of being “stressed out.”
This can take the form of a CONFIDENTIAL telephone call to the Louisiana Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP) and the practitioner will be di