Law is a service industry. This means only one thing: clients matter above all. If you can’t obtain clients, you have no business. If you do obtain clients, you are expected to roll out the red carpet to keep them. This is not exactly a stress-free environment. Particular to the legal profession, however, is the added problem of always thinking about work. Unlike many other service industries, lawyer work is around the clock. You may leave the office to go home, but the legal work stays on your mind. There’s always more that can be done, more that needs to be fleshed out. This, of course, only adds to the stress because it feels like you can never get a break and just enjoy yourself. Add to this a bad boss, an overload of work, or even financial struggles, and things can seem really bad. At the end of the day, however, you have to keep everything in perspective. Things aren’t that bad, and if they are, there are always options.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you’ve gone through 7 years of higher education, passed the bar exam, and successfully entered the legal field. If that entry is recent, you should congratulate yourself for somehow landing on the right side of the legal employment fence. The most important, yet rarely discussed, feature of the legal profession is the secret social club that exists: it is tough to get into the field, but once you’re in your chances of advancing and moving to greener pastures multiplies. Having accomplished that, even if it includes working for a struggling solo, you’re already ahead of many of your peers. Because law school does not teach much of anything about law practice, and barely any non-big law legal employers have the time and resources to train law graduates, the harsh reality is that legal experience is the real commodity in the legal field. For those without it, obtaining it from scratch after graduation isn’t easy. If you’ve got a legal job, you’re already halfway there even if the job itself is a real bummer. Keep that in mind. Through all the stress, focus on what you need to do to improve your situation. With legal experience the defining value component on the legal market, that means only one thing: focus on gathering more experience (expanding your network along the way should be a given).
Growing your legal experience may require that you simply deal with the bad boss, the high stress of work at your place of employment, and the general stressful nature of legal work long enough to become marketable. Once you become marketable, you can lateral somewhere else to knock off many of the stressful triggers at your particular place of legal employment. If you have the finances, you may even strike out on your own. The important thing is to always keep your eye on the prize: developing your growth and security in the legal field so you’re always advancing to better opportunities. Of course, regardless of the particular legal job, legal work will still have you serving clients and thinking about work as you fall asleep. Although you can’t change the nature of law practice, with growth in the field you will begin to develop the flexibility to at least start to pick and choose what you want and don’t want to handle as a lawyer. You’ll have the financial flexibility and the expertise to filter who you accept as a client and how much work you handle. The worst part of law practice, no doubt, comes at the associate level. If you can skip around early on until you find a place that has a decent work environment and develop your expertise along the way, things will get better.
The legal profession may have its share of high-stress triggers, but at the end of the day you must also keep in mind that you’re handling paper work in an office setting. There are certainly much worse work situations out there. Most, if not all, of your stress will be mental. Mental stress can be controlled, but it is up to you to control it. The bad boss, the low salary, the lack of training, these are features that you can proactively mitigate early by going to task and grinding away in hopes of developing your own marketability. As you gain experience, you can begin to control these factors by shifting around until you find a comfortable work environment. With this experience, naturally, will also come more flexibility in how you work as a lawyer. You’ll have a greater opportunity to mitigate the features of the legal profession itself, so that they fall more in line with what you are willing to put up with as you practice law. If you’re feeling the stress of the profession at work, take control and work towards your own legal self-improvement. Change your mentality, focus on grinding away towards a better future, and make the moves that will get you there. At the end of the day, this is just work. If clients stress you out, as often is the case, remember that you’re not operating on them in hopes of saving their lives. It’s simply not that serious. Do your job well enough and long enough to find greener pastures and let the rest of the stress fall by the wayside.