Focus On

I don’t like Mondays | Jo-Anne Stark

Friday, June 18, 2021 @ 2:56 PM | By Jo-Anne Stark


Jo-Anne Stark %>
Jo-Anne Stark
Dear Jo: I’m feeling burned out from years working in the legal trenches. I love the practice of law, but the path I’ve been on has taken its toll and I’m finding myself dreading Monday mornings. Between staffing issues, court delays and the antagonistic attitude of some opposing counsel, I’m left drained at the end of the day, and I’ve lost enthusiasm for a profession that is such a big part of my life. What can I do?

It’s become commonplace for me to hear from lawyers who no longer look forward to going to work. Rates of depression are four times higher among lawyers than the general population, something that cannot be ignored; lawyers report higher levels of anxiety, and this is often associated with excessive use of drugs and alcohol to cope. It is becoming more acceptable to talk about these problems — but what is to be done about it?

I understand the frustration that comes from working in a firm — there are so many dynamics at play, and often this is not what we signed up for when we went into law school. You need to juggle the needs of staff, onboard new employees and find someone to cover when others are unavailable. There may also be office politics, which are often unavoidable. Plus, for many, there is a long commute and so much time away from family. We all knew that the practice of law would require a commitment, but it also has challenges that may not have been anticipated!

I talk to lawyers who are also worn out from the adversarial system — dealing with difficult counsel on the other side, long waits for court matters to commence and managing clients who don’t understand the apparent lack of progress on their case. It’s those lawyers who seek guidance and advice on how they can change the way that they practise law — to transition to a business model that allows for more balance.

I have to admit that I really enjoy Fridays … and it’s not for the reason you might think!

Yes, I know that the weekend is coming and that is always a welcome break. But the other reason is that I reserve Fridays for legal coaching. This is my opportunity to empower clients and truly make a difference in their lives. The path of a legal coach is, in many ways, very different from that of a traditional lawyer who represents clients. Your schedule is much more manageable and your workload is reduced, as the client is the one doing their own legal work, under your guidance; you also avoid many of the frustrating and difficult aspects of practising law. Not only do the legal coaches that I work with take back control of their own schedules and their own lives, but they prosper in knowing that they are actively helping clients take back control of their lives as well!

Setting up a virtual legal coaching practice takes a bit of planning at the beginning. This also requires the lawyer to learn new skills — both in terms of developing a business model that provides convenient and cost-effective services, but also to learn how to coach a client who is doing their own legal work. Those that make the transition are able to tap into a very large market, knowing that there are thousands of self-represented litigants and clients that are more than happy to pay for coaching services.

By becoming a legal coach, you can finally have the ability to really help those in need, while maintaining healthy boundaries so that you do not carry the burden of every dispute and every conflict that your clients experience. You can schedule your days and manage your time while avoiding all the headaches and frustrations that come with practising in a traditional law firm.

Lawyers struggling to cope are encouraged to seek help made available through lawyer assistance programs; however, I would also encourage those same lawyers to consider changing how they practise law to avoid falling back into the same pattern. Now there are options: helping clients by doing law differently.

See also: Why are lawyers so depressed? 

Jo-Anne Stark, B.Comm., J.D., CLC, is the founding president of the non-profit Legal Coaches Association and author of Mastering the Art of Legal Coaching. Find her on LinkedIn.

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