Wellness Tips for Family Law Practitioners: How to Be Healthy, Happy, and Productive, In and Out of the Courtroom
To be an effective Family Law Practitioner, you must take care of your wellbeing—physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Prioritizing your wellness can go a long way, both personally and professionally, toward improving the quality of your life and your legal career.
Family law practitioners deeply need wellness
According to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, one in three practicing lawyers are problem drinkers, based on the volume and frequency of alcohol consumed. In addition, 28% suffer from depression, and 19% show symptoms of anxiety.
Family law in particular is a tremendously stressful and emotionally taxing practice area. Emotionally overwhelmed clients in crisis often have unreasonable expectations, and they often unload their frustration and confusion onto their overworked and exhausted attorneys.
It is incredibly difficult for family law attorneys to manage their own stress while representing clients going through mini life-quakes.
What is wellness?
Generally, wellness means doing what you need to do every day to feel better, to be healthier, and to feel good about yourself and your life.
Wellness tools for family law practitioners
Manage your stress
Between hearings, client meetings, CLE requirements, networking events, and more, you’re likely to carry a lot of stress as a lawyer. Healthy practices help us to handle that stress.
Separating your work focus from your personal and family time is critical. Lawyers get burned out very quickly when work consumes all of their days. It can be extremely difficult to say no, but doing so provides significant benefits.
Organize your day
Start each day with a healthy routine and a plan for what you are going to accomplish and when. Each day, schedule not only your work activities but also your lunch and your personal and self-care activities.
Multitasking only increases stress, and it interferes with the quality of your work as well. Instead, focus solely on completing one project (or step in a project) at a time.
Improve your work-life balance
Demanding schedules and intense workloads can easily lead to burnout. All too often, work not only controls lawyers’ days but also invades their personal lives and prevents them from having healthy and relaxing practices. It can affect your relationships with your spouse, children, family, and friends.
Relax, unwind, and make time for friends and family
Making space in your life for relaxation and socialization isn’t lazy or selfish. A nonstop pace can wear you out, whereas healthy recuperation prepares you to continue functioning at a high level without psychological damage.
Develop habits of regular self-care
Find time to take care of yourself—you’ll feel better about yourself, enjoy your life more, and even be more productive at work.
Support a more positive mindset
Throw out the negative self-talk and limiting beliefs. Instead, intentionally cultivate thought patterns that support you and your goals.
You cannot change a toxic work environment, a demanding partner, or clients who are never happy. Focus instead on what you can change and control: your attitude and your actions. Put your energy where it will count.
Calm your mind, relax your body, be aware of your emotions, and stay present in the moment. A mindfulness practice can help you remain emotionally balanced.
Exercise not only helps you feel healthy physically but also relieves stress. The key is finding some physical exercise that you truly enjoy.
Eat healthy foods
Often, we are too busy to eat well (or we eat too much to fill the void). But if you develop a clean nutrition practice, you will find that you feel better and have more energy—mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
How to get help when you’re overwhelmed or struggling
Stress-management programs for lawyers
Most states have Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) that have a mission to help lawyers respond to the stresses of their profession in a healthy and positive manner.
The ABA has an anti-stigma campaign focused on personal recovery stories from lawyers who have overcome struggles with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.
Similarly, Lawyers Helping Lawyers groups send the message that recovery is 100% possible for legal professionals.
Support from experienced professionals
Do not hesitate to seek help from trained professionals, such as therapists, primary care physicians, those experienced in recovery, etc. Being vulnerable is a strength, and there is no reason not to take advantage of the many resources available.
Share with a trusted friend
When you are experiencing stress, share your feelings with someone you can trust. Depending on the source of stress, you may want to confide in your spouse, sibling, or best friend, and at other times you may turn to your colleague, boss, or a friend who is a lawyer.
Being open about what you are going through helps relieve the pressure. Burying those feelings of stress, on the other hand, can be very harmful. They don’t stay buried; instead, they bubble up in unhealthy ways at inopportune times.
You’re doing important work, but family law is not an easy field. Prioritize your wellness.
Wellness can undo the damage wreaked by law school and the day-to-day stress of a legal career. It prepares you to serve as an effective legal professional managing complex emotional and financial issues. Most importantly, you’ll be equipped to manage your stress in healthy ways for your own benefit. Take care of yourself.
Elle Barr is an experienced family law attorney with a deep commitment to serving children and families. She has experience representing clients in all family law matters, with an emphasis on serving as a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
She also serves as the Judicial Education Coordinator for OurFamilyWizard. In this role, she educates judges, lawyers, and other family law professionals on the online tools that are used to reduce conflict and increase accountability in high-conflict co-parenting situations.