As an attorney practicing for 37 years, I can say that on many days, I wonder whether what we do makes a difference. Usually, my answer is a resounding “yes.” But the practice of law is stressful, and it is important to not only focus on the small victories but also not lose sight of the big picture.
Maintaining focus, energy, and enthusiasm as a lawyer can be a challenge. Staying committed can be bolstered in a variety of ways: being told by a client that we are helping them cope with a difficult problem, earning a victory in the courtroom, solving an administrative problem for a person struggling with “the system,” helping a corporate client proceed on a big project. I keep a small file of thank-you letters from clients. On the days when a difficult client or challenge makes the practice of law seem too overwhelming, thinking about past successes is a reminder that our work is valuable.
Considering the big picture also helps. Each of us is part of a system. Here are just a few examples: lawyers work as prosecutors or public defenders to provide a just process, serve as guardians ad litem in cases involving vulnerable children or older persons, and work in corporate settings as part of teams that plan and develop ideas. In each role, lawyers try to ensure that the entire system is successful. Systems cannot function without each individual’s contributions.
I remind myself and the associates in my firm that this career is a marathon and not a sprint. Celebrate the small victories and quickly set aside the losses. Rest. Use vacation time. Exercise. Engage in a hobby that helps you feel renewed. The only way to keep doing what we do is to take regular breaks to recharge.
If you feel burned out or need help, please contact the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP); the well-trained staff and volunteers understand what you are going through. WisLAP helps lawyers in immediate crisis and, as important, also works to prevent emergencies. WisLAP’s services to individuals are confidential. Lawyers with substance-use problems or mental health challenges need not wait until they’re in dire straits to contact WisLAP.
Working as an attorney, regardless of the path you take, will be stressful. It also is rewarding because you are helping other people. If you are fortunate, before you know it, you’ll have 37 years behind you and thousands of grateful clients.
WisLAP Can Help
The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) offers confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families who are suffering from alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, and other issues that affect their well-being and law practice.
WisLAP Confidential Helpline: (800) 543-2625
National Suicide Prevention & Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988; suicidepreventionlifeline.org
» Cite this article: 96 Wis. Law. 4 (April 2023).