How to Fight In-House Burnout - Connect With Your Purpose

One proven way to fight in-house lawyer burnout: Give your team a clear understanding of their higher purpose and how they can achieve team goals.

And here we go again, racing toward the end of the year. There are those end-of-year deals to close, the legal budget is due, and there are six new litigation matters since yesterday, and… sigh. If you are exhausted looking at the back end of the year before it has even really begun, digging deep for that next burst of energy and finding none, you may be suffering from lawyer burnout. You are not alone.

In a Gartner report on in-house lawyers, more than half - 54 percent - described themselves as at least “moderately exhausted.”

Burnout can have as much to do with an overwhelming volume of work as a feeling of "what's the point?" by those who are repetitively putting out the fires and finding no change in their workload or the larger battle they are fighting. 

It is tempting to lay out "10 ways to fight lawyer burnout" but that in itself can feel overwhelming and simply add to the to do list. Instead, focus on only TWO strategies to address in-house legal team burnout:

1. Engage your team with a Legal Department strategic plan

2. Facilitate clear prioritization of legal work

1. Legal Department Strategic Planning is Essential to Engagement

The Gartner study suggests that the key to reinvigorating the Legal Department is engagement.

According to Gartner, “highly engaged” lawyers are 70 percent more likely to find new ways to meet business needs; 30 percent more likely to seek improvements to Legal Department processes; and 143 percent more likely to show discretionary effort. (And 17 percent less likely to look for jobs elsewhere.)

happy and engaged team

But engagement does not happen by accident, and it does not – according to Gartner – happen by showing growth potential, varying management styles, or even building a positive work climate.

The primary driver for engaging in-house lawyers, Gartner found: fulfilling work.

For the Legal Department, fulfilling work happens when the in-house legal team is:

  • In sync with the business and engaged with business goals
  • When the work is meaningful and clearly tied to a purpose
  • When lawyers are advisers and business partners, not the “Department of No
  • When they can demonstrably show their value to the company (and the bottom line).

That does not happen by accident. It takes a true legal department strategy – a plan that commits the team to deliver on meaningful business objectives, not just fire-fighting. It takes focus, intel and metrics. But it doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, you can complete an in-house legal strategic plan on a single page following these steps:

Keep the strategy statement simple

Focus your energy on what truly matters to the business. “There is no reason why [a strategy] can’t be summarized in one page with simple words and concepts,” as Harvard notes.

Recognize that strategy is not about perfection

In other words, done is better than perfect. You can always course-correct, but as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Sadly, for in-house counsel, a failure to plan is likely to end in a frenzied to-do list that results in that aforementioned state of exhaustion.

Make the logic explicit

Know the reasoning behind your strategic decisions – for in-house lawyers, the positioning of organization goals within the legal and risk framework – and be able to articulate them. After all, a legal strategic plan supported by solid research and sound decision-making is far more likely to receive resources for implementation.

We've put together a concise, no-nonsense guide, 8 Steps to Your Legal Department Strategic Plan, as well as a strategic plan template for in-house Legal Departments to use.

Above all, remember that hope is not a strategy. The work will always be there. It is your job to ensure the work delivers for the business – and keeps your team excited, not exhausted.

woman with a laptop - stressed at work

2. Lack of prioritization leads to overworked, exhausted lawyers

The Gartner study showed that exhausted lawyers can be less productive. Moderately exhausted lawyers are nearly four times more likely to postpone or cancel projects; highly exhausted lawyers, are about six times more likely.

In short, the more tired we are, the longer the to-do list gets, as projects linger on (until, perhaps, they die on the vine). It takes some bravery to dedicate resources to prioritizing certain projects (and eliminating others).

Feeling more in control is a crucial step to addressing burnout. Knowing instantly what is critical and what can wait will help your in house legal team to move from fighting fires, to focusing on the most impactful legal work.

It cannot be overstated - visibility over your legal matters will make you feel calmer. The ability to wrap your arms around your workload and identify at a glance what is critical - and what is not critical - will help you see daylight and breathe easier.

Xakia can help...

Corporate legal matter management software can help you work smarter, not harder

If you're looking for a legal matter management system to help you stay on top of your growing workload, get in touch with the friendly team at Xakia today. Sign up for one of our monthly demo webinars or get a personal 1-on-1 demo to get all your questions answered. Find a better way to work with our simple and affordable matter management software.

Keen for more tips? Download our productivity hacks white paper

For additional tips and tricks to help keep your team excited, not exhausted, check out our productivity hacks white paper. With 36 productivity hacks to help you be more efficient and minimize the stress, our guide will help set up your legal team for success.

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