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ANALYSIS: Attorney Burnout Abating, But Not Extinguished

Sept. 19, 2022, 9:00 AM

Attorneys reported less burnout in the first half of this year compared to Q4 2021, but the numbers are still troubling: The 638 attorneys responding to Bloomberg Law’s most recent Workload and Hours survey said that they felt burnout in their jobs an average of 47% of the time in the last six months.

There’s been a 5 percentage point decrease in burnout since the last quarter of 2021, according to the respondents, which indicates an improvement. However, Q4 2021 was also the first time since the survey’s inception in 2020 that burnout topped 50%. The new survey results actually align more closely with earlier percentages from last year, so the improvement is debatable.

While this decline is a positive thing, it may not be due to an overall improvement in attorney burnout. Rather, the improvement in burnout since Q4 2021 may be due to the particularly challenging times at the end of 2021.

I know many attorneys—myself included—who got their first breakthrough Covid cases in December 2021. The end of the year may also impose more demands at home due to the holidays. And on the work front, the end of the calendar year may be more stressful because it’s also the end of the fiscal year for some organizations. Law firms I’ve worked with ended their billable year in Q4, and there was always a push to bill more hours in the last few months. Additionally, sometimes courts—perhaps wanting to clear their dockets before the new year—add to the stress: I myself have had more than one decision come down right at year-end, which necessitated some quick appellate analysis. These are just some reasons lawyers may have experienced increased feelings of burnout at the end of last year.

But regardless of any recent decline, the fact that attorneys have consistently felt burnout at their jobs at least 44% of the time since January 2021 is worrisome. Worrisome—but not surprising. The legal profession is demanding, and self-care has traditionally been undervalued. Legal employers need to continue to develop and offer well-being programs, and address attorney mental health and substance use disorders.

Related content is available for free on ourIn Focus: Lawyer Well-Beingpage. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations, and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica R. Blaemire at jblaemire@bloombergindustry.com