March/April 2020

The Thriving Lawyer

Well-Being Strategies for Small Firms: Building Resilient Work Cultures

Anne Brafford

Lawyer well-being has received considerable attention lately. Large firms in particular have attracted the spotlight for their efforts and innovations—which are commendable. But the big-firm focus may have left the wrong impression that big budgets are required to afford the “luxury” of promoting lawyers’ mental health and happiness. Well-being should not be viewed as a dispensable extravagance, and, in fact, many science-based strategies are available for solo and small-firm lawyers to try out.

A better understanding of factors that contribute to psychological distress in the workplace can help small firms prioritize their well-being efforts. According to research, common causes of stress, burnout, depression, anxiety and/or suicidal thinking include the following:

  • long working hours,
  • feeling overloaded and a lack of control with too much work and too little time,
  • feeling stagnant and not growing,
  • feeling that work demands outmatch one’s lawyering skills and abilities,
  • high interpersonal conflict and incivility at work and
  • chronic work/life conflict.

Generally, these factors can be harmful, but they don’t affect us all in the same way. Our individual traits, strengths and vulnerabilities shape our reactions. For example, whether we perceive a dangerous threat or a positive challenge depends a lot on our capacity to understand and manage our automatic, irrational thoughts (including, for example, catastrophizing pessimism, perfectionism, excessive achievement orientation and impostor syndrome) and the negative emotions that flow from them.

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