It’s 8:00 p.m., and you must complete a research assignment by the end of the day so the partner can review it and send it to the client first thing in the morning. You worry that you’ll miss something critical trying to turn it around quickly. You’ve made a mistake working with this partner before and are fearful that another mistake could be catastrophic. Meanwhile, your inbox is lighting up with emails regarding the ten other urgent things on your to-do list.
Sound familiar? This is a typical evening in the life of a junior associate in a firm practicing in “Big Law.” It is not for the faint of heart. Navigating long hours, partner demands, and deadlines while learning the law comes with the territory. Stress is unavoidable and sometimes overwhelming. High levels of stress can destroy your concentration and confidence and affect your mood. Countless studies detail the damage it does to the body, ranging from headaches and nausea to respiratory and cardiovascular issues.
Effectively coping with stress is vital to making it as a junior associate in Big Law practice and to avoid burning out. Here are just a few suggestions for coping with stress.
1. Take Care of Yourself
Get away when you can and recharge. Find a way to release stress, whether it is exercising, reading, or meditating. Most importantly—sleep when possible. Long nights at the office can make this challenging, but make taking care of yourself a priority.
2. Manage Your Time and Use Available Resources
Use your time at work wisely and prioritize assignments and tasks. Focus on what needs to be completed first, work diligently and efficiently, and move on to the next task. Attempting to do too much all at once is an inefficient use of time and compromises the quality of your work product. Additionally, many law firms have support personnel such as paralegals, administrative assistants, and word processing departments that make completing tasks more manageable—so utilize them whenever you can.
3. Learn to Respectfully Say No
Speak up when you’re overwhelmed and unable to take on an additional assignment. It’s hard to admit that you’re unable to complete another assignment, but it can be done tactfully. For example, before accepting an assignment, explain to the assigning attorney the volume of work that you have and that you will not have sufficient time to provide quality work product. The assigning attorney may be able to manage timelines, coordinate with your other assigning attorneys or, if necessary, find another associate. No one (including the assigning attorney, the firm or its clients) wants a poorly-completed assignment, or even worse, no completed assignment at all. It’s better to be upfront about the time you have.
4. Don’t Dwell on Your Mistakes
Making mistakes can be very stressful, but it is important to remember that they are part of the learning process. Focus on recognizing what you can learn from your mistakes and moving quickly to correct them—most mistakes are not consequential and can be easily fixed. Then—don’t dwell on them. Move on and focus on not making the same mistake twice.
The advice provided herein is not intended to be a cure for the stress that comes with being a junior associate in a big firm—if only it were that easy. However, stress is an inevitable part of life as a junior associate and effectively managing stress is essential to your future success.