Lawyer Wellness

High rates of burnout have lawyers in this state considering leaving their jobs or the legal profession

  • Print

stressed lawyer with gavel

Image from Shutterstock.

More than three-fourths of Massachusetts lawyers are experiencing burnout, and almost half have thought about leaving their legal employer or the legal profession for that reason or because of stress in the last three years.

Those results aren’t the only bad news in a Feb. 1 report on the survey results called Lawyer Well-Being in Massachusetts.

The survey also found high rates of mental health issues. Twenty-six percent of the lawyers reported anxiety, 21% reported depression and 7% reported suicidal ideation. Half of the lawyers who experienced such issues did not seek mental health care.

Among the recommendations: Employers should rethink policies and culture concerning hours and workload. These statements by focus group participants and survey respondents express the problem: “No one has time for well-being,” and, “Whenever you take time for yourself, it’s almost impossible to get away from the feelings of guilt that follow.”

The NORC at the University of Chicago conducted the survey, working with the nonprofit lawyer assistance program Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and the Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, which was established by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The survey, sent to all lawyers registered in Massachusetts, garnered 4,450 responses. It was conducted during the first four months of 2022.

Among the Massachusetts survey findings:

    • Forty-two percent of the lawyers reported hazardous or unhealthy alcohol use. Such alcohol use was more common among lawyers who are white, who are women, who don’t have a disability, who earn more than $150,000 per year and who are younger. There were also higher rates of such alcohol use among lawyers who reported work-life conflict; bias, harassment or discrimination; and less physical activity. Almost all the lawyers who reported problematic alcohol use did not seek care.

    • The burnout rate was higher for female lawyers, at 86%, than for male lawyers, at 70%. And it was higher for caregivers, at 82%, than those who are not caregivers, at 74%.

    • Marginalized groups also had a higher burnout rate. Eighty-six percent of Black lawyers, 88% of Hispanic lawyers, 84% of nonheterosexual lawyers and 83% of lawyers with a disability reported burnout.

    • Lawyers who experience bias, harassment, discrimination and vicarious trauma reported higher burnout, anxiety and depression. Among those who experienced bias or harassment, more than one-third said they experienced such treatment from an opposing counsel or their current workplaces.

Despite the many negative findings, 66% of the lawyers reported overall satisfaction with their lives.

The survey identified some factors that are beneficial to well-being. They include better health, better diet, physical activity and a supportive work environment.

Protective factors at work included kind and respectful treatment by colleagues, positive relationships with supervisors, supportive colleagues, schedule flexibility, time to recharge, access to mentorship and promotion opportunities.

According to the survey, lawyers who are Black were less likely to report kind, respectful and supportive colleagues and less likely to report a positive supervisor relationship. Female lawyers are less likely to report schedule flexibility, time to recharge and opportunities for promotion, according to the survey.

The survey findings are consistent with those of other lawyer studies.

Hat tip to Reuters, which had coverage of the report.

See also: “Law is the most stressful profession, newspaper’s analysis finds”


Directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs

ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.