New ABA survey; Lawyers and stress go hand-in-hand

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Nicole Black
BridgeTower Media Newswires

It’s indisputable: the pandemic’s effects will be long-lasting. No matter how you look at it, the pandemic has significantly impacted the legal profession and the practice of law.  Statistics from a recently released survey conducted by the American Bar Association confirm this fact and show that while the practice of law has always been a stressful endeavor, the pandemic has only made things worse.

The survey at issue — “Profile of the Profession 2021” — compiles data collected by the ABA from a number of different surveys, most of which were conducted in 2020 and 2021. In the survey report, you'll find statistics on a host of issues relating to the legal profession, including lawyer demographics, the pandemic and its impact on the practice of law, lawyers’ perspectives on retirement and the future, and much more.

One of the most stand-out aspects of this year’s survey was how much the pandemic affected the overall well-being of lawyers.

For starters, the data collected showed that the pressures of practicing law, some of which are self-imposed, can take their toll and lead to burnout. For example, 38% of respondents reported they often work long hours, 9% said they “never stop working,” 25% failed to take adequate breaks during the workday, and 32% felt pressure to not take vacation time.

Survey results showed that the many stressors experienced by lawyers caused them to: 1) feel anxious about student loan debt (64%); 2) worry about finances in general (65%); 3) feel regretful or guilty (53%); and 4) experience depression or hopelessness (44%).

Notably, it’s not just practicing lawyers who are struggling; judges also reported experiencing high levels of stress. In fact, according to the report, 23% of judges meet the criteria for “experiencing stress at a level that could be debilitating.”
Not surprisingly, the pandemic only served to increase lawyers’ overall stress levels, with 40% of lawyers surveyed reporting that their overall work-related stress levels had increased because of the pandemic.

Interestingly, only 30% of older lawyers (62 or older) experienced added work stress during the pandemic compared with 49% of younger lawyers. Older lawyers were less worried about how the pandemic would affect their careers, with only 4% sharing that they were more worried about career advancement than a year ago compared to 23% of younger lawyers. Older attorneys were also less worried about layoffs or furloughs (12%) compared with 30% of younger lawyers.

Last, let’s take a look at stressors related to the return to in-office work, which was a source of anxiety many of the lawyers surveyed. Lawyers from firms with 250 or more attorneys expressed the most concern about the return to the office. Of those lawyers, 71% indicated that they were worried about safety issues related to being inside an office building. Areas of concern included lack of ventilation and poor security in public spaces. Similar concerns were reported by lawyers from firms with 100 to 249 lawyers, 68% of whom were reluctant to return to the office, as were 75% of lawyers from firms with 50 to 99 lawyers.

In comparison, solo and small firm lawyers were less concerned, with only 42% of solo practitioners reporting that they were reluctant to return to the office. Similarly, only half (54%) of lawyers from small firms with 2 to 9 attorneys shared that same concern.

Finally, older lawyers once again reported less anxiety than their younger counterparts in regard to returning to the office after the pandemic. Only 25% of older lawyers were concerned about inadequate safety protocols in their workplaces upon their return, compared with 38% of younger lawyers. Finally, only half of older lawyers (52%) said they were concerned about being inside an office, compared to 65% of younger lawyers.

The bottom line: regardless of their age, lawyers are experiencing stress at unprecedented levels in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. That’s why wellness matters now more than ever. Are you prioritizing your mental health? What steps are you taking for self-care? One way or another, it’s imperative to ensure that you make time for wellness, especially in light of the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic that we continue to face.

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Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally recognized author of "Cloud Computing for Lawyers" (2012) and co-authors "Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier" (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors "Criminal Law in New York," a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at niki.black@mycase.com.