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Virtually Anywhere: Aaron Thomas Trades a Briefcase for a Backpack in Costa Rica

Many professions have enjoyed the freedom of remote work for years. That hasn’t always been true for law firm owners tied to in-office client meetings, courtroom appearances, and in-person teams to manage. But, the game has changed.

It’s no secret that 2020 caused a monumental shift in the legal profession. Since then, video conferencing, virtual court dates, remote work, and cloud-based file management have become the norm. Some law firm owners are choosing to shake off the confines of geography. They’re not just working remotely, they’re jet setting to far-flung places and working abroad. (Obviously, these jet-setting lawyers are checking the relevant rules of professional conduct. No one wants to accidentally run afoul of any unauthorized practice of law rules.)

Remote Law in Practice

Only one of Aaron Thomas’s clients commented on his changed Zoom background. She assumed he had moved into another room. But Aaron, a Lawyerist Lab Legacy member, wasn’t only in another room—he was in another country, almost on another continent, thousands of miles away. 

Aaron, with his wife and two-year-old daughter, were in Costa Rica. 

It wasn’t their first time abroad. In 2014, the pair took a sabbatical year with Aaron freelance writing while they traveled around South and Central America. After that experience, they promised to embark on a similar trip every seven years.

Life happens, though. In 2015, Aaron opened his Atlanta-based family law firm. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world shutdown. He then welcomed his first daughter, and soon, it was eight years later. But that itch to live abroad had not subsided.

Costa Rica sunset. Image Credit: Aaron Thomas 2022

Planning to Work Abroad

Aaron is a firm believer in work fitting into your life, not life fitting into your work. Even before the pandemic, he encouraged a flexible working environment for his team. “If you can trust your people to work from their houses,” he said. “You can trust them to work from wherever they are sitting with their laptop.”

He had already laid the framework for a remote firm with online processes, systems, and procedures in place. If he could run his firm, meet with clients, and attend court from his home, why couldn’t he do the same somewhere else?

So, after some encouragement from his mastermind group, Aaron and his family decided to do a test run. They would spend six weeks living and working in Costa Rica. Aaron’s wife’s Spanish language fluency, the perfect weather, and its central standard time zone made it an easy choice.

Once decided, Aaron had to figure out how to make it a seamless transition. His primary concerns were having a solid internet connection and having easy access to the airport in case he was called for an in-person court appearance, and childcare. Turns out, it was easier than he could have imagined. 

“I attended court from Costa Rica. I met with clients. I did consultations. I managed my staff—the whole nine—all from Costa Rica with a two-year-old in tow,” he said.

After weighing his primary concerns, Aaron and his family opted to live in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city. They found a modern apartment with high-speed internet and excellent child care within walking distance. It was a quick drive to the airport if Aaron needed to hop on a flight at the last minute.

Labster Aaron Thomas in Pura Vida, CR. Image Credit: Aaron Thomas 2022

Practicing Law in Another Country

His plan went off without a hitch. Aaron kept normal weekday business hours, although he took more walks than usual. Clients and the courts never even knew he was abroad, just as he had hoped.

During his six weeks abroad, Aaron’s internet only went down once during a virtual hearing. Something that could just as easily happen at home in Atlanta. He had planned ahead though, quickly rejoining after turning his phone into a hotspot using a Costa Rican sim card. 

During the evenings they explored (and ate their way through) their San Jose neighborhood known as the Paseo Gastronomico. On the weekends, they adventured. “The beach was two hours away. The rainforest was two hours away,” Aaron said.

They splurged on a luxury retreat, staying in a casita in the rainforest. They explored Costa Rican nature. They ate, they enjoyed, they lived. All while keeping his business running smoothly, his team engaged, and his clients happy. The only thing Aaron missed during his six weeks away? His wide-screen monitor.

Advice for Jet-Setting Attorneys

If Aaron has any advice for law firm owners who dream of going abroad, it would be: try it. “Try for a month. If a month is too crazy, try it for two weeks,” he said. “If that’s too crazy, try for one week. Go somewhere for one week, work remotely, and see if you can pull it off. It’s more doable than people expect.”

Go somewhere for one week, work remotely, and see if you can pull it off. It’s more doable than people expect.

There are two things Aaron recommends for those interested in working abroad. First, plan for the worst-case scenario (i.e., being called into court) and identify the solution (i.e., living close to the airport). Second, would be to get a business credit card with a travel points program.

There is one thing he’d do differently for his next stint abroad. After working with his laptop and using his iPad as a second screen, “I would buy some extension cords and a cheap, larger monitor as soon as I got there,” he said. 

With his Costa Rica test a resounding success, Aaron and his family didn’t stay still. In May they took a trip to the Galapagos and have plans for a trip to Barcelona in 2023.

Remote Practice in the Future

As for living abroad again, Aaron already has plans in the works for the coming year. Since returning from Costa Rica, Aaron has moved on from his family law practice, starting a new venture, He now has even more flexibility and opportunity to work toward his goal of being location independent. 

Aaron was able to do this because he had a plan, established systems in place, and a team he could trust. Learn how to build the systems, team, and healthy law firm you want with our Complete Law Firm Guides.


Siskind & Susser Partners with FastCase to Develop Immigration Case Manager

Most lawyers in their careers have thought, “I should build that.” Longtime Lawyerist Lab member Greg Siskind and his team at Siskind Susser, PC, don’t stop at should. They have a habit of following through, which they’re doing with their FastCase partnership. 

FastCase Immigration Partnership

Recently, through their sister company,, they announced a partnership with FastCase to turn their immigration cookbook into a case management system. The American Immigration Lawyers Association Practice and Procedures Manual (‘Cookbook’) will be implemented through FastCase’s NextChapter platform.

Siskind, along with partner Ari Saur, published the manual to assist immigration lawyers in the United States in filing their cases. It takes the processes, procedures, and decades of experience they have acquired and organizes it into checklists, questionnaires, and step-by-step processes.

Never satisfied with the status quo, however, Siskind and his team wanted to take the cookbook a step further. They determined that no comparable product existed on the market. So, he and his partners at decided to turn the cookbook into a case management platform.

Turning an Idea into Reality

One option for was to build the software from the ground up. But, a natural partnership appeared in the form of FastCase’s NextChapter product. Using the already existing NextChapter platform will allow the product to get to users much more quickly.

“We are excited that lawyers relying on our Cookbook will now have a case management system customized to match the systems in the book,” said Siskind. 

This appears to be a consistent step for FastCase. As a legal research and intelligence company, they are always looking for innovative new ways to deliver knowledge to lawyers. Recently, expanded NextChapter’s capabilities beyond bankruptcy with Doc Creator, forms automation, and now immigration management. According to Mandy Ballinger, NextChapter’s Vice President, this extension “enables more law firms to benefit.”

NextChapter Immigration beta platform is already open to lawyers who would like to test it out at

Learn More From Lawyerist

If you’d like to learn more about creating the processes necessary to build a platform like this, take a look at our Healthy Firm resources. Or, join Greg and others like him in the Lawyerist Lab coaching program.


McKeen Builds Firm to Support a $100 Million Verdict

Five years ago, attorney Ryan McKeen, heard Mikey Cruz’s story for the first time. How a guy gets up and goes to the plant where he has worked for the last fifteen years. Then how, in an instant, his whole life shattered.  

Connecticut Trial Firm Takes on Major Case

Unsecured Philips light bulbs, weighing 1,300 pounds, fell on Cruz from twenty feet in the air. His injuries were extensive, and the doctors told Cruz there was a 95% chance he’d never walk again. Ryan knew it was an important case. He also knew his small firm would need the resources to support it.

Five years ago, Connecticut Trial Firm, LLC was a team of two lawyers and an assistant who worked nine hours per week. A case like Cruz’s would not be easy or cheap. Ryan knew he’d need to build a firm to support the case.

Big Defendants Try to Kill Cases with Litigation Costs

“It’s easy for lawyers to hear a $100 million verdict and want to jump into the contingency fee business,” said Ryan. “It appears to be ‘easy money’. Nothing is further from the truth.”

It became apparent early on that the four defendants in the case would not settle quickly or easily. The defendants would spend five years vigorously defending the case. In those years, there were over forty depositions, ten experts, and thousands of documents exchanged. As the trial date loomed closer, the defendants filed hundreds of motions. 

“You have to do the work, understand the risks, and put all of your chips on the table.”

Ryan mckeen

Ryan and his law partner, Andrew Garza, knew they would need to invest tremendous time and resources to prosecute the case. And take it to trial if necessary. They also realized that making such a bet could bankrupt their law firm if they weren’t careful. 

“You have to play all in,” said Ryan. “You have to do the work, understand the risks, mitigate those risks, and put all of your chips on the table.”

Connecticut Trial Firm Grew Strategically      

Ryan and Andrew accepted Cruz’s case. But they knew they needed to build a business that could sustain them. They knew the firm had to give them the necessary resources to fight for Cruz. 

Ryan and Andrew intentionally built Connecticut Trial Firm to provide better client services than what they heard other PI firms did. They designed every part of the client’s experience—from the first phone call to how they closed their cases—with the client in mind. They even hired a Client Happiness Coordinator to ensure every client felt cared for throughout the entire representation. While other firms invested thousands of dollars in marketing, Ryan and Andrew invested in their team and their client’s experience. 

Their work paid off. They found client referrals were their best source of new business. And they quickly found more and more potential clients calling to hire them. They continued to grow their team to keep up with their growing caseload. Today, the Connecticut Trial Firm has a team of 29 people. 

The firm’s exponential growth allowed them to have the cash and attorney time to invest in Cruz’s case. In fact, for the last ten months, Andrew has worked almost exclusively on Cruz’s case. That amount of attention would have been impossible if the firm still had two attorneys.

They made space for what was really important.

The Firm’s Investment Paid Off

On Wednesday, October 5, 2022, Ryan and Andrew sat at the counsel’s table with Cruz and his wife and heard the words “$100 million.” It was the highest verdict in state history. 

“It was the greatest honor of my career…”

ryan mckeen

Ryan sobbed. It was the result of five years of not just hard work but many sleepless nights worrying about his clients. It was five years of fretting about his business and agonizing if the jury would appreciate the severity of the situation. Five years of brooding on the hundreds of other unknowns that pop up and make business owners question everything. 

“In the end, justice was served,” said Ryan. “It was the greatest honor of my career to have stood next to our clients and said ‘Ryan McKeen for the plaintiffs, Mikey and Emily Cruz’.” 

Beyond showing Ryan and Andrew’s legal prowess, the verdict is a testament to their business skills. They successfully built Connecticut Trial Firm to litigate the case to a jury verdict. And through appeals and collections, if necessary. It isn’t easy money. Years of managing an extensive pipeline of cases and strategically building their business led to this amazing result.

McKeen Shares His Wisdom with Lawyerist Lab Members 

Now, McKeen also works as a business coach for Lawyerist Lab, a paid business coaching program for solo and small firms. But his success story isn’t straightforward.

Ryan started his firm with $2,500. He had a previously failed partnership and years when his taxable income was negative. One morning, while watching his wife cry after learning they had $50,000 in credit card debt, everything changed. That was the moment Ryan decided to go from being a solo to operating Connecticut Trial Firm as a business. 

“I love being able to share what I learned along the way with other attorneys who are just starting or still building their practices,” said Ryan. “I have benefited from the sage advice of mentors and colleagues. But I also invested in paid business coaching at different stages of my business. My coaches have helped me prioritize, define my strategy, and have kept me accountable. I’ve had 20-minute coaching sessions that have unlocked six-figure changes in my business.” 

If you are interested in learning more about Ryan’s coaching or Lawyerist Lab, tell us a little more about your business, and we’ll connect for a quick call to see if Lab is right for your firm. 


Connecticut Trial Firm Recognized on Inc. 5000 List

Lawyerist Lab Coach and law firm owner, Ryan McKeen, always knew he was building something special at Connecticut Trial Firm. Now, however, he can point to his definitive success. This week, the firm was named to the 2022 Inc. 5000 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. Connecticut Trial Firm ranked 23rd in the legal category and 3,452 overall. The firm showed a 151% three-year growth.  

Lawyerist Lab Coach, Ryan McKeen, Recognized on Inc. 5000 List

Every year, the Inc. 5000 list names the country’s fastest-growing companies. Specifically, they look at a company’s overall three-year growth rate from 2018 through 2021 compared with that of other applicants. Making the list is a distinguished honor.

Ryan McKeen founded the firm with partner Andrew Garza in 2018. “We knew from the start we were building something different—more than a law firm—we wanted to build a robust and successful business.” 

The team did things differently from the start. For example, Ryan documented systems on how to handle and process the mail before they even had a team. He knew one day the firm would be ready to grow. He wanted to make sure he was building the infrastructure that would support those goals.  

“We knew from the start we were building something different—more than a law firm—we wanted to build a robust and successful business.” 

Ryan mckeen

Experiencing 151% growth in a three-year period does not come easy. “Starting any company is incredibly hard. The hours are long and the struggles are endless. It is not for the faint of heart,” said McKeen. “Making this list is recognition of all of those long days, and all of the friends who helped along the way, and all the good we have done over the years. It is meaningful to me.” 

McKeen credits the community he had around him as the biggest contributor to his success. “The lessons we have learned from  others and a relentless focus on implementing those lessons has made all the difference.” 

McKeen Uses His Experience to Coach Other Lawyers  

McKeen uses his winning business philosophy and approach when he coaches lawyers participating in the Lawyerist Lab program. “Lawyers want to hear from other lawyers who have been in the trenches that what they are trying to achieve is possible,” said Lawyerist Lab Lead Coach, Stephanie Everett. “Ryan is a great coach because he is so relatable and willing to share with our community what’s worked and where he wishes he had tried something different. We are so proud of Ryan and his firm’s achievements and know that this is just the first of many accolades they will receive for the great work they are doing.” 

Law firm owners who are interested in hearing more about Ryan’s journey can check out these episodes of The Lawyerist Podcast:

While this latest accolade is a nice acknowledgment of the early success Ryan’s firm has experienced, it is just the beginning. “We feel like we are just hitting our stride as a firm. We expect to double our team’s size in the next twelve months so that we can help more injured people,” said McKeen. “We also expect to open a courtroom and multimedia studio so we can run focus groups, trainings, and events, and expand our ability to educate clients and our community.” The Lawyerist team agrees and can’t wait to watch where the business goes next.   

Buchanan Law Firm Finds Hidden Benefit Beyond Automation with Lawmatics

Like many small law firm owners, Deena Buchanan found her team spending lots of their time sifting through leads for their business—valuable time that could have focused on paying clients. 

The Wrong Clients Were a Bottleneck

At the time, Buchanan Law focused on representing employees who faced discrimination or retaliation from their employers. It’s an area where many people call a law firm feeling mistreated, but only a few of those cases are valid. “For every 100 inquiries we received, only 5-10 of those cases would look like they possibly had legal merit. And, only 2-3 of those would end in an engagement starting. Most people’s claims weren’t ready yet or didn’t meet the legal requirements for a case.” 

In 2020, Deena joined Lawyerist Lab, a business coaching community for solo and small law firms. She knew she needed to improve how she ran her business for everyone’s sake and that higher profits would be a pleasant result. Through her work in Lab, Deena narrowed in on the bottlenecks in her firm and how she could solve them. Client intake was near the top of the list. 

That’s when Deena discovered Lawmatics. Lawmatics’ client relationship management software promised to help Deena’s firm drive efficiency and increase client engagement leading to more revenue. It delivered on that promise—and more. 

Lawmatics Made Qualifying Clients Seamless

Before Lawmatics, Deena’s team would send a Google form to potential clients to collect information. Once submitted, the team would manually review the form to determine if it was complete, resulting in lots of back and forth to gather the information. With the correct information, the team could qualify the client. If they didn’t have a case or needed to wait, the team would write emails from scratch with dozens of variations to explain to the potential client why they couldn’t help them. When Deena met with clients for a consultation, she often realized she was meeting with people she could not help. Her qualification process was failing her. 

“It’s what happens after the form that was the real game-changer.”

Lawmatics allowed her to automate her intake process. She ditched her Google form for an intake form created in the Lawmatics platform. “It’s what happens after the form that was the real game-changer,” said Buchanan. We automated the collection process. The system sent automated reminders to clients to complete missing information. After a few attempts, the system created a task for a team member to call the client and follow up. The team also created templates for the various reasons they couldn’t help clients—no more hand-crafted emails. Now, the team could tag the reason for the rejection and trigger the correct message. 

“What previously took hours could now be accomplished in minutes. More importantly, I became confident in our system. I knew we weren’t losing cases simply because a team member had dropped the ball. I also knew we were meeting our obligations under the Bar’s rules by now having a written record with an email for every lead we rejected.”  

Lawmatics Made It Painless for Clients to Hire Me

The team also built an automated process for collecting a signed engagement letter and any initial payments through Lawmatics. 

“The system just made everything easier.”

Buchanan Law also offers a service where they will review a contract for a fixed fee. They set up a separate sequence in Lawmatics to send out the engagement contract and payment link and collect the information for the contract review. 

“I’d arrive at my desk in the morning with money in my account and everything needed to complete the review. I could just focus on the client work and not the administrative headache that often accompanies it.”

Deena saw that clients realized the difference, too. “We noticed that the number of positive Google reviews went up because clients found working with us was so easy.” 

Lawmatics Offered a Hidden Benefit: Managing Team Members

One thing Deena didn’t expect when she adopted a new tech platform was to help her better manage her team. Once the system is created in the platform, it is easy to assign tasks and responsibilities to team members and also track when and how they are completing them. 

Deena explained that with Lawmatics, she could see when her team was completing tasks and what was taking them longer than it should. It helped her figure out that one of her team members was not in the right role, so the firm made some adjustments. The system gave Deena data that allowed her to manage the team and improve how they helped their clients. 

Getting Started with Lawmatics

Like any new technology platform, Deena cautions lawyers to be patient because it will take time to learn and implement. She advises to start with a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Then, determine if you are actually telling the system to do that because it sometimes doesn’t match.

“I realized that sometimes I thought I was telling the system to do it one way, but I wasn’t talking to it the right way. Fortunately, Lawmatics has a great team of coaches who would get on with me and help me find the right way to set up the program.” 

Her other advice is to just start by building one thing—what one thing would help your practice the most right now? It’s easy to get excited and want to build out everything at once, but that’s not always feasible. Instead, build the first thing and then expand from there. 

She also noted that you often won’t know exactly what you want it to do until you get a process started. So, it’s best to start with a few simple things and then build more as you figure out what you need. 

Finally, Deena complimented the Lawmatics team for their continuous development efforts. “They are always introducing something new and working to improve the platform.”

If you’re interested in seeing how Lawmatics can help your firm, learn more by visiting Lawyerist’s Lawmatics Review. Curious if business coaching could help your firm? Lawyerist Lab offers several options to help every firm no matter what stage of business they are in.


Lawyerist Hosts LabCon 2022

LabCon 2022: The Community is What Makes It

In early August, 60 solo and small-firm lawyers and law firm staff gathered to work on their firms at Lawyerist’s annual LabCon unconference in Atlanta, Georgia.

What’s an Unconference?

An unconference works differently than other legal conferences. This isn’t panel discussion and sponsor booths. Instead, LabCon functions as work sessions for lawyers in Lab, Lawyerist’s paid coaching program. It is a mix of conference, summit, retreat, design-thinking workshop, and hackathon.

Over 2.5 days, participants break out into small, coach-led sessions to work on each part of their business. They also use the time to implement the big ideas they get from these sessions.

Conference attendee Matthew Swanlund found LabCon valuable. “I was at times overwhelmed with the knowledge of what I have been missing, but then inspired to learn literally everything I need to know to make my business incredible,” said Matthew. “The guidance and feedback from the other Labsters was invaluable in that regard. “

How LabCon Works

During the conference, breakout sessions were sometimes created on the fly depending on participants’ needs. Sessions included topics like:

More topics covered all parts of a healthy business, including strategy, marketing, client service, finances, teams, and owners

Sessions were separated into stages based on each participant’s current experience and knowledge. For example, finance breakouts included Getting Started with KPIs for finance beginners and Subscription Services for the more advanced owner.

In between sessions, Lawyerist Lab coaches were available to help one-on-one as needed.

Additionally, while legal tech sponsors attended LabCon, those sponsors interacted as participants. There weren’t sponsor booths or overt sales pitches. Each sponsor led a session, made themselves available for one-on-one or group consultations, and often learned from the sessions themselves.

It’s Not All Work (Though Ideas Happen Everywhere)

LabCon also included a healthy amount of fun and giddy laughter. There was a fun contest (always a surprise), an impromptu mini-dance party, yoga, and several opportunities for long walks on the conference center’s trails. Participants also used mealtimes and after-work hours to dig into “hallway ideas”—the type of conversations people have after being inspired by a session. 

There were also opportunities to think outside the box using art and role-playing techniques.

The Community is What Makes It

The lawyers and law firm staff who attended were generous, open-minded, and collaborative. This combination made the energy in the room noticeably bright and compelling. 

“It was such an incredible experience.”

As attendee Jasmine Jowers Prout said, “It was such an incredible experience that I know for a fact moved, helped, and encouraged people because it did all of that to me. Not only did I find solutions or paths forward for my issues, I was able to share my experiences to help others do the same, and that was so rewarding!” LabCon is part of Lawyerist Lab, a coaching program designed to help every aspect of a business run smoothly. Interested in joining us for the next LabCon? Set up a time to chat with Lab Coach Sara about LabCon and our Lab Community.


Lawyerist Lab Lawyers and Coaches Receive Recognitions in the First Half of 2022

The first half of 2022 included several awards, elections, appointments, anniversaries, and more for Lawyerist Lab members, coaches, and alumni. Here are the highlights:

Lawyerist Lab is a coaching program designed for solo and small-firm lawyers to help them build a solid foundation for their business systems.


How to Recognize and Prevent Lawyer Burnout

Like a spent fire or candle, burned-out people have no more fuel. They cannot continue. A burnout is, as one lawyer described it, a “certified charred hulk.” The problem is serious. “Technology makes it much more likely that we’ll experience burnout,” says Alessandra Wall, a clinical psychologist.

In fact, Paula Davis-Laack, an attorney and burnout expert, believes we live in a culture of disconnection, distraction, and overload that is a perfect breeding ground for burnout. And the law, with its unforgiving culture, long hours, and billable time, presents especially acute risks for burnout.

What Burnout Really Means

The term burnout is used casually and frequently, but a formal definition is surprisingly elusive. Burnout is not an official medical diagnosis. Davis-Laack, who has a master’s degree in positive psychology and frequently works with lawyers, defines burnout as “a disease of disengagement.”

“It’s a chronic process of unplugging and disconnecting from work, friends, family, and health,” said Davis-Laack. “The most important part of this definition is the word ‘chronic.'” Burnout arises slowly, like a frog in a slowly boiling pot who does not realize he is getting cooked.

“A disease of disengagement.”

To a large extent, burnout is the result of a mismatch between demands and resources. Professor Arnold B. Bakker, Ph.D., a prolific burnout researcher, stated: “[B]urnout develops when someone is dealing with a high level of stress but doesn’t have access to adequate resources, such as social support, helpful advice, feedback from friends of colleagues, or control over how they spend their time.”

The core symptoms of burnout include:

  • Fatigue, no matter how much someone rests or sleeps. This is an exhaustion that runs deeper than sleep deprivation, and it cannot be cured with a few days off.
  • Cynicism about life, or a feeling that nothing a person does really matters. Burned-out people are not excited about their work, even major successes in things they once loved, and they feel generally disengaged.
  • A sense of inefficacy. Burned-out people feel like they are exerting significant effort, but are not making any progress or gaining any recognition.
  • Lack of attention. Inability to control your attention is a key symptom of burnout, says Davis-Laack.

Many people—and their physicians—have a hard time recognizing burnout because its symptoms are not unique to the condition of burnout. Although symptoms can look like a lot of other ailments, Davis-Laack writes that there are clues to watch for. Physical clues can include frequent headaches, digestive issues, difficulty sleeping, and chest pain. Psychological indicators can include panic attacks, anger, irritability, hopelessness, helplessness, and a general loss of enjoyment.

People heading toward burnout may also experience a drop in productivity and an increased desire to be alone. If you suspect you may be developing burnout, Davis-Laack recommends telling your healthcare provider about chronic stress and mentioning burnout specifically.

Our Personalities and Our Profession Put Us at High Risk

Lawyers are at especially high risk for burnout, both because of the job and because of the personality traits we tend to have.

“One of the key causes of burnout is that demands exceed the resources to meet them, and the long and difficult work of practicing law can easily place too many demands on a practitioner.”

Lawyers notoriously work long and stressful hours, which can mean that the demands of the job are intense. One of the key causes of burnout is that demands exceed the resources to meet them, and the long and difficult work of practicing law can easily place too many demands on a practitioner. Our resources and support often fall short.

Our tough-it-out legal culture also creates burnout risks. Very often, lawyers work in environments where the credo is something like “you can sleep after you’re dead” or “work hard, play later.” Combined with pressure to appear tough and invulnerable to both clients—for whom lawyers are often the rock of stability in stressful situations—and colleagues, lawyers often exist in cultures that just don’t tolerate the discussion of burnout or stress.

This kind of culture can prevent lawyers from acknowledging that they are burning out, talking about it, or seeking help, all of which are essential to preventing serious burnout.

“You can sleep after you’re dead.”

One of the key solutions to dealing with a culture like this is to develop high-quality relationships in which it feels safe to discuss burnout, says Davis-Laack. Cultivating relationships with people who won’t deem the stress and burnout a sign of weakness can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, for many lawyers, there might not be any high-quality relationships in the workplace. If that’s the case, seek out non-work relationships.

Solo practitioners may be an especially high-risk group, says Linda Rudnick, a former solo lawyer who experienced burnout. Solo practitioners “lose the camaraderie and synergy” that lawyers practicing in groups have. Solos also tend to do everything from billing, business development, and law themselves, which can be a recipe for a big gap between demands and support.

Psychiatrist Ron Hofeldt, who works with attorneys, has observed that litigators also burn out an especially high rate. Litigation is, of course, inherently confrontational, which can be stressful. Litigators also have little control over their schedules. Vacations and weekends are at the mercy of opposing counsel and the courts, who have no incentive (and potentially a disincentive) to respect much-needed downtime. The combination of lack control over time, confrontation, hours, and high stakes can run people ragged.

Many burnout prevention techniques involve doing less or taking the time to recharge. For a lawyer who survives by billing hours, taking significant time off to recharge can create its own stress. Time not working means taking a revenue hit. Yet taking the time to recharge may be necessary in the long run and will likely improve productivity in the short term.

The impact of the billable hour goes beyond simply crowding out time to exercise and rest. As Scott Turow has written, selling time diminishes the opportunities for lawyers “to pursue the professional experiences that nourish a lawyer’s soul.” Providing free and reduced-cost services can infuse practices with exactly the kind of purpose that can stave off burnout, yet the billable hour erects an imposing obstacle to doing so. There’s simply no easy way to reconcile the billable hour—especially if you work in a place that demands a high minimum number of hours—with preventing burnout.

In addition to the challenges of practicing law, some contend that lawyers tend to have personality traits that make them more prone to burnout.

Perhaps the most significant such trait is perfectionism.

Law demands acute attention to detail, and the price for making a mistake can be millions of dollars or a life in prison. Thus, lawyers are served well—at least professionally—by their perfectionism. But this same perfectionism can make them feel like their work is never good enough. This sort of perfectionism is a major risk factor for burnout, said Davis-Laack. Lawyers need to take a close look at their own core beliefs. Do those beliefs include ideas that prevent you from admitting there’s a problem or from seeking help?

Lawyers also tend to score low on resilience: as many as 90% of lawyers score in the bottom half on resilience. People who are low in resilience have a harder time bouncing back from life’s inevitable setbacks and are at high risk for burnout.

How to Prevent Burnout

Although our society and profession seem to foster burnout, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself, and you do not necessarily have to make monumental changes like leaving your job.

Find or Create More Meaning

One of the first things you should do is check whether there is a serious conflict between your values and your work, says Dr. Amiran Elrick, a psychologist who specializes in working with lawyers.

A lack of meaning is one of the key drivers of burnout. You don’t need to be saving the world or fulfilling your life’s purpose with every minute. Rather, Dr. Ron Epstein (PDF) found that doctors who found a mere 20% of their work meaningful burned out significantly less than others, even when the rest of the work was draining.

So, seek meaning in your work. For many lawyers, it’s already there and just needs to be noticed more. Lawyers change lives, so perhaps you can connect with your clients more and focus on how important your work is to them. Remind yourself of the good you do. Not only will this help stave off burnout, but you’ll also probably do a better job, too. One study found that, by putting a patient’s photo in the file, radiologists made 46% more accurate diagnoses.

If you can’t find any meaning, try creating some. You may be able to take on a pro bono case or shift your practice area to serve a cause or group you care about. If that’s not feasible, even mentoring someone or strengthening connections with others at work can help. For some people, even these changes may not be possible. If you cannot find or cultivate meaning in what you are doing, bigger changes may be in order.

Let Go of Perfection

Easing up on perfection is critical. Women, in particular, suffer from a need to be perfect at everything — from looks to motherhood to career. And lawyers, Davis-Laack remarks, would be well served to compartmentalize their perfectionist tendencies.

“Perfection is the enemy of good enough.”

You may need to turn on your skepticism and perfectionism to represent your clients, but perhaps dinner can be frozen pizza, or your house can remain a mess. Recall that old saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Triage your life a bit, and figure out what really must be done nearly perfectly, and when good enough is, well, good enough.

Build Awareness of Your Stress, Your Feelings, and Your Triggers

You can’t solve a problem you do not acknowledge. Learn to recognize the signs that you are being pushed to the edge, whether they are headaches, anger, irritability, or something else. Lawyers tend to be a tough, stoic lot, and we can be very good at playing through the pain. An important part of protecting against burnout, though, is recognizing when it’s coming and when your life has become too much.

Try to identify precisely what is stressing you, especially if there is a chronic mismatch between demands and your resources. Are there activities you can cut? Can you hire someone to help you or delegate something?

Manage Your Energy

Davis-Laack recommends managing your energy, not your time. Humans are not machines; we all need breaks. Studies show that humans cannot really focus for much longer than about 90 minutes. After that, we get inefficient and a bit fried and less effective. So try taking a good, recharging break (like a walk, or listening to music—not checking CNN or personal email!) after 90 minutes. Try to do the tasks that energize you first, when your energy is likely to be high.

Many of these changes sound simple—and they are—but they are not easy. Taking stock of where things have gone wrong and changing them requires the kind of honest introspection that most of us avoid.  Yet if we don’t, we may end up spending a year on the couch watching reruns.

What to Do if You Suspect You Are Burned Out

If you suspect burnout, you can take the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey. This well-researched survey can give you evidence to share with your healthcare provider. You should also consider obtaining professional help. Tell your doctor that you suspect burnout, and don’t be afraid to use that phrase.

“[Burnout] tends to hit the best employees …”

Davis-Laack advises that if you’re seriously burned out, you likely need to make serious changes quickly. You don’t necessarily need to quit your job, but consider new practice areas, taking a sabbatical, finding some work that adds meaning, or finding additional support. Unfortunately, the more severe burnout becomes, the harder it is to cure.

Keep in mind, too, that burnout is not a personal failing. “[Burnout] tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily and whose job is an important part of their identity,” says Ulrich Kraft in Scientific American. And there may be a silver lining. “The good news [about burnout] is that it’s a wonderful motivator,” says Hofeldt.

Burnout is a huge problem. About 70% of American workers feel disengaged, which is a major symptom of burnout, and there’s little reason so suspect lawyers are different. In fact, lawyers may be suffering even more than others: ours is the only profession with an entire industry devoted to helping its members quit. Nobody knows how many lawyers experience burnout, but there’s no doubt it’s too many.

For more information on finding a balance, read Chapter 6 of our Complete Guide to Managing a Law Firm.

Originally published 2016-09-09. Republished 2019-08-01. Updated 2022.