Recognising burnout

Burnout in the legal sector, stemming from high stress, long hours, and intense caseloads, can lead to exhaustion, detachment, and thoughts of leaving the profession.

Read more about how to recognise burnout, what to do if you are struggling, and how to avoid it in the first place. 

Matches with heads looking like people. One match (head) has been lit.

Most people working in the legal sector would say that they experience stress on a fairly regular basis.  

Our stress response is designed to be used in short bursts of up to 30-minutes, to escape a threat to survival. A surge of cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline gets our heart racing and blood pumping, enabling us to make a speedy getaway from, for example, a wild animal chasing us.

These days, the wild animal has been replaced by a bullying boss, a difficult client, or a competitive colleague, but our stress response remains the same. Since these threats tend to be ongoing, many of us are living in a near-constant state of stress, which can lead to burnout.

Burnout is recognised by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon rather that a medical condition, and results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

If you are experiencing burnout you may have:

  • low energy or feel exhausted
  • increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to your role
  • diminished performance at work.

Burnout can make you feel angry, overwhelmed, and unable to focus, leading to missed deadlines and poor judgment. This stress may prompt thoughts of leaving your job or the legal profession.


Young woman stood by a window looking out. Not smiling and appears anxious.

I think I may have burnout, what can I do?

  • Talk informally to someone you trust or contact LawCare on 0800 279 6888 or [email protected].  We also have a live webchat whenever you see the red 'Chat Online' button on this website. We're open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm and we are here to everyone in the legal sector (you don't need to be a lawyer to talk to us). 
  • Make an appointment to see your GP.
  • Tell someone at work about what is happening, it doesn’t have to be your line manager, someone in HR, another manager or Mental Heath First Aider or equivalent can help.
  • Take a break from work if you can – either take sick leave or book a few days off work as holiday.
  • You may want to seek private counselling or your firm may have an Employee Assistance Programme or private healthcare you can access.

Ways to avoid burnout

  • Try to be objective about what is causing you stress. Keeping a stress diary over 2-3 weeks may help.
  • Prioritise: don’t over commit; learn to say no. Lose some things from your diary.
  • Use your full holiday entitlement at work; take a lunch break and short breaks during the day.
  • Do one thing at a time; break complex tasks down into manageable chunks.
  • Eat healthily, exercise, avoid alcohol and smoking. 
  • Work out what helps you stay calm – it might be walking, yoga, meditation, a bath, watching a movie – we all have different ways to unwind.

We're here to listen...without judgement

Contact our free, confidential, emotional support service for the legal sector
0800 279 6888
Email our support team [email protected]

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