Burnout at 47 in Solo Practice

I am 47 and have been on my own for 11 years. Recently, I slipped in a case and did not do something that I was supposed to do. I feel like screaming. I am feeling burnout, cannot get to things that I want to get to, stress about money, have clients that are not paying and I’m still trying to generate business. If I were to guess, I would say that I am going through growing pains of trying to keep my practice small and manageable but the practice, on its own, wants to grow and we all know that things have become more complicated. Part of me says find a career alternative, part of me says to stay with it. I feel as if it’s a matter of time until the next mistake happens and I don’t feel as if I’ve got the energy to keep up with the young lawyers. Any thoughts, suggestion or advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

We hear the issues and feelings that you describe from many of the lawyers who come to LCL for evaluation. Solo practice offers autonomy but little in the way of support, collaboration, division of labor to those with differing talents, etc. There also is no external mechanism, no one to notice, when you make an error or forget a crucial task.

You are, of course, wise to seek help before more errors, and potential complaints, come your way. Burnout often brings depression with it, and you are also facing a cluster of decisions about your practice and career. We think there are many times when people make plans to leave the law because they are depressed or over-generalizing from their current situations, and in some cases a re-orientation within the law would better meet their needs. (Easier said than done, however.) If your impression is accurate that the practice is growing beyond what’s manageable, there are probably ways for you to set some new kinds of limits, perhaps be more selective about cases you accept (seeking those that are more worth your time, present less of the kinds of possible slip-ups you’ve seen, and are most consistent with your interests and priorities).

It would be difficult to plot your course alone. Is there a colleague with whom you could kick around the professional issues? If you were to come to us for evaluation (and please do), we would probably consider referring you to some combination of therapist/counselor and career coach. Your insight and ability to acknowledge the problems are hopeful signs.

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