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Lawyer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Hi, my name is Olivia, and I’m a recovering lawyer. 

I have been a non-member of the bar for 732 days and counting.  I’m suffering from Lawyer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (LPTSD), which is an affliction common for those who have left the law – or those who have moved to an innovative firm, which doesn’t practice in the traditional way. Those still working in traditional firms often suffer from it too, but may not realise it.

Old habits die hard, but it is important to kick these habits for personal growth. Here are some warning signs you may have LPTSD.

Warning Sign #1: Billable Blues 

Not having to account for every 6 minutes of your day is a bizarre feeling. 

How can you show you’ve been productive? How can you measure your own self worth if you don’t have a graph with KPIs? Are you EVEN a valuable human being? 

Leaving the law has made me realise how ineffective the 6 minute unit billing system is. Stopping, and entering time during the day is extremely distracting. It affects your “flow” and ability to focus and concentrate on work output. 

For example: you’re working on a document, then the phone rings – it’s an important client. You answer and chat to them for two minutes. You hang up the phone, and your secretary comes in and asks you about another client’s document. 

Within that ten minute window, you’ve worked on three separate matters. Theoretically you need to add an entry for each. The time it takes to do this, would take a few minutes in itself – and interrupts your workflow. 

I used to loathe time recording and billable minutes. This is a system invented in the 1970s – it is outdated and impractical. It doesn’t work for lawyers, and it doesn’t work for clients. 

You wouldn’t drop your car to a shop and suddenly be hit with a massive bill you didn’t anticipate – because the mechanic thought some extra work should be done. 

Why is law practiced like this? Fixed and value pricing, selling legal products, and subscriptions are the way forward. 

Another thing about billable minutes and the budget lawyers get set every month, is the “writing off” which can occur if the work completed doesn’t justify the bill. Often partners will write off juniors’ time – so that their own budget doesn’t take a hit. This system is unfair, as the junior lawyer can then be criticised for “not making budget”. 

Just thinking about budgets and monthly billing gives me the cold sweats of LPTSD. 

I’m thrilled to see many of my innovative law firm customers  embracing other business models – like legal products and subscriptions models. I think this is a much better system all around. Certainty is always a good thing. 

Warning Sign #2: Loathing Leave 

A few weeks ago, I asked for a day off – the thought of asking for leave made me break out in a cold sweat. I felt like I had to apologise and explain why I had asked for time off. 

Why did I feel so anxious asking for time off? 

This is classic LPTSD. A result of bad reactions from requesting time off in the past from former employers – particularly if they aren’t given months’ notice in advance. 

My CEO laughed about it when I explained how uncomfortable I felt asking for leave. 

At Automio we joke about our LPTSD all the time, and how we have been so conditioned by working at other places. 

There are several recovering lawyers at Automio and we can console each other about our old lawyer hang-ups. 

Another thing I feel LPTSD about is needing sick leave. Lawyers are trained to be seen as stoic and not wanting to be seen as “weak”. We have to harden up and work through thick and thin. Even if you are dying, you feel like you have to show face in the office. 

As a result, there is a huge reluctance to take sick leave or a mental health day when needed. This reluctance to practice self-care is another symptom of LPTSD, and is completely unhealthy. It is no surprise that the incidence of depression in the legal profession is so high. 

Warning Sign #3: Type-ohs 

Do you know that feeling when you send an important email or document and it has a typo? 

That stomach-sinking, sickening feeling. 

You idiot. 

How could you be so STUPID? 

You berate yourself mercilessly for making such an amateurish mistake. 

This is LPTSD. It is a result of years of being yelled at for trivial things like a comma being in the wrong place. 

Like a Pavlov dog, I have a physical anxious reaction when I realise I’ve made a grammatical mistake. 

Lawyers attach a huge significance to their written work being faultless. It is a measure of self-worth. 

Particularly snarky lawyers love nothing more to quote back to the original writer with “[sic]” inserted, to highlight a grammatical mistake. Feeling a huge sense of one-upmanship, lawyers sneer at such mistakes made by their peers. 

The truth is, we’re all human, and grammatical mistakes have absolutely NO correlation to intelligence or ability. 

Since leaving the law and working in the business world, the focus is on getting things done. Done is better than perfect. 

If you’re missing a comma in a document, it won’t be the end of the world (unless it’s particularly important in a contract). 

No one will die. 

Learning to LET IT GO has been an important part of recovering from LPTSD. 

One type of LPTSD therapy we do at Automio, is on our instant chat – whenever we write a typo, we don’t fix it… and then we write the next thing even worse. 

“You’re” becomes “UR” or “yawww”, “their” becomes “they’re”. It’s liberating and a good way to laugh at our formerly uptight selves. 

I have a friend who heads a billion-dollar software company. He likes to intentionally put funny typos in his emails to important people, for a laugh. I love this approach. 

We can all take a leaf from his page, and stop taking ourselves so damn seriously. 

Does this sound familiar? How can you recover from LPTSD? 

Obviously many people still work in environments where there is the kind of culture which triggers LPTSD. 

The good news is, the legal profession is changing as a whole. The “old school” ways are changing, and employers are focusing more on employee well-being. 

Let it go – you need to learn the subtle art of not giving a f*ck. If you send something out with a typo – the client probably won’t even notice or care. So let it go. In fact, why not read The Sutble Art of Not Giving a F*ck if you haven’t already to help you….well….not give a f*ck. 

Show kindness – lawyers are human, humans make mistakes. It is inevitable. When it happens to others, show empathy and compassion – even if they are the lawyer on the other side. Don’t snigger, they are probably just having a bad day of LPTSD. 

Practice self care – don’t feel bad about needing sick leave, or asking for time off. Labour laws exist for a reason. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you don’t practice self care then no one wins, so prioritise your own wellbeing. 

Win back your time – make your services more innovative, so you can better serve clients and free up your time to do what matters most.

Speaking of winning back your time, have you tried our FREE NDA Lawyer Bot yet? Using Lawyer Bots is a simple way for lawyers to innovate and win back time. Try it here – it takes less than 5 minutes.

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