Self-Care and Lawyering by Paula Davis

Stress. Burnout. These words are all too familiar to both law students and legal professionals. People working in the legal profession need to develop insights into how these play out in their professional and personal lives to build the skill of resilience.

I should know. I am a former lawyer myself, who “burned out” after practicing law for seven years. After receiving my master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, I have used my experience to teach resilience skills to others, ranging from the U.S. Army to board rooms around the country. I am the founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm dedicated to promoting well-being by teaching resilience skills within high-stress professions. I work to translate cutting-edge research in the areas of stress, burnout, and resilience into practical strategies that work for individuals, groups and organizations. I am also the author of the recently published book Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Well-Being and Resilience, which offers a unique framework for the prevention of burnout, focused on teams and leaders.

I was thrilled to be invited to speak with the Vanderbilt Law School Legal Clinic this semester on the topics of stress, burnout, and resilience. Law school is an ideal time to begin thinking about these issues and building resilience skills, and this is even more true for students already representing clients through their clinic work. In this workshop, we unpacked the definitions of stress, burnout, and resilience and discussed resilience skills that students can put into practice that same day. Lawyers often struggle with the same patterns of stress through practices like catastrophizing or withdrawing from relationships, so building the skills to get out of these negative patterns is particularly important for students entering the profession. We also talked about strategies to limit overthinking, identifying your “rules”—core values and beliefs that can influence work, self-care habits and relationships—and a fun skill to help you better capitalize on another person’s good news.

Since the workshop with clinic students, I have heard that many appreciated knowing that they are not alone in grappling with these important issues. Specifically, students connected with my lesson that resilience does not mean just being tough and pushing through no matter what—in fact, processing strong emotions can be an act of resilience. I was deeply impressed by the Vanderbilt Law Clinic students’ engagement with these important materials. I am confident that these skills will benefit them well as they continue to serve the clinic’s clients and continue into practice.

Learn more about Paula and her work.

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