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Burnout? Ugh! No one wants it to happen to them, but many of us have been there…or are there now. Just saying, the word brings up a tangle of emotions and sensations. Anxiety. Fear. Constriction. Confusion. Exhaustion. Heaviness. Aloneness. Disappointment. Dread. When I was lawyering and experiencing burnout symptoms, I had no idea what burnout was, or that it was happening to me. All I knew is that I was exhausted, and I wanted to feel energized…and fast.

Like many attorneys, I felt too ashamed to ask for help, and too disoriented to know what kind of help to ask for. When I did ask for help, some people suggested that I simply “do less”—a recommendation that grossly underestimates the complexity of effective burnout recovery. I decided instead to stop lawyering and start researching the underlying causes of burnout. In my research, I uncovered key external factors that contribute to professional burnout—many of which were not particularly surprising. What did surprise me, however, was discovering the impact that my personal beliefs about work and success had on my inner drive that contributed to my exhaustion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

In the last decade of coaching attorneys, judges, law school students, and legal professionals through burnout recovery, and through conducting continuing legal education trainings on burnout prevention, I’ve witnessed burnout exhaustion from many sides. Burnout exhaustion is different from the occasional day-to-day tiredness we all encounter. Burnout exhaustion differs in that it feels chronic—the kind of fatigue that a good night’s sleep or a week off work doesn’t touch. Most of us—like the WHO—consider burnout a workplace stress issue reliant upon external factors. We often think about burnout as a result of being persistently overloaded and under-resourced based on things outside of us. E.g., “I always have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and not enough help to get it done.” However, if we focus solely on what’s external to us (the “to-dos,” timelines, and people and external resources that are (or aren’t) available to help), it can increase our anxiety, push us to work harder, and drive us to the burnout kind of exhaustion and collapse.

For most of us in the legal profession going through burnout, it can feel like we are alone in our struggles—and yet interestingly, statistics show otherwise. The most recent Bloomberg Law biannual Attorney Workload & Hours Survey published in October 2023 reveals that “the average amount of time attorneys said they felt burned out in their jobs (48%) stayed fairly steady from last year, and, just like last year, female respondents said they felt burnout at higher rates (56%) than male attorneys (41%).”1

It is noteworthy that the same report shows that “two years ago, female attorneys reported spending 5.1 hours per week on self-care—1.1 hours less than male attorneys. Now, female attorneys shared that they spent 5.6 hours per week on self-care—over three hours less than the average 8.9 hours per week reported by male attorneys.” The self-care hours reported seem exceptionally low given the long and demanding hours that attorneys work. The low self-care hours indicate that attorneys are outputting a lot of time and energy with very little time spent on inputting rest and recovery…a perfect recipe for professional burnout.2

Another survey sent to all lawyers registered in Massachusetts in the first four months of 2022 found even higher burnout rates than the Bloomberg survey results from the 4,450 attorneys who responded:

  • Overall, 77% of lawyers reported burnout
  • 86% of female lawyers reported burnout
  • 70% of male lawyers reported burnout
  • 82% of caregivers reported burnout
  • 74% of non-caregivers reported burnout
  • 86% of Black lawyers, 88% of Hispanic lawyers, 84% of nonheterosexual lawyers, and 83% of lawyers with a disability reported burnout.3

Additionally, a 2022 study on burnout among lawyers in Utah using comparable measures found similarly high rates of burnout (75% overall burnout).4

The reality of our profession is that there IS too much to do, NOT enough time to do it, and MORE HELP NEEDED than what we have access to in the moments we need it. Undeniably, over time, perpetually over-functioning while being under-resourced WILL lead to burnout. And yet, if we focus solely on mitigating the overwhelming external demands of our profession and the limited influence any one of us has to change the overarching legal business model and culture, we can feel hopeless. In my case, and in the case of many of my clients, focusing solely on how to change the external factors contributing to burnout results in increased anxiety and, ultimately, resignation. We often have little control over many external factors in our work and legal culture. Feeling stuck in the complex labyrinth of external dynamics can feel intolerable for the master problem solvers that we in the legal field are trained to be.

And yet, there is an additional, yet often overlooked and under-acknowledged, internal influence in the burnout prevention equation: our thoughts about work and our beliefs about success. Certain thoughts and beliefs (conscious or unconscious) drive work behaviors and professional habits that eventually lead to burnout. I call this set of thoughts and beliefs “burnout beliefs.” While our beliefs shape our attitudes and our convictions and can feel like the truth, our beliefs can be inherited (from our families or culture) and/or outdated.

In service to our own well-being, our beliefs deserve to be examined. If we specifically examine our beliefs about professional success, we can mindfully discern if we are establishing our current thoughts, behaviors, and decision-making on in-the-now, based-in-truth inner guidance, or out-of-date and/or never-true-to-begin-with information. In doing so, we can catch our thoughts and eventually bypass beliefs that lead to chronic stress, exhaustion, and, ultimately, professional burnout. We can then, instead, choose to update professional beliefs and upgrade them with beliefs that support our well-being and stamina—and ultimately lead to professional satisfaction and success.

Note, however, that burnout belief upgrades require patience, as it can be tricky to identify long-held beliefs that are often subtle and/or unconscious. Such beliefs may have been deeply ingrained during childhood and integral to our family’s and our cultural survival strategies. Additionally and understandably, many of us hold on tightly to beliefs that we perceive will keep us from feeling shame or humiliation (such as work beliefs connected to failure).

The most common professional burnout beliefs I hear (or have said myself!) sound like this:

  • “I must be perfect at my job; something terrible will happen if I fail at this task.” (Belief that the person must excel in every aspect of their work and that making a mistake leads to failure—and that failure is inherently negative).
  • “I have to work long hours to prove my worth.” (Belief that the person has no inherent worth and that the quantity of work hours is directly related to their value in the workplace).
  • “My personal value in the world is tied to my professional success.” (Belief that the person’s self-worth is solely determined by their professional achievements—and often, income).
  • “I have to please everybody all the time.” (Belief that others’ needs are more important than one’s own).
  • “Showing vulnerability at work is detrimental to my success.” (Belief that being imperfect or needing help is embarrassing, shameful, and/or detrimental to success).
  • “I must say yes to every request and always be available and responsive.” (Belief that setting and holding professional boundaries is unacceptable).
  • “There’s no other option than the way I’m doing things.” (Belief that trying a new approach will lead to failure—and that failure is inherently negative).
  • “Self-care is for weaklings.” (Belief that being kind to oneself and taking care of one’s own needs is detrimental to professional success and a sign of weakness instead of strength).

Try this eight-step inquiry process to help uncover and transform your burnout beliefs. When you feel tired or stuck, take a few moments and follow the inquiry process below to help discern if a burnout belief is underneath your exhaustion. Take the time to write down your answers, as it makes the process more impactful:

1. Mindful awareness and self-reflection:

Am I aware of what I’m thinking?

What am I believing to be true about this particular situation?

How long have I held these beliefs about these kinds of situations?

The experiences or people who contributed to the formation of these beliefs are:

How do these beliefs serve me (or not serve me), my well-being, my success, and my satisfaction in the long run?

2. Curiosity:

Do I feel any resistance to changing my beliefs?

Three things I feel most resistant to changing are:

If I weren’t afraid, what would I believe?

Which of my beliefs about this situation am I willing to try to upgrade?

What is the most creative thing I can think of to believe differently in this situation?

3. Assess the evidence supporting the belief:

Are my identified beliefs based on logical reasoning? For example, is there empirical data, facts, or research that either support or contradict my belief(s)?

Is this belief true for everyone, or just for me?

Five things I would like to shift or change as a result of me upgrading my beliefs:

4. Somatic tracking:

What does it feel like in my body to hold these beliefs?

Does thinking and acting as if these beliefs are true feel physically good in my body?

Does thinking or acting as if these beliefs are true cause me unnecessary physical tension?

If yes, where in my body can I feel this tension?

What sensations am I aware of if I imagine that I am living as if my outdated beliefs are no longer true?

5. Emotional tracking:

What emotions come up as I think about the old belief?

What emotions come up as I think about changing the outdated belief?

What am I afraid will happen if I don’t hold this belief or behave in a way that supports it?

What emotions come up as I think about upgrading my beliefs?

6. Consider a different, kinder perspective:

What would it be like if I held a different belief about myself, the situation, or the people involved?

What would I believe if I was a little bit kinder to myself?

What new belief(s) could I hold that would allow me to be kinder to myself and still get the same results I’m hoping for?

What kind of beliefs would support my well-being and my success in this situation?

The upgraded beliefs that I am willing to experiment with are:

7. Self-compassion and self-affirmation:

What are three things I can do to be kinder to myself as I try on my upgraded beliefs?

In what two ways can I be more patient with myself as I try on my upgraded beliefs?

What is one positive phrase I can use to affirm myself as I live my new belief(s)?

8. Support and guidance:

Do I feel supported and guided as I upgrade my outdated beliefs?

Who can I talk to about my beliefs and my belief-changing process?

Do I need professional help to guide me through the process?

Three people who can help cheerlead and support me as I upgrade my beliefs:

NOTE: If I need help but notice I’m resistant to getting help, what are my beliefs around needing or asking for help? Go back to the top of the inquiry process!

All of the above focus on upgrading the internal beliefs that influence burnout, but this is not to say that the external factors influencing a person’s professional experience and contributing to burnout should not be addressed. Burnout is a multifactorial condition requiring a multifaceted approach that includes both internal strategies and external/organizational changes, including shifts in the overall expectations set for the legal profession. External factors such as workplace conditions or a workplace culture that sets unrealistic expectations should be addressed in addition to an internal burnout belief audit.

External points of influence can take time to transform, as not everyone is on the same page about the changes needed. Alternatively, transforming personal burnout beliefs can start here and now. In the process of identifying which beliefs are working against you, it’s also helpful to highlight beliefs that are working for you and how they help. In order to have survived law school, passed the bar exam, and become a practicing attorney or judge, you must also hold beliefs that support your success and well-being, or you wouldn’t be here today! You can utilize these positive beliefs as building blocks to update and upgrade burnout beliefs.

For example, try these growth mindset beliefs as upgrades to the burnout beliefs above:

  • “It’s ok to make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of being human and learning new things.”
  • “I am valuable; taking care of my needs for sleep and rest is a way to show myself I’m valuable.”
  • “I am proud of the times when I work hard and what I produce, and I’m also proud of the times I let myself rest and recover.”
  • “I have inherent value, just for being who I am.”
  • “It’s inevitable that people will be disappointed sometimes even if I’m doing my best and taking care of myself.”
  • “Showing vulnerability with people who can hold space for me can build connection and deepen meaningful relationships.”
  • “Setting and holding boundaries helps me to work sustainably over the long haul.”
  • “I can try new ways of doing things and see how it goes.”
  • “Self-care is an integral part of professional success and builds my strength to persevere.”

The next time you catch yourself in a burnout belief, walk yourself through the inquiry process and try on one of these upgraded beliefs, or come up with some that resonate with you. The more you experiment and practice, the easier it gets, and the more natural it feels to self-affirm. The best thing about a belief is that, with awareness and intention, you can upgrade and update your beliefs so that they are current and support your well-being and your success. Over time, upgraded beliefs can have a significant impact on your energy level, the way you treat yourself and others, the quality of your work, and the success of your career.

NOTE: If you would like to hear more about how to transform limiting beliefs, listen to the North Carolina State Bar Lawyer Assistance Program’s Sidebar podcast (, in which podcast host Candace Hoffman interviews Laura Mahr about how to change a limiting belief, or read the article 10 Questions to Unearth Subconscious Stuckness and Transform Limiting Beliefs at 

Laura Mahr is a North Carolina and Oregon lawyer and the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing well-being consulting, training, and resilience coaching for attorneys and law offices nationwide. Through the lens of neurobiology, Laura helps build strong leaders, happy lawyers, and effective teams. Her work is informed by 13 years of practice as a civil sexual assault attorney, 25 years as a teacher and student of mindfulness and yoga, and eight years studying neurobiology and neuropsychology with clinical pioneers. If you are interested in learning more about burnout and how to upgrade burnout beliefs and positively transform your personal or organizational experience, contact Laura through


1. Bloomberg Law,

2. WHO,

3. ABA Journal,, and NORC at the University of Chicago,

4. Uchenna C Ogbonnaya, Matthew S. Thiese, Joseph Allen, Burnout and Engagement’s Relationship to Drug Abuse in Lawyers and Law Professionals, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,

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