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5 Barrister 8 (1978)
Lawyer Burn out

handle is hein.journals/barraba5 and id is 64 raw text is: It can happen to anyone, but one type of
practitioner is particularly prone to
Lawyer Burn Out

When clients come to see legal ser-
vices attorneys around Christmas
time, they often mention their in-
ability to buy Christmas gifts for
their children. Many attorneys are
sympathetic to the problem, but can
offer very little practical help.
One such attorney was a 35-year-
old woman with four years' exper-
ience in a west coast legal services
office. She was the mother of a
young child herself, but after a day
of sympathetic listening she be-
came less and less emotionally
involved. Towards the end of the
afternoon, faced with yet another
client complaining about an inability
to buy presents, she just lost control
and yelled at the client: Go rob
Macy's! Get your kids whatever you
want for them! Don't come back to
see me unless you get caught and
then I'll defend you on the charge of
theft! That evening, in thinking
about the incident, the attorney
realized that she had burned out.
She left her job a few months later
and took an administrative position
at a law school.
In recent years, there has been a
growing concern in this country
about the high turnover in legal ser-
vices offices. The turnover rate was
approximately 33 percent in 1976,
and recent information suggests
that the average length of stay for
most attorneys is not much more
than two years. Although the causes
of this high turnover are undoubted-
ly multiple and complex (including
lack of professional growth opportu-

nities, lack of salary prospects and
poor management), a reason that is
commonly cited by the attorneys
themselves is that they have burned
out. Just what does that mean, and
what can be done about it?
Burn-out is a syndrome of emo-
tional exhaustion in which the at-
torney has very little concern, sym-
pathy or respect for clients. Over
time, there is a psychological de-
tachment from clients and a shift in
the attorney's attitudes toward the
cynical or negative. It is not unusual
to hear such comments as, I just
don't give a damn anymore, I can't
stand working with clients so much
or I wish they would all go away and
leave me alone. In addition to think-
ing of clients in increasingly derog-
atory terms, attorneys begin to be-
lieve that clients are somehow de-
serving of any problems they have-
a blame the victim orientation.
Consequently, the quality of the
legal service that the client receives
deteriorates. Minimal attention and
effort is given to each case, and a
callous, even dehumanized pro-
cessing of clients takes place. One
attorney, less than a year out of law
school exploded, It's like a god-
damn factory here, a legal services
factory! Only instead of cars on the
assembly line, like General Motors,
we've got people.
An apt characterization of at-
torney burn-out is provided by Pro-
fessor Gary Bellow of Harvard Law
School, a leading .authority on legal
aid work. I have so often seen good,

competent lawyers begin to process
people like machines, rarely doing
more than placing their problem into
a category to be recorded and me-
chanically dealt with. I have watched
the same attorneys lose their en-
thusiasm, their creativity and their
commitment. People are dealt with
and described in statistical terms, in
general rather than in particular, and
as part of a stream of problems
rather than as human beings.
Although burn-out may be fairly
widespread among legal services at-
torneys, it is not unique to this pro-
fession. It is a problem that is shared
by professionals in a wide range of
human services. What is common to
all of these professionals is that
hour after hour, day after day, they
are intimately involved with the psy-
chological, social and/or physical
problems of troubled human beings.
This close, continuous contact with
clients involves a chronic level of
emotional stress, and it is the inabil-
ity to cope successfully with this
stress that is manifested in the emo-
tional exhaustion and cynicism of
For the past few years, we have been
studying the dynamics of burn-out
among these various groups in col-
laboration with co-workers at the
University of California in Berkeley.
Our findings to date show that burn-
out has serious repercussions for
(Please turn to page 52)

by Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson
Dr. Maslach is Associate Professor of Psychology. University of California. Berkeley
Susan Jackson is a graduate student in the Psychology Department

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