July 26, 2019

Lawyers’ Mental Health: Are Clients Making Us Sick?

It’s not news to anyone reading this that the legal profession has big problems with depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues. If you haven’t personally experienced any of these, you know friends or colleagues who have.  But the question is, why are these problems so prevalent among lawyers?

This article is stirring up some controversy over its claims that when it comes to outside counsel, the problem is the client. Specifically, the article singles out law department attorneys as playing a big role in mental health issues among outside counsel. Here’s the gist of the argument:

Client demands for fast turnaround times, even on non-urgent matters, can leave outside counsel in constant crisis mode. That stress can lead to frayed relationships and mental health issues such as depression, addiction and anxiety, which firm lawyers are more likely to experience than corporate in-house counsel.

“We’re on this crisis level all the time because of the expectations coming from the clients,” said Dan Lukasik, the founder of Lawyers With Depression. He said “a change in the relationship” between firms and in-house clients is needed to improve law’s mental health culture.

Client demands are part of the stress equation, but so is the law firm environment, and I don’t think it’s at all fair to point the finger at in-house lawyers. If in-house attorneys set unreasonable expectations, it’s usually because their business people have set unreasonable expectations for them. In my experience, many in-house lawyers go out of their way to let you know if something they’re asking for isn’t urgent, and it’s exceedingly rare to find one who puts you through the ringer just for giggles.

I agree that most corporate lawyers operate “on a crisis level” all the time, but I think that has more to do with how we’re wired than it does with client demands or whether we’re in a law firm or a corporate setting. For instance, even if I know something’s not a crisis, I’ll often just assume the client needs me to attend to it immediately. That’s nuts, but I don’t think I’m alone. A lot of us are introverted, competitive, perfectionist, obsessive about our reputations & terrified of failure. Add in our professional bias toward catastrophic thinking, and you’ve got a bunch of gasoline-soaked rags just waiting for somebody to light a match when it comes to mental health problems.

Quick Poll: Why Do Lawyers Experience Mental Health Issues?

I just gave you my 2 cents about why I think so many of us struggle with mental health issues – check out this ABA Journal article for what other lawyers have to say about this topic. Here’s an anonymous poll so you can provide your thoughts:

survey tool

Transcript: “Joint Ventures – Practice Pointers”

We have posted the transcript for the recent webcast: “Joint Ventures – Practice Pointers.” We’ll have our second installment for this topic in an August 6th webcast: “Joint Ventures – Practice Pointers (Part II).”

John Jenkins