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Lawyer Struggles

Research from the Journal of Addiction Medicine looked at mental health disorders among nearly 13,000 attorneys. The number of lawyers with mental health disorders are staggering (although not surprising, in my opinion). The study found the following:

  • Anxiety: 61.1%

  • Depression: 45.7%

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): 12.5%

  • Panic disorder: 8.0%

  • Bipolar disorder: 2.4%

  • Suicidal thoughts: 11.5%

  • Self-injurious behavior: 2.9%

We can speculate as to why such a high percentage of lawyers struggle with these conditions: 

  • The adversarial nature of the profession 

  • Client demands and expectations

  • The hourly nature of the work

  • Expectations of perfection

  • Self-imposed expectations 

  • The desire to help when sometimes, there is no meaningful way to help

So What?

I think one area that has not been explored enough is lawyers talking to other lawyers openly and honestly about the struggles they face. Those with mental health problems are shamed and made to feel isolated because no one wants to show weakness. Given the high proportion of lawyers that do struggle with mental health conditions, we are not alone, but there is very little done to share these common problems which only serve to isolate us more or make us feel like we are the only ones struggling. This is not true and I hope that our conversations can help lawyers recognize that they are not alone in their struggles.

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Image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor
Image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor

Confidentiality Concerns

For practicing lawyers, the idea of talking openly about struggles raises concerns about confidentiality and attorney-client privilege. These should preclude open and honest discussion and there are ways lawyers can communicate with others while maintaining confidentiality.  Comment [4] to Minnesota Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 allows for these types of discussions: "A lawyer's use of a hypothetical to discuss issues relating to the representation is permissible so long as there is no reasonable likelihood that the listener will be able to ascertain the identity of the client or the situation involved." 

This, coupled with a non-disclosure agreement that I enter into with users of my services, provides broad protection, so long as we are careful not to give up information that could reasonably result in identification of the client or matter.

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