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The life of a lawyer can often be extremely challenging and wearing on one’s mental health. The high-stress work environment, tight client deadlines, work that requires extreme focus, long hours, demanding superiors, you name it…there are many external pressures that contribute to feelings of stress and intensity that is outsized compared to that of other professions when it comes to being a part of the legal field.
Practicing law aside, even the pathway to becoming a lawyer is riddled with high expectations and stressors yielding mental outputs that are straining on our minds and souls. First, you have to get a great score on the LSAT, a rigorous test requiring immense studying on behalf of the law student. Then, law school itself, a hard-fought three-year process of studying, reading, and writing. And then, the Bar. The fateful foe in the form of a state-licensed exam is the final test a lawyer must conquest before truly entering and practicing in the field.
I have met a number of lawyers in my network over the years and most recently, a new lawyer reached out to me about mental health support. Without going into too much detail about the conversation, he opened up to me about the mental health effects his job was having on his spirit. For the reasons cited earlier, the compiling of intense demands while working all from home without human contact, he found himself confused and lost in a state of suffering.
According to research that has been performed on the topic of lawyer mental, this anecdotal instance is far from uncommon. A 2016 study revealed substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking, alcoholism, and other behavioral health problems in the US legal profession, not dissimilar to the American advertisement industry in the mid-twentieth century. The study found that 21% percent of attorneys qualified as problem drinkers, 28% struggled with some form of depression and 19% demonstrated symptoms of anxiety. As the leader of the study by ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Patrick R. Krill offered, “this long-overdue study clearly validates the widely held but empirically under supported view that our profession faces truly significant challenges related to attorney well-being”.
Further data connotes inconsequential validation of the aforementioned research. The 2018 legal trends report found that 75% of lawyers frequently work outside regular business hours and 39% of that population cite that these long hours negatively affect their personal lives.
Law.com also performed an analysis to try and understand if the mental health pandemic the legal field was facing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was exacerbated by the societal effects of the widespread virus. Just over 50% of respondents believed their firm was making a commitment to improving lawyer mental health during the pandemic. This is not enough. Unsurprisingly, over 70% of respondents cited that the COVID pandemic has made their mental health worse largely due to isolation, working remotely, disruption in routine, and fear of job loss.
It would be remiss to discuss lawyer mental health without noting the importance of understanding and managing burnout in the workplace. According to WebMD, “Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job”.
For lawyers, there are a number of factors that can contribute to burnout in the workplace. Heavy caseloads, increased client demands, criticism over work quality, and spending time away from friends and family all add up to a place of experiencing a sense of exhaustion and defeat like burnout. This is also on top of regular responsibilities an individual has, whether it’s to maintain a household, be a parent or simply take the time each day for self-care. For more information specifically discussing lawyer burnout, the National Law Review wrote a comprehensive piece of strategies a lawyer can implement to combat this widespread phenomenon.
MCCA offers a variety of thought exercises a lawyer may consider when managing their mental health. The Painted Brain believes these tactics are smart, strategic steps any lawyer may reflect on when thinking through how to balance job intensity, personal fulfillment, self-care, and mental health management.
We hope this article accomplished two goals; raising awareness of the mental health pandemic the legal field is facing and through this awareness, beginning to offer further strategies to help lawyers manage their own mental health.
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