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Mental Health in the Legal Profession: Home

The Mental State of the Legal Profession

"I have nervous tics for the first time in my life. I need pills to fall asleep, pills to wake up, pills to stop panic attacks, and pills to stop wanting to die."

"I have had physical symptoms of stress every semester at finals. The first semester I broke out in full body hives. This semester I've been through two bottles of Pepto Bismol in two weeks and I still feel like I'm going to throw up."

"I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and I suffered severe health consequences centered around the stress of final exams. Nothing else I experienced in law school, or in any other part of my life, has been remotely comparable to the stress of finals."

                            – Quotes by anonymous graduating law students

Andrea M. Flynn, Yan Li & Bernadette Sanchez, Law School Stress: Moving from Narratives to Measurement, 56 Washburn L.J. 259 (2017) (available on HeinOnline).

"Besides the deepening melancholy, I lost my ability to concentrate, to be productive at work. Sitting at my desk, a motion that generally took a day or two to punch out now took me over a week or more; requests for extensions were routine. Depositions? They often got canceled because I was emotionally incapable to do them. Keeping my door shut, others thought I did so because I was busy. The truth, however, was that I was immobilized by depression."

                              – Daniel Lukasik, trial lawyer and managing partner

Daniel Lukasik, One Lawyer Living and Working with Depression, NYSBA (Aug. 1, 2019), https://nysba.org/one-lawyer-living-and-working-with-depression/.

Significance to the Profession

The statistics for mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicide within the legal profession are alarming. The true statistics are unknown due to many cases that go unreported, as people are afraid to seek professional help out of fear that this will negatively impact their careers. With law students and lawyers approximately two times more likely than the general population to commit suicide, more needs to be done to address these issues. There are endless jokes about lawyers and the public's disdain for them, but the truth of the matter is that these are people with real struggles that need help. Additional measures must be put in place to combat the stigma against talking about mental health and substance abuse within the legal profession, so that law students and lawyers may learn to cope with and overcome these issues.

Significance to the Public

The mental well-being of lawyers and law students does not impact only those individuals suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse issues. While law students have a limited impact on client futures because the responsibilities ultimately fall on supervising attorneys, the mental well-being of lawyers can dramatically alter the outcomes of a particular case. Lawyers are in charge of clients' money, lives, and futures. Without addressing the mental health and substance abuse crises that plague the legal profession, there is a great risk of harming countless clients. For additional discussion of how lawyer mental health needs to be addressed to protect the public, see Laura Rothstein, Law Students and Lawyers with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems: Protecting the Public and the Individual, 69 U. PITT. L. REV. 531 (2008) (available on HeinOnline).

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