The Law Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Recently, I was invited to give a lecture at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.  This talk grew out of my post, Legal Stress, which summarized how the law and legal system can be very stressful for everyone who comes in contact with it including parties, lawyers, law students, and even law professors.  Law students composed most of the audience at my talk, which also included some faculty and practitioners.

Using a Stone Soup process, I elicited input from the audience and promised to write this post to summarize the discussion.  I also promised to post my powerpoint so that they could focus on the conversation instead of madly scribbling all my words of wisdom.  Thanks to my host, Michaela Keet, and her daughter, Lauren, who took notes of the discussion so that I didn’t have to madly scribble them during the talk.  Thanks also to Heather Heavin, the students, and everyone I met at US for the wonderful warm Canadian welcome.  As I noted in my talk, there may be differences between the US and Canada on some issues we discussed.

This post summarizes some highlights of the discussion.  It starts by discussing benefits of conflict and litigation and then some risks.  It concludes by focusing on what lawyers and law students can do to avoid and minimize the risks for themselves and legal clients.  You can read the Legal Stress post and powerpoint for more detail.

Benefits of Conflict and Litigation

Although the focus of the talk was about potential adverse effects of the law and litigation, I didn’t want to imply that all the effects are negative, so I started by asking about the benefits.

Conflict and litigation can give people opportunities to express themselves and be heard by the other disputants and outsiders.  Disputants can have their concerns addressed in a formal, public proceeding and possibly be vindicated and win what they seek.  Litigation is important to resolve disputes that parties can’t resolve by themselves – and the fear of adverse court decisions may stimulate negotiation and settlement that would not occur without the risk of losing in court.  Litigation can provide valuable learning experiences so that disputants learn about the other side’s perspective and gain insights for handling future conflicts.

For lawyers and other dispute resolution professionals, litigation can provide employment, income, professional satisfaction, and opportunities to help clients.

On a societal level, litigation can promote justice and deter potential violations of the law.

Risks of Conflict and Litigation for Disputants

On the other hand, conflict and litigation have real potential downsides.  They can stimulate intense and volatile emotions over an extended period of time.  Opponents challenge disputants’ arguments and the process can define how disputants feel about the conflict, themselves, and the other side.  For kind and innocent disputants, litigation can feel like others are taking unfair advantage.  It can be expensive and burdensome, with a lot of legal papers that they don’t understand.

We all have cognitive biases causing us to make poor judgments, and litigation often exacerbates these biases.

When parties are represented by lawyers, there often is tension between lawyers and clients.  Lawyers often become frustrated having to deliver bad news to their clients that the legal system can’t provide what the clients believe they are legally entitled to.  Parties may think that the other lawyer deserves to go to hell.  Parties’ lawyers may agree about the opposing counsel – or believe that they are just doing their jobs.

Leaders of large organizations that are parties often have similar reactions as individual parties.  Organizations face additional risks as litigation can harm relationships inside and outside of the organizations, damage reputations, and impose opportunity costs by diverting the organizations from their goals.

Risks for Lawyers

Litigation, including dealing with clients, is extremely stressful.  Lawyers often encounter people when they are in bad places in their lives, and lawyers often experience a range of negative emotions in response.  Lawyers often have to validate clients’ feelings – and then tell them that what they want to do is not a wise course of action and won’t produce the results they want.  One lawyer famously said that half the job of being a lawyer is telling clients that they are being damn fools and they should stop.  Some lawyers lack the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to communicate well with clients.

There is a great pressure to “win” and it can be depressing to lose.

Litigation practice is expensive with overhead and potentially large student loan debt.

A larger proportion of lawyers abuse substances than the general population.  Some lawyers may not have good supports to help deal with the stress, lawyers may not be aware of supports that do exist, and some are not willing to take advantage of them.

Risks for Law Students

Law school is stressful.  Law school is competitive and teaching techniques generally are not well designed to promote learning.  Law students learn the law, to a large extent, by reading appellate case reports, which generally relegate parties to being “bit players” in their disputes.  Appellate opinions focus on contested legal issues, which generally are not what motivate parties.  Rather than focusing on parties’ actual perspectives, opinions center on the judges’ perspectives, often casting lawyers as fools for failing to make what the judges believe to be the right arguments (though other judges often disagree).  Litigation provides remedies focused on what happened in the past, but normally doesn’t address the future.  Lots of parties just want to resolve their disputes and move on.  Students often aren’t taught these realities while in school.  Working with clients and others in their cases involves significant emotional interactions that law students generally are not trained to handle.

Many students assume that the law provides clear-cut answers, but the law often is ambiguous.  Even if the law is clear, the results at trial are not certain because of numerous contingencies, e.g., the judge or jury may be biased, lawyers may be particularly effective or ineffective, witnesses might not show up or be persuasive.  So it is hard to make confident predictions about what would happen at trial.  This is a different mindset than in the law school case method, where facts are clearly established and taken as given from the outset of the case.  So law graduates may go into practice with unrealistic expectations and feel unprepared to do the work they supposedly are competent to do.

One study found that law students enter law school with relatively normal mental health compared with the general population, and a substantial proportion of students leave with elevated mental health symptoms.

What Law Students and Lawyers Can Do to Take Care of Themselves

Analogizing airlines’ instructions to passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others, I said that it’s important for lawyers to take care of themselves so that they can be effective in helping clients.

Because law school can be so stressful, law students should develop supportive relationships to help their classmates when they need help – and get help when they need it.

Law students and lawyers should do a lot of self reflection and planning about what kind of work they want to do professionally.  For example, they should consider what kind of clients they want to work with.

Law students and lawyers should consider that legal practice is not for everyone and they may not be cut out for it.  TV, movies, and news reports create a distorted image of lawyers, especially as clear heros when the facts usually are complex.  Unrealistic expectations can lead to major disappointments.

A mediator advised creating a practice that provides a sense of integrity.  She developed a mediation practice because she is more comfortable in a neutral role.  Some lawyers are more comfortable as advocates, and others are comfortable in both roles.  Of course, people can’t always get the opportunities they want, but it helps to identify one’s goals and work toward achieving them over time.

Get enough sleep, eat a good diet, exercise, and do yoga or meditation if it would help.

Don’t try to “solve” problems with alcohol or other drugs.  Many law schools have wellness programs to help students.  Saskatchewan has a particularly robust program for its students.

Many bar associations sponsor lawyer assistance programs that provide confidential help.  If lawyers get mental health services, the communications should be privileged, so this shouldn’t violate their confidentiality requirements.  Also, lawyers can discuss cases without providing names or other identifying information.

If you are having problems, ask for help.  If you see colleagues who seem to have problems, ask if they need help.

What Lawyers Can Do to Help Clients

Lawyers should ask clients what are their goals and not assume that clients always or only want to win or end up with as much money as possible.  Lawyers should ask clients about their concerns or fears about litigation, noting that it is normal to have these feelings.  Lawyers should explain to clients the various ways to handle disputes and discuss what the clients would prefer.

Some clients would benefit from mental health counseling.  There is a stigma about getting counseling so it can be challenging for lawyers to raise the issue with clients.  Again, it can be helpful to normalize this, noting that many clients benefit from counseling to help them deal with the challenges of litigation.

Invitation to Students to Add to This Post

This post is being distributed to Saskatchewan students and I invite you to add your thoughts in a comment below.  (Andrea’s and others’ students too.)

16 thoughts on “The Law Can Be Hazardous to Your Health”

  1. This article fleshed out some of the experiences that I think many of us have had in law school and in the our experiences in the legal field. We all know that law school is extremely stressful, so it is important to note where those stressors lie and how we as students can deal with them.
    I also think it’s important as law students to hone our counseling skills, rather than just our test taking skills. The classes that I have found to be the most insightful and helpful are the ones that required me to actually advocate for a client, real or imagined, or to use listening skills that are much different than the ones we use in our daily lives. I also think the article notes one of the most important things that I’ve learned in law school- the law can’t always provide the outcome that a party wants. In those cases, the lawyer needs to be extra mindful of uncovering what the party actually needs from the interaction and trying to guide their client to a process that will help them achieve that.

  2. This article should be required reading for newly admitted law students and their family and loved ones. I wish I had read this prior to my 1L year so that I would have been better informed about the stress rollercoaster I was about to board.

    The stress of law school is tricky to explain to others because it moves in very slowly for a while, then comes crashing down on you all at once like a wave of bricks. You would think that with all of these great minds in one building someone would warn you about the what lies ahead but no, we all keep our heads down and our mouths closed and study away, often burning the candle at both ends.

  3. Although I was unaware of the study indicating a decline in mental health among law students, I am not surprised in the least. Law School as a whole is hyper-competitive. Students pride themselves on sleepless nights used to create briefs, elaborate outlines and for cramming for finals. Students also place additional stress upon themselves in order achieve good grades. Everyone who has made it to law school has shown they are willing to work hard and are intelligent. The margin of difference between students is slim. Therefore students push themselves and pile on more stress so that to go the extra mile to achieve an honors grade. Thus, the decline in mental health among law students comes as no surprise to me.

    What was a surprise to me was the continued decline in mental health among lawyers. This article does a great job of pointing out that interacting with clients can take an emotional toll on attorneys. This is something that frankly is not addressed in law school. I think it would be wise for schools to introduce these topics, and ways to cope with the emotional weight of difficult clients and/or cases. These cases/clients can negatively hinder an attorney’s mental health. It seems that public opinion is merely that lawyers deal with difficult cases/clients on a daily basis and are thus immune to the damage it can do to their mental health. However, just like everyone else, lawyers are human too.

    Furthermore, as the article indicated the competitive nature of life as an attorney, the need to win for your client, can negatively affect mental health. Although in some situations it may seem inevitable to have competitive litigation, I believe using forms of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation can create solutions that benefits both parties and eliminate the competitive stress of litigation. Cooperation between parties can provide a more effective and beneficial solution for both parties without the unpleasantries of litigation.

  4. It is crazy to hear that law students enter law school with normal mental health levels and leave with elevated mental health levels. This obviously points to a problem with how students are taught, the pressure that they are put under, or both. Moreover, there is a huge issue with how the law is taught versus how attorneys actually practice law. This alone creates unnecessary stress because it puts the responsibility on the students/attorneys to learn things they should have been taught. Ultimately, law schools should do a better job at creating spaces where students thrive mentally. A greater focus should be creating mentally sound lawyers than creating lawyers that know how to brief appellate cases.

  5. Law is truly beautiful, but litigation makes it one of the most stressful experiences for the parties involved. Not only for the parties but, as you say, for the lawyers themselves. That’s why alternative resolution methods should be used whenever possible. Arbitration and mediation allow parties to be empowered and be the ultimate decision makers without most of the stress and emotional strain of the litigation process. It really brings back the beauty of the law, that is, helping others achieve better conditions than they originally have.
    For more info on mediation, go here:

  6. The amount of mental health issues that being in the legal profession fosters can be jarring to think about. From the issues that being in constant competition with others can bring, to issues of always prioritizing school work over everything else, including your physical health. This post meant a lot to me because it is good to see the conversation about our mental health being brought up by an insider in the profession.

    Others outside of the profession know that being a lawyer can cause you to do unhealthy things to cope. But it is nice to know that those within the profession are recognizing the problem and talking about what to do to make it better for us that are still in law school and on our way to becoming lawyers.

    Therefore, I am grateful for classes like ADR, Peacemaking and Spirituality because they are arming us students with emotional intelligence skills that we need to be able to flourish as whole human beings so that we can continue to help our clients and those that are not armed with our legal skills and knowledge.

  7. This article reminds me of a question I was asked during an interview at the end of my 1L year. The interviewer asked if I was interested in litigation and I responded by saying: “I think that would be something id be good at.” She then hit a pause button on the interview and told me to never place myself in a box at this stage in my career. The reality, she said, is that as law students, we have no idea what it is like to be an attorney or a litigator. As she explained, litigation has none of the glamour we see on TV but all of the stress.

    Unlike most graduate professional schools, law school does not teach the realities of what it is like to be an attorney. We will learn most of what we need on the Job. However, one thing law school does simulate relatively well is the stress and pressure that comes with being an attorney. This is why law school is a great place to implement healthy lifestyle choices that could help combat stress. It can serve as a training ground for “real life.”

    I encourage every law student to prioritize their long term mental and physical health, especially those interested in litigation. Worry less about your three-year law school career, and focus on using law school as a way to develop healthy habits and coping mechanisms that will last an entire twenty-plus year career.

  8. As a law student I can attest to the stress level that comes along with this area of study. For most of my life stress has not been an issue to deal with and I would generally describe myself as low stress. However, even I have noticed an increase in my stress levels as the years have progressed, though not as much as some of my fellow students. I believe that your statements regarding the competitiveness and teaching method utilized by law schools are significant contributors to student stress levels, which in turn lead to heightened stress levels later as lawyers. However, there is one aspect of law school culture that I think goes overlooked when people examine stress and that is near total immersion in the law school environment.
    What do I mean by total immersion in the law school environment? Well it is the practice of students arriving early and leaving extremely late, essentially spending every day within the law school. I have spoken to many law students who spend nearly all their waking hours within the law school including long periods of time where they are not studying or preparing for classes; instead they are usually waiting for another class to begin later or something similar. However, by remaining within the institution that they know causes them stress when they could be elsewhere will either at best fail to reduce their stress levels or at worst enflame their stress levels and forge an association within their subconscious of normally nonstress full periods with stress.
    This immersion within the law school environment often makes it difficult for them to get enough sleep once they do get home; since they must still maintain their home environment. Additionally, this immersion often leads to poor diets as often students order unhealthy delivery food, such as pizza or the like, instead of cooking a more nutritious and healthier option at home; though I recognize that many people still do not eat healthy when they do cook their own food.
    I should note that I am not advocating that law students merely relocate their studying from the law school to home, though I do think splitting it between them would be beneficial. Instead what I am suggesting is they take time to simply remove themselves from the environment that is causing them stress. You suggest yoga, meditation, and exercise as ways to help alleviate stress and I could not agree more. However, these are not always accessible methods for all students, and furthermore some students are averse to these methods or they simply do not work for them. Aside from exercise all of the methods above are relaxation methods of reducing stress however I would also suggest a second method, which I would argue exercise falls within, and that is what I call positive stress.
    Positive stress is when you conduct some action that is stressful on your mind or body in a way that is first, different then the negative stress your experiencing and second, ends with a positive outcome; preferably with some form of endorphin release. One of the reasons that people utilize drugs and alcohol is to chase the associated high, which is simply an artificially induced or replicated endorphin release. As an example, from my own life one of the ways I reduce stress is by occasionally playing matches of high intensity video games. These sessions are usually not very long and typically played with friends, adding another positive element to them. Now, this is not the best solution for everyone, as many people get highly competitive in video games and this can exacerbate their stress I merely present what works in my own life. However, the concept is sound. By creating a similarly high stress environment but ensuring a positive resolution the stress associated will dissolve away and hopefully take some of the unassociated stress with it.
    I openly acknowledge that this method is not perfect and will not work in every instance. Further, I note that the best method of stress relief is the method that works for you however I encourage people to try other methods because while you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it work better.

  9. I can definitely relate in my every day life to the pros and cons of litigation. I came to law school with a fiery passion to be an advocate for the voiceless and to make the world a better place. I felt, and still feel, that it is my purpose in life to be of service to those who may not have the resources or wherewithal to navigate the legal system.

    Now in my second year of law school, I have really come to terms with how emotionally taxing litigation can be. It is literally the practice of taking on another person or entity’s problems as if they are your own and arguing for a favorable outcome as if your life depends on it. It is a lot. Law school, and the extracurricular activities that come with it, often forces you to forget the problems you walked in the door with and instead put on a whole new, unfamiliar, and overwhelming coat of issues.

    I do think that participating in experiential courses and internships helps prepare us for the real world issues where facts are not as predictable and forthcoming as they are in our textbooks. I do believe, however, that nothing can prepare a person for the practice of law except actually practicing. I think that taking courses like ADR, which teaches law students that it is important to listen to the interests of the parties and what they want beyond a legal or monetary outcome.

    I think it could be helpful to apply this same way of thinking to our lives. If we remember the reason we came to law school, to advocate for the voiceless for example, instead of solely focusing on the end result of a degree and high paying dream job, we can get the most favorable outcome of our journeys. In the end, as is mentioned in this post, we have to put on our mask first before we help others. Focusing on the goal and why we came here will force us to make sure that we are in the best absolute mental and physical condition to accomplish that goal, because it means so much to us.

  10. As a law student who focuses on the study of criminal law, I recently began working for a small firm that dedicates a great deal of their work to advocating for people who have less resources and are less sophisticated than average. As you begin to discuss risks for disputants, you mention clients feeling cheated by the system when they’re forced to pay fees and sign paperwork they barely understand. Systematically speaking, the poor are used to being taken advantage of, in my opinion. To allow them a right to be represented and use the court to achieve fair outcomes but then create a system much more accessible to educated and wealthy individuals, is simply unjust and is inevitably going to frustrate those disadvantaged.

    Further, it’s obvious how strenuous an adverse legal system can be on attorneys, as you point out. I think one of the reasons for this, which you allude to, is that we frame the circumstances of litigation as “winning” and “losing” rather than obtaining fair outcomes for both parties. I think that seeing it as a competition or a game distracts from the aspect of humanity—seeing clients as people rather than subjects.

    As a law student, we’re under constant pressure to get work experience, get good grades, and still have a healthy diet, workout schedule and social life. As someone who came into law school with mental health issues (i.e. anxiety and depression), I am fully aware that these issues only excel for most people during law school and during practice. While I have discovered methods to mitigate my stressors (such as hot yoga), I think that many of the “unrealistic expectations” imposed are systematic, and will only be shifted by changes in academic institutions and in the workforce as well.

  11. Law school is stressful. But I find that the downtime between reading, writing briefs, working, interning, prepping for interviews, and all the other various duties as a law student is even more stressful. Law school, by its competitive nature, creates this constant fear that one is not doing “enough.” That, even though one may have studied all day, gone to work, and applied to a job, that the hour that they took for themselves to relax or do nothing, is setting them behind. That even though you have earned that hour of respite, you do not feel as though you deserve it, because there is something more that you could be doing to prepare or get ahead.

    I believe that this type of stress can cause a person to withdraw and become consumed with their work, rather than focus on big-picture issues. This is dangerous because if this type of behavior were to translate into the ways an attorney conducts business or practices law, they may hyperfocus on winning a case and only the merits of the case or issue rather than making connections with the client and understanding their desires and motivations for seeking legal representation.

    This is why I believe that all law school students should have to take some sort of Alternative Dispute Resolution course. These courses stress the importance of weighing the options that are available to a client, as well as reminding students that they need to find the underlying issues and really understand their client’s goals while advocating for them.

    Mediation and negotiation both require that attorneys think creatively and understand what is at stake for their clients. Rather than simply looking at the law, one must look at the personal issues, which I believe can, in turn, benefit the attorney by reminding them that at the end of the day, their work is not simply opponents on the opposing sides of the “v” but that that they are people/parties with feelings and goals.

  12. My first thought reading this is that even though everyone in the legal profession (whether your a law student, attorney, law professor, or working in some context in the legal field), we all acknowledge the stressful environment, yet nothing really changes. As a law student, everything is stressful. Everything is a competition. Not only grades, but even who got the least amount of sleep this week? Or who drank the most coffee? Or even who has gone the longest without eating a substantial meal? All of these things contribute to our mental and physical health, making the stress of going to school and striving to be perfect even more so detrimental since we are literally giving up on taking care of ourselves to please others. Yet, even though we all acknowledge this, it still gets shrugged off. Competition is natural. But in law school, it is elevated to the point where we are making people think that if they aren’t the best, then they’re nothing. They won’t be successful. We are encouraging the decline in mental health. Sure, we have increased resources for counseling and the occasional encouraging comments to “make sure you’re taking care of yourselves” is whispered throughout the school, but the pressure to be the best is relentless (even though you’re told it is highly unlikely that you will since very few can be the best).

    The best comment, though, is when people say “it’s only three years of your life though; things will get better after you graduate.” Does it, though? This article demonstrates that the pressure to be the best and brightest at all times is further presumed by colleagues, judges, and, most importantly, clients. If you don’t win every single time, you’re disappointing someone with these societal pressures placed on lawyers. That’s a lot to constantly take for an entire career and is reasonable to understand why lawyers struggle with maintaining their health.

    Of course, litigation increases the stress to win every time. But with litigation, it’s inevitable that someone loses. That’s the point. With incorporating mediation and negotiation between parties more often, we can all benefit: attorneys and clients. Negotiation and mediation both offer an opportunity for both parties to win and to decrease the pressure on attorneys. In fact, these processes redirect pressure on clients to aid in solving their problems with lawyers providing guidance and knowledge along the way. This because more of a team effort to find a solution that works for both parties without sacrificing anyone’s health.

  13. Unfortunately, it is unsurprising to me that law students come out of law school with elevated symptoms for mental health issues. There is absolutely no preparing for the stress and anxiety that comes with entering law school. I think we all go into law school thinking that the stress-levels won’t be much different than those we experience in our undergraduate classes. However, this could not be further from the truth. Between feeling like you’re doing too much, yet not doing enough, it can seem impossible to find a balance between law school and a personal life. That’s why I think this post is so important because it points out simple ways that law students and lawyers alike can take even a few hours to themselves and take a much-needed break.

    I think it’s also important to remember, as this post points out, that lawyers cannot effectively help their clients if they cannot even take care of themselves. When put in stressful situations, like litigation, clients will look to their lawyer as an advisor. If the lawyer cannot handle the situation, stress-levels will rise for everyone involved. That’s why it’s also very important for the lawyer to remember that there are alternatives to litigation. I think that if there is any possibility for parties to go to mediation or negotiate their conflicts, this should be the route taken to avoid an even more stressful litigation situation.

  14. First, I wanted to comment on what realities are not taught to students while they are in school. The idea of working with clients in their cases involving significant emotional interaction is something that I think should be taught to law students. This can be done by having students take an ADR class. I believe that understanding clients and the emotions they are having are important to each case. Lawyers are supposed to advocate for our clients and this does not seem possible if we do not understand where they are coming from. I agree that law students are generally not trained to handle the significant emotional interactions that can happen. However, I think that we could change this.
    Working with clients is something unavoidable. If clients are so important to lawyers, it makes sense that law students are taught more about how to interact with clients. I think this would be very beneficial for law students to learn this early on. If a newly practicing attorney has no idea how to interact with clients, they are going to have a more difficult time adjusting to practicing.
    One of the ways that students can learn more about interacting with clients and understanding them is through the ADR process. Much of the focus of ADR is understanding your clients wants and needs. While they may say one thing, they might actually mean something deeper and it’s important that we, as lawyers, understand them.
    Additionally, I think that using ADR processes, such as mediation, can relieve some of the stress on the lawyers and clients. Mediation is incredibly important because the two parties can get together and carve out something that could work for both of them. The lawyers and clients can work together. This minimizes the “me v. you” idea and can decrease some of the stress that comes from seeing the other party as the enemy. Using ADR to change that competitive mindset can be really helpful to all the people involved.

    Second, I want to comment on law students mental health. While it saddens me that students leave law school with elevated mental health symptoms, I’m not surprised by this. Law school is stressful, hard, competitive, and comes with a revolving door of readings. Personally, it is the hardest thing I have ever gone through.
    I don’t think there is an answer on how to combat the overwhelmed feeling most of us have. However, I do like the idea that is suggested here to develop supportive relationships with classmates. Classmates are so important. They are one of the only sets of people that understand how difficult law school is. While it’s nice to have outside relationships with good family and friends, they don’t always understand the difficulty of law school.

    Lastly, if you are feeling completely over your head in law school, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a lot or a little help, be kind to yourself and do what you can to help yourself.

  15. I want to focus my first comments on the stresses of law school and the risks it poses to law students before a final touching point on litigation and ADR.

    Law school is by far the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life. I think most law students would echo this but many fail to recognize how to maintain a healthy law school/life balance. That’s not a knock on them by any means. We are under a remarkable amount of stress to get the best grades and make sure we are applying for the right jobs and making sure we are setting ourselves up for the most success. It doesn’t change the fact that we are still humans and need to take time to ourselves. I do my best to shut my law school brain off when I go home for the evening. Often, I do not even bring books home because I want my home to be free of the law school stress. In addition, my friends and I go to play trivia at a local restaurant and have a meal together. In fact, it has become less about the trivia and some of us have characterized it as “family dinner”. I love the analogy above about putting your own oxygen mask on before you help others. We can sign up for volunteer shifts, speaker series, and all different manner of things but without taking care of ourselves we are not giving ourselves a fighting chance to thrive.

    One last point to mention is that we cannot be afraid to ask for help. I often say that I love seeing Twitter posts nowadays about people joking about funny things they say to their therapists. Not because what they are saying is funny, but that people are going to therapy and are willing to be open about it. Too often the stigma of therapy keeps people away and I am glad to see we are moving away from that. Talk to someone. Get the help you need. YOU owe it to yourself.

    Shifting more towards the stress on clients and attorneys, one big thing attorneys can do to mitigate this is to stress the importance of ADR. Mediation, for one, can be a remarkable tool for expediting processes and alleviating client stress. Clients could have a slam dunk case in the eyes of the lawyer but the judge could be having a terrible day. In that case, going to mediation and allowing the parties to hash out whatever the dispute may be would be remarkably helpful in finding a solution. Mediation and ADR is by no means a catch-all but when matters necessitate, it is a great tool.

    Litigation can be super stressful as mentioned in the post. Reasons for coming to litigation or even pursuing it are stressful enough. I work once a week at a family forms clinic and having to tell people that a court date could be 9-12 months away usually stresses them out quite a bit. ADR and other measures can help alleviate that.

    In summary: Develop a routine, take care of yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and use ADR when appropriate.

  16. Every one of the ‘noble professions’ believes it is the most noble and demanding, and—therefore—potentially unhealthy. My first career was in ordained ministry, and every conference/meeting included copious reminders of ill-health among clergy and the importance of self-care/healthy boundaries, together with copious rounds of bragging about 90-hour work-weeks. I have doctors in my family who regularly hear at their own conferences about how unhealthy the healers are, while their institutions continue to adhere to insane scheduling practices that promote ill health.

    Workaholism, with all its attendant behavioral problems, is an epidemic baked into our hyper-competitive market economy, where every personal transaction is monetized and impersonalized.

    This is why ADR—particularly mediation—may be one key ingredient in helping the legal community manage some of its endemic dysfunctional patterns.

    On the one hand, litigation must continue to be a thriving aspect of the legal system. Common law *is* the law, and without litigation, the law’s evolution rests solely in the hands of a hyper-ideological and special-interest-beholden legislative process. Legislatures *can* be deliberative and thoughtful, but that seems fairly rare these days. Judges can be ideological and beholden, as well—but the appellate process, stare decisis, and a less-ideological appointment/election/retention system tend to mitigate those forces. So not every case should settle.

    That said, especially from the perspective of helping lawyers, law students, and clients be more healthy, mediation, restorative justice, and other client/person-centered ADR processes can help temper the isolating, combative, and ugly aspects of the adversarial process.

    In my current role as a law clerk at a PI firm, I have attended several motion hearings, trials, and depositions—as well as a few mediations. The differences are stark.

    In litigation, after intake, there is virtually no client contact. Lawyers collaborate on strategy in the office, but largely everyone sits behind their computers and writes, reads, emails, and yammers on the phone. The majority of courtroom time is spent with two opposing counsel, a judge, and a court reporter—and basically no one else in the room. The facts of the case are interesting and sometimes meaningful, but largely the discussions center on legal principles and litigation tactics. The majority of a litigator’s time appears to be spent either alone or with other litigators and their support staff. This breeds isolation, competition, and reinforced negative feedback loops. The practice of law can become very impersonal and theoretical, which doesn’t necessarily promote good human behaviors.

    In mediation, the clients take center stage. Even in shuttle/caucus situations, the clients (at least on Plaintiffs’ side) are in the room with the attorneys. Personal stories are on the table. When the mediator isn’t in the room, relationships between clients and attorneys/clerks grow, often in casual conversation. Not only are cases often settled more quickly and efficiently, the process itself seems far more personal and human—and human beings tend to treat each other and themselves in healthier ways than disembodied theories and principles.

    In my previous life, interpersonal conflict resolution processes often led to stronger relationships, and stronger relationships often bred better behaviors. Person-centered processes tend to be more accountable in general, and accountability in one arena has a capacity to bleed over into other areas of life as well.

    That’s my hunch and experience, anyway. It is one way lawyers can be a little more healthy. That, and a standing appointment with a therapist, recovery meeting/sponsor, mentor, colleague, and/or supportive partner/spouse/parent/friend.

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