The Law Can Be Dangerous to Lawyers’ Mental Health

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The law can be a very dangerous thing.

Although the legal system inevitably is imperfect, it sometimes provides important benefits such as helping people solve difficult problems, making institutions function properly, and promoting justice.

Unfortunately, the litigation process needed to achieve these goals often is extremely stressful for litigants, as Michaela Keet, Heather Heavin, and I describe in our book, Litigation Interest and Risk Assessment: Help Your Clients Make Good Litigation Decisions.

And lawyers often experience vicarious trauma from representing clients, so says a new article in the ABA Journal, When Caring Costs You: Lawyers Can Experience Vicarious Trauma from Work.

The article lists various areas of practice where clients – and thus lawyers – are especially vulnerable to trauma, including bankruptcy, criminal law, personal injury, and family law.  But intense, prolonged conflict in any type of dispute can be stressful for everyone concerned.

That’s one of the reasons that so many of us have been attracted to the dispute resolution field – to reduce the damage caused by conflict and litigation.  Not only parties suffer stress, but also do lawyers, law students, and law professors.  So we all need to take care of ourselves and others.

The ABA Journal article concludes: “Vicarious trauma, along with other mental illnesses, needs to be discussed starting in law school, and seeking help for these issues should be normalized.  On an organizational level, law firms, bar associations, public defender offices and district attorney’s offices should regularly address lawyer well-being and make it a priority.  Lawyers are not immune from mental health issues, and struggling with vicarious trauma isn’t a personal failing.  It’s simply a sign that you’re human.”

One thought on “The Law Can Be Dangerous to Lawyers’ Mental Health”

  1. I think that this is a truly monumental issue in the field of law. As was briefly mentioned, this is certainly an issue that needs to be tackled while students are going through law school. Some students develop mental health difficulties while in law school, only to find those difficulties exacerbated once they begin practicing as attorneys. While there is likely no real possibility of creating a stress-free career in the law, we should at least be giving students strategies and resources to deal with the stress and mental trauma they develop while in law school, and also prepare them to navigate the additional stress that they’ll take on while in practice.

    For practicing attorneys, the benefits of ADR cannot be understated. Avoiding long, acrimonious litigation is certainly one benefit of ADR, and avoiding that sort of litigation would do wonders for the mental health of many attorneys. Additionally, the ability to cultivate more positive relationships through the ADR process would help combat some of the negative emotions that attorneys face on a daily basis.

    As a group, we owe it to ourselves, and to the next generation of attorneys, to make the legal field a healthier place to work.

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