Photo of Stephen McConnell

Last Saturday was World Mental Health Day. We hope you celebrated by getting outdoors in the very pleasant weather typical of early October throughout this beautiful country. We hope you also spent a few moments taking stock of your own mental wellbeing. Lawyers do not conduct such a self-assessment nearly enough. We are focused on solving the problems of our clients, issue-spotting, and scenario-spooling. It can be an unhealthful immersion in negative thinking.

Third Circuit Judge Cheryl Krause and one of her former law clerks, Jane Chong, authored a law review article at least as worthy of our attention as the latest learning on preemption or personal jurisdiction: C. Krause & J. Chong, “Lawyer Wellbeing as a Crisis of the Profession,” 71 S. Carolina L. Rev. 203 (2019). The article begins with a grim pronouncement: “The legal profession is in the throes of a mental health crisis.” The high rates of lawyer depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are alarming in themselves. They also pose a threat to the quality of client representation. Model Rule 1.1 (competence) and 1.3 (diligence) are implicated. As Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman, attention must be paid.

The Krause/Chong article builds on the lessons of self-determination theory, looking at how maladies in our profession lead to debilitating self-doubt, decreased autonomy, and diminished connectedness to others. Hours are longer, opportunities for young lawyers are reduced, commercialization is pervasive, and civility is … erratic. The article offers proposals for cultivating competence, encouraging autonomy, and modeling civility. There are many concrete suggestions, and they are all animated by a sense of reviving the concept of the legal profession as a noble calling.

Lawyers are inherently skeptical. It is part of the job description. The word “noble” might prompt embarrassment. It shouldn’t. What we do is important and the way to do it well calls upon the highest human talents. Resolving disputes via persuasion rather than force represents one of the great achievements of our species. Moreover, lawyers are overwhelmingly an intelligent, interesting lot. Even our opponents, and even those who write critical comments to this blog, are largely constructive and insightful. Smart and funny go a long way.

There is plenty of stress, to be sure. But stress represents caring for something that matters, and we’ll take that over indifference anytime. Reframe those stressors as challenges permitting you to show your stuff in a discipline that you have chosen. Put aside relentless perfectionism. If you talk to your colleagues long enough and candidly enough, you’ll realize you are not a mere imposter and are, in fact, pretty good at what you do.

Politics right now is making most of us miserable. We have friends and relatives who seem to be speaking a different language when it comes to the election. The less we say about that, the better. This too, will pass. We have much more, and much more of real significance, in common than whatever drives our quibbles. We’ll keep hitting the like button for pictures of kids and vacations, and otherwise steer clear of social media.

The pandemic is undoubtedly contributing to stress, but many of us have, mirabile dictu, overcome aversion to technology and discovered that remote meetings, depositions, and court hearings work quite well. We have learned things that we will not unlearn once we overcome Covid-19. Meanwhile, eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. (We can introduce you to a terrific Zoom Pilates instructor.)

Finally, if you feel you need help, get it. It is out there. For example, take a look at the ABA’s directory of lawyer assistance programs.

Good luck. Stay safe. Stay well. Stay in touch.