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If you're a lawyer and you're reading this, you're probably not new to the discussion of mental well-being in your profession. School debt, long hours, high pressure, and less-than-soul-uplifting work can all negatively affect a lawyer's mental health. Sprinkle in a little alcohol, recreational, or "performance enhancing" drugs, and it's a volatile mix that can quickly lead to addiction or burnout.
One possibly overlooked source of stress? Our clients. Especially when those clients are ... other lawyers. "Many lawyers said legal department leaders often don't think about the impact they're having on outside counsel's mental health, or they don't care," says to Law.com's Caroline Spiezio, "clients pay a high rate for quick responses on all matters." And getting a handle on the in house-outside counsel relationship could save lives.
Most attorneys are used to high-pressure, high-stakes situations. What many may not be so good at is managing client expectations, especially when the client is another lawyer who is asking for something right away. It's one thing to have a pushy client. It's another when the client is a legal team with an entire company behind them. And outside counsel can be more susceptible to the kind of stress that can be especially damaging to their mental health, according to Spiezio:
Client demands for fast turnaround times, even on non-urgent matters, can leave outside counsel in constant crisis mode. That stress can lead to frayed relationships and mental health issues, such as depression, addiction, and anxiety, which firm lawyers are more likely to experience than corporate in-house counsel.
Part of managing that potentially toxic relationship is on outside counsel, who can clarify what work is an emergency, what can wait, and create a manageable timetable for in house clients. But the other part is firmly *coughcough* in the clients' court. "We're on this crisis level all the time because of the expectations coming from the clients," Dan Lukasik, founder of Lawyers With Depression, told Law.com.
Patrick Krill, the founder of legal industry mental health consulting firm Krill Strategies, said both sides must come together to manage expectations and attorney well-being: "We have to change the entire ecosystem and the entire culture, and that does involve all stakeholders coming to the table and saying, 'What can we do to do our part? Part of that is in-house counsel, and I think they need to be brought into this conversation."
For lawyers on both sides of the attorney-client relationship, mental health and emotional well-being should be the first priority. Then the good work will follow.