Changing Lawyers, not Lawyering
With full disclosure, lawyers are put on notice to manage stressors and heed common warning signs. When lawyers are in trouble, red flags pop up all over the place. On an interpersonal level, struggling lawyers tend to isolate, become irritable and have difficulty working with others. As pressures mount and coping skills fail, performance and productivity also fall. With heightened stress, chemical changes take place in the brain, causing forgetfulness and trouble with concentration.
Struggling lawyers are forgetful, have problems concentrating and making decisions. Lawyers can be difficult to work with under normal circumstances. Mentally ill and addicted lawyers up the ante by disappearing unexpectedly, coming in late, leaving early and going dark for hours. Messages don’t get returned, juniors are unable to get instructions, deadlines get missed and clients are ignored. Additional conflict and stress weigh heavy on internal and client relationships if distressed lawyers are irritated, upset, volatile or manic.
Common Warning Signs
- inconsistent/bad work product
- difficulties working with others
- social isolation
- drop in billings
- increase in write-offs
- unexplained absences
- lack of enthusiasm
- problems making decisions
- trouble concentration
Aside from being the morally right thing to do, supporting wellness is good business strategy. Unhealthy lawyers are expensive. In addition to the high payroll and disability costs associated with mental illness, performance problems damage our collective reputation. At best, lawyers in trouble are less productive and irritate others by being unreliable or difficult to work with. At worst, they are mismanaging clients and files. Currently, more than half of all negligence claims and disciplinary actions tie back to mental illness. The impact on a firm’s bottom line is staggering and all of us have good reason to pay attention.
Lets face it, we may be trying, but what we are doing isn’t working. I believe we haven’t been able to make headway because we have no leverage. Major stressors like billable hours, unrealistic deadlines, 24/7 accessibility, demanding clients, and competition for work, can’t be willed away. Resisting the facts, instead of accepting reality, is like swimming upstream when you could be riding the waves. Acceptance frees up opportunity for happiness, even when the culture remains harsh.
If we can’t change the stressors, we have to change our responses to them. This problem needs to be tackled from the inside out.
Shifting the paradigm with an inside out approach works. It overrides systemic problems and places happiness back in a lawyer’s own hands. In other words, even if nothing else changes, lawyers who are able to get their personal needs met, in any environment, are happy.