Note: The author makes reference to the American legal market
Over the past few months, professionals have become more aware of the mental health issues within the legal profession. A rise in depression, anxiety, and stress is leading to worry among the community of lawyers. A worldwide leader, Paul Rawlinson, took a leave of absence in early October this year. Rawlinson was the chairman of the successful Baker McKenzie Firm. He has been chair for two years now and during that period he has witnessed a growth within the firm. Baker McKenzie announced an eight percent gross revenue increase from 2017-2018. Not only gross revenue raised, they reported a significant fourteen percent increase in profits per equity partner (1). Seemingly successful, Rawlinson’s announcement to take a leave surprised people among the community,however, with success comes stress. The firm issued a statement stating, “ Baker McKenzie Global Chair Paul Rawlinson has announced that he will be stepping back from his day-to-day responsibilities and taking temporary leave to focus on a personal medical issue.Based on the advice of his doctor, in response to medical issues caused by exhaustion, Paul has decided to take a step back from Firm leadership and client responsibilities to make his health and recovery his immediate priority.” (2) A leave of exhaustion might not seem like a dying need to take mental illness seriously, however, put it together with someone as important and successful as Rawlinson and other cases of mental illness among lawyers and it becomes a larger issue.
October 14th, 2018 in Los Angeles, California, well known lawyer Gabriel MacConaill was found in his car dead from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Same as Rawlinson, MacConaill was very successful in his career. In 2009 McConaill, joined Sidley Austin’s Los Angeles practice. By 2014, he had made partner and was building an impressive client base. Seemingly happy and successful it came as a shock again to see just how much he was struggling with inside his mind. Mental illness is not something recognized very often among the legal profession yet it is an increasingly large problem.
August of this year another suicide among a partner was committed by Bruce Wickersham. He was a partner at DLA Piper’s Boston office. Suicides are happening all over the country among lawyers. In Chicago Stewart Dolin, an M&A partner at Reed Smith, jumped in front of a moving train taking his own life. These are only a few cases among many that happen around the world. The question is, why is this issue not more widely known? The answer, fear of stigma.
Study shows that twenty-eight percent of lawyers reported that they struggled with some type of depression in the past 12 months. That is four times higher than the national average. Even more concerning is that sixty-one percent admitted to feeling depressed at some point in their career. That is ten times the national average (3). Considering these numbers we have to come to the conclusion that within the legal profession there is an epidemic. However, that epidemic spreads to law students as well. The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns reported outstanding numbers in not only mental health issues but in substance abuse as well. However, one of the most interesting points of focus in the study is the reason that students did not report having a problem. Sixty -three percent of students reported fear that they would not be admitted to the Bar if they reported a substance abuse problem; forty- three percent shared that same fear if they reported having a mental health issue (4).
The report clearly shows the stigma around mental health, however, that is not a reason to let it go unsolved. The easiest way to help those suffering is to let them know that they are not alone. There are websites and hotlines that can help them deal with the pressure and stress that they may be facing at their jobs. Mental illness is an issue that will never fully go away but with help from the community, loved ones, and acknowledgment from the law firms we can find better ways to cope with it.
(1) Walker, Rose. “Baker McKenzie Leader to Temporarily Step Down Due to Exhaustion.” The Legal Intelligencer. October 22, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.law.com/international/2018/10/22/baker-mckenzie-chairman-paul-rawlinson-to-temporarily-step-down-from-role-396-8258/.
(2) Rubino, Kathryn. “Global Chair Of Biglaw Firm Taking Temporary Leave Due To Exhaustion.” Above the Law. October 22, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://abovethelaw.com/2018/10/global-chair-of-biglaw-firm-taking-temporary-leave-due-to-exhaustion/.
(3)Dan. “Why We Need to Talk About Lawyers’ Mental Health Now.” Lawyers With Depression. September 23, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/articles/why-we-need-to-talk-about-lawyers-mental-health-now/.
(4) Organ, Jerome M., David B. Jaffe, and Katherine M. Bender. “Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns.” Journal of Legal Education. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://jle.aals.org/home/vol66/iss1/13/ .