Last week a Wall Street Journal article (paywall) on law firms bringing therapists into the office led to two Above the Law posts on the issue. The article notes that attorneys are more likely than other professionals to have substance abuse and other mental health issues and to commit suicide.
So, let’s review. Everyone knows there’s a 6 ton elephant sitting in the room — lawyers struggle with a disproportionately high levels of stress/anxiety, depression, and substance/alcohol abuse. This information isn’t a secret. EVERYONE knows it. Likely, including the clients. Yet, law firms aren’t willing to address the problem because they fear their clients will think the lawyers are “crazy.”
Sadly, law firms tend to intervene only after an attorney’s productivity declines.
But the 2,500 lawyer firm Hogan Lovells now offers on-site psychologist for its attorneys:
“It’s been a rousing success,” said Oliver Armas, the firm’s New York managing partner. The service is open to the office’s roughly 400 employees, including junior lawyers, partners and support staff.
Here’s why more firms don’t have these programs:
Joseph Andrew, the global chairman of Dentons, said that while he applauded Hogan Lovells for having an on-site psychologist, the fear of offering such a service is that “our competitors will say we have crazy lawyers.”
Bingo. But not just competitors outside the firm. Big firms can be like the Hunger Games. Sometimes the attorney you really need to watch out for is down the hall.
Since 28% of attorneys suffer from depression, it’s an issue at every law firm with more than a few lawyers. Many times, the depression can be greatly improved with just a few visits to a therapist.
If I’m managing a big firm, I want all my attorneys to see a therapist at least once a year. I’m certain that the investment would be returned many times over in increased productivity and a better vibe around the office because people feel better.
You might not buy the notion that therapy helps. My response: what will it hurt to try? And if you tried a therapist in the past and it didn’t help, try a different one. Having the right therapist for you makes a huge difference.
I can promise that seeking help from a therapist or addressing substance abuse does not make you less of an attorney. Since I’ve been writing about attorney mental health issues, I’ve had many great lawyers thank me and tell me about their own personal experiences with attorney mental health issues. I’m talking about some of the best lawyers in Mississippi.
I believe that a therapist saved my life during a rough patch a long time ago. Not that I’d necessarily be dead now, but I would be crazy. Every year I see my doctor for an annual physical. But I don’t see my therapist every year for an annual mental check-up. I’ve got that backwards. My mental health should be the bigger priority.
As an attorney, my mental health is more important than my physical health. Maybe my managing partner can do something about that. If you manage a law firm, maybe you should do something about that for the attorneys at your firm.