Law Students and Young Lawyers

You Need a Shrink

For years I delegated work to Mindy, who was very competent, productive, generous, and warm.

I never knew when I walked into Mindy’s office to ask her to do something whether she would be her usual lovable self or would bite my head off.

Although Mindy had a heart of gold, her stress came out as frustration or anger. Since her positive attributes outweighed the negatives a hundred times over, I learned to adapt. On a bad day I would simply walk away and come back later.

In law firms, many people are under stress. Everyone handles it differently. Some delegate their stress to their associates, clerks, and assistants with impossible demands, nasty comments, swear words, yelling and screaming. A few launch projectiles. Still others go quiet and sulk. Then there are those who come across as if they don’t have a care in the world, but their stomachs are churning and their minds are racing.

You would think that with stress being so prevalent, law firms would do something about it. In fact, most do very little other than make it worse by glorifying a hard-working culture and providing financial incentives to work incessantly. (I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to those who organize the occasional yoga session or speaker on mental health.)

The sad truth is that everyone has to learn how to deal with the stress of the profession, and they don’t teach it in law school.

I started thinking about this because a law student reached out to me recently to ask for my advice on dealing with stress. My immediate reaction was that I was a strange person to ask, since I never figured it out myself while practising, and only achieved a measure of calm by retiring.

Here is what I can offer:

  1. Understand that you are entering a high-stress profession and it’s up to you to figure out what to do about it. There are a few firms that will care about mental health, be supportive of your efforts to hold onto yours and prioritize that over profits. Very few. The odds are not with you.
  2. Start thinking about what you want out of life and the profession and how to achieve those things.
  3. Think about balancing the imperative of preserving your mental health against the need to work hard in the first few years to learn your craft, but always be careful of the dangers of not beginning as you mean to continue.
  4. Embark upon a program to learn what you do not know, whether it be how to develop your self-confidence, public speaking, meditation, relaxation techniques, how to set boundaries, and how to say “no” without looking uncooperative.
  5. Try not to work for people who have not figured out how to handle their own stress. If you do work for such people, understand that it is a “them” problem, not a “you” problem.
  6. Get professional assistance if you need it. And you do need it. We all do. In most cases, thinking that the stress levels in the profession are “normal” and that you are the crazy one is what is insane.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *