I had a delightful chat with Dan Lukasik this morning. He is the founder of a great website, Lawyers With Depression, one of the very few places you can find concentrated information on depression in lawyers, rather than the general population. (Aside from this blog, of course.)
Dan is now a happily practicing trial lawyer in upstate New York, but a while back he suffered through a big episode of depression, which he recounts in an article that appeared this summer in Trial magazine. Even if you’re a BigLaw associate and are convinced that trial lawyers are the spawn of Satan, give it a read; it’s “One Attorney’s Story” under the Articles tab on Dan’s website.
One thing that Dan mentioned to me was that he was busy helping others set up support groups for depressed lawyers. And it seems to be going pretty well: at one such inaugural meeting hosted by a local bar association, more than 20 lawyers showed up.
It’s often hard for non-lawyers to understand the pressures of law firm life, so support groups are an idea to run with. Call up your local bar association and suggest it. Or hey, gather a few colleagues that you know are depressed and are trying to get help. Maybe you could find a therapist who would be willing to do a group session with you all, or just do a brownbag on lawyer depression. Maybe your firm would sponsor such a beast.
I know, it’s really scary to admit to anyone in the firm, least of all partners, that you might have a problem. But if you’re seriously thinking about leaving the law, then the law firm isn’t your final career destination, so any career damage is going to be limited. Plus, you would be amazed at how relatively nice partners can be if you admit that some of your performance problems might be linked to an illness. (There is the ADA, after all.) And if the firm helps you get treatment for your illness, in return it will get improved performance. You don’t have to tell them it’s also going to help you find a new life.
And if that reasoning fails, I find it helpful to remember this quote, particularly when I’m dealing with real jerks:
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow