The Law Can Be Dangerous to Lawyers’ Mental Health

Indisputably

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The law can be a very dangerous thing.

Although the legal system inevitably is imperfect, it sometimes provides important benefits such as helping people solve difficult problems, making institutions function properly, and promoting justice.

Unfortunately, the litigation process needed to achieve these goals often is extremely stressful for litigants, as Michaela Keet, Heather Heavin, and I describe in our book, Litigation Interest and Risk Assessment: Help Your Clients Make Good Litigation Decisions.

And lawyers often experience vicarious trauma from representing clients, so says a new article in the ABA Journal, When Caring Costs You: Lawyers Can Experience Vicarious Trauma from Work.

The article lists various areas of practice where clients – and thus lawyers – are especially vulnerable to trauma, including bankruptcy, criminal law, personal injury, and family law.  But intense, prolonged conflict in any type of dispute can be stressful for everyone concerned.

That’s one of the reasons that so many of us have been attracted to the dispute resolution field – to reduce the damage caused by conflict and litigation.  Not only parties suffer stress, but also do lawyers, law students, and law professors.  So we all need to take care of ourselves and others.

The ABA Journal article concludes: “Vicarious trauma, along with other mental illnesses, needs to be discussed starting in law school, and seeking help for these issues should be normalized.  On an organizational level, law firms, bar associations, public defender offices and district attorney’s offices should regularly address lawyer well-being and make it a priority.  Lawyers are not immune from mental health issues, and struggling with vicarious trauma isn’t a personal failing.  It’s simply a sign that you’re human.”

                        author

John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

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