May 3, 2024 • By Dennis Beaver

Law is a high stress occupation, something that many clients do not realize.

The reality of the legal profession is far different than portrayed on television or in the movies.

Lawyers suffer from higher rates of depression, suicide and divorce than almost any other profession. Your lawyer’s mental health is critical to your case.

“I run a small agricultural services business in the South and our lawyer, Emma, wears several hats. She handles business and family law matters, and is occasionally appointed to handle criminal defense cases. Emma has no other attorneys in her firm. She is it.

“Recently we’ve noticed that she seems sad, down, angry all the time, and difficult to reach. We are worried about her and the possible impact on us. Have you got any suggestions on something that we can say to her? Thanks, Theo.”

I ran Theo’s question by New York psychotherapist Dr. Elizabeth Eckhardt, director of the Nassau County Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program that provides confidential services to lawyers, judges, law students and their families struggling with mental health and substance use issues.

She is a lecturer for: , a provider of continuing education courses for lawyers across America.

Frequently Unaware of the Enormous Stress

“Clients are often unaware of the tremendous stress their lawyer is likely under,” Dr. Eckhardt says, adding, “the legal profession has one of the highest rates of divorce, substance abuse, depression and suicide of any occupation. This is not a job for the faint-hearted, and the glamorous image of lawyers on television or in the movies is pure fiction.

“Those who suffer the most, and are hard to reach, are in small and solo practices, as your reader describes Emma. They are not inclined to seek help, in part because of being overwhelmed and are very much alone.”

Why Lawyers are At Risk

“Lawyers have Type-A personalities and often reveal a maladaptive perfectionism. I would suggest anyone considering a career in law to read ‘Big Law Killed My Husband’: An Open Letter from a Sidley Partner’s Widow.’”

Dr. Eckhardt points out that it is not a unique story. “Often attorneys do not seek help, even though they are suffering from having taken on or been assigned too much and refuse to say ‘No! I can’t take on any more.’ There is a reluctance to ask for help as they are the ones that people go to for help and not necessarily those who need the help themselves.”

Vicarious Trauma

The anecdote of lawyers resorting to a high-octane liquid lunch, seeking relief from the client’s well-being in their hands — especially divorce, immigration and criminal matters — is real.

In law school, students are rarely asked how long they could stand hating themselves, working in a public defender’s office and told to confuse a jury any way possible with a clearly guilty defendant. Or, trying to get obviously drunk drivers off; working for insurance defense firms that seek to deny the payment of justifiable claims – in short, often having to lie for a living, wearing “golden handcuffs” and not financially able to leave.

“The frequent result is vicarious trauma” Eckhardt underscores, “that, over time becomes cumulative, leading to apathy at work that compromises their ability to practice effectively and can result in isolation from friends and family. All of this often culminates in severe emotional problems.”

What are Signs of Trouble, what can Clients Do?

Dr. Eckhardt outlined steps a client should take when concerned about their lawyer’s behavior, especially when they are not responding to you, and when to consider changing attorneys.

Be Assertive

Keep a detailed record, a paper trail, of your attempts to reach your lawyer and the different people you’ve spoken to. This shows your due diligence.

Contact your local or state bar association

If you are getting nowhere by asking help from others in the same law firm, then reach out to your local bar association or state bar. Your lawyer will be contacted by someone and this might be the only nudge you’ll need to get things moving.

Patience is not a virtue if you are being ignored

Assuming you are current with your payments, indicate that you are considering other counsel: If you have:

(A) Attempted several times to reach your lawyer without success.

(B) Expressed your concerns to others in the same firm with no results.

(C) Are feeling that your needs are not being met.

(D) Been told that the original time line is nowhere near being respected without good cause.

Do not be Silent

Dr. Eckhardt concluded our interview on an up-tempo, positive note:

“In a very real way, clients who speak up — who are assertive and raise these issues — can do so much good, for themselves and their attorney or former attorney. All states and territories have lawyer assistance programs that are lifelines for lawyers in trouble, and their clients.”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers,
which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993,
or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1 – at –