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Let’s Talk Lawyers and Mental Health – By Chloe Morgan

This is an image of Happy Lawyers surviving their first year as lawyers.

Lawyers, Mental Health and Ego - Let's Talk About It!

Author Chloe Morgan

Lawyers, Mental Health and Ego - Let's Talk About It!

Author Chloe Morgan

The tendency for those in the legal field, when it comes to psychological illness and distress, is to ‘get on with it’. The immediate associations with being diagnosed as mentally unwell include cases that we work with; reduced capacity or being deemed incapable. It is a terrifying thought, and often (as people in a high-stress, high-functioning profession), our egos will not let us seek help or diagnoses at the risk of associating ourselves and our professions with this perceived weakness.

However, with the rising rates of diagnosed mental health issues and suicide in the legal community, we need to put our egos to the side and acknowledge mental health crises in lawyers as the serious issue that it is. Additionally, we need to find in this acknowledgement not shame, but strength and pride. Despite our training to appear unflappable, it is an unquestionable strength to acknowledge personal struggle and surpass it.

10% of the average population suffers from a mental illness – amongst lawyers, it is as high as 30%. And this is just diagnosed mental illness; the actual percentage could be higher. There is a stigma in the legal community with mental health issues that is deeply rooted in our role as societal pillars and advocates. We view ourselves as an unshakeable bastion; we see the worst of people and communities, and we hold our heads high and get our work done regardless.

But while our egos are necessary to do our job, they damage us personally. We lead high-stress lives where we focus continually on the negative. As a result, many people who gravitate towards the legal profession already have anxious and depressive tendencies; and many more develop these through working in law. In essence, we’re dealing with an entire profession of highly intelligent, highly analytical and proud individuals with depressive tendencies, which is inevitably a recipe for disaster.  

A lot of lawyers cope with this stress and mood upheaval through substance abuse. Most of us bury ourselves further in our work. While these reactions both come from the traditional, ‘just get on with it’ viewpoint of our profession, these reactions merely prolong the inevitable – a nervous break, where we emotionally and mentally shut down and cannot continue. Needless to say, letting it get to this point does not help anyone, least of all yourself.

However, the healthy response – the response that does not damage ourselves, our cases or our interpersonal relationships – is to take a week off work. The cases can wait, your clients can wait, your practice can (and will) continue without you. See a friend. See your GP. Honestly, genuinely, open up and discuss what you’re dealing with. See a psychologist, see a psychiatrist – someone who thoroughly understands the human mind and what you’re handling. Seek that help – whether it involves something as simple as a chat, or cognitive behaviour therapy, or as complex as medication and hospitalisation. Taking that time for yourself and reaching out show far more resilience than gradually running yourself into the ground ever could.

The bottom line is that you need to put your ego to the side and reach out, as you cannot be the legal practitioner you want to be, or need to be, if you don’t look after yourself.

The ultimate irony is that, while so many lawyers eschew mental health help out of pride, it is something that we deeply respect in others – be they our clients, co-workers, friends or family. This denial of help is a trend that needs to go. We see the worst in the world around us, and it is such a STRENGTH to acknowledge and treat personal strain from this so we can continue to change, uphold, and carry on. Remember – the cases can keep going indefinitely, but without help, you can’t.

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Since 2019, I have been hanging out with 10 amazing lawyers in a yearly Mastermind program. 10 months, 4 workshops, private coaching and a whole lot of stuff getting done.

Paul took part in the Mastermind program for 2021. These are his experiences and successes. 

1. Please tell us a bit about your Mastermind journey... (Where you started, the bits in between and where you are one year later?

I started wanting to get clearer on where and what I want my practise to be. In saying that, I am a sports lawyer, which in itself tells you what I do and like. I also practise in the area of employment law, which pays the bills when sport is quiet. I am now much clearer. My two key learnings for 2021 are “connections”, and “reduced financial stress”. I have been applying these especially since about mid-year, and feel I’m making good progress. I am ending the year in a “good place”, ie good headspace (despite some health challenges), and looking forward to what 2022 holds!

2. What are you deeply proud of achieving or doing this year?

Taken on an Associate lawyer as encouraged by Mastermind colleagues. I’m working solidly to keep her challenged, interested and taken care of for the long term.

3. What is your 2021 highlight?

I’ve had a few good results in various sports and employment cases. The big win for me has been sharing the wins with barristers and staff. In the past, if the client wasn’t happy, that made me a but unhappy and dissatisfied by proxy. Now I look at the case and think – I got a good result, based on the instructions I had, so if the client isn’t happy with the outcome (or cost) that’s on them, not me. So I can still enjoy the win and conclusion and closure of the case, regardless. This makes me feel more connected with barristers I regularly work with, and my Team. I get more job satisfaction this way. The connections within the HLHL group and MM especially we’re very positive this year too. Some of the subtle changes to my practice and Team have been quite impactful in a good way.

4. Your Mastermind experience in a word?

Sharing. 

I have enjoyed working with lots of great lawyers over the past few years doing 1 on 1 coaching, which is something I will continue to do, but I know myself, there is something to be said for being in a group when it comes to really getting stuff done!

And so, for 2022 I am again rolling out my 10 person Mastermind and if you think that is something for you, I would love to have you join me.

I have come to learn that one of my super powers is the ability to ‘kindly’ push people off virtual cliffs by giving them the confidence (and the tools!) to achieve their goals and the Mastermind in 2022 will do that and more.

To read about more Mastermind experiences, you can check out Fiona’s story here , Emma’s story here and Cara’s story here.

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1. Please tell us a bit about your Mastermind journey... (Where you started, the bits in between and where you are one year later?

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4. Your Mastermind experience in a word?

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I have enjoyed working with lots of great lawyers over the past few years doing 1 on 1 coaching, which is something I will continue to do, but I know myself, there is something to be said for being in a group when it comes to really getting stuff done!

And so, for 2022 I am again rolling out my 10 person Mastermind and if you think that is something for you, I would love to have you join me.

I have come to learn that one of my super powers is the ability to ‘kindly’ push people off virtual cliffs by giving them the confidence (and the tools!) to achieve their goals and the Mastermind in 2022 will do that and more.

To read about more Mastermind experiences, you can check out Fiona’s story here and Cara’s story here.

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A Mastermind Success Story with Fiona McLay

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Fiona has taken part in the Mastermind program for 2021. These are her experiences and successes. 

1. Please tell us a bit about your Mastermind journey... (Where you started, the bits in between and where you are one year later?

Whenever I am considering spending serious money on something like Mastermind, which is really spending serious money on me, I always quibble and wonder if it’s worth it. I always think, I know what I need to do, I can just do it. But in fact, everytime I do make the investment, I radically shift into a better place.

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Last year I had an idea of the business that I set up the year before but hadn’t really done much with. Now I have a business earning money, a clear idea of my business plan and much more confidence about the road ahead. I’d applied for so many jobs and had so many interviews over the past few years, searching for an elusive “better place”, it had dented my confidence. Now I know what my special sauce is, I see where it is needed and I realise that I would have been unhappy in those jobs. I just needed to focus on carving out my own better place.

2. What are you deeply proud of achieving or doing this year?

I’m deeply proud that I shifted out of the litigation that I was exhausted by and I’m making money doing the legal tech work that I wanted.

3. What is your 2021 highlight?

Getting a contract for tech implementation work at a major law firm and enjoying the work.

4. Your Mastermind experience in a word?

Uplifting.

I have enjoyed working with lots of great lawyers over the past few years doing 1 on 1 coaching, which is something I will continue to do, but I know myself, there is something to be said for being in a group when it comes to really getting stuff done!

And so, for 2022 I am again rolling out my 10 person Mastermind and if you think that is something for you, I would love to have you join me.

I have come to learn that one of my super powers is the ability to ‘kindly’ push people off virtual cliffs by giving them the confidence (and the tools!) to achieve their goals and the Mastermind in 2022 will do that and more.

To read about more Mastermind experiences, you can check out Cara’s story here.

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