It takes a village
Lawyers are beset by some incredible hurdles. Not least of which is the drive to be best and/or perfect – for law school professors, initial hiring firms, subsequent hiring firms, clients, judges, everyone. It’s a powerful, self-propelling and externally-reinforced drive to appear to be all-knowing and in control, because only a select few like you get the keys to a complex and confounding system that affects everyone’s lives. And the key only works if you back up your education with projected competence and confidence. Add to that the expectations of being a business manager, a marketing expert and someone with a high EQ (none of which comes with your LLB/JD degree); it’s a recipe for near 100% failure in terms of being the perfect lawyer you seek to project. And failure is not acceptable in the legal profession.
It’s common knowledge that the profession is riddled with the harmful effects of coping with this kind of impossible stress – the stats on substance abuse, depression, anxiety and suicide within the profession are outrageous. If we were talking about 11-year olds, it would be declared a nation-wide crisis and we would swoop in with interventions. Unfortunately, you are not an 11-year old. You are an adult, and presumed capable both of choosing your environment and pursuing available supports. But there’s a problem with that response: how can you expect someone who invested so much of their money and time in getting here to do something else? Or, expect someone trained to be impermeable to do anything but smother interfering emotions like fear and anxiety?
OK, so let’s talk about that. Derek LaCroix, QC, head of the Lawyer’s Assistance Program and tireless proponent of lawyers “letting go of the perfect” and really enjoying legal practice, would tell you straight-up that this is a crisis that demands everyone’s attention. We need to be truly courageous to recognize that this is real, and have honest and authentic discussions with one another. No-one else knows and understands what it means to be a lawyer. If you yourself are struggling, or if you see a colleague who looks like they could use a kind word or non-judgmental ear, do NOT hesitate to reach out. We care so much about legal principles – let’s care as much about human principles: the need to feel secure, purposeful and loved for who we are. It often takes so little to move the dial on any of those.
If you feel trapped in a box and not able to talk to someone around you, as a licensed lawyer in BC, you have full and free access to completely confidential experts who know how to help, especially if you’re feeling embroiled in unhealthy ways of coping with stress. Call the LifeWorks service at 1-888-307-0590 or access it through the Law Society site. You can also contact LAP directly at 1-888-685-2171 or through lapbc.com.
For those who prefer exploring resources on your own, or want to supplement your outreach to a colleague, friend, doctor or counsellor, here are some great resources – check out the CBABC Wellness Page, the CBA Ontario Mental Health Briefs, the CBA National online Mental Health and Wellness Course, the LAP self-tests and resource library, and the BC Law Society Improving Mental Health page.
What does it take to deal with this crisis in a meaningful way? Without change, too many people will continue to live in pain or pursue death in one form or another. The change we need lies in cultivating a culture of a caring, aware community that gently and kindly responds to “failings,” that reaches out to help, and that, in turn, asks for help when needed.