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Why the mental health crisis in law isn’t going away

As legal professionals, we know that the job can be tough. Conversations about mental health are common, and with the myriad initiatives to address these concerns, it’s fair to wonder why it seems like we haven’t made much progress.

All the way back in 1990, two major studies delivered sobering verdicts on the state of mental health within the legal industry. Lawyers, it turned out, were suffering from things like depression, anxiety, and addiction at rates far greater than those in other occupations.

In 2016, the National Institute of Health did its own study of lawyers and reached the same conclusion.

Surely, these statistics have driven change, and things are getting better, right?

Unfortunately, no.

A survey released in 2023 again revealed that 71% of lawyers have anxiety, 38.2% suffer from depression, and 31.2% report other mental health issues.

There are more tools than ever before designed to help legal professionals deal with stress and other types of mental strain. These results come despite increasing awareness campaigns, resources, and support initiatives offered by law firms and bar associations.

The mental health of legal professionals continues to be an area of profound concern.

In this post, we will address this troubling issue, speculate on possible root causes, and provide useful resources that will hopefully help to drive positive change within the industry.

The Scope of the mental health problem in the legal industry

Anyone who works in and around the law knows that our industry has long been associated with high stress levels, demanding work schedules, and a hyper-competitive culture. In an occupation where burnout is often considered a rite of passage, the mental wellbeing of attorneys and other professionals continues to take blow after blow.

The stakes are high — not just for lawyers, but also for paralegals and other legal professionals, the firms they work for, their clients, and the justice system as a whole.

What’s stopping legal professionals from getting help?

It seems counterintuitive.

Greater emphasis on mental health and an ever-increasing cache of resources should have translated into improved wellness, yet the mental health statistics within the industry continue to be dismal.


The most likely causes are not new, but they deserve our focused attention:

There’s a stigma around seeking help

Notwithstanding a greater collective compassion surrounding mental health in our society, the legal profession seems to have a pervasive stigma around the issue.

People who work in the law are trained to be problem-solvers, advocates, and warriors. They’re supposed to be strong for their clients. They’re supposed to be unyielding in their efforts to provide for their firms and families.

Unfortunately, all of these expectations can result in legal professionals feeling like they have to shoulder their burdens alone.

For many, seeking help might appear as a sign of weakness, or worse, as a professional failure.

Competitive individuals never like to feel like they’ve failed, and legal professionals are nothing if not competitive.

Many have concerns about the impacts to their career if they seek help. Will their partners, peers, and clients still have faith in their abilities if someone finds out they go to therapy? Might they miss out on a big opportunity if the boss is worried about their ability to handle the workload?

Initiatives aren’t effective or popular

While firms and bar associations have been offering mental health resources for some time, it’s worth questioning whether these initiatives are addressing the true needs of legal professionals.

Even when lawyers are suffering mentally, they’re still acutely concerned about reputations and perceptions.

Laura Mahr, a former lawyer turned mental health coach and founder of Conscious Legal Minds, recently spoke on this very topic, saying:

“There is a threat, whether real or imagined, that we might not get promoted, or we might lose our job or not get a bonus if we aren’t 100% on our game 100% of the time.”

Whether these perceptions are real or not, it may be that current mental health initiatives need to strive to be as anonymous as possible.

It’s great if a firm offers “mental health days,” for example, but that perk is useless if no one is willing to take them for fear of reprisals. Plus, does an occasional extra day off do any good if the work is just piling up in the meantime?

Typical law firm culture can make matters worse.

It’s tough to address alcohol and substance abuse issues when the standard networking activity is a happy hour. People are unlikely to prioritize their families and personal time when the promotions go to those who are in the office at all hours.

That brings us to the third major reason that this crisis still exists:

Law firms turn a blind eye to outside issues

As an industry, we pat ourselves on the back a lot for our resiliency.

I was a lawyer during 9/11, for example. After dozens of employees gathered in the attorney lounge to watch the unbelievable news, several partners immediately encouraged us to get back to work.

Global pandemic?

Law firms set up shop from home and kept going.

Few discussions were had about the overall impact of these crises on our mental health. Even if there were talks, there weren’t many actions.

Resiliency isn’t always a valiant goal.

Whether it’s issues of equity, mounting economic pressure, or more personal challenges like illness in the family, it’s unreasonable to expect legal professionals to continue working as if nothing else matters.

What can be done?

Trying to change the culture and attitude towards mental health in the legal industry doesn’t seem to be enough.

The stigma around seeking help needs to be shattered, but years of striving toward that goal proves that mountain may be too steep to climb.

So, we must acknowledge that reality and work within it. In addition to encouraging openness and emphasizing that it’s okay to seek help, mental health resource providers must ensure confidentiality (and/or anonymity) for those seeking support.

We also need to do a better job of facing both personal and national tragedies together as opposed to acting like none of us are impacted.

In the meantime, here’s a list of existing resources for those who need assistance.

Available resources

The American Bar Association (ABA) has a Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) specifically geared towards helping lawyers, judges, and law students who are experiencing mental health or substance use disorders.

The Lawyers Depression Project is a non-profit organization that offers resources and a supportive community to legal professionals struggling with depression and other mental health issues.

The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being created the Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers which is a very useful guide for implementing wellness programs in legal workplaces.

For those who absolutely, positively, do not want anyone to know they are struggling, there are anonymous therapy resources available to you. In fact, you can get the help you need without ever revealing your true name or your face.

Additionally, we’ve got several wellness articles on our site for you to peruse at your leisure:


There’s also an entire Wellness section of our blog that may prove useful.

The mental health crisis within the legal profession is an issue we can no longer afford to sweep under the rug. It’s time we acknowledge the problem, understand the underlying reasons, and take meaningful action. The future of the profession and the wellbeing of those who uphold the justice system depend on it.

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