Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

More On Mental Health In Big Law

Following up on my previous posts:

Above the Law, Sidley Still Thinks They Handled Partner’s Suicide Correctly. His Widow Disagrees.:

SidleyThe death by suicide of Sidley Austin partner Gabe MacConaill continues to rock the world of Biglaw. Not only did he die in a dramatic fashion — his body was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the firm’s parking garage — but after his death, his widow, Joanna Litt, wrote a provocative op-ed titled Big Law Killed My Husband. That one-two punch put a lot of attention on the stresses of Biglaw and the mental health and services available in the industry.

Now MacConaill’s death has become part of a larger conversation. Financial Times has written an article about mental health issues in the workplace, and MacConaill is featured in the story. ... [I]n the FT article, Litt doubles down on holding the firm to account for the events that led up to her husband’s death, and is angry at the firm’s lack of a robust response since MacConaill died.

American Lawyer, What Happened After This Big Law Attorney Told the World About His Depression:

Reed SmithLet’s rewind for a moment to February 12, 2019. Around 2:30 pm that day, The American Lawyer published an article chronicling my journey with mental health disabilities (more particularly, severe depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety.) I ruminated on the panoply of possible responses. Would I be labeled “that crazy Reed Smith lawyer” or perhaps “the attorney who spewed almost 2,000 words on his ‘mental breakdown’”? How would clients and colleagues perceive me? Would anyone even read the article?

Almost five months later, however, it would not be an exaggeration to say that “going public” with my story has changed my life—for the better—and hopefully the lives, or mindsets, of others as well (even if only incrementally).

In response to the article, I received emails, handwritten notes and phone calls from thousands—literally—of individuals from all walks of life, both within and outside of the legal profession. I heard from judges and elected officials. I heard from big firm lawyers and solo practitioners. I heard from in-house lawyers. I spent time talking with attorneys, in both the private and public practice spheres, about the mental health issues bearing down on them or their loved ones. I was invited to speak at various conferences, panels, events and webinars, and at several law schools.

Dozens of clients, including in-house counsel and human resource professionals, reached out to express their support. Many shared their own personal mental health trials and tribulations. Several even asked me to speak with their workforces about my struggles. Internally at Reed Smith, the reaction was equally supportive. I was inundated with messages of compassion from hundreds of attorneys and staff members (just as mental health conditions do not discriminate against their victims based on age, race, gender or the like, they similarly do not discriminate based on whether one holds a juris doctor degree). ...

I am reminded every single day that mental health issues still pervade the legal industry—and to a staggering degree. ... But I am still extremely heartened for the future state of discourse and, more importantly, action concerning mental health issues in the legal profession. ...

 I am heartened for the future because we, as a profession, finally appear ready to start having a real, constructive dialogue on the complicated, and often uncomfortable, issue that is mental health. The dialogue is going to have its ebbs and flows, but it is a dialogue nonetheless—one that we were not having, and in fact actively avoided, until quite recently.

I want to end this article with something I’ve mentioned at several recent events. The reason I wrote my original article and also the reason I’ve written this one, is to put a voice and a face to mental health issues and the mental health stigma in the legal profession. With this in mind, I’m Mark. I’m a Reed Smith employment lawyer. I suffer from mental health disabilities. And if you do too, or if you simply are passionate about or can relate to this issue, remember that you are not alone and that together, we can create the future about which I am so heartened.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Unfortunately the problems here are not categorically negative, like "maladaptive perfectionism." Or at least a natural fit for the system, like hiding one's feelings. Like a football player headbutting his way to the Super Bowl - and CTE. The solution may lie in understanding that even the best lawyer probably isn't very good when exhausted. Let him sleep and get your email *intelligently* answered in the morning.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Jul 24, 2019 3:36:45 PM