The Real Talk on Mental Health

Why is mental health one of the topics we’re focusing on at The Authentic Lawyer Summit?

  • Partly because we’re dealing with a major mental health crisis around the world.
  • Partly because we’re dealing with a major mental health crisis in the legal profession.
  • And partly because of the adverse impacts that this profession has had on my mental health - which has inspired many of the projects that I’ve embarked on.

Each one of the topics that we chose is one that I identify with on a deeply personal level. If I’m going to spend my time on a project these days, I really need to care about it.

And for me, the one I definitely resonate with the most is mental health. It’s a topic that I was incredibly ignorant about when I finished law school and in my first few years in the profession.

But I got a fun wakeup call on the topic in my 4th year as a lawyer. And by fun, I mean the opposite of fun.

To the point that my partner (and now wife) was worried about leaving me alone at home for a weekend if she went out of town. Her fear was a little overblown, but she wasn’t way off the mark. It wasn’t good.

It was a perfect mix of some personal traits coupled with a system that leads to bad mental health. And for me, that meant some really bad anxiety that was dramatically affecting my quality of life.

It was also something that I didn’t understand particularly well - so that meant a lot of learning, both on my own and in therapy - to better understand how my brain worked and what I needed to do to control it.

I had a pretty solid case of impostor syndrome (and the usual implications that follow from that). But the thing was - I wasn’t so sure it was just impostor syndrome, and I wasn’t wrong.

I had been trained poorly, which meant that I was being put in positions where I was set up to fail. Which wasn’t fair to anyone - not to clients, not to the firm, and especially not to me.

Most of my efforts to voice this to the people who were supposed to be supporting me at my firm fell flat.

I was told to take a week of vacation. To meditate. To address my issues.

There was no realization of how they had failed. Instead, it was the classic ‘it’s not me it’s you’ approach.

Some of these people were actually (in hindsight) well intentioned. It was just that they were so ignorant about these things. Others were [insert a less charitable word to describe their actions].

They were ‘stunned’ to discover that our EAP program covered $500 a year of therapy and how much 1 therapy session cost. Sort of like this Arrested Development scene.

They couldn’t grasp that taking a week off wasn’t going to change things.

Or how they themselves had played a role in the problem.

I had reached a point where I knew that if I took time off, I would never come back to the legal profession. The impostor syndrome and anxiety was only going to get worse the longer I was off.

So I didn’t take time off - which, for me, was the right call. Instead, I just did a stupid amount of learning (both on the legal side and also on myself), in addition to doing my day job.

I knew clients had lots of questions I felt I should know the answers to. I knew I didn’t know the answers. So I set out to figure out how things work. Which is surprisingly hard to do, as there aren’t that many resources out there that help connect the dots to understand how everything ties together and why we were doing certain things.

I was lucky that I had some unofficial mentors at my firm who - when I asked for their time so that I could ask them a few dozen questions about a topic - were willing to take that time. Even though there was nothing in it for them, and it meant that they were just adding an extra hour or two to their days. They know who they are, and I’m truly grateful for their generosity and patience.

I had absolutely no idea how much I was supposed to know - which is sort of the fun part about being a corporate lawyer. Where something ‘stops’ being a corporate issue is anybody’s guess. I sort of figured I should know a bunch of tax law and a bunch of employment law and a bunch of other things. And then I figured that if I said ‘X’ to a client, the logical next question I would ask if I was them would be ‘Y’, so I figured I should probably learn about ‘Y’ too.

Apparently this wasn’t a common approach.

As I later learned, most lawyers just say ‘oh that’s a business problem’ or ‘oh you should talk to [insert specialist]’.

I began to understand why many clients don’t love working with lawyers and how legal bills end up being $20,000 to review a 10 page contract. It still blows my mind.

I also found it fascinating when I would ask questions to experienced colleagues and they’d say they’d never thought about that question before. That was mindblowing to me, because these were (in my mind) completely intuitive follow-up questions that - if I was the client - I would absolutely be asking my lawyer.

In any event, the end result of a journey I highly recommend that you do not try to go on yourself was becoming far more knowledgeable and competent than I was supposed to be at my stage.

It’s paid off - there is a reason that clients really like working with me, that I’ve won most of the awards people seem to care about much more than I do, and that I’ve been fortunate to build a large client base - but the journey to get there was not fun. And I hope none of you have to embark on something similar.

The impostor syndrome didn’t fully go away (which I consider a good thing), but boy did it get dialed down. Because the reality was - there truly was a huge knowledge gap that I needed to fill and that was a byproduct of a broken system with lots of people (including law schools, law firms, and the profession as a whole) to blame.

It’s why I started running training for the younger lawyers and students at my old firm, even though it added extra hours to my day and I wasn’t getting any credit or compensation for it

It’s why even after I left my old firm, I kept mentoring a colleague of mine who was going through a bunch of mental health issues that the firm was struggling to grasp (despite good intentions).

It’s why I have always seen 4L Academy as a mental health company. If you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, then you’re not going to be good at your job. You’re not going to be fulfilled. And you’re going to be anxious.

If a firm cares about mental health, then they have to care about training. They are so intricately linked.

Don’t get me wrong - caring about training is far from enough. But it’s such an overlooked piece of the puzzle.

Had I been adequately trained - in law school and at my law firm - my mental health would have been a lot better.

Are we okay with the fact that there are so many people who feel (or have felt) the way I did?

Because I’m not. And I hope you aren’t either.

On November 8th, we’re going to hear from an incredible group of speakers.

Some things you’re going to hear are going to be absolutely heartbreaking. Other things are going to be so inspiring.

And we’re going to be challenging everyone who attends to drive real change after the event. Because while listening is a start, it’s not enough.

At a minimum, I hope that this Summit helps drive at least a few people to seek out the help they need, to leave a toxic environment, or to make a change/set some boundaries that they know deep down they need to make.

And I hope we can help people understand what resources are out there, that they’re not alone, and that they are unfortunately victims of a system that is badly in need of change.

See you there,



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