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3 Words That Explain Why Many Attorneys Struggle

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Lawyer Mental Health and Wellness: Why Does It Matter?

Like many other demanding occupations, we are seeing disturbing trends in the mental health of legal professionals. For years, the list of professions in the United States with the highest rates of suicide has included lawyers.

A 2016 study, conducted by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford  Foundation, concluded there is “substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems” in the profession. The study cited “more than 1 in 3 practicing attorneys are problem drinkers…28 percent [of attorneys] struggle with some level of depression and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety.”

A 2021 survey of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, conducted by ALM Intelligence, surveyed 3,200 attorneys and law firm staff. Over 70% of respondents reported their mental health was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. Respondents were asked to report if they were depressed, had anxiety, or had another mental health issue. The “yes” responses to these questions were up across the board, compared to responses in 2019.

Why Are Lawyers Stressed?

Attorneys are often natural born, competitive, high achievers. They strive to meet their own high standards and outpace colleagues. They work long work weeks, to bill more hours, and generate more business.

Certain areas of law provide additional challenges, requiring communication with clients during emotionally troubling times. Add in the burden of high student loan debt, from attending years of undergraduate and then law school at prestigious institutions, many of today’s attorneys are feeling an exaggerated level of stress.

Improving Mental Health of Attorneys

The ALM survey did have a positive finding, nearly 54% of respondents said their firms were making a larger commitment to employee mental health as a result of the pandemic. What does this look like?

Several large firms have made monetary payments to lawyers and staff for the specified purpose of health and wellness. Some firms have offered additional paid time off or developed specific health and wellness programming to encourage healthy habits.

The American Bar Association has a list of resources on its website to promote mental health education and awareness. The page provides a lengthy list of resources, including articles, educational flyers, and online resources.

Coping With and Identifying Attorney Stress

Three simple solutions to reduce the effects of stress that can be implemented without the help of a professional:

  • eating right,
  • exercise, and
  • mindfulness & meditation.

Sometimes going it alone is not enough. A starting point for more severe stress or anxiety is to see a therapist. Talking to a trusted counselor can be a powerful tool in combating stress.

If you suspect stress is taking a greater toll on you, a legal industry colleague, or anyone in your life, it is important to know the warning signs of suicide:

  • Threatening harm to oneself or others
  • Seeking means to harm or kill oneself (such as firearms or pills)
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Engaging in risky activities
  • Increasing use of drugs or alcohol
  • Exhibiting drastic mood changes
  • Expressing no reason to live or sense of purpose

If you recognize signs of suicide in yourself or others, immediately seek support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides many resources and live support is available 24/7 at their toll-free number.

What Are the Top 5 Challenges Facing Lawyers Today?

Work-Life Balance

Attorneys feel pressure to work a high number of billable hours, cultivate client relationships, and build their professional network. You generally cannot cram these tasks into a 40-hour work week. Eventually the toll is not only felt by you, but the people around you.

Online Legal Service Providers

Search the internet for any legal question and ads for these low-cost, legal service providers populate your search results. Companies like LegalZoom.com Inc.—valued at over $7 billion when it went public in June 2021—make it difficult to compete in providing services in areas of small business or family law.


We live in a global economy and yet the legal industry has had a hard time breaking into a global market. Many countries have restrictions in place limiting or blocking lawyers from other countries to practice within their borders.


Newer technologies are replacing some attorneys in completing many administrative tasks. Attorneys are also required to stay current as technologies emerge that will affect their practices. And the ever presence of the internet has changed attorney-client relationships; many clients have done their research prior to meeting with an attorney and believe themselves to be experts.

Being a Lawyer

Two lawyers walk into a bar…Everyone has a punchline and they do not usually paint the profession in a positive light. Unfortunately, attorneys are among a small group of professions that often are judged by some preconceived notion of the industry that may not be true for every member of our ranks.

A lot of attorneys are struggling right now.

Struggling to get enough phone calls. Struggling to attract potentials who have a decent case and are willing to invest in their legal matter. Struggling to attract the kind of fees they need to live the lifestyle they rightly deserve.

Not all, though.

Some attorneys are thriving right now.

Not only are they getting through this COVID-19 pandemic unscathed, they are making it their opportunity. They are coming out of it stronger.

Stronger, as in:

  • They now receive more calls, LiveChats, and email inquiries (in some cases, more than their team can realistically handle)…
  • Potentials come to them pre-sold on retaining them, before they even get on the phone (so they get to qualify rather than having to sell)…
  • Commanding higher fees (some are now, de facto, among the most expensive solos and small firms in their metro/practice area)…
  • A personal brand that’s so powerful, theirs is often the first name to immediately come to mind when someone needs a lawyer…
  • Taking on more staff (even when others are letting go).

What do they have that most other attorneys don’t?

Why aren’t they struggling?

I shared the reason in a previous post. It was about the movie Gladiator, and the important lesson it holds for solo attorneys and small firms who want to use this pandemic to take their law practice to the next level.

Here’s a quick summary:

“A hero will rise.”

That’s the tagline of the Gladiator movie.

Near the beginning, Maximus is captured by slave traders and forced to fight in the arena. He lost his status as Rome’s greatest general. He’s now “just a gladiator”. A piece of meat to be butchered for the mob’s entertainment. But around halfway through the movie, he becomes “the Gladiator”. An icon. A hero. And the mob starts rooting for him, and puts him on a pedestal.

Even to the point where Lucilla, the Emperor’s sister, remarks to Maximus: “Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.”

Of course, Gladiator is just a movie.

A solid movie. But just a movie nonetheless.

However, it illustrates how a shift in positioning can quickly, completely, and dramatically change your fortunes. How it can be the making of you.

The reason so many attorneys are struggling right now:

Because they are positioned as “just another attorney”. For better or for worse, whether fair or undeserved, regardless of their actual merit and seniority as an attorney. This is how the market perceives them.

It’s how potentials who call perceive them.

And it’s how referral partners perceive them.

As “just another attorney”.

Those attorneys I mentioned above — they found a way to shift this perception and elevate their positioning. In short, if you’ll excuse the corny metaphor, they found a way to become “THE Gladiator of lawyers”.

Over the coming days, I’ll show you how they did it.

And how you can do the same.

There are three specific things you need to have in place. I call them the three pillars of “hero” positioning. One of them is a change in thinking. One of them is a physical asset. And the other is a result of leveraging that asset.

We’ll talk about the first one tomorrow.

For now, let me ask you a simple question:

How would your practice be different — if potentials, clients, and referral partners put you on a pedestal, and if your personal brand was so powerful, every man, woman, and legal person wanted you representing them or taking care of their legal matter (even if it’s nothing to do with your practice area)?

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