Struggling and Silent

  • January 15, 2021

Dear Advy:

I am a 6 year call, with a commercial real estate practice in a mid-size firm. I have always had anxiety and mild depression, but I think I’ve done a good job in handling it and it’s never really gotten in the way of my educational or career goals. 

Lately, though, things have been getting worse. Although we are working remotely, billing and service targets are the same and I am not meeting expectations. I can tell I am heading for a burn out (this has happened before and I recognize the signs). I don’t know what to do. If I go to one of the partners about needing to take time off to deal with this, I think it will be seen as a sign of weakness, or worse. And what about my files? What will the clients think if I just disappear on them?  I recognize that I have a legitimate health situation here, but I don’t know how to approach it in a way that won’t affect the career I have worked so hard to build. Any suggestions? 

- Struggling and Silent

Dear Struggling and Silent:

First of all, you have every right to expect a safe workplace.  Although my answer will focus on what you might or might not do, none of that is to let your employer off the hook for its obligation to make sure you can be a healthy lawyer. When your firm hired you, they got the whole package, and if they are smart business people and smart lawyers, they will find a way to make sure you can be the happiest, healthiest you possible.

On to the advice, though. When, (not if), you speak to that partner you mentioned, frame the conversation the same way you would frame bringing a legal problem to that partner’s attention. You are asking him/her to collaborate with you on a solution to an issue you have identified. Whether that issue is a surprising caveat registered to one of the parcels of land involved in a transaction, or a growing concern that your ability to apply your best expertise to your practice is getting impeded by burnout, the logical thing for the partner to do is to work with you on a creative solution. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be your dream conversation, the partner should, and likely will, appreciate that it was you that brought it to the firm’s attention.  

If nothing else, you should trust in the partner’s and the firm’s enlightened self interest. Supporting you in your work on mental health is a lot more cost-effective, (not to mention humane), than doing something stupid like disciplining you or limiting your advancement. You can also think of this as a test of your employer. Frankly, if your firm is so stuck in the dark ages that it lets you down here, then maybe it was never worth working at in the first place. If you hear a little voice of self-doubt in your head suggesting that you are not worth your firm’s support, ask yourself what you would do if another lawyer brought his/her own similar problem to your attention you were in the partner’s shoes. Sure, you might fail to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment, (I’m preparing you for the possibility that your boss may say at least one ill-advised thing here!) but you would have the brains and the heart to do the right thing.  Give your boss the credit of being just as reasonable and kind as the imaginary you would be in the same situation.  

Finally, remember that your jurisdiction’s Lawyer Assistance Program can offer you additional support if you need it.

Thanks for your question and good luck!
- Advy

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Advice provided by ‘Advy’ is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.

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