In the wake of COVID-19, how has the American lethal system turned even more deadly?
According to a recent survey conducted in 2020 by the American Lawyer, 64 percent of the lawyers reported suffering from anxiety.
This is a staggering number given that lawyers are often loath to admit that they have a mental health problem.
While the world was not prepared for COVID 19, our culture appeared to find it more acceptable to admit that anxiety was the new norm. However, anxiety has always been the norm, for we have evolved to anticipate the worst-case scenario.
This mindset plays right into the training of the attorney.
Sleepless nights are spent anticipating the “what ifs?” The rules of the adversarial system set the stage for the “worried warrior,” who fears that their opposition will expose them for their failures.
The attorney is the hunted and the hunter, with no end or escape in sight.
Without an escape, the worried warrior is in a state of chronic stress. While we have evolved to anticipate the worst, our bodies cannot sustain chronic stress.
It is like turning on the water and forgetting to shut it off. Eventually, the pipes will rust, and the system will break down. People who experience chronic stress often suffer from high blood pressure, inflammatory diseases and anxiety. To cope with the chronic stress, lawyers often turn to alcohol and other unhealthy substances to manage the stress.
How has COVID exacerbated an already unhealthy system? Lawyers are often perceived by their clients as the gladiator who will help them navigate through the unknown maze.
However, what happens when the rules change? That is what happened when COVID struck, and the worried warrior was lost at sea. The rules changed and no one had the answers.
The “unknown” and the “uncontrollable” became unchartered territories for the attorney.
Lawyers live by the calendar. They have deadlines and timelines. But what do they do when the courts close and timelines are lost? What do you do when your client calls you about the status of their case? There are no answers? The panic settles in.
As a practicing attorney and psychologist, I heard the panic.
In March of 2020, we started a virtual support group and called it the Virtual Lawyers Lounge.
Together, we learned about resiliency, the buzz phrase for 2020 and beyond. We forged new connections and attorneys came out of the shadows to admit that anxiety was the norm.
Our adversaries became our colleagues. The environment was supportive and healing.
We learned that the practice of law does not have to be so treacherous and that we must humble ourselves to understand that “control” is just a myth.
We learned about healthy ways to manage our stress. It is now our challenge to take the lessons learned and not forget them. The lessons learned transcend COVID-19, making us more resilient for the future.
Dr. Robert Goldman is the Chief Psychologist and Co-CEO of TLC Virtual Resiliency. He is a licensed psychologist and attorney with over 18 years of experience in combining law and psychology. Dr Goldman is a member of the American Psychological Association and an adjunct professor at Hofstra University and St. Joseph’s College teaching Restorative Justice and various Community Correction topics. Learn more at tlcvirtualresiliency.com