The facts shared this week via an open letter from the widow of a Sidley lawyer were shocking and heartbreaking. The suicide of a 42-year-old partner in the LA office raised many issues of our responsibilities as lawyers to our colleagues.
It was discovered too late that this suicide victim suffered from a form of perfectionism that created so much pressure, anxiety and insecurity that the only way out seemed to be to take his own life. If those facts came as a complete shock to everyone around him, that would give those of us in the profession some relief. It would give us comfort to know that no one could have known.
But, that does not appear to be the case. It has been reported that his behavior at the office had changed. He had stopped laughing, he became more isolated, and he was showing outward signs of extreme stress. Yet, no one looked further than to wonder about his behavior. No one brought it to the attention of management to get him the help he needed. No one understood the gravity of the situation.
And that is not to blame them. It is just to say that they did not understand that it could end so badly.
We all must keep our antennae up for changes in behavior that could evidence deep-seeded and potentially harmful problems among those we work with and those we live with. Ours is a stressful profession, at best, and most of us learn to deal with the stress. But that is not the way it works for some people, particularly young lawyers, who view getting help with issues of mental health and addiction as shameful and threatening to job security. Stress is an insidious actor that brings out the worst in people. We all need to be aware of our own well-being and the well-being of those we value.
It is because cases like this have become more common in our legal spaces that the American Bar Association recently identified an initiative centered on addressing mental health and addiction issues in our profession. All law firms and law organizations should take advantage of the research and resources to raise awareness and be prepared to help those at risk among us to the greatest extent possible.
We need to work together for a time when finding out too late is not the only option.