AuthorSilverglate, Spencer H.

"There are two great days in a person's life-- the day we are born and the day we discover why." -William Barclay I was feeling a bit uneasy when I sat down at the kitchen table of the modest Florida home. I was a young lawyer, and the deponent's wife recently died in a horrific car wreck. The widower treated me with kindness, as though I had dropped in for a chat instead of a deposition.

More coffee, Mr. Silverglate?

No thanks, I'm good. So, you say you have five children?

"Yep, that's right. And my wife home-schooled all of 'em."

Looking up from my outline, I couldn't help but notice the children's artwork hanging on the refrigerator. A crayon rendering captioned "I love you Mommy" seemed to reach out and punch me in the gut. The magnitude of the family's loss was palpable. I had to remind myself that I had a client to represent and that the settlement demand, inflated by an unwarranted claim for punitive damages, was three times what the case was worth. I took a breath, returned to my outline, and continued the deposition.

My experience that day wasn't unique; it's played out every day by civil defense lawyers around the world. We handle difficult cases, sometimes for unpopular clients. And the adversarial system can be, well... adversarial. Judges can be inflexible. Clients can be demanding. Opposing counsel can be insufferable. Even our work colleagues can let us down. And the unending demand for billable hours can be overwhelming. Simply put, our work is hard, and the rewards often don't seem to measure up.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that lawyers experience among the highest rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and relational strife. The statistics are dismal. Fortunately, though, lawyer well-being and work-life balance are garnering increased attention. Mental health treatment is less stigmatized today, and stress-management resources abound--everything from employer wellness plans and diet and exercise programs to affinity groups and mindfulness practice. Volunteer bar associations also have a role to play in attorney wellness. The IADC, for example, has been my 2,500-member "support group" for more than 20 years.

Yes, we civil defense lawyers have more mental health resources available to us than ever before, which is a very good thing. Still, I wonder if we've overlooked our most important resource. I wonder if we've underestimated our purpose.

The adversarial system of dispute resolution has not one side but...

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