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"Stress-Hardiness" The Path to Resilience for Lawyers

By Nancy Stek, Assistant Director
New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Lawyers have a highly stressful profession. Studies confirm we have higher rates of depression, anxiety-related disorders and addiction than the general population. Recognizing and building our “resilience” or “stress-hardiness” provides needed protective factors to counter high levels of stress and strain. Continually working against deadlines in highly charged, adversarial and competitive settings exacts a very high price, unless a lawyer ranks high in hardiness traits.

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More on Building "Stress-Hardiness"

By Nancy Stek, Assistant Director
New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Additional information on Stress Hardiness for lawyers, including how to use the 3 C's in the work day.

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Burnout - Spotting it & Stopping it

  • By Phillip M. Perry

    Today, faced with the need to wring greater profits from fewer resources, law firms are demanding better performance from their personnel. But there’s danger in this mad whirl toward the high-adrenaline levels of productivity. Stress has become an occupational issue that is as costly as it is pervasive. Pressured staff members respond in ways that can erode profitability. Personnel are not the only ones who suffer. Clients, ignored or even mistreated by stressed-out staff, start dreaming of greener pastures at other law firms.

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Linking Stress, Depression & Substance Abuse

  • Linking Stress, Depression and Substance Abuse

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Depression and Lawyers

According to a Johns Hopkins study, attorneys suffer from depression at much higher rates than the general public. Depression is not a character flaw. It is neither a "mood" nor a personal weakness that you can change at will or by "pulling yourself together." Rather, it is a real medical illness with real causes, just as diabetes and high blood pressure are.  More than 19 million Americans suffer from some type of depression, and one in eight people will need treatment for depression during his or her lifetime.

Our list of signs and symptoms of depression, which you'll find below, was put together by lawyers who have experienced it firsthand. It is their hope that this list will help attorneys, judges and law students dealing with depression seek the help they need and realize that they are not alone.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Inability to meet professional or personal obligations – procrastination, file stagnation and neglect, lowered productivity, missing deadlines (statutes, filing responsive pleadings or motions,) excuse making and potential for misrepresentation to clients
  • Emotional paralysis – unable to open mail or answer phones
  • Persistent sadness or apathy, crying, anxiety, “empty” feeling
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Guilt, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, low self-esteem
  • Changes in sexual energy or desire
  • Changes in eating, including loss of or significant increase in appetite
  • Changes in sleep, marked increases or decreases in time spent sleeping.
  • Feelings of bafflement, confusion, loneliness, isolation, desolation, being overwhelmed, unavailable to what is going on around you.
  • Thoughts of Suicide (Ideation), Planning Suicide or Suicide Attempts

Who is at Risk?

No one is completely immune ...

  • Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed and treated for major depression
  • Men are less willing to acknowledge depression – symptoms may be masked by alcohol or drug abuse


  • Depression is the leading cause of disability in the US--Affects about 10% of population (19 million per year)
  • 2/3rds never seek treatment and suffer needlessly
  • Biggest issue is not what treatment, but rather getting people into treatment
  • More than 80% of people with a depressive illness improve with appropriate treatment
  • Treatment can lessen the severity of depression, but it may also reduce the duration of the episode and may help prevent additional bouts of depression

Colleagues, family members and friends play important roles in recognition of depressive symptoms and helping those in need get treatment.


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