The Mental Health Crisis Facing Lawyers

Data from the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey (ALM) demonstrates concerning levels of mental health issues among legal professionals. With 74% of the over 3,800 respondents agreeing that their career has had a negative impact on their mental health over time and nearly one-third citing their work or work environment as a cause of increased drug and alcohol use, the survey suggests these mental health issues are not simply correlated to the legal services industry but a direct result of this type of work.

The most shocking survey finding is that 17.9% of respondents reported they had contemplated suicide during their career in law. As noted in a article, this is almost “double the lifetime rate of suicidal ideation in the general population.” While the study’s publishers find hope in the numbers that professionals are more openly discussing these struggles, the results raise red flags about major facets of how the legal services industry functions.

As described in the article, a majority of respondents pointed to the following elements as causal factors in their declining mental health:

  • the feeling of always being on call and unable to disconnect
  • billable hours pressures
  • lack of sleep
  • client demands

This inability to disconnect extended even to vacations, with 72.5% reporting being unable to unplug during their time off. Righting these numbers would require sweeping changes in how legal work is valued and how firms compensate and reward employees.

Having assisted many lawyers in switching careers, we rarely run into someone who left the law and regretted it. There are other ways to contribute to society, and if a loved one were working in a field where approximately three out of every four people said the work negatively affected their mental health, you’d probably urge them to leave.

It is time to recognize that too many law jobs are not remotely worth the mental health trade-offs and other damages they inflict. We should start celebrating those who have left the law to find greener pastures.

How to Lateral Without a Book of Business

Many attorneys are laboring under the misconception that without a $750,000 book of business, they don’t have the option to move laterally to another firm. Fortunately, there is no absolute bar to making that kind of transition with a smaller or even non-existent book of business. Below, we outline the real relationship between your book of business and your chances of lateralling as a partner. And we explain how you can strengthen your pitch to compensate for what you may be missing.


  1. Legal recruiters should and do care a lot about the size of your book of business. They have to. They get paid on a percentage basis and want to maximize their chances of success. So, they prefer safer bets in the people they choose to work with. In this world, “safe” means a degree from a prestigious law school, a career with well-known national firms, and a sizable book of business.
  2. All things being equal, a larger book of business does open up more doors. If another candidate has everything you have to offer plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in business to bring to a firm, you’ll be at a disadvantage on that front. But that doesn’t mean you have no chance.
  3. There are a number of great reasons for lacking this kind of portfolio. You may have been working in-house or in a government role, or you may still be relatively early in your career. People without these justifications hold their own advantage in the marketplace: they’re more affordable.
  4. The reality that a recruiter won’t work with you doesn’t mean there’s no market for lawyers with smaller books of business. Firms may want a partner who brings a large book of business, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to pay what it takes to hire and keep someone like that. Hiring an attorney with a smaller book of business poses less of a financial risk.
  5. An indispensable part of your pitch is the presentation of a compelling business plan. Your most promising strategy in trying to lateral without a substantial book of business is to demonstrate how you can grow your practice given the new platform. You should create a written business plan that specifically identifies the clients you want to attract, the referral resources you will cultivate, and the revenues you can expect to generate over a one-to-three-year period. Your business plan should explain what assistance you will need from the firm in terms of resources and support and otherwise make clear that, if given the opportunity, you will ultimately build the book of business they’re seeking.


The legal services market as a whole doesn’t subscribe to the same strict rules recruiters do, so don’t color the lack of a sizable book of business as an insurmountable obstacle. As consultants to lawyers and laws firm, we’ve seen firsthand how solid business plans have overcome sub-par books of business.