The incredible pressure on lawyers – to win, to bill big, to never fail – is having consequences for their mental health. Excessive drinking, drug taking, bullying behaviour, burnout, depression, sleeplessness, anxiety are all examples of what has become “normal” in a profession that does not encourage balance.
In this discussion, Lynette tells Tom about her own mental health journey and how she had to turn away from her family’s expectations, that she would be a high-flyer in a big law firm, to chart a different journey through the legal world that was more suited to her disposition.
Lynette is now the regional leader for Africa of The Stability Network, a global movement of “people in the workforce speaking out about their own mental health challenges to inspire and encourage others”. She also runs the Mental Health Wellness Project Africa, is completing a second international masters’ degree and working on decriminalisation of suicide in Kenya.
Her mental health first suffered when she was a timid teen, she says. She was much smaller than her peers, at boarding school in Kenya, and was bullied. Her strict father was not always sympathetic and wanted her to “step up”. Law school and a job at a law firm offered little respite and she was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Eventually she walked away from the environment causing her so much distress – instead focussing on global public policy law while working to help her legal colleagues pay attention to their mental health.
“Many lawyers don’t see a problem with our system because they are so used to being in a high-pressure environment which then becomes normal. But it is not normal,” Lynette says.
From the outside, and with her insights into destructive behaviour and mental health, Lynette has come to see how dysfunctional and unhealthy aspects of the legal world have become. The answer is in education, she says, with the senior managers and top lawyers needing to take the lead.
Too often the argument is, “this is how it was for me, so you should go through this too,” which is an attitude that can destroy rather than shape talent, she says.
This is a heartening and hopeful conversation about what it is to live a balanced life in a world where a lawyer is expected to be available 24/7.
For any professional person feeling like they are on a dead-end road, Lynette’s story and her work could just be the boost you need to make the change.
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